Stress is like death and taxes, ain’t nobody avoiding it forever. And, while stress affects everyone, not everyone handles it the same. Those differences in how we handle the stress we get, make all the difference. For many people the ways they manage their stress are: feeling anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, tired, like procrastinating, while other people have found ways to move through stress towards feeling motivated, excited, and intensely aware. Depending on how long you’ve been experiencing the negative aspects of stress, you may notice a slow slide toward feeling overwhelmed and depressed. In my practice, most of the people that I work with have dealt with so much, and have gotten completely overwhelmed by life, sliding into depression from the exhaustion from the fight. I like to think that we each have a stress bucket. Some people may have slightly smaller buckets, some slightly larger, but it really doesn’t matter how big the bucket, if it’s full of stress. So, more important than size, it’s how you learn to empty the bucket, so you can continue to do what needs to be done.
Thankfully, there are many tools that can help us combat the negative effects of stress. I am going to share a few with you today.
- Reasoning with yourself about the situation, just possibly you are making the situation bigger and maybe, more dramatic in your mind. Reasoning can also help us put the situation into perspective. I love dog’s, but I have had a couple of stressful situations with puppies. I have a fantastic dog, Max, but when he was a puppy, he dug up the backyard, to include pulling out an entire drip system that was set up to water in the back. It was really hard not to want to beat him, when I came home and saw his handy work. But, asking myself, “What do puppy’s do?” helped me to relax. Puppies, poop, they chew, they dig, they sleep and they get dog food all over the floor. If I want a puppy I need to remember this and find ways to either keep the puppy out of trouble, or roll up a newspaper and hit myself in the head saying, “I was not watching my puppy.” But, it’s not really the puppies fault for getting into trouble and stressing me out.
- Exercise or movement: Depending on our day and our stress releasing skills, our stress bucket may just be spilling over and feel like a big heavy mess. Exercise helps to move the stress chemical through and out of our body. Exercise can be a active as running or a aerobics class, or as gentle as a walk. But, our bodies are designed to move, and movement will help the stress to be a little more manageable.
- Breathing, most of us have either shallow, or erratic breathing when we are in the middle of a stress or panic attack. Slowing down your breathing and counting it in and out, taking a intake through your mouth and then have a long exhalation through your nose, or just slowing down your breath, taking down into your belly, can all calm down your bodies sympathetic nervous response to the stress your feeling. As our breathing calms down, our heart beat slows, which calls off the stress chemicals being released in our brains. It’s all connected, and when you can’t reason through a situation or feeling, taking a physical path to calm may be the solution.
- There was a study on Laughter, what they found was that even if the laughter was fake, it had very positive results on the body. Laugh, even if you don’t feel funny was the message. Laughter helps to empty the stress bucket. It seems that the movement of our diaphragm and ribs, is one of the benefits of laughter. But, even more importantly, daily laughter helps us wire our brains to relax. And, who has ever started laughing for pretend, only to find that real genuine laughter takes over? I know I have.
- Visualization is another great way to wire you brain into a calm place. The brain mostly see’s in pictures/images, and so is already wired by certain things to calm down. I have a client who focuses on an image of a horse to calm herself, other people create visions of the ocean, or camping. One of the best was a client I had who was a manly man, he would visualize himself in his truck, on a dirt road, in his rear view mirror he could see his dirt bike tied down on the bed of his truck. This image calmed him down fast.
- Have a calming or caring friend or person that you can talk to. We all have people who can wind us up to be angry. They’re on our side and as they talk we feel more and more justified in our position. But, they don’t help us to be balanced. Find someone who you can talk to, who may help you see more than just your perspective. Some people are like a cool drink of water, they calm us, help us to breathe, help us see what else might have happened, and help us to see what our possibilities or solutions might be in a given situation.
- Look at your language, if you have filled it with absolutes, like always, never, everything; or it is filled with, they should have, or they must, or why didn’t they… Pay attention. This language sets us up to be justified in our position. Look to be more neutral about the situation. Don’t turn preferences into demands or commands. Writing rules for the entire world and demanding perfection is tiring and not very effective. Think of reasons why people might have done what they did. What in this situation is a demand or expectation? Why do I expect this from the other person? Have they ever met this expectation in the past? Where is my personal control over this issue? What can I do to take care of myself?
- Are you making the situation bigger and more dramatic than necessary? Are you creating a bigger problem than actually exists? Is the way that you are thinking about the situation a negative magnification? Calm yourself down and rethink the situation without all the exaggerated words. Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see it in a different way. Avoid global language: never, always, everybody, everything, what if…, terrible, horrible, awful, and I can’t stand it.
- Ask yourself, “If today were the last day of my life, how important is this situation to me?” “Do I want to be this angry, or hurt? Or, is this a situation I need to let go of or find a good solution for?” When I was growing up, my mom had a young woman, Patty, live with us. She was about 17 and I was about 10. Patty was like my favorite older sister. When she was 12, she had cancer, her leg was amputated at the hip, then when she was 18, the cancer showed up again and again and again. She died when she was 19, and she taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. Life doesn’t owe us a happy ending, it’s our job to adjust our attitude to create our own. I also got real clarity about the idea that young people die, as will we all. And, we have choices about how we live in the gap between our birth and our death. Choose wisely.
Why are these tools important? Well, what these tools can do, if you practice them when you are not feeling stress, is start to create calm or reasoning wiring in your brain. Like all skills, you will need to practice them in order to exercise the wiring in your brain. The more you catch yourself and practice a shift, the more you will be able to use the new wires when you are in the middle of a freak out. Like anything, the more you practice, the easier it get to do the thing without having to think about it.