By Tyler Watson
Managing stress. As a modern concept, we've been working at it for some decades now and we're still not experts. Most of us have had exposure to a variety of interventions, remedies and points of view on the subject. You are not going to read about a new patented stress cure, nor be told how stress affects you. Even if you can't remember the biology of the "fight or flight response," you certainly know when it's been devouring your reserve energy supply. Is it possible in this day and age to get actual lasting relief from this persistent energy parasite? The answer is yes, but it will require for defining both the stress cause, and the strategy for stress relief.
Effective, lasting stress management demands examining your total person in your total environment from your belief systems down to your habit patterns. Stress management remedies abound, but each offers a method that may or may not be useful to you. For instance, if you are already an assertive and direct person, shouting out your frustrations and disappointments while beating a life-size Bozo with a foam bat will probably not be very helpful as a stress management strategy. I recommend that you develop both a short and long term plan, one to cover the immediate crises and one to rebuild a new stress-resilient nature.
The goal of a long term plan is to accomplish the difficult task of reshaping the parts of your perceptions that allow stressors to overburden you. Ultimately, in the great big picture, your beliefs shape your perceptions and attitudes about reality, and that directly determines your stress coping capacity. If you have the belief that you are undeserving of happiness or are being justly punished with a tough situation for something you did, you will develop a victimized attitude. You're likely to have stressful guilt and/or fear, and feel stagnated at work or in relationships. This doesn't mean you have to go out and find a psychologist and start therapy, although it could be an excellent option depending on your situation. It does mean you could take steps to understand why you get as stressed as you do. If you fail to take responsibility for your own shaping process, you are doomed to live out the consequences of somebody else's belief systems.
If you know you're a workaholic or Type A person, you know you don't give yourself enough time to relax, unwind and re-energize your reserves. Your ingrained, perceptions are currently set up this way. You probably prize productivity and efficiency over personal growth and leisure. You won't stop stressing just because you've now added a vigorous aerobics regimen to your over-booked schedule and eat more fiber. However, if you consult a stress counselor, you may learn something new about time-management that helps you work in the yoga class you know will help you to rejuvenate.
Attitude training programs, show you how to design personal success though positive thinking and goal-setting strategies. Different programs vary in their emphases, but most include the philosophy that we are responsible for our own success or failure. By systematically examining values and motives you can crystallize your desires and integrate them into your intentions, habits, and self-image. The result is a more organized, self-confident, stress-controlled life style.
Maybe you've already spent concerted time gaining insight into your beliefs, personality patterns, strengths and weaknesses. You are probably a much better stress manager than you would be if you had skipped this introspective phase for a head-start on the ladder to success. Today you would likely be relying heavily on multiple, negative interventions (like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, pain killers, denial, avoidance, etc.) that cost so much more in the long run. But you may still assess your personal stress levels as reaching critical mass too often and still need help.
Continual bad habits can add to your stress load. Behavioral modification can help all kinds of habit-formed stressors. From chronic lateness or avoiding new experiences, to anxiety attacks or addictions, success requires renewed willpower and self-esteem, which are critical to positive behavioral change. Most university hospitals have behavioral modification programs to consider.
If you think you just don't have time to invest in self exploration, consider a similar illustration. If you didn't grow up with computers in grade school, you probably resisted the prospect of learning how to use them. Eventually, you realized it would cost you much more not to get involved to some degree. So, you made the time to struggle through the basics to your current level of proficiency. Maybe you were set back in your other tasks at the time, but now you have a skill that will continue to grow at a rate that makes sense for you.
The following suggestions are potential stress busters for you, if you thoughtfully choose ones that make good sense for you and give them a fair trial run. The general media is a good place to generate start-up ideas, a week will not go by without a stress management piece appearing, either on a T.V. talk show, in a printed article, or as part of a seminar at work or in the community. There are many informative books and articles focusing on the physiological components of stress maintenance in the areas of exercise, nutrition, and sexual health--this makes for a tangible and relatively easy starting place. Here's some questions to ask yourself as you contemplate various common stressors. Ask yourself where you lose the most personal energy. Do you live too much in the past reworking what might have been? Do you expend too much energy worrying about what might happen in the future?
Divide everyone you know into two categories: people who add to your energy level and those who drain you. Chances are, you need to spend more time with those on the short list.
Empty your closets of regrets, grudges and resentments, forgiving yourself and others actively disrupts a stronghold of toxic thoughts that gradually poison healthy areas of personality like optimism and self-esteem. This activity can require time, effort and sometimes help, but it is worth the work.
Diaphragmatic breathing and meditation are effective ways of un-cluttering the mind and reestablishing order and calm perspective. There are several flavors that range from practical breathing exercises and mental imaging to meditation with spiritual awareness goals.
Therapeutic massage helps the body and mind to deeply relax while the chemical byproducts of stress are removed by enhancing blood circulation. The physical and mental benefits of massage are cumulative with regular weekly or biweekly sessions.
Leisure time and vacations can be great stress reducers but you need to plan them and utilize them effectively. Smart recess, or resting from all kinds of activity is practically forgotten in our culture. Most of us only know sleep, because we can't avoid it. Rejuvenation is available to mind, body and spirit if we make time to rest from normal activities.
In biofeedback therapy, electronic devises are used to monitor the internal states of the body that are affected by stress. For those of you who rely on digital readouts and quantified percentages to get your bearings in this world, this one's for you. Seeing your blood pressure, muscle tension level, breathing and heart rates, can help you monitor your physical reactions to stressors and also demonstrate how to control them with thought. Biofeedback can be a high-tech short cut to some of the benefits of meditation.
Progressive relaxation uses a self-monitoring approach similar to meditation and biofeedback. Since most stress winds up as muscle tension, this approach helps to promote muscle relaxation by systematically tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time while exhaling during the relaxation phase. A mini- version of this technique is to write out on several post-it notes, "Are you tensing?" (your neck and shoulders). Stick them in all the places where you tend to unconsciously tense up: computers, dash boards, desks, etc. When you see the note, exaggerate the tensing motion while breathing in. Then relax the tensed muscles with your exhalations. Add a few full shoulder rotations and get back to work. Repeat often and change the "post-it note" color from time to time so it wont become invisible.
Some final principles to employ at all times: find more reasons to laugh. Discover the humorous side in all areas of life, especially your own. Take up a new hobby as you spend less time watching TV A good hobby requires your creativity, it builds self-esteem and acts as a healthy diversion from problems so you can go back later with a clearer mind. Exercise your imagination--it is not a pastime for children but a potent tool for creative change. As Albert Einstein said, "imagination is more powerful than knowledge." If it's impractical for you to have a pet and you love animals, pet-sit or spend time with friends who have pets that you enjoy. Remember, a reasonable amount of stress is what motivates new ideas and solutions. Dis-stress is what depletes energy.
Making smart stress busting choices can be perplexing. A professional consultant can save you time finding resources and offer advise you might not get otherwise, but it is essential to realize that only you can tailor the strategy that will work for you. A stress manager's job as teacher and guide is to help you recognize where you are now and to suggest how to sift and select from the available options. The process is similar to investing in a personal trainer, someone to get you off on the right foot and then back away as you get your wings.
To discuss an on-site massage program or a stress management workshop for your company or organization, please give us a call at 215.765.8461 or email: