written by: Anne-Marie Bruton LPC
We are living in an unusual time with increased stress due to COVID and world events. I would like to share several ways that may help you learn to manage your stress.
Awareness is an enabling condition for employing management techniques. Without awareness of stressors, stress symptoms, and stress coping strategies we are condemned to experience repeatedly the discomfort of stressful situations in our lives. Practice becoming aware. From time to time ask yourself, “What’s going on right now?” “How’s my body reacting to this situation?” “Is there some better adjustment to my present situation?” Once, armed with a moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening, you will be in a better positioned to take appropriate actions to prevent or reduce stress in your life.
Perform preventive maintenance on your body as a defense against the beating it is required to take from your stressful lifestyle. Eliminate high-risk behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking since they interfere with the working of your immune system and, thus, reduce your resistance to disease and cancer. Introduce a reasonable amount of rhythm in your daily activities – keep regular hours. Sleep 7–8 hours a night; eat regular meals and be certain that breakfast is one of them; get plenty of exercise, preferably aerobic forms; maintain optimal body weight; learn moderation in most things; and change your lifestyle rather than depend on drugs for stress reduction.
Get in touch with your tolerance for stimulation. Your body will serve as a meter to register your response. If the stimulation is right, it will seem that you have reached your “cruising speed.” Remember, too much or too little stimulation will create distress. Take action to adjust life demands to accommodate your optimal stimulation range.
Beware of rapid acceleration or rapid deceleration in stimulation levels. Both are associated with the onset of illness. The body can nicely accommodate to significant increases or decreases in stimulation if given sufficient time. If you are presently experiencing dangerously high levels of stimulation, reduce life demands gradually. Sudden withdrawal is associated with a more serious array of illnesses than sudden activation. Learn to properly space life demands. You have greater control over life demands than you may think. We tend to project responsibility for overload even when we have chosen to take on the load. Learn to Pace Yourself. Learn to take time out for “centering.” Pull back periodically and gain perspective on your efforts. Prioritize and clarify your values. When over-worked, negotiate for more time rather than forcing your body to bear the increasing pressure.
Challenge and change stressful thinking. Every time you reprocess stressful situations your body reacts by producing stress hormones. These hormones accumulate as a result of these mental rehearsal, and you will soon experience nervousness and fatigue. Try not to allow stress symptoms to become cues for heightening your distress. When you become aroused, use your awareness of your arousal as a cue to take appropriate action. Most of our stress is a result of our thinking. Inventory your beliefs and perceptual filters. Work to reprogram your automatic thoughts—to replace stressful ones with thoughts more in tune with the reality of the situation. Most of us tend to exaggerate dangers and frustrations in the environment. Listen in on your internal dialogue. Identify what you are saying to yourself that stresses you. Take responsibility for your stressful reactions.
Be assertive, but not aggressive. Learn to honestly express your feelings more often. Disclose both negative and positive feelings. The one characteristic that most clearly distinguishes low stress suffers from high stress suffers is their willingness to self-disclose, and willingness to disclose is a prime trait of the carcinogenic personality. Failure to speak up when being exploited leaves us doubly angry—angry with the exploiter and angry with ourselves. Your assertiveness will contribute increasingly to a sense of self-respect.
In spite, of all our efforts to manage stress, we are apt to experience painful arousal more times than we would like. We need a “decompression chamber,” a way to depressurize. We may choose to experience the “healing silence” of meditation, visualization, or deep muscle relaxation at times; or we may choose a more active approach like aerobic exercise to dissipate stress hormones. We must find a practice that fits our interests and use it daily.
Changing your lifestyle to accommodate these stress management strategies will contribute markedly to the quality of your life, lower the risk of disease, and years to your longevity.