Stress Management


“Maybe we have not had enough time to take care of the child within us.”
 
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Every Moment Is As It Should Be

One of the most common problems I see in my practice is people struggling with stress management.  For myself, I work with the difficult problems of others, as well as my own.  Consequently I also have to maintain focus on managing my stress.  Typically our lives are full and busy making it is easy to fall into the trap of not letting go of our stress and we end up carrying it.

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When we realize that the present moment provides everything we need according to how the past events have occurred we will be able to see that there is no reason for stress.

Stress is related to our inability to live in the moment and accept what is.  Everything that happens to us has had all the necessary things happen in the past in order to create the moment we are in.  In other words, every moment is as it should be.

As a carpenter some years ago, occasionally I would pick up a power saw to cut a board and as I pulled the trigger on the saw nothing happened.  The fact that the saw would not work really bothered me.  As I traced the problem I discovered that the saw was not plugged in.  This is not as strange as it would have been if the saw would have come on and I would have found that it was not plugged in.  We seem to ignore the fact that the moment provides everything we need according to how the past events have occurred.

This metaphor is helpful with many of the things we are stressed about for they have already happened and there is nothing we can do about it.  The things we can change are the things we should focus on.  We can only act in the present moment; not in the past or future.

The serenity prayer is useful as it states, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, give me courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

 

Stand In Your Power

Most stress is associated in trying to change things we cannot change.  When we recognize the difference between the things we can and cannot change we are able to direct our energies into action within the present moment.  This reduces stress and helps maintain focus in the only reality there is which is in the now.

Empowered Life Solutions article, “Living in the Present” is another reading you may want to use that will help you to make choices and manage your stress in healthy ways that may be specific to what works for you.

Maybe this is the day you take the time to take care of the child within; the one that has been longing for you to recognize, listen to their playful voice, and come with them to live in the moment and let go of your stress.

Primary symptoms of stress are typically physical:

  • Stomach Aches
  • Sweating
  • Flushed Face
  • Pounding Heart
  • Shallow Breathing
  • Tense Muscles
  • Clenched Jaw
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Fast Speech or Inappropiate Laughter
  • Dry Mouth or Throat
  • Loss of or Excessive Appetite

 

Secondary symptoms of stress are usually emotional:

  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Sadness/Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of Interest in Normal Activities
  • Feeling Inadequate
  • Wanting to Stay in Bed All Day
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal Thoughts
  • Overwhelmed Feelings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Drug/Alcohol Abuse
  • Feeling Like Running Away
  • Acting Out/Rebelling
  • Severe Mood Swings

The general goal of stress management is to do something for yourself every day.

There are many strategies for managing stress which include but are not limited to the following:

  • present centered awareness,
  • meditation,
  • enjoying healthy daily activity,
  • talking with a trusted friend or therapist,
  • writing,
  • self-nurturing,
  • hobbies,
  • developing healthy sleep patterns,
  • time management,
  • social interaction,
  • and entertainment.

 


“It is not facts and events that upset man, but the view he takes of them.”
 
~Epictetus (Greek Philospher)

Here are just a few ideas along with how to use the concepts in reducing stress and developing healthy living skills.

 

Present centered awareness:   This healthy living skill can be summed up in three words; be here now.  While this is a simple concept it takes some time and practice to actually learn how to live in the present moment.

The past is no longer available to us and the future is always elusive in that as soon as you move to the next moment you are in the here and now.

Floating leaf

When you are stressed notice if your thoughts are lost in the past or the future.  Don’t fight your thoughts just let them float by like a leaf in a river.  

However, we have learned to worry about the past and believe somehow we can go back and change things or we tend to fear the future as if it is actually happening.

When you are stressed notice if your thoughts are lost on the past or future.  It is ok to learn from the past and plan for the future, although a lot of thought is dedicated in trying to problem solve things that are not really happening in the moment.  This can be a source of unnecessary anxiety, stress, and frustration that is not helpful.

Our minds are amazing instruments although they are also very sensitive to thoughts that cause stress and reduce our present centered peace.  If a thought is not useful or causes stress it is usually rooted in fear of something happening, guilt, or shame from something in the past.   It is counterproductive to fight the thoughts, just allow them to float by as if they were a leaf floating along on a stream.  Consider thinking thoughts that are peaceful, calming, and relaxing.  You may not realize it at the time but you have a choice of what thoughts you hold on to.

 

Meditation:  Meditation can help you to recognize the difference between living in the present and living in the past or future.  You can only meditate in the present moment.

Meditation is the practice of focusing inward and allowing your thoughts to recede until you reach a state of inner stillness and calm.  There are many books on meditation and lots of ways to find that inner calm.

The basic technique is to focus on your breath and allow yourself to just be.  When thoughts come, gently remind yourself to return your focus to your breathing and notice the gap between breaths.  This will take practice but in time you will be able to still your thoughts and be fully present in the moment.

 

Healthy Activity:  Healthy activity can be diverse as reading a book in a comfy safe place to rock climbing.  Healthy activity is usually something you enjoy that gives you a sense of well-being and connection to others and to your inner self.

Exercise is a great stress reducer as it releases negative energy in the form of physical release.  For instance, some people like to run to release stress.  This will release endorphins which is sometimes referred to as a runner’s high because it can cause a natural sense of well-being.  You do not have to run to achieve the release of endorphins; most physical activity that gets your heart pumping will give you that same feeling.

For some, healthy activity is playing a video game.  However, some people find that this can also be a major stressor which is usually an indication of a balance problem because of too much time spent on something that can produce relaxation as well as stress.  Balanced healthy activities are a great way to help reduce stress and improve a sense of well-being.

To find a healthy activity that you enjoy perhaps think of what you loved to do when you were a young kid or think about talents and abilities that you have always wanted to do but have never taken the time to explore.  For more information on Exercise and Healthy Activity Refer to the Empowered Life Solutions article “Exercise & Healthy Diet.”

 

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The key to a healthy conversation is that when we converse we release stress and tension as we are validated and feel that others care for us.  

Healthy conversation:  Healthy conversation is often a neglected area of our lives.  The key to healthy conversation is that when we converse we release stress and tension as we are validated and feel that others care for us.

If you talk to someone that is not a good listener or good conversationalist they can actually drain you of energy and increase your stress.  I teach a communication model that consists of the sender, the receiver, and the process of feedback and clarification. Many people are not listening to what is being said because they are thinking about what they are going to say in return.

When you are with someone who listens you feel it at a very deep level because they are with you and you are with them.  In counseling many people report feeling better after a session just because they have felt that the therapist really listened to them.

 

Writing exercises:  Writing can also release stress and help us to become more in touch with what is causing our anxiety.  I give writing assignments to help people release anger, get in touch with feelings or to help them recognize what the real stressors are in their life.

Writing takes our thoughts and makes them concrete.  The writing process itself can be healing and enjoyable.  Many people that say they cannot write. However, after they try they begin to recognize how fulfilling it is just to get their thoughts on paper.

 

Self-nurturing:  Self-nurturing is highly neglected by people with major anxiety or stress related problems.  Self-nurturing is a skill that many people never master while growing up.  As adults they are unable to identify the need for it and thus struggle with even recognizing they can take time for themselves.

Self-nurturing is the ability to take time for you that helps you revitalize your energy and relaxes you.  There is not a set way to self-nurture because there are so many ways of doing things that help you feel calmer and peaceful.

Think of things you can do that relate to the five senses: take a hot bath in candlelight and use a favorite scented bath oil, listen to a favorite piece of music, enjoy a favorite food or taste, look at a photo album of your favorite people and places, touch a piece of cloth, or snuggle in your favorite chair.  The list of self-nurturing activities is endless.

The idea is to do something for yourself.  You can even make your own self-nurturing kit to have on hand when you are stressed and need to get back to who you really are.  Try practicing breathing and relaxation exercises or progressive muscle relaxation before you go to sleep.

 

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Sometimes the best way to alleviate stress is by engaging in your hobbies. Your body will surge with positive energy when it is inspired and engaged.

Hobbies:  Hobbies are something that you enjoy and get a great deal of pleasure from.  Some are able to combine exercise or running which is a healthy physical activity into a hobby that they enjoy.  My daughter loves to run marathons and has adopted running as a way to stay connected with herself, distress and enjoy one of her favorite things to do.

For others, these activities are something they do because it is healthy but do not consider it a hobby.  The list of hobbies are also endless but a hobby is something that will help you focus on the present, connects you to your talents, or gives you the opportunity to do something of interest to you while reducing stress.

 

Healthy sleep patterns:  One of the most common stressors of people I see in counseling is poor sleep patterns.  When you are sleep deprived it causes many problems related to anxiety and stress.

A great number of studies have shown the importance of a good night’s sleep.  There are people who require more or less sleep than others but we usually know about how much sleep we need to function without stressing our bodies.

Some tips for sleeping are:  develop a healthy sleep routine before bed, cut down on caffeine, do not use alcohol to induce sleep, take a bath or shower before going to bed, make sure you get enough light during the day, write down the things that are bothering you before going to sleep and put them in a box to remind yourself they will still be there when you get up, eat a light meal and avoid certain foods you know will keep you up, and you might consider not watching television in the bedroom before sleeping.

 

Time management:  If we are not careful, we can literally become a slave to the clock. Time management is a way to plan your day to make sure you are on the list of who you need to take care of.  Many people have time management planners and schedules but they neglect to put time for themselves in the schedule.  No one is going to do this for you.  If you do not take time for yourself; do not plan on any one else to do it for you.

 

Social Interaction:  Often we neglect time with our friends or family due to busy lifestyles and overwhelming schedules.  However, taking time to be with friends or family is a way to reduce stress and find validation, connection and enjoyment with the ones we love.  Some people worry about this because they feel being with family or friends is stressful.  Practice being yourself and being emotionally honest with your close friends and loved ones.  If they cannot accept you; work on finding friends that can honor and respect your journey in life as you honor and respect them.

 

Entertainment:  This may seem like a no brainer although, people who are highly stressed or have anxiety can neglect this because of cost or they do not have someone to go with, etc. Those that are able to use healthy entertainment are happier, healthier, and are much more capable of relaxing.

It does not need to cost money to be entertaining. Think of things that you enjoy and make a list. Then try to do one thing a month that you enjoy and helps you laugh or cry.  We live in an amazing world with a wide variety of healthy entertainment that can provide a release of stress.

This list is certainly not comprehensive or all inclusive but it may help you to think of some things that you can do to reduce stress and improve your quality of life.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  You can reduce your stress, you have a choice. It takes some time and practice but it will be worth it.

 

Nutrition:  Various foods we eat can actually cause stress to our body.  Investigating what foods cause stress and what foods help us manage stress can be a very important way of helping to reduce stress in our lives.  Empowered Life Solutions has another article in the Healthy Living section on “Healthy Eating”.

There are many stressors in this life.  We can learn to manage our stress and develop healthy attitudes and strategies for dealing with those stresses.  No one will do this for us, but we are worth doing it for ourselves.

Join Empowered Life Solutions Today!

Cindy Lee, LCSW, RPT-S; Clinical Director at Empowered Life Solutions

“Every life has a purpose our mission is to help you find yours.”

References and Related Reading

Langer, E. J. (1990) Mindfulness (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)

Hollings, R. (1982) Transcendental Meditation.

Walker, C. E. (1975) Learn to Relax: 13 Ways to Reduce Tension.

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