Stress management through threat assessment…
It can be helpful to notice that much of the time, we respond to everyday stressors with the fight-or-flight response as if the stressors were physical threat situations. Chronic stimulation of the ANS can lead to raised levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Our stress response improves when we become aware of the choices we can make in the moment immediately after “something happens”. It is in this moment that we can make a beneficial choice, and in doing so, optimize what happens next.
Your quality of life – and the quality of life of those close to you – is the accumulation of what you choose to do in the moment after “something happens”.
Seeing it in a new way…
Relief from stress often hinges on the meaning we make of our current situation. Shifting perspective and making new meaning can be freeing, liberating, and refreshing. The solutions-focused coaching I practice supports individuals in achieving this shift.
25 ways to reduce stress:
All the following help to regulate your stress neurotransmitters and hormones. Experiment with all of them if you can and then as a way of life, consistently do the ones that work best for you:
Try this 5 times: take a long, slow, deep breath in, hold each breath for a count of four, then slowly release the breath through your mouth.
Exercise and gentle stretching:
Moving in the fresh air is very effective: light running, brisk walking, cycling, swimming. In addition, yoga or gentle stretching, at home or in a studio, is very helpful. Exercise increases endorphins that help with depression, anxiety, sleep and sexual activity. Exercise also reduces your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but keep in mind that too much exercise increases cortisol levels. Breathe as you go. Be mindful. Relax. When you are exercising to reduce stress, really listen to your body to find your optimum amount of exercise. More is not necessarily better.
Try eating as much organic food as possible – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, animal growth hormones and antibiotics can really wreak havoc with your system. See if you can cut down on almost all sugar and processed foods. Eat whole foods – a plant-based diet of mostly vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, berries, and whole grains. If necessary, eat organically raised high quality eggs, dairy products, chicken, meat and wild fish.
Speak with your doctor about nutritional supplements: are you getting enough magnesium, B vitamins and iron? If you are feeling particularly fatigued, sensitive to the cold and feel like you have no motivation, get your thyroid levels checked. If it is winter, you are getting almost no sunshine, you feel down and are suffering from aches and pains, read up about vitamin D and ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Notice how your use of substances impacts your stress levels. Keep an eye on how many carbohydrates you are consuming, how much alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, sugar, dairy products and drugs you are consuming. Notice how you feel after ingesting any of these substances and how long it takes you to recover from the impact these things have on you. Notice how long you feel good between ingesting any of these. If you are using any of these substances in a bid to manage stress, see if you can use less of the stress-inducing substance and take up a genuinely productive, stress-relieving strategy that really works for you.
If you have never meditated before, just start by sitting still for a few minutes and basically doing nothing. When the thoughts come in, don’t worry – just keep sitting there, even if it’s only for a minute or two. Don’t forget to breathe. Gradually increase the time you spend doing this to about 10 minutes. Read some good books or websites on mindfulness training to learn about the benefits. Even if you meditate for just 10 – 20 minutes per day, you will feel the benefits over time. Do not underestimate the necessity and benefits of meditation and mind-training as part of your stress-reduction and relaxation promotion strategy.
Try some guided visualizations or guided imagery meditations that promote relaxation, happiness, inspiration and well being.
Create your own visualizations based on good memories from the past or the future accomplishment of your goals. Engage in this visualization for just two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening before you go to bed and notice the benefits.
Go for massage therapy regularly if you can, even if it’s just once a season – even if just once or twice a year.
Massage raises levels of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins while lowering cortisol and calming a raised fight-flight stress state. The corresponding mental, emotional and physical benefits are worth it.
Get a handle on your thoughts:
Begin to notice your thinking style. Notice if you have a lot of negative self-talk going on. Get on board with yourself: acknowledge that you are someone who is intent on lowering their stress levels and enjoying a more fulfilling, stress-free life. Acknowledge that you are not doing yourself any favours by indulging in a negative thinking style, and take yourself in hand. Get in the habit of questioning your negative or pessimistic thoughts. Do not let an old, negative-thought habit run your show. Start to question any negative thoughts that automatically spring up, and – by getting “real” – talk them down. Cultivate a state of mind that you actually find relaxing, enjoyable and at times just plain neutral. Also, keep in mind that it’s ok to have a bad day now and then. We don’t have to be up, happy and positive all the time.
Stop interacting with the stressor:
Sometimes you just have to put it down. Get up. Walk away. Stop seeing the person. Calmly don’t reply for once. Turn off the cell phone. Set limits to opening email. Clear some time in your weekend. Acknowledge to yourself that when you choose to stop interacting with the stressor, you are not doing so because you are “a hostile person” but are acting in alignment with your commitment to reduce your stress and create healthier, more personally satisfying, more mutually effective ways of interacting with your environment and those in it. What is good for you will ultimately be good for them, too. It’s ok to toss the dysfunctional script and write a better one that genuinely works for you.
Focus your senses:
When in an acute stress situation, give your senses something to focus on. Acknowledge the stressor, and at the same time, take a breath and use your eyes to really see some details around you. Depending on where you are, focus on the chair, the table, a picture on the wall, a door handle, a tree, a car, a dog – and really see it. Notice its shape, colour, texture, the material its made of. Just let your eyes rest on it and remember to breath. You can do the same thing with smell, sound, touch. Focusing on your senses helps you to stay grounded and keeps you oriented within your environment, helping to decrease feelings of anxiety, panic and distress. Focus, and count to 10. Breathe in that moment, and feel your heart rate slowing. Tell yourself, “There is no rush.” Tell the other person, if necessary, “Please give me a moment to think about this.” Postpone, if necessary, your reply to a later point in time.
Pamper your senses:
In the general bid to create a soothing, pleasurable living environment that contributes daily to your sense of well being, think of things that can you taste, touch, smell, see, and hear that will bring you some measure of delight, peace, calm, satisfaction and enjoyment. Create calm and order in your workspace and living space. Declutter, and instead of the clutter, create in the space that which delights, inspires and calms you.
Keep a stress journal:
Write down the date and time, the cause of the stress, gauge your stress level on a scale of 1 – 10, details of how you felt (loss of appetite etc), what you did well in response to the stressor, how you could do better next time, and the benefits for you and others of doing better.
Write about control:
Write freely about what you can and cannot control in your day-to-day life. Write what comes to mind as you notice what you can and cannot control. Write about what you can do about the things you can control, and write about what you can do given that there are some things you cannot control.
Write about what you love:
Write freely or make a list of things (events, people, whatever is at play) you enjoy, things you love, things you love doing, things you appreciate, things you are grateful for, things you are looking forward to, things that went well in the past.
Write about your goals and dreams:
Also write about your plans for implementing your dreams. Just fully enjoy the process of dreaming and planning no matter what your dreams and plans may be. Leave the “Critic” out of this. Just have fun with the dreaming and planning for now.
Prioritization for peace of mind:
It’s time to stop multi-tasking. Simply prioritize your To Do List for this hour or for this morning / afternoon or for today, and choose to only do the one main thing. Focus on doing this one thing and give yourself fully to the task. Take short breaks to relax as you transition from doing the one thing to the second priority on your list.
Declutter your brain by stopping the multi-thinking:
It’s time to stop trying to keep all the thought-balls in the air and all the mental-plates spinning. Put your thoughts down on paper or on your computer or phone in a list. Then let them all go and take at least a 5-minute break from thinking about any of them at all. Do something else for 5 minutes such as wash the dishes, water the plants or take out the recycling. Then, look at your list with fresh eyes and select one thing and do that. Have just one goal for the time permitted.
Declutter your space:
There is nothing like a good clear-out. Take a good look at your desk, your room, your living space, and see what you can toss, give away or sell. It is very rewarding to create clarity, lightness and the space to just be and breathe.
Get building some good stress boundaries:
Do not let stress, concerns, deadlines, worry or anxiety run rampant over all of your precious time and experience. Plan to do something satisfying, constructive or productive for 20 minutes, even if it’s just to tidy your desk, make one phone call or clean the bathroom – but – before you engage in this productive task, tell yourself you can worry all you like for 10 minutes. So go ahead: worry for 10 minutes, then stop completely, and do the task. Remember to breathe. If necessary, set yourself another productive task, then worry for 10 minutes, then engage in the productive task for 20 minutes. Aware engagement with this practice will lead to good stress boundaries.
Take a warm shower:
Obviously, this will make you feel good for a variety of reasons. Warm, not too hot. Breathe long and slowly while you are in the shower. To promote an atmosphere of calm, keep the lighting low if possible – you do not need to take a shower in the bright lights. If you have time, meditate for 10 or 20 minutes after your shower. Just sit there, doing nothing. Remember to breathe.
Engage with a friend:
Arrange to spend some quality time with a friend, even if just on the phone for 5 or 10 minutes. Notice how you feel if you permit yourself to vent or if you skip the venting. Often people feel better if they do not vent while with their friend and instead share a memory of a good time you had together or look forward to something enjoyable you plan to do in the near future. Often, venting, blaming, complaining or doom casting simply reinforces the stress. Experiment with letting your precious time with your friend be a moment of rejuvenation and delight.
Create a well-structured routine:
If you usually get up at the last moment, try getting up a bit earlier. Create the time and space to do some movement in the morning and to prepare for your day. Allow some time so that you don’t have to rush to work. When you arrive, take a minute or even 30 seconds to just sit there doing nothing except breathing. Take time for lunch even if it’s just 20 minutes to relax while you eat. Remind yourself to breathe all through the day. Take yourself off full-tilt. Run around if you have to at 90% instead of at 110%. At home, do what is necessary to prepare for the next day. Cook a nourishing dinner, minimize the screen time in the evening, and go to bed at a set time, preferably before midnight. Bring your favourite things, people, events and experiences into your routine – maximizing on what you enjoy day-to-day contributes directly to increased levels of happiness, life satisfaction and fulfillment.
When you must respond to a stressor:
Keep breathing, slow down, focus, stay oriented, and ask for time. It is very helpful to get into the habit of slowing down when stress hits as opposed to speeding up. When you draw out the moment in slow motion, you optimize your opportunities to make good choices. When you make good choices, the entire experience is less stressful and you require much less recovery time. After the stressful event, allow yourself some aware moments to recover. Get some support if possible, even just one hug from a friend or a moment to exchange a kind word with someone. Go easy on yourself. It’s ok.
When you are stressed, counselling can really help in a few ways. First, counselling helps you to de-escalate from the cortisol spike and calm down to the point where you regain your perspective and are actually then available to explore your own possibilities and choices. Second, you get to talk about your possibilities and reflect on options with someone who is carefully listening to you without any any judgment. I do not pose an agenda for you, or make suggestions or give you advice. I will, however, ask you some powerful questions which support your thinking process, providing you with opportunities to see your situation from fresh perspectives. Third, I help you to formulate action steps to manage your stress, decrease it, or eliminate it altogether, depending on your needs and wants. The action steps help keep you on track and immediately contribute to increased quality of life. Many clients say that what they find most beneficial about the counselling sessions is: “I just get to talk – to really talk it through – and that is invaluable”.