Everyone has stress. Just like death and taxes, stress is an unavoidable part of living. Some people thrive on stress while others are totally debilitated by it. What is the difference, and how can you make stress work for you? Here are suggestions to help you to deal with stress more effectively and use it to your advantage.
Decide to act rather than react.
For many of us, the first response to stress is to run away. The natural instinct is “fight or flight” and most choose “flight”. When we are in stressful situations, the body shunts all of the energy from the center of the body to large muscles. We have all heard the stories of the tremendous feats of strength demonstrated when a small woman lifts a heavy car off of a trapped child. Others are frozen: unable to move or respond. An example of this is the man frozen in fear when held by gunpoint by a mugger.
Just realize that these are the normal physiological responses to stress and have been important to the survival of our species. By the same token we are the only species that has the ability to make a different choice, to take a different direction. Just like we can hop in the car on Sunday morning to go for a drive, we can choose to have a different reaction when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
The first step is recognizing that it is stress that we are feeling and that we are responding to stress. Not all stress is as dramatic as the trapped child or the mugger. Sometimes it is the boss yelling, or the kids screaming: a meeting, a deadline, a bill or an argument.
But if we react to each stress the same way, running away or getting frozen, we can set up patterns of response that lower our physical body’s ability to handle the next stress that comes along. Some people ‘run away’ by becoming exercise addicts. Others drink too much, take drugs or eat too much. It can be isolating yourself from others or not asking for help when you need it.
An example of being frozen is to ‘put up and shut up’, closing ourselves from others, letting anger, resentment and fear smolder on the inside unexpressed. Recognition is always the beginning of change! When you catch yourself getting into the same old patterns of reacting to stress catch yourself and decide there is another way!
Write down at least 20 different activities or actions that would make you feel good, feel more empowered and feel more alive. It can be taking a walk, doing some meditation, calling a friend, reading a book, or something as simple as making a cup of tea or taking a deep breath. You don’t even have to do these activities, just focus on them and it will decrease your stress!
Look for the message in the discomfort
If someone dies, it is clear why we are stressed. We feel grief and sadness because we will miss a loved one’s physical presence, and we are sorting out all the aspects of what their life meant to us and how our life will be different now that they are gone.
It isn’t always so clear.
The discomfort that you experience holds a message for you. If the stress is about your job is it time to change your attitude about the work, discuss with the boss about how things could be better or perhaps change jobs? If it is about money do you need spend less, spend differently, save, simplify or get some credit counseling? If stress revolves around the family do you need to say no or yes more often?
Wayne Dyer would say: “Do you need to be right or do you want to be kind,” or as the ‘70s poster states: winning will not prove who is right only who is left! If discomfort and stress is there, it is there for a reason. Listen to what it is telling you. Search out the meaning in the distress.
Listen to your body to see where you are holding your stress.
Marie came into see me with body ache throughout her whole body. As a yoga instructor, she had never before experienced pain this intense. After about a week of treatment, she disclosed that she was selling her business, leaving her husband and moving. Keith had acute lower back pain when he was going through divorce. Sarah, a musician, had intense migraines when she was upset about the direction the new conductor was leading the orchestra she belonged to.
Most doctors will tell you that there is a stress factor related to 80% or more of patients. The primary causes of death in this country today are stress related. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lung problems, chronic infection can all be stress related. Begin with awareness. Ask yourself-where in my body do I feel this stress?
Listen also to your words for clues. Do you say my headache, my shoulder or my low back is killing me? Do you say it breaks my heart or I can’t stomach this any more? Words are powerful- be careful what you say. We create our own reality! As I mentioned earlier, it is the patterns of stress that can be so devastating to our health.
Nourish your physical body to increase your resistance to stress
Most junk foods such as coffee, sodas, cookies, candies, chips and nachos actually depletes our body’s store of nutrients just to process them. It is for that reason so many people are nutrient deprived. Eating real nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and nuts provides the foundation of good health.
If you are living on a shaky foundation your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to deal with the stress and strains of daily living let alone deal with major stress if it would come along. Even if you do eat right, it still is necessary to take additional supplements since many foods no longer contain the level of nutrients they once had. Much of our crop land is depleted of the minerals that develop healthy nutrient-dense foods.
Diseases can develop due to deficiencies that occur over long periods. The average American eats only 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and most those are French fries. Physical stress is created by these deficiencies. The body doesn’t care if your stresses are physical or emotional.
Stress is stress.
Our physical stresses can make us much more susceptible to emotional stresses, especially if we don’t have the nutrients necessary to deal with it. Each cell in the body requires vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to work optimally. If your nerve cells don’t have sufficient nutrients, they are definitely on edge.
Two common deficiencies related to stress are B-complex and Magnesium. B-vitamin deficiency’s can trigger irritability, fatigue and/or depression. Magnesium deficiency can easily lead to anxiety and insomnia. The brain is about 60% fat and requires a balance of good fat to work well. Start with a good quality multivitamin and add some extra Omega 3 fats from fish oils.
Seek help from an expert if you don’t know what to take and always buy excellent quality, pharmaceutical grade, bio-available nutrients. This means that they are tested for purity, undergo strict standards for manufacture and are tested for absorbability.
Tools and mechanisms that put you in charge
So now you have developed your list of stress-relieving, empowering activities, determined for the reasons that you are feeling stress, and have taken action to stop the cause. You have listened to your body and your words to determine where you maybe holding your stress, improved your diet, and started taking supplements to keep you physically managing stresses better. What other tools and mechanisms have you developed to make stress work for you instead of against you?
Other tools may include:
- Yoga or Tai Chi classes
- Meditation classes
- Self help books/CD’s
- Mind/Body techniques
- Neuro-Emotional Technique
Take The Passion Test to figure out what matters most to you then you can begin to take action in favor of your passions rather than stressing or fearing what shows up in your life.
No article about stress would be complete without mentioning exercise. Study after study has revealed that exercise helps you to both physically and emotionally handle stresses better. You even utilize foods, vitamins and minerals more effectively with exercise. You say you do not have the time and are too stressed to exercise? Five minutes, three times a day or ten minutes, two times a day, can make a big difference. Small changes can mean a lot–you will build your strength and your resiliency to stress.
You have to decide what will work for you.
Stress will continue. Someone will die or become ill. Families will have tragedies and responsibilities. Deadlines will occur. You, and only you, can choose how you will react to these situations. Decide today to listen to and to learn from your stresses. Decide to take actions to handle stresses better. Decide to build your resilience physically and emotionally. Decide to have stress work for you!