Trouble Coping with Stress?

If you are living life, you’re coping with stress. No one is immune to it. There is no one alive who doesn’t have something to stress out about.

After my kids go to sleep, I go to work on this website. My time is limited. As I sat down to write this article, I discovered I had no internet connection. After some basic troubleshooting, I got the internet back on only to discover my keyboard wasn’t working. I couldn’t help but laugh at the stress my article on Coping with Stress was causing!

As Americans, we seem fueled by stress. There’s so much pressure to “do it all”. An unrepentant procrastinator, militant multi-tasker, workaholic and notorious over-booker for many years, I claimed to “thrive on stress” and “work well under pressure”. It wasn’t until my kids came along that I realized I had to CHILL OUT. I’m happy to say I am on the road to a healthy, peaceful, low-stress lifestyle. Read on, and I’ll show you how to join me.

”Why should I learn better ways of coping with stress?”

Our bodies respond to life-threatening situations with the “flight or flight” response. Have you ever almost gotten into a car accident? All non-essential body functions screech to a halt so that you can survive the immediate threat. Your eyes dilate and your reaction time improves to help you survive. This amazing adaptive feature has a drawback. If you don’t then trigger the relaxation response and return to normal, you end up living at this heightened state. Non-life threatening constant stress leads to serious health problems like:

-Higher Blood Pressure

-Raised Cortisol levels

-Lowered Immune Response and Increased Healing Time

-Increased Abdominal Fat (linked to heart attacks, strokes, increased “bad” cholesterol ratio)

-Depression, Insomnia, and TMJ Syndrome

For more information on how coping with stress will improve your health, visit "How Does Stress Affect Health?"

Coping with Stress by Initiating Your Relaxation Response

Don’t you wish you could just hit a button and loosen all those tight muscles and unclench that jaw? We each need to take the time to find our “escape button”. The antidote to the “fight or flight response” is the relaxation response. Some people enjoy yoga or tai chi. Others simply take measured deep breaths. Just like Pavlov’s dogs became conditioned to drooling at the sound of a bell, you can condition yourself to relax. Find a sensory object. Hold it and close your eyes, take deep breaths, and relax or pray. Soon you will associate that object with relaxation and just holding it will trigger your relaxation response.

Find Your “Bell”: Your Relaxation Response Sensory Object

Maybe it’s a picture of a waterfall or of you on a beach. Maybe it’s a lavender scented pillow you keep with you. Maybe it’s the Crystal Light Enya song on your Ipod. Maybe it’s one of those squishy head things whose ears pop out when you squeeze ‘em.

Next time you’re watching a movie “to relax”, check yourself. Are your neck muscles tight? Are your toes curled? Consciously go through every body part and tighten it and relax it. We must find time in our busy schedules for relaxation. It doesn’t make you a lazy slacker. It means you’re putting your health as a priority and demonstrating a good example of self-care to your family.

Visit Relaxation Exercises for more ideas on how relaxation improves your ability to cope with stress.

Make Coping with Stress a Priority

In my workaholic days I had a phenomenal supervisor whom I loved dearly. She would kick me out of the office when I tried to work overtime. “It will still be there in the morning, dear”, she would say. It always made me roll my eyes back then, but it is a phrase I say to myself on a daily basis, and some of the best advice I was ever given. The best way to reduce your stress is simplify your life by getting your priorities in order. You will make more dramatic and lasting changes in your life if you write this down.

Go ahead. Get out some paper.

Okay, fine. Open a word processor. Get out your blackberry for all I care!

Now write out your priorities. Here are mine, just for example.

1. God (or however you define growing spiritually)

2. Husband

3. Kids

4. Work

5. Everything else (housework, volunteering, socializing)

Now, get out your calendar and look at your time. Is there prayer/meditation time? Is there dating time with your spouse? Is there family game time or other special time with your kids? Or is it all backwards, with most of your time spent on work or socializing?

Deciding how much time you want to spend on “everything else” and LIMITING yourself to those hours ONLY can relive a lot of stress.

Generation Stressed

Why is coping with stress harder for us than it was for our parents? Are our children doomed to even more debilitating stress? One culprit is our constant need to feel connected. Are you addicted to email or your cell phone? Disconnect to reduce your stress!

Coping with Stress by Defining your Stressors

This is an exercise I do whenever I feel stressed/overworked, and at least twice a year. Every time you feel stressed, decide why. List the aspects of the stressful thing that bother you. Next, label each aspect as “controllable” or “uncontrollable”

Here’s a personal example. Driving in the Michigan snow stresses me out. I am a Floridian, but I don’t think anyone ENJOYS putting their life in danger on icy roads. I cannot control the weather, but I can control whether or not there is enough radiator fluid and wiper fluid in my car and new wiper blades to keep the windshield clear. I can control whether or not I have snow tires. And I can control wearing some gloves and snow boots. I can even thin out my schedule of commitments during the winter months (and stay home and write a website). Once I’ve improved what was in my control to improve, I need to simply be at peace with my current status as a resident of the state of Michigan and look for the positive.

The act of writing down priorities and stressors has great effect. Please do try it. We often give lip service to “coping with stress”, but it’s time to get out some paper and write out a plan to proactively reduce stress. There is nothing more false than the thought that you’ll “put your head down for a few years” and then things will lighten up. Life NEVER slows down on its own. Make the decision now to learn how to say “no”, and truly spend your time where you want to.

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