Candida Condor, Psy.D.
STRESSED MIND = WEAKENED BODY
Stress is fast becoming a 21st century plague. The age-old adage that people can worry themselves sick is indeed true. Doctors used to say, "it's only stress", but now we know better than to brush it off. Too much stress makes us sick and the stress factor in our lives is growing exponentially, leaving us increasingly susceptible to dis-ease. Many of us are chronically exhausted and dragging ourselves through the day.
Stress has serious consequences. We must not allow it to rob us of our health, our happiness and our future. We must not allow it to reduce our effectiveness in our families or on the job.
We know more about the effects of stress than ever before and there are many simple things we can do to reduce our stress level. But first, we have to deem stress reduction a worthy cause and not be so willing to carry the weight of it on our backs.
GOOD STRESS BAD STRESS
Stress impacts your life both positively and negatively. There is good stress and bad stress. We can handle more bad stress when we get enough good stress. What constitutes good and bad stress is different for each of us.
One type of person thrives in a situation that overstresses another. Each of us need enough of the right kind of activity to feel energized but not so much that we feel over-burdened and worn down.
The STRESSBUSTERS on these pages are easy ways to reduce your stress load and put more pleasure in your life. They won’t all apply to you. Some of them will fit members of your family. You might be astonished at how little it takes to feel much better, more accomplished and masterful in your endeavors.
If you are feeling stressed-out, no need to blame yourself or think it’s a matter of character weakness. Bad stress is a legitimate psychological and physiological response to a world spinning out of balance. Many people are having difficulty adapting to the fast pace of modern life and we need all the help we can get.
The first place to balance our stress level is to remove any sense of self-blame for being stressed-out. Think of yourself as reducing stress in small increments – a little here, a little there - that all adds up to a greater sense of peace and vitality.
Sometimes the proportions of our normal activities are out of balance. Bringing them into balance restores your sense of well-being. Small adjustments can result in big rewards.
WORK PLAY REST STUDY
A balance of Work, Play, Rest and Study, not in equal time, but relatively equal satisfaction can make all the difference in our overstressed lives.
Where are you feeling out of balance? Do you need to add or subtract Work? Play? Rest? Or Study? Is your mind being over or under utilized? Do you need to increase or decrease your mental stimulation? Is your body getting enough, too much, or too little sleep and exercise? Do you need to attend to your to your health? Is it time to address your nutrition or get a medical checkup? Acupuncture is an affordable and surprisingly painless way to locate and correct imbalances.
Imbalance is BAD STRESS that saps strength. Chronic bad stress suppresses the immune system. Achieving balance in your body, mind and activities reduces stress, restores energy, repairs ill health and greatly enhances your enjoyment of YOUR LIFE.
We need to be productive to feel energetic and good about ourselves. Over-work is stressful. It drains our energy and squeezes the fun out of life. Work doesn’t only mean earning money. Work is anything that returns a sense of accomplishment.
Sometimes a job that earns good money can leave you feeling unproductive. Unproductive work can feel like being stuck on the hamster wheel because the vital sense of meaning and purpose is absent. But that can be managed by balancing it with a more satisfying activity.
Lack of work can feel as debilitating as overwork.A lack of productivity is a deficiency of good stress. Insufficient good stress leads to boredom, loss of self-esteem, produces anxiety and can result in depression which suppresses our body’s ability to build immunity against illness. A great deal of personal satisfaction comes from giving your best to work and believing you are doing a good job.
We need to learn new things to feel like we are continually growing. Have you ever heard yourself say, “I’ve always wanted to try that, or learn that? Can you remember the good feeling you had when you said it? Being a student of something or different things through out life is enlivening. Study is good stress, if it is kept in balance with the rest of your activities.
If your work requires a lot of brainpower, you might want to learn something that involves your body, and gives your mind a break, like taking up a sport or a craft. New endeavors that involve machines, or making something with your hands relieve your mind while teaching a new skill. If your work already involves your body, or you work with machinery, you can create balance with a course of study that stimulates your mind. A useful form of study can often be found at the workplace if you keep an attitude of wanting to improve your skills and performance.
REST & PLAY
Play is anything that’s fun to YOU that doesn’t involve a deadline or responsibility. Play keeps us young and vital. Rest keeps us healthy and creative – it’s not only about sleep, but any activity that leaves you feeling rested and re-energized. One person’s Rest can be another person’s Play. It’s not about an activity that is typically designated as “work” or “play”. A ball game can be play for one person and very restful for another. Yoga, meditation, or gardening can be one person’s pleasure and another person’s pain.
Decorating a house, or planting a garden, can feel like playing or dreadfully stressful overwork. Do you need to gift yourself with a massage or day at the Spa? Only you can know which activities energize you and relieve your stress.
Even if you love an activity, too much of it knocks you out of balance and delivers a stress overload. Adding a little of what ever is missing, relieves the pressure and restores the balance.
STRESS RELIEF THROUGH NUTRITION
Science has made giant strides in determining how food affects our stress level. We know that certain foods fight cancer and lower blood pressure. Some of these foods also decrease stress by inhibiting the release of the stress hormones.
For instance, eating dark berries with anthocyanins and fresh fish with high amounts n-3 fatty acids (think BEAR’S DIET – salmon and berries) has been shown in university studies to relieve physiological stress, because those foods reduce Cortisol. If you don’t like fish and can’t find dark berries, there are supplements like berry capsules and pharmaceutical grade fish oils that have no fishy taste. These foods have innumerable health benefits beyond stress relief.
Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing you are taking care of your health which GREATLY REDUCES BAD STRESS. Once our body’s stress level diminishes, we can adopt more stress relieving activities. We all know that meditation or prayer reduces stress, but if we’re too tightly wound we simply cannot become still enough to do it. Certain foods can calm us just enough to enable us to make more self-healing choices.
DISCOVER YOUR STRESS TRIGGERS
Overloaded minds and emotions weaken the body, but it’s not just your own frazzled mind you need to be concerned about. Agitation is contagious. Being around angry or anxious people can make you start to feel the same way.
Calm is contagious too. Calm people have a calming affect. Practicing being the calming influence in a high stress situation can actually reduce the stress level for all concerned. Even minor adjustments, like spending a little more time with a calming friend and a little less time with the one’s who aggravate you, ca make a big difference.
Sound can be either calming or agitating. If a ringing telephone increases your anxiety, try turning off the ringer for a while, Soothing music can comfort you and soothe your nerves. Loud music, even if you enjoy it, can fray your nerves if it splits your attention from something else you are doing. Is the TV making static in your mind? It may be time to become selective about what you watch.
If you feel yourself getting upset when you read the newspaper, try giving it up for a little while and fill the time with something relaxing or energizing.
PUT YOURSELF FIRST
This section is for those of you who tend to put yourself last or believe that you should be able to take care of everything and everyone without also taking care of yourself.
How often do you put off doing what you enjoy in order to do whatever needs doing? We call ourselves selfish if we put ourselves first. If you really knew the negative impact this has on your health and your life, would you make the same choices?
Every plane flight begins with the flight attendant giving us emergency life-saving instructions. Remember the part when they say, if the oxygen mask drops from the upper compartment, PUT IT ON YOURSELF FIRST before putting the oxygen mask on your child. You have to save yourself FIRST, before you can be any good to anyone else. If you put yourself last, you wind up dragging through life with your loved ones still complaining that they’re aren’t getting enough from you. And they are right, because if you lose your love for what you are doing, you dry up from going through the motions.
When you attend to your well being first, you will find yourself enjoying a lot more of whatever you do. Think about what you really enjoy and incorporate those activities into your life.
PRACTICE SAYING “NO”
This section is for those of you who find it difficult to ever say “NO”.
Think about the things you would like to say “NO” to. Saying NO can initially cause more stress. So, remember you don’t have to actually say “NO” until you are ready. Just think about it. And once you feel ready, begin with small NO’s and work up to harder ones. Where are you over-committed or doing things you don’t want to do?
Feelings of guilt usually accompany saying NO. This kind of guilt comes from breaking a self-imposed rule – it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. When you choose to say NO, it’s because it’s right for you and better for your stress level, which is ultimately better for all concerned. Also, when it’s hard to say NO, you might hear yourself saying NO a little too hard. In the beginning this is natural. Your NO’s will soften over time, as your guilt fades away. Your peace of mind will greatly reward you; the more you give yourself permission to say NO.
And… sometimes a NO will turn into a genuine YES, if you first give yourself permission to say NO.
ASK FOR SUPPORT
All too often the most stressed out person is also the person that can’t or won’t ask for help. The Perfectionist or Type A personality tends to take-on too much of everything and tries to do it all ALONE. This creates BAD STRESS. You know who you are, and if this is you, think about the trusted people in your life, that want to support you, have tried to support you and you wouldn’t let them.
Practice (on the little things first) asking for and accepting support. You might feel uncomfortable at first because you are breaking an internal rule. “I have to do everything myself”. “If I have to ask, it doesn’t count”. “It’s easier to do it myself than take the time to show someone how to do it”. “If they help me then I’ll be beholden to them.” Whatever your self-conversation is that keeps you feeling overloaded, and stops you from getting help – that’s the stress-causing belief that needs to be challenged, just a little bit at a time, to relieve a little stress and increase your vitality, bit by bit.
Sometimes a good therapist can help you re-sort priorities and be an advocatefor the new choices you want to make. Support is a basic need. Human beings were designed to need support.
DE-STRESS YOUR HOME & IT WILL DE-STRESS YOU
It takes minimal time and energy to minimize stress and receive energy dividends. Everything in your home affects your mood and energy level. If you feel good when you look at something, it is giving you energy. If you feel badly, when you look at it, you are losing energy and building bad stress. For instance, a stack of bills, when you don’t have time or enough $$ to pay them, spikes the stress level in your body even if you just walk past that pile. You don’t even have to look at it, to be negatively affected. Cover that paper pile with a cloth you like to look at and your stress level will instantly diminish.
Put your bills or paperwork into a roll-around organizer that you can roll out of your sight when you’re not using it. Move your office out of your bedroom and you will sleep better. Take down pictures or other art objects that give you anxiety and bring home fresh flowers if it makes you feel good to see and smell them. A pleasant environment makes all the difference in making you feel relaxed and energized.
IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
A restful night’s sleep is essential to stress reduction. Here’s a buffet of choices.
Go to sleep at roughly the same time every night and get up at approximately the same time each morning. We give our children bedtimes because we know it’s good for them. It is good for us too. Get some kind of exercise each day, preferably outdoors. If you’re a light sleeper, wear a sleep mask and ear plugs. Keep a pen by your bed to write down those ‘last thoughts’ so they don’t keep you awake. Make your bed as comfortable as possible, so even if you are not sleeping you can enjoy the pleasure of the warmth, support and comfort of your bed.
Avoid caffeine after noon, limit alcohol, and eat only small snacks before bedtime. Try nighttime teas or a cup of hot milk. Hot baths and a drop of lavender oil on your bed pillow works wonders for women. Experiment with natural or homeopathic sleep-aids. If you awaken during the night, before you start thinking, implement a boring exercise of counting backwards, repeating meaningless sounds in your head or imagine soothing images to lull you back to sleep. There are excellent CD’s of guided imagery with soothing messages, music and sounds that greatly enhance healing and sleep.
COME INTO THE MOMENT
Until now, the stressbusting solutions have been left-brain oriented. Left (DO) and right (BE) brain uses need to be balanced too. You have powerful internal resources readily available once you tap into them.
We stress ourselves out from overstuffing the present moment with too many thoughts and feelings about the past and future. We can be in a beautiful place and fail to notice or enjoy it because we’re too full of ‘there’ and ‘then’ to be available to the experience of ‘here’ and ‘now’.
The next time you are in a pleasant setting, you can seize the opportunity to open your eyes wider and let them see, as if for the first time, the beauty around you. Imagine yourself like a child again, seeing with brand new awareness the beauty of THIS MOMENT. What are the sensations? What are the emotions that are about only this moment? What do your eye’s see? NOTICE and take in whatever is surrounding you and appreciate this moment.
BREATHE TO RELAX OR RE-ENERGIZE
Breath is the first gift of life. It’s the very first and last thing we do and it’s way underrated. We can do wondrous things with breathing that are easy to do any time, any place. Traffic jams, grocery lines and running errands can be stressful because we feel like we are wasting our valuable time. These are also opportunities to de-stress, relieve dis-ease and re-energize ourselves.
Sit up or stand up a little bit straighter. Take a few long s l o w inhales into your nose and through your whole body to r e l a x.
Imagine, visualize and feel your breath moving all the way to your toes. Bring it back up through your mouth and let it go with a long slow exhale.
To re-energize yourself, take more forceful inhales through your nose; send them through your whole body. Push the breath out more forcefully through your mouth when you want to feel invigorated.
NOTICE YOUR BODY SIGNALS
Every stressful moment comes with a corresponding body sensation indicating discomfort. The sensation might come as a pressure on your chest, shortness of breath, racing heart beat, knot in the stomach, hot feeling in the face, pain in your muscles, or the beginning of a headache.
All these sensations are signals to us that we are under too much strain. They are small warnings, which if left unaddressed, can mature into anxiety attacks, or chronic conditions. By noticing these signals, you can employ your own style of biofeedback and almost instantly reduce your stress.
Once you notice the body sensation, you can turn your attention to it, become curious about the meaning of its message. Use the previous breathing exercise, and be amazed by how fast your body balances itself and relaxes you. That’s your body’s way of saying, “Thank you for noticing my discomfort” and rewarding you for your effort on your own behalf.
LISTEN TO YOUR SELF-TALK
Stress comes from the outside and from the inside. Sometimes stress is unwittingly self-imposed. If you are feeling stressed, some of it might be coming from your own head.
Do you get angry with yourself? Frustrated? Impatient? Is there a voice inside that calls you stupid? Do you hear demands that say, “just do it, hurry up!” If you listen to your self-talk, you will learn many things about one cause of bad stress.
You don’t have to change this – JUST NOTICE. No need to argue with that inner voice. If instead, you become curious about that critical or urgent inner voice, then new thoughts and feelings will jump into your mind to give you another point of view; one that treats you more fairly. Taking some time to give yourself attention and curiosity is all you need to begin to diminish the part of your stress overload that is self-inflicted.
Fear of making a mistake is a big stressor. It can cause us to try too hard and overshoot the target, something that can have far reaching consequences. Fear of making a mistake can also cause us to avoid taking risks at all which diminishes the ability to learn from experience. A teacher of mine once said, when I was reeling from making a mistake, “To learn anything new takes 1,000 mistakes. You have 999 to go.”
If we don’t welcome mistakes we become susceptible to pretending that we didn’t make one and we lose the opportunity for learning. If we use our mistakes as learning tools, instead of crimes worthy of self-punishment, we become minimally stressed and maximally creative.
The road to Self Mastery is paved with mistakes.
TAKE A ONE MINUTE VACATION
Real vacations are never perfect, but we can make them so in our mind. Once a day, or whenever you remember, for at least one minute, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your very favorite place. Use all of your senses to see, hear, smell, feel and sense this perfect place that exists for your pleasure, to help you unwind. Are you at the beach? Are you in the mountains? Are you at a special place you’ve been before or a place you’ve always wanted to go?
Are you cozy inside by a warm fire, looking at rain or snow through the window? Can you smell the wood burning? Or are you outside, feeling the coolness of the breezes and warmth of sunlight. Are you by an ocean or stream? Can you feel the sand or water on your toes? Can you see the colors, hear the sounds?
Let your imagination take you to your very favorite place. Engage all your senses and let them take you on a perfect one-minute vacation.
REMEMBER YOUR DREAMS
Dreams come from our unconscious mind. They are how our deepest Self, the part of us that knows and understands us, sends messages to our conscious mind.
Dreams arrive in dramatic symbolism and exaggerated events to get our attention. Even if our dreams are troubling, there is no reason to be afraid of them. They hold the key to unraveling a conflict or affirming a decision. They come from our inner wisdom and can offer valuable guidance, if we catch them and pay heed. The pad and pen you keep by the bed to write those bedtime thoughts or next day’s ‘to do’ list can double as your dream journal.
Dreams need to be written down right after awakening, maybe with your morning cup of coffee. If you miss writing down a dream, it is usually forgotten, but that’s okay – the important ones will return, until you remember. Read them within a day or two of recording them and their message will start to become clear. If you have a decision to make or a problem to solve, ASK yourself for a dream at bedtime and it will come to help you know what to do. This feeling of having an inner guide can be greatly stress reducing.
ACCEPT THE STRESS CHALLENGE
Bad stress is reduced little by little, by removing a few stressors, adding a few relaxers, and balancing the mix. You can recharge your life by letting some of these STRESSBUSTERS add up.
Begin with accepting the challenge to reduce your stress. Your body, mind, and spirit will register your intention and reward you with that feeling of knowing help is on the way. You can accept the stress challenge just by taking a moment to affirm that you want to feel better, improve your health, and feel more zest for life.
This booklet is about relieving STRESS, not adding more. Look over the possibilities – choose what you want and leave the rest. Perhaps you can share some with members of your family. Once you accept the stress challenge, your curiosity and creativity will reward you with more stress reduction ideas, tailor made just for YOU.
Candida Condor, Psy.D. is the author of The Mystery of Healing: Engaging The Healer Within, a set of experiential tools to promote Radiant Life.
©Candida Condor 2009