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Knocking the stress out of your life

Stressed Woman

Stress is everywhere. It can come from sources we perceive as positive and sources that we perceive as negative. Stress that comes from "positive" sources is referred to as eustress. An example of a eustress event might be getting married. An example of distress is getting mugged. When we experience stressors, our bodies, minds and spirits all generate responses. It is when we are under distress that the body's "Stress Response" glands, the Adrenals, are most negatively affected. The body generates a primitive biochemical reaction to the stressor enabling fight or flight. This is typically a high cortisol response that may be in our best interest, or not. If we consider the primitive origins of this biochemical response, it makes great sense: if you are hunting whooly mammoth, and one suddenly turns on you, you definitely want your body to generate chemicals to help you get the heck out of there, FAST! However, as much as the biochemical reaction was imperative in that situation, most of us are not physically putting ourselves in life or death situations on a day-to-day basis (excluding first responders like fire fighters). And normally, it would be OK to have a few unnecessary chemicals, but excess cortisol in the absence of an emergent situation can wreak havoc on the body, causing us to feel jittery and uncomfortable, and negatively impacting other life functions. Sighting Stress Learning to better identify stress in our lives takes work. Most of us approach our lives and work with great intensity and don't perceive stress when it is relatively low or even moderate. Our "stress alarm" goes off when stress is extreme and we feel completely overwhelmed- often when it is too late. "Body mapping" allows you to attend to the messages from the body that help you realize when you are experiencing stress. Learning to listen to your body can help you better realize when stress is on the rise, and to take measures to reduce or avoid the stressors creeping into your life. Some common physical signs of stress include:

  • Furrowed eyebrows

  • Dilated pupils

  • Tightness in the throat; frequent sore throat

  • Tightness in the shoulders (shoulders that seem to "stand up" on their own)

  • Tense and aching neck

  • Constricted arteries

  • Fast pulse

  • Shallow breathing

  • Distended stomach (bloating)

  • Possible incontinence

  • Possible diarrhea

  • Cold fingers and feet

  • Clammy palms

  • Rigid pelvis

  • Numb genitals

  • Large muscles contracted and difficult to stretch (including gluts and lower back)

Stress-Inducing Thoughts In addition to the information we get from our bodies, we also must attend to the part that our minds play in the stress game. Self-talk, or the tapes that we often play in our minds (our internal narration), can have both positive and negative effects. Some of the specific kinds of negative self-talk that induce or maintain stress include:

  • Making mistakes is terrible.

  • It is essential to be loved by everyone.

  • I must always be competent.

  • Every problem has a perfect solution.

  • If others criticize me, I must have done something wrong.

  • I can't change the way I think.

  • I cannot show weakness or cry.

  • Strong people do not ask for help.

  • Everything is within my control.

  • Other people should always see things the same way I do.

  • People should do what I want because they love me.

  • The world ought to be fair.

Stress Reduction In order to experience life optimally and to perform at your best, it is imperative that you identify and combat all sources of stress in your life. By removing or minimizing stressors, you are likely to reduce your corticosteroid (ie. Cortisol) load and improve your immune and physical function, as well as heighten your sense of peace and well-being. The following are a few tips for stress reduction:

  • Increase your awareness about what causes your stress.

  • Anticipate stressors and rehearse healthy coping responses.

  • Simplify your life.

  • Experience life as a participant when you can or as an observer when stress is high.

  • Reward yourself when you manage or avoid stress successfully.

  • Maintain good nutrition.

  • Avoid alcohol, drugs and other toxins (though they provide immediate relief, they require a significant amount of energy from the body to eliminate them later).

  • Exercise regularly, using movement that is associated with increased fertility (research suggests that 30 minutes of exercise daily can enable the body to remain healthy!)

  • Sleep well.

  • Use time management skills.

  • Prepare for the coming day before you go to sleep.

  • Communicate to others assertively. Say "no" when it's in your best interest to do so.

  • Exercise your leisure skills: HAVE FUN!

  • Use Integrative Medicine as you desire.

  • Employ relaxation techniques such as:

  • Mindful Meditation

  • Basic Autogenic Training

  • Progressive Relaxation

  • Passive Progressive Relaxation

  • Guided Imagery

And, remember Don Miguel Ruiz's Four Agreements, they will certainly reduce your experience of stress:

  • Be impeccable with your word- especially to yourself! When speaking to yourself, be kind rather than critical or judgmental. Make sure that you say what you mean, and mean what you say. It wastes less time and is far more effective.

  • Don't take things personally. Most of the time, it's not about you. Those around you will ALWAYS have their own opinion and it's up to you to respect their right to an opinion, even if you don't agree. What they may say to you is a reflection of that opinion, and may not have any semblance to the reality that you maintain!

  • Don't make assumptions. Assumptions about others are typically a sign of self-importance. Who made you the expert on other people? Allow yourself to make observations about things that happen and avoid criticizing or judging. You are not their judge and jury, nor would you want someone else to be yours.

  • Always do your best- and know that your best is going to change from day to day, depending on how you feel! If you're on top of the world, your best is going to be nothing short of outstanding. If you've got the flu, your best may be getting out of bed and taking a shower! Give yourself some latitude and make sure that the standards you're setting for yourself aren't a set-up!

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