A Little Stress Management

So, the company I work for has many benefits that relate to health, and recently they decided to do a “Health Week” where they sent out an email each day that focused on something to improve your health. I got tips on sleep, smoking cessation, stress, exercise and more. They were actually not too bad, and one I actually decided to share here. I take no credit for this information – it is a simple copy.

I do want to point out one piece that I found incredibly interesting (it’s bold below). It’s so simple, but something I never considered before. And since my communication skills were always extremely sub-par in all of my past relationships, I think this would have been a very useful tool. I hope you enjoy it and consider discussing it with your special someone!

 Stress-ZebraStripesThe Symptoms of Stress

The best way to deal with stress is to identify what is causing your stress and to confront it at the source. For example, if you’re worried about what your boss thinks of your performance at work, you could ask and find out. If you’re anxious about a task on your to-do list, you might block out some time and get it done, or break it down into pieces and at least get started.
Other stresses can’t be dealt with so directly. All of us need to learn to live with a certain amount of conflict, change, and uncertainty. Learning about stress management techniques, and finding one that will work for you, will help you cope with the stress that you can’t avoid.

Relaxation Techniques

Stress increases your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Relaxation techniques do the opposite: They lower your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. As an added benefit, regular use of relaxation techniques — even for just a few minutes once or twice a day — can reduce stress all day long. Many people benefit from relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation,  visualization, and yoga. Some of these techniques, like yoga, are best learned with the guidance of an expert. If you are interested, look for classes at a local Y, health club, or community center. What follows is a brief explanation of some of the simple but effective relaxation techniques.

Deep Breathing is probably the easiest relaxation technique to master and among the most effective. Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing actually slows down your heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and relaxes tense muscles. Stand, sit, or lie down in a comfortable position with good posture so that your stomach is not compressed. Put one hand over your belly button. Now breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, letting your stomach expand as much as possible. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth. When you’ve relaxed your stomach muscles and this deep breathing is working, you’ll feel your hand on your stomach rise and fall about an inch with each breath. Keep your shoulders and the rest of your body relaxed; if you find that your shoulders are rising and falling as you breathe in and out, you are working too hard. Remember, your diaphragm should be doing the work. Slowly count to 10 when inhaling and when exhaling. When your lungs are empty, start again with another deep breath. After just three or four breaths, you should feel the calming effect through your whole body. If you keep at it for a few minutes, you should feel a significant drop in stress. Deep breathing is one relaxation technique you can use throughout the day, even when you have only a minute or two to spare. It’s a great stress reducer when in heavy traffic or in a long line at the supermarket or bank.

Meditation: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be interrupted or distracted for at least five or 10 minutes. If your shoes are uncomfortable, take them off. Loosen any tight clothing. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and begin to breathe deeply as described above. Focus your thoughts on a  single calming image or word, clearing your mind of all other thoughts. Keep your mind clear and focused on that one word or image for several minutes. It takes most people some practice to really concentrate on one thought and clear their minds of all distractions. If you have trouble sitting still for meditation, you might find it helpful to walk (with your eyes open) and meditate at the same time. Concentrate on your breathing or on the length and pace of your stride. As you become able to concentrate more easily, gradually increase the amount of time that you meditate. Meditating for even 15 minutes can be refreshing.

relaxing-islandVisualization: Follow the instructions for meditation, but instead of focusing on a single word or image, use your imagination to create an entire relaxing world. Think of a scene or a place that relaxes you and imagine it in detail. You might picture yourself walking on a beach on a warm, calm evening. Imagine the sounds, the smells, the feeling of sand on your feet. Or imagine yourself in a beautiful forest, sailing a boat, or sitting by a waterfall. Many audio recordings are available to help with visualization and guided imagery. You can find them at bookstores, music stores, and libraries. Getting your right and left brain to communicate Moving both sides of your body will help to build communication between your left and right brain, decreasing levels of stress. This is why walking or tossing a soft ball from one hand to the other eases stress for some people. The key to using relaxation techniques is to do them two or three times a day and to protect those times in your schedule as high-priority relaxation breaks. Some of these techniques may be difficult at first, but the more often you do them, the more easily your body learns to respond.

Enjoy Yourself: When you’re under stress, it’s important to take care of yourself. Set aside time regularly for activities you enjoy, such as listening to music, going to a movie, watching a game, or talking with a friend. Also, make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthfully, get some regular but moderate exercise, and practice positive thinking.

Healthy eating is a key part of managing stress. One good way to use nutrition as a stress management tool is to follow the “80/20” rule. If 80 percent of what you eat is healthy — with a nutritious, low-fat mix of vegetables, fruit, and grain products — you can allow yourself to eat what you want for the other 20 percent. Regardless of whether you follow that rule, it’s important to eat in moderation, avoid foods with lots of salt and sugar, limit caffeine and alcohol, and drink plenty of water. This can help you keep stress under control.

Regular Moderate Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve your mood. You can ease tension with vigorous activities like brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, or swing dancing. Stretching exercises can help relieve tense muscles and improve your body’s flexibility. Be sure to avoid overexertion as you’re getting started. Ask your doctor what would be healthy for you. Look for a level of exercise that’s safe, comfortable, and enjoyable and that you’ll be able to sustain over time.

Positive thinking: Most of us are our own toughest critics. We think negative thoughts about ourselves all day long. Positive thinking – a kind of “cognitive restructuring” – involves paying attention to the  negative messages we often send ourselves, and then turning them around to be more positive. Even very successful people often think of themselves as failures or underachievers because of comments from parents or teachers that have remained with them. “You’ll never amount to anything.” or “You don’t have the self-discipline to succeed.” or “You’re such a slob.” By replaying these deep-rooted (and generally untrue) messages to ourselves, we reinforce them. Positive thinking replaces these internal messages with more positive (and truer) statements that make us feel better. “I’ve  accomplished a lot and I can keep on doing it.” “I procrastinate once in a while, but I’m usually on time.” “My house gets messy sometimes, but I do get it back in order eventually.” Taking time to write down three things you’re grateful for each day – from enjoying a sunset to a talk with a friend or special time with your child – will also help keep you in a positive frame of mind.

Social support: Research shows that companionship – time spent with friends sharing thoughts and feelings – makes you feel better and has a significant effect on your health. Exercising with a friend, finding people who share a hobby, looking for compatible people at work or through your child’s school, or getting back in touch with siblings can all help you build a healthy social support network. And those connections can form an important defense against stress.
One idea that works for many couples is for each person to make a list of things his or her spouse can  do to help when they’re feeling stressed and needy. This is easy to adapt for close friends. When one person is having a bad day, the other knows from the list what he or she can do to help.

WritingExpressing emotions: Writing and talking about your feelings and emotions has been shown to be an effective way of releasing tension and relieving stress. Even a 15-minute conversation with a close friend or relative can help if you’re under stress. Studies show that people who spend time writing about their feelings and their reactions to traumatic events are less likely to feel anxious and depressed about them. If you’re worried about something, try taking a few minutes to write down your thoughts. It can free your mind to move on to other things.

So that’s it – I hope you’ll consider putting a few of these practices to work for you in your life immediately. I have been doing a few for some time now, and I can speak to the results of managing stress. It makes everything else you do so much easier and more enjoyable. We just need to know how to relax!

Your Turn: Let me know what you think by commenting below!

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