How Do You Handle Stress?
There is nothing that I can do directly to change the stressors in your life, but I can help you to re-frame the way you think about these stresses to make your experience completely different.
These days most of my patients feel stressed. While I understand that it is a fast paced and demanding world that we live in, our bodies are not meant to be in a constant state of stress. We have mechanisms in place to deal with short term intense events (fight or flight), but if we are constantly feeling stressed, this is very hard on the body and can wreak havoc on organ systems such as our adrenals, thyroid, digestive systems and beyond.
- Novelty of an event (newer event -> more stress)
- Unpredictable nature of an event (more unpredictable -> more stress)
- Threat to our body or ego (Higher threat ->higher stress)
- Sense of Loss of control (loss of control -> higher stress)
- Lengthen your time horizon. Sure an event like a fight with a spouse, a car cutting your off, or being late to a meeting seems stressful while it is occurring. Next time you recognize yourself getting stressed by something "in the moment", expand your time-frame. Think about how you will feel about this event in an hour, a day, a week, or a year. Will you even remember that it happened? If you can take yourself out of the moment by expanding your time-frame, you realize that many stresses are not a big deal in the grand scheme of life.
- Increase your sense of control by planning ahead. Each September when I started a new school year, I practiced going through my schedule before the first day of school. This made the first day of school less stressful because I knew where I was going and didn't need to have the extra worry about getting lost or not being able to find my classroom. In any stressful situation, there are lots of variables, and many of them are out of your control. Try to find one or a few things that you can control, and use this to make the entire event seem less stressful.
- Increase your sense of control by breaking a big event or stressor into manageable pieces: Between my husband and I, we had A LOT of student loan debt. For many people, the thought of owing $300,000 can be enough to make you want to run and hide. I took the best control of the situation that I could by organizing the debt, agreeing on a payoff time frame, and coming up with a budget to continue making payments to meet this long term goal. Now each month when I make our payment, I am not overwhelmed by the debt, but proud that were were able to keep chipping away at it.
- Recognize that stress isn't always harmful. Our bodies are wired to have a "fight or flight" stress response to intense situations. If you are about to give a big presentation or speak in front of a group of people, sweaty palms, and a fast heartbeat are completely normal. Some people categorize this as "anxiety", but by recognizing that these "symptoms" are normal considering the situation, it can put a positive spin on things.
- Change the way you think about an event. Instead of thinking about being stuck in traffic as a stressful event, use it as a time to enjoy some peace and quiet, or good music. Instead of thinking about a speech as a chance to humiliate yourself, remember how much you prepared and that it is a chance to wow and impress your audience.
- Embrace the stress as a challenge or chance to grow. I realize that not everything can have a positive spin put on it, but maybe a job loss can free up time in your schedule to pursue a different career path that you are passionate and excited about. Maybe the diagnosis of a new condition will give you permission to put yourself first, and take control of your health.