Tag Archives: Stress Management

First Steps Toward Healthy Change

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Funny Stressed Cat

Funny Stressed Cat

There is no longer any question about the horrific impact varying degrees of stress can have on our all-to-fragile human system. There are experts such as Drs. Lyle H. Miller and Alma Dell Smith, two people who have dedicated their professional lives to the measurement, analysis, and treatment of stress and stress-related ailments and complaints and many others, who can vouch for both the subtle and not so subtle impact that various forms and degrees of stress can have on those most susceptible and overtaken by stress.

In most of these cases, references are made to the emotional/psychological effects of stress and talks about anxiety and how people who are under a lot of stress, physiologically suffer negative impact on blood pressure, aches and pains (very commonly head pain), heart palpitations (leading to heart problems), and possibly even more damaging long-term effects.

World of Stress

World of Stress

And it is very clear and quite easy to understand the direct correlation between change (especially quick changes) and stress. For almost all of us, whenever things happen to cause high degrees of change in short periods of time, the level of stress experienced increases dramatically. And, this makes sense and can be exhibited by the endless supply of advice we are given by those around us to ‘slow down’ and ‘not move too quickly’ through upsetting events. We are advised to ‘count to 10’ so that our feelings of anger and hurt don’t overtake us and we lose balance with rational thought and our over-burdened emotions.

Alternate View of Stress

Alternate View of Stress

We are taught repeatedly in our life lessons that it is smart to ‘give things time’ or to ‘sleep on it’ and ‘let it simmer’ before making any major decisions that will cause a major change. Very few of us go through life without being told by those closest to us ‘don’t rock the boat’ or ‘take your time’. We humans tend to avoid major change…especially when it occurs quickly. We avoid it and advise our loved ones to do the same.

Perhaps one of the most tumultuous times in our humans lives when things change very quickly (whether we want them to or not) is during the period of time we refer to as adolescence:

* Bodies grow and develop, for some practically overnight

* Hormones that we may never knew we possessed, run rampantly through our system – causing emotions to seem like an open mine field

* Social expectations and pressures play havoc even with those with even the most sturdy and consistent of upbringings

And that is just a brief introduction to some of the landscape of the adolescent portrait.

Parent to Teen

Parent to Teen

We can start by adding a dose of understanding to our teenagers. Knowing and realizing just how ‘at risk’ children in the 13-19 age range are can be a wonderful place to start in helping them (and you as the adult who cares the most about them) restore some extremely-needed balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Mindfulness 101

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Volvo SUV

Volvo SUV

Did you ever make up your mind that you were going to buy a new car? One of the most amazing things happens when that occurs. After painstaking contemplation and consideration, you finally decide on the make and model you are going to get, maybe even the color.

It is always right after this decision that you become amazingly aware of just how many makes and models in the same color you have chosen are actually on the road. It is almost as if a magic car fairy has transplanted all these ‘imitation’ vehicles on the roads you travel, just for you to be able to see just how your new car is going to look on the road once you get it.

Not really, but it sure does seem that way!

Magic of Mindfulness

Magic of Mindfulness

Well, it’s sort of like that when it comes to me and the term mindfulness. I first ran across the word term when a colleague of mine who is very up on these types of things began using it in conjunction with regard to her working with her clients who were overly anxious. She didn’t define it, but I pretty much understood what the concept meant through the content of her description.

And then, as if by some miracle, the expression fairy came down and began placing the concept of mindfulness in more than ¾ of the material I read and things I heard. It is a major construct in positive psychology and it seems to be more or less of a buzz word these days but that just makes me wonder if it is be getting too much use.

The risk is that it is misused, not really over-used. So, I am going to try and prevent that from occurring when I discuss it. To me, mindfulness is more than becoming aware of ourselves on a deeper level. It is also becoming more aware of other people on a deeper level as well. And that is an important component of the term because without it, we are shortchanging its intention as well as many of the benefits to practicing it.

To be mindful means to be able to tune in without distraction – not only the type of outer distractions we are all so familiar with, but also anything going on within us as we are dealing with a given situation.

Time for a bit of honesty here – because we all do it. I know you know what I’m talking about – I am as guilty of it in my role as anyone – we are called upon by someone who has something to say to us, be it professionally or in our private lives – maybe our spouse or our son or daughter – and we start out attending to them and listening intently. But out of nowhere, we get walloped with the thought that we have to be at the field to pick up little Jimmy and there is bound to be traffic and dinner is going to be late enough as it is and yadda yadda….

Before we know it, our insides are shaking, our brainwaves are frazzled and we haven’t really heard the last 50 words the person speaking to us has said.

We are human. Our feelings are impacted due to all the thoughts that float in and out of our heads. I have heard most people averages about 60,000 thoughts per day. That’s an awful lot of opportunity for internal distraction, don’t you think?

So unless we can learn how to temper our feelings that go out of whack when some of these 60,000 thoughts triggers deep feelings for us, we are going to lose our attention and our focus. In essence, we have popped out of mindfulness.

So in order to really be mindful, we have to learn how to handle our internal emotions from pulling us off track and since we can’t stop thinking, the only possible point for control comes when the thought triggers the feelings.

If we learn how to manage our emotions so we do not lose our equilibrium – our balance, then we can remain mindful and still give our feelings the right to exist. In fact, we actually give our feelings more permission to exist through being mindful – we just don’t dwell on the feelings and permit them to knock us out of balance.

More Mindfulness

More Mindfulness

So, my goal for today is to figure out the best way for me to be able to post healthful and simple ways to handle feelings, while granting them full permission and acceptance, so we can remain mindful and in balance for ourselves and for others.

Here’s to practicing mindfulness!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Just A Spoonful of Stress Hurts the Medicine

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Spoonful

Spoonful

A brand new study has been completed by a team of neuro-scientists at New York University with findings that point to the limits clinical techniques have over helping people manage their emotions even under the influence of mild stress. The study’s findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences document how even mild stress can undermine therapies designed to keep emotions in check.

“In other words, what you learn in the clinic may not be as relevant in the real world when you’re stressed,” says Elizabeth Phelps, the study’s senior author and a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science.

The study’s main intent was to determine whether cognitive restructuring techniques, such as encouraging patients to change their thinking or approach toward a situation in order to change their emotional response, would hold up in the real world where everyday stress occurs.

If you would like to know particular details of the study, please write me personally and I will gladly provide you with them, but the main points are that the study was designed as a two-day experiment in which participants were taught cognitive strategies, collectively titled cognitive-behavioral therapy to use to decrease conditioned fear. They were exposed to the fear conditioning on the first day. They were also taught strategies for combating the fear that was produced on that first day.

On day two they were put in a situation where they were expected to rely on the fear-combatting-strategies in the ‘real world situation” they were placed in, AFTER having been exposed to a mild level of stress.

The participants in the ‘stress group’ were not able to reproduce or use the techniques to combat fear they had been taught the previous day. The ‘control group’ the participants who were not subjected to a mild level of stress, on the other hand, employed the techniques they were taught.

Brain

Brain

The study linked to findings that show cognitive techniques used to control fear rely on regions of the pre-frontal cortex that have been proven to be functionally impaired by mild stress. This is what the study’s authors believe is the cause of the inability to learn to employ the fear decreasing techniques. But do not lose hope, because with practice or after longer intervals of cognitive training, the strategies may become more habitual and less sensitive to the effects of stress, according to the authors.

I am rephrasing here, but it seems that for some people, it will most likely never be a rational, natural type of reaction to fear and anxiety. These people will have to work harder and longer to turn these methods into habits in order for them to be effective for them. But, it can be done and the more studies that are funded to research emotion study, the more readily methods will be found to work with a variety of people in more individual and accurate ways that work best for them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

The Birth of Quick Stress Relief

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Habit

Habit

As with any habit, it is always easier to go back to the ‘comfort’ of what we know than to retrain ourselves and practice a new or different response and behavior. Having said that, it will feel much easier to tense up and give into pressure in the beginning because it is familiar.

In order for us to become successful at quick stress relief, we will have to keep practicing it until it becomes second nature. This most definitely does not happen the first time we try it. We need to make a commitment to stick with the new behaviors, developing a variety of sensory tools that we know we can count on. With that in hand, we will then become ready and armed, ready to handle even the toughest of situations.

Here are a few suggestions that can make developing the quick stress relief habit easier.

• Talk it up.
We all can relate to the topic of stress since we all experience it in some way. So talking about it will make for great conversation, but more importantly, it will also help integrate it as a new part of your life.
• Try, try again. The more willing you are to keep trying new ways to bring as much sensory input into your life as possible, the better. Try practicing at various times of the day when you know for sure you feel ‘minor’ levels of stress such as standing in line at the supermarket or the commute home from work. Make it audio one day by listening to your favorite music, try a special scented air freshener the next, or sucking on your favorite candy the following day. By mixing it up, you’ll find yourself building your arsenal in practically no time.
• Bite-Size Challenges. Start small with a lower-level source of stress to test your new skills on; maybe something like balancing a checkbook or getting the kids off to school.
• Laugh with it. Turn finding your favorite sensory input into a game. It isn’t something to push or shove, rather something that just fits easily when it’s right. Enjoy the self-discovery process.
• Conquer and Divide. Work on one stressor for a few weeks and then move on to a second one. Target one stressor with quick stress relief every time it occurs, religiously. Once that one is managed, move onto the next and so on.

Stress

Stress


The ultimate benefit is realizing that you have more control over day to day life than you think you do. By zeroing into our stress hotspots, we face them head on and can work specifically on tackling them.

Some Common Stress Hot-Spots and How to Tackle them.
AT HOME

• Sleep. This is much more common than you would think. Many of us get too stressed to sleep. Background sound (white noise) or scent diffusers may be just the ticket.
• For the Love of your Kids and your Mate. If you and your loved one have a difference of opinion that causes stress, try squeezing the tips of your thumb and forefinger while breathing deeply. When you deal with defiance or a battle of wills with your three-year old, get some hand lotion and breathe in the soothing smell while rubbing the lotion into your hands.
• Culinary Stress. How much does an onion weigh? How does it feel to stir milk into a saucepan? Even if all you’re doing is opening cans, take a moment and breathe in the smells of every ingredient you use.
• Clutter – Stress Connection. If you’re like me, clutter can be particularly upsetting. My new commitment to quick stress relief has me taking 10 minutes daily to tidy and organize. Another thought would be to paint a fresh coat of my favorite calming color at my workspace. Displaying images that make me feel happy is also a great idea. And making sure there is a lot of natural light whenever possible helps me distress too.
• Social Stress Prior to Hosting a Party. Lighting candles and playing lively music can help stimulate senses and heighten anticipation without anxiety. Also wearing clothes that are very comfortable and I know I look good in help me boost my confidence and feel relaxed instead of stiff and confined.

AT WORK

• Out of Office Efforts.
Conduct phone business outside the office whenever possible. Try inhaling something like ginger, peppermint or coffee beans to help energize. Burn off excess energy while standing or pacing back and forth.
• All “Meetinged” Out. Sip coffee. Wiggle your toes. Rub and massage your finger tips. Pay close attention and connection to your breathing; all during your next stressful meeting. Nobody has to be aware of what you’re doing but you.
• It may not Compute. Computer work may be one of the worst stressors for back and neck. Try standing up when working. Something like 10-minute intervals for knee-bends can be a great idea. Suck on a lemon drop or peppermint candy. Wrap your neck with a favorite, ultra soft, scarf.
• Love Yourself Lunches. Nobody said lunches had to be exclusively for food. Try taking a walk outside or chatting with someone you love. When you eat lunch, listen to your favorite, calming music at the same time.
• Your Safe Place. Some of us work lots of hours in once place. Keep family photos or images that make you happy displayed around you. Always have something to look at that makes you feel connected and content.

Friends

Who is in your Corner?:

All of us feel better, calmer and more balanced instantly when we talk to people who are good for our mental health that we can count on. Building and maintaining a network of special friends who are good listeners, is one of the most important tools to help us equip ourselves to manage stress. That along with learning how to implement quick stress relief techniques efficiently and regularly will keep us in excellent shape in our quest to distress our lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Stress Relief In A Pinch

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Meditation

Meditation

I can spout page after page that would support the amazing benefits of meditation and yoga and countless other techniques that help prevent and manage stress. But the reality is that life happens and so does stress. AND stress happens during life.

So, if you I am in a hurry because I’m running a bit late for an important appointment and am smoothly traveling down the highway just about 10 minutes from my targeted point of arrival, about to make it just in time, and suddenly I see a huge bottleneck of red lights up ahead, I can’t really take a moment or two to meditate and start chanting my mantra or assuming my preferred stress-reducing yoga pose.

What I need is a method that can bring me some type of stress relief in an instant; things that will work for me while I’m in the midst of a real-life stress-producing situation. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. If we are to be able to improve our self-awareness (the ultimate goal,) and we know that stress blocks our ability to do that so we need to handle the stress in our lives as it arises (which it definitely does) then we need to be able to develop ‘in the moment’ stress reducing methods for ourselves that can help us undo the immediate damage that stress can do to cause us to waver off track. In other words, we need something that can help us handle the derailing impact that stress can have on us.

Simply put (and current research backs this up again and again), the quickest, most effective thing we can do to combat stress like this is to engage our senses immediately. This sounds vague, but only because each of us, needs to develop our own, individual stress-busting tool kit. While we all have the same senses to work with, each of us has specific and individual preferences. And each of us has to find what works best to help us combat stress in the moment for ourselves.

We need to discover what sensory experiences have the most calming effect on us and works best for us. Amazingly, there are certain materials we can touch, or specific scents we can smell that have the ability to instantly relax us and help us focus ourselves. The trick is to learn what they are and have them readily available for any time we are hit with a heavy dose of stress-producing life events.

Sensing Inspiration
This process can and should involve all our senses, the more the merrier, actually; so inspiration is all around us. Experiment with a variety of sensations with the ultimate goal being that you always have something around you that you can easily do to combat your stress and be able to relax.

• Those you Know. What do other people you know do to blow off steam? Do you know anybody who feels more relaxed after a long walk? Do you have any friends who listen to music and find that helps them unwind? Maybe if you try some of the things you’ve seen other people do to relax, they might work for you too.
• Power of Observation. Popping gum, although some may find it annoying, can help release stress. Baseball players seem to find it helpful, just watch many of them when they’re getting ready for their turn to hit. I’ve seen some performers do some type of fanning motion with their hands to generate a burst of nervous energy and rid themselves of tension just before going on stage. Talk to people who know how to handle pressure and stay focused. You may hear something that can work well for you too.
• Reflection. Did you have a favorite stuffed doll or fabric that provided you with a relaxing sense of touch. Why not put a small swatch of something tactically comforting like velour where you can reach it easily when you have a stressful event to face. Different textures can help people feel much calmer. Try different things until you find what works best for you.

Unplugged

Unplugged

Unplug Yourself
• Some moments of silence – on the way to work in the morning or on your commute home in the afternoon, instead of radio or using your cell phone, try riding in silence.
• Self-Administered hand massage – if you’re on line at the store or in the waiting room at the doctor’s, try it. Can you say “S O O T H I N G?”
• Aromatic Tea – this one employs the sense of taste and smell and can work wonders before a meeting at work that can carry tension and stress with it.

Making a habit to incorporate an off-line time for yourself on a regular basis (no phone, computers, television) can provide a no-intrusion zone and ease stress and tension.

These are just some basics to helping develop some quick stress relief habits and employ ourselves and our senses in the process. It is always something we can have with us, anytime, anywhere, a preventative defense for whatever life throws at us that we can call on to help us regain our sense of balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Coming Face To Face With Stress

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Balance

Balance

Learn to Recognize Stress.
As hard as this may be to believe, there are many of us who are so used to being stressed out much of the time, that it actually begins to feel normal. Another way to explain this is that many of us have completely forgotten what it feels like to be totally relaxed and alert and if that situation should happen to occur, we are uncomfortable with it and seek to get ourselves back into a state of stress and what we perceive to be ‘normal’ once again.
We actually feel out of balance when we are experiencing a healthy, balanced state.

How crazy is that?

Calmness is not only feeling relaxed, it is also just as important that we are fully alert. We need both to be able to withstand harmful effects of stress. Being in a balanced emotional state means maintaining a calm state in three areas:

* Energy
* Alertness
* Focus

If you find that you do not feel calm, alert, productive and focused much of the time, then you may be experiencing problems managing your levels of stress.

My Life Experience Example

Stress Ball

Stress Ball

Today presented exceptional situations in my personal life that threw me into a level of stress that I have not experienced in a very long time. It absolutely stemmed from events out of my control and it involved people I love and care about, including my own reputation.

All is calm right now, the reality of the day’s events before me, whether I like them or not. It is evening here as I sit at my desk to write this post, and things are quiet enough for me to get in touch with my body’s reaction to the stress.

* Changes in breathing – without a doubt, I am sighing more and feeling something akin to a ‘need’ to take in huge breaths through my nose.
* Tightness in muscles – there is a noticeable tightness in my neck, back and shoulder muscles. They are rigid and flexed rather than feeling relaxed and at ease.
* Heavy Eyes – I had enough sleep last night, but my eye lids feel as if they weigh a ton and need to shut. It is a struggle for me to keep them open.
* Throbbing Head – I am experiencing a pulsating sensation in my head, especially around both my temples. The pounding is constant, persistent.
* Stomach Ache – My stomach feels extremely tight and sore. My eating habits today were not ‘typical’ for me. I ‘forgot’ to eat breakfast entirely and although it is dinner time and I “should” be hungry, I feel as if eating will only further upset my stomach.

Quick Tension Review

In order to get in touch with your body’s response to tension and stress, try the following:

* Pay close attention to your muscles and ‘inside feelings.’ Do your muscles feel tight or sore? How about your stomach, do you sense a tightness or soreness there? What position are you hands in? Are they clenched?

* Pay close attention to your breathing. Are your breaths shallow? Try watching the rise and fall of your hands with each breath, while placing one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Observe when you breathe fully or when and if you “forget” to breathe. Also observe sighing, a need for deep breaths or hiccoughs.

Get in touch with your own body’s response to stress.

There are some stress responses we all share internally as humans. Our heart pumps faster, our muscles constrict and our blood pressure rises. Our bodies work extra hard and pull from our immune system when we are stressed. For more information on this and other information about emotional awareness, visit Help Guide..

Stress Plus

Stress Plus

On the outside, however, there are three different ways we can respond to stress:

* Overexcited Stress Response
– Anger and agitation – we can show this by yelling or acting out in ways that demonstrate this such as throwing things, hitting things or other people, almost always resulting in our feeling regret and remorse for saying or doing something we shouldn’t have. We will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.
* Under-excited Stress Response – Spacing out or withdrawing – we disconnect ourselves, allow ourselves to become distracted in other things around us, lose our focus and attention and pull further and further away in attempts to avoid the source of our stress. We will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system
* Both Under-excited and Overexcited Stress Response – Freezing up – we become immobile, numb or paralyzed. This is because we are experiencing both a speeding up in some areas and a slowing down in others. The result is an inability to move in any direction at all We will need to work with stress relief activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system.

By understanding your body’s specific stress response, you can more quickly relieve it.

The next post will go through the reason, understanding and techniques for quick stress relief.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

The Yellow Brick Road to Emotional Awareness

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Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness

SAY HELLO TO STRESS
In order to become more emotionally aware we have to be able to effectively and rapidly reduce stress in the moment. Let me explain. Whether we like it or not, stress is here to stay. Not only is it here to stay, but it is absolutely necessary for things like creativity, learning and even survival.

It isn’t until stress becomes overwhelming that it becomes the harmful, negative force most of us believe it to be in our lives.

Stress Effects

Stress Effects

WHERE IT COMES FROM
Another misconception about stress is that most of us believe the worst kind of stress comes from traumatic events outside ourselves, such as car accidents, or when someone we care about gets sick. The fact is that everyday stress, known as chronic stress, is just as harmful. This is the type of stress that wears us down, most of the time when we are not even aware that it is happening and that there is a problem; making it infinitely more dangerous and damaging as far as I’m concerned.

So, many times, we create our own stress. It happens when we dwell and fret about things that we have little or no control over. It happens when we put ourselves down, or imagine the worst case. We give birth to stress when we take on too many responsibilities and don’t say “no” to things that push us too far and when we set unrealistic expectations and standards for ourselves and for others.

Reduce Stress

Reduce Stress



EMOTIONAL BALANCE and RELIEVING STRESS

If we are aiming for balance, and we are doing just that, we need to be able to first identify stress in the moment and be able to relieve it quickly, clearing us to focus on whatever life throws at us and to remain in control of ourselves through it.

We need to be able to quickly and effectively relieve stress in the moment in order to:
Think clearly and creatively
Communicate clearly
Accurately “read” other people
Here what someone is really saying
Trust others
Attend to your own needs

Managing stress appropriately helps us avoid becoming overwhelmed by strong emotions and life’s challenges.

• If you find yourself having a hard time calming yourself down when agitated
• If you find it difficult to let go of anger
• If you have a hard time turning to other people close to you to help you regain composure and feel better
• If you feel exhausted and drained when you return home
• If you are easily distracted or moody
• If you cannot identify or recognize what upsets other people you know
• If you don’t know how to pick yourself up when you feel like you’re running on empty

These are all signs that you are not managing your stress in healthy and effective ways.

If you are with me this far, stay tuned. The next post will be about recognizing stress so that we can lessen its impact on our lives and free us up to experience life more fully.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!