Stress and Wellbeing

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How to cope with stress in a positive manner…

63560783.thbWhat is stress?

Stress is defined by Webster’s Medical Dictionary as “forces from the outside world impinging on the individual.” While this may be true, there are other forces within us that cause stress as well. Have you ever had someone sneak up on you and yell, “Boo?”

This same analogy can be applied when describing stress. Because it is ever present and lurking in the shadows, stress can suddenly reveal itself and take over your emotional, physical, and spiritual well being.

In this world of constant change, at some point everyone suffers from stress. Coping with demands at work, at home; peer-pressure; and relationships are all situations which can cause stress.  Conversely, the suppression of stress can suddenly reveal itself at any given moment. Another analogy can be used to describe how suppressed feelings can trigger stress. Just like blowing air into a balloon, eventually it is going to pop. The same holds true for people who bottle up their feelings inside; eventually the emotional and physical response will intensify, and the balloon will burst.

While some people can easily cope with the demands placed upon them, others are more likely to snap under the pressure. What are the dynamics involved which allow one group to ride under the wave of emotional angst, while the other group maintains a calm and balance?

In trying to determine how stress affects one’s well-being, we will explore several avenues and methods on how to alleviate stress. Further, we will discuss how to break the cycle of stress-induced behavior; and to reinforce the notion that stress, while always present, isn’t mutually exclusive when positive thinking is applied.

Fight or Flight

When faced with a stressful situation, the brain prepares the body to take defensive action by releasing stress hormones such as cortisone and adrenaline. These hormones raise the blood pressure, and the body prepares to react to the situation. An example of the fight or flight response is a case where a woman prepares to fly to visit a friend. While on the plane, she is experiencing overwhelming anxiety and fear. This is known as the fight response. Symptoms may include dizziness, the inability to focus and a rapid heartbeat. Feelings of impending doom cloud her judgment, and she flees in a state of panic.  This is the flight response.  The underlying stress factor became the catalyst for the anxiety which ultimately became the means by which the end result was caused.

We all encounter various forms of stress in everyday life, which can accumulate, if not released. Consequently, the mind and body are in a constant state of readiness to either fight or flee. This type of stress, if accumulated over time, can increase the risk of health problems. Stress can cause headaches, eating disorders, allergies, insomnia, backaches, frequent cold and fatigue, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, heart ailments and even cancer. It lurks in the shadows and presents itself when we are most vulnerable, and unable to cope with its devastating toll on the mind and body.

Stress can also reveal itself in a more benign manner. Such is the case of a woman who was in her boss’s office taking dictation.  Suddenly the symptoms mentioned above began to occur, and she fled his office in a panic.  While there was nothing insidious or threatening that could have led to this fight and flight response, it is clear that the underlying factor of stress revealed itself in yet another form, and caused the end result – a panic attack.

Therefore, one can conclude that a stress condition can be real or perceived. Your brain reacts the same way to both causes of stress by releasing stress hormones equal to the degree of stress felt. The brain doesn’t differentiate between real and imagined stress. It could happen, as demonstrated in the above examples, while taking dictation in an office or preparing to fly. Thus, the threat of some imminent danger is felt.

People who encounter stressful situations deal with them differently. While some may dismiss it and move on, others become totally taken over by the symptoms and unfortunately, their only choice is to ride the wave of fear. Why one person can handle stress, while another is taken over by is not really known.

However, there are techniques one can use to bypass the emotional and physical response to stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, physical exercises, listening to soothing music, deep breathing, lifestyle change, visualization and energy bodywork are some of the most effective tools individuals can utilize to de-stress and enhance their overall well-being.

Positive Thinking

While the words positive and stress may not be synonymous, there are many advantages in having a positive outlook can reduce and alleviate stress before it takes over.

Studies have shown that we all need a bit of stress it our lives. It motivates to accomplish the most daunting tasks.  Can stress, therefore, be a positive tool? The answer is an unequivocal yes.

Assume you have a deadline to meet, while your stress levels become elevated; you nonetheless find the strength within you to complete the assignment on time.  Stress allows you to become more focused, and in some cases increases your strength when in a pressured situation. Perhaps you’ve noticed you can think more clearly when attempting to complete that deadline. The report becomes deplete of errors because no outside force can make its way through and interrupt your train of thought. Without any thought to the lunch you’ve put aside or the break not taken, you are fully engaged in the task at hand.

Throughout time, many individuals achieved greatness by setting their stress aside in order to meet every challenge. Their positive thinking allowed them to carry out the most daunting tasks, and enabled their creativity and potential to lead them to successful endeavors.  Yes, stress can stimulate the mind and sharpen one’s performance.

Here is another classic and well known example of how stress can result in a positive outcome.

You’ve probably seen or heard of the true story of Erin Brockovich?  In the movie, Erin’s character single-handedly took on a major company who was polluting the drinking water of an area with chromium toxins. Ms. Brockovich had to work under tremendous stress while fighting the owners of the company.  She had to study as many as 120 research articles to find if chromium 6 was carcinogenic. Keep in mind she had had to begin from scratch to determine exactly what chromium 6 was and how it affected the local community. Going from door to door, Erin signed up over 600 plaintiffs, and with attorney Ed Masry went on to receive the largest court settlement for the town people ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in the U.S. history; $333 million dollars. This is a prime example of how an ordinary individual triumphed over insurmountable odds under pressure. If handled positively, stress can induce people to discover their hidden talents.

It is clear, then, that stress is a necessary component used to occasionally clear the clutter from your mind. When approached positively, stress can help you evolve by letting go of unwanted thoughts. Very often, during different stages in your life, stress may remind you of the ever-changing nature of your experiences, and may prevail upon you to look for the true happiness of life.

Use Meditation to Alleviate Stress

For me, when I find myself in a stressful situation or begin to feel that slight uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach working through my system, I use the following.

Choose a room which is quiet and comfortable. Sit in a chair, with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff. Put aside all negative thoughts and focus on the now.  Close your eyes.  Listen to your breathing as the air moves in and out.  Keep breathing in and out slowly, focusing on every breath. If you find thoughts invading your mind, try not to let them distract you from your breathing. Remain calm and focused. Eventually, you will not only find you are totally relaxed, but will come to the realization that the last 24 hours of stress were alleviated by fifteen minutes of cleansing breaths.

You can also use this exercise to relax.  Many times, you may find yourself in a stressful situation at work; or bothered by the antics of a co-worker; or feeling inundated by your life in general.  You need to find a way to relax. No doubt you have heard of exercises in relaxation in which mantras are used. A mantra is a word or words you can make up to use in this particular exercise.

Again, find a room which is both quiet and comfortable.  Sit on the floor in a comfortable position, preferably the lotus position. Now taking the words you have chosen, simply close your eyes and as you breathe in, say the word. Example, ohm, is a favorite word among yoga enthusiasts. Then, as you exhale, say the word maah.  Keep breathing slowly and without effort. Inhale through your nose, pause; then exhale through your mouth – all the time repeating these mantras.

If relaxation doesn’t come quickly, don’t worry about it.  Just continue breathing and saying the mantras. Eventually, you will relax.  After you have finished either exercise, remain where you are for a few minutes. Open your eyes and rise slowly; look around, find your bearings, and move on.

If you can perform these exercises on a daily basis; either before bedtime or sometime during the day (you can even use breathing exercises at work), ensure that you do take time out for you to experience the release of stress and welcome an inner calm instead.

Use Music to Reduce Stress

Studies have shown that music does soothe the savage beast.  In fact, among other things, it lowers your blood pressure and, depending upon the music you’ve chosen, can bring back fond memories of a time long ago.

Imagine sitting in your office with a mound of paperwork on your desk, and you are just staring at it wondering where to begin. You put a CD into your player and the music erases all unpleasant and stressful thoughts from your mind, and you attack the pile of papers with a renewed purpose.

Perhaps you are a stay at home mom, and the kids are particularly unruly this day. Pop a CD into your unit; one that is lively and one of your favorites. You will feel a sudden change in your temperament; and the worries of the day will slowly dissipate.  Or maybe you are driving home from work; and the traffic is bumper to bumper. With a two hour stretch ahead, you put on a classical CD and feel the pressure slowly drop. By the time you arrive home, you are calm and relaxed.

Music not only appeals to the senses, but counteracts any negative thought. Try listening to an all time classic like Frank Sinatra, and then at the same time, try to think of an incident that caused you stressed that particular day – you can’t. Why? Because his music will undoubtedly bring you back to a time which held loving memories; especially when you first heard a particular song.

Imagine if you will a teacher trying to control a classroom. This is a prime stressor. After the class has ended, the teacher’s blood pressure may be elevated. He walks down to the main office in a state of angst.  Suddenly, he hears Johnny Mathis being played, and he remembers when he first attended his concert.  He pauses; and just listens. Immediately, you notice his body language change from a tense posture to relaxing state. Then, as if by magic, he is suddenly transported to the concert and a smile appears on his face.  He can now return to his next class fondly remembering the words to the music.

Music can and does reduce stress. It is a universal language which is comprised of sounds and vibrations in which the mind sends messages to the body; telling it to relax; enjoy and savor the moment.

Laughter: The Ultimate Stress Reducer

Someone tells you a joke; you laugh so hard you begin to cry.  Perhaps this uncontrollable laughter goes on for several minutes.  Did you feel the tension dissipate? What you are experiencing is a release of the stress you’ve been carrying for days.  The old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine,” is true.

You may be surprised to know that laughter is equivalent to fifteen minutes on an exercise bike.  It not only lowers the blood pressure, but increases the endorphins in your body which contributes to a healthier immune system.

Life is hard; why make it harder?  If you can determine what makes you laugh; whether it’s going to a comedy club; surrounding yourself with funny people; watching a comedy on TV, or simply reading a book of jokes, you will be amazed how laughter can improve your physical and emotional well-being. Laughter actually distracts you from the underlying stress, and brings you to a balanced and calm state. It is, as they say, infectious.

It is important to laugh as much and as often as you can.  It is the cure-all for stress, frustration and, in some cases, depression. Perhaps you’ve used the expression, “One day we will remember this, and laugh our heads off.”  By having a positive attitude and using laughter as a mechanism to celebrate life, instead of stressing over it; you’ll become healthier and less vulnerable when confronting negative events.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you….” With so much going on in the world today, laughter is a precious commodity we all need to get through a day.  As you go through your daily routine, find something to laugh about. Look at the bright side; laugh until it hurts.  You may not have control over certain aspects of your life, but you can control the stress. Laughter is your secret weapon to beating stress.

Here is a little story which truly expresses how you perceive the proverbial cup; Is it half full, or half empty? “One day as I sat lonely and without a friend, a little bird came to rest upon my shoulder and said, “Cheer up; things could be worse.” So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.”

Whether you are confronted with an annoying co-worker; a dictatorial boss; a demanding husband or wife; unruly kids; a deadline which is impossible to meet; an appointment missed; a flat tire; a burnt dinner; you get the picture, right? What’s important and overrides everything else in life is the state of your health, your well-being, and your ability to cope with whatever life dishes out.  Laughter; a cure for whatever ails you!

Stress and Well-Being

We all experience it at one time or another; this trespasser called stress.  It is perhaps the number one cause of most health problems today.  Let’s explore 6 ways to deal with the stress in your life in a healthy and effective manner.

  1. Discuss the problems you are experiencing with friends, loved ones or a personal life coach. Keeping everything bottled up will only create more problems later on. Join a support group with people experiencing similar problems.
  2. Run your stress off by going to the park or walking for 20-30 minutes either every day or every other day.  Exercise relieves tension and produces a calming effect. Perhaps joining a gym with a friend would be more to your liking.
  3. Meditate by sitting in a quiet room alone and begin breathing and relaxation exercises. Choose a mantra which will help you to stay focused.
  4. Listen to the music of the night to lower your blood pressure and alleviate stress.  Choose classical or instrumental music; ocean or nature sounds are a perfect way to release stress.
  5. Eat healthy meals to limit your stress.  Ensure you eat three meals a day, and make an effort to avoid too much caffeine and sugar.
  6. A good night’s sleep consisting of seven to eight hours can make all the difference.

Coping with stress can be challenging.  Every day you seem to be pulled in every direction, trying to accommodate others.  The first priority is to take care of you. You are the thread which holds your family together. If you are stressed, you won’t be much good to anyone.

Give yourself a break every now and then. Buy a new outfit; go to a movie; do something you’ve always wanted to do.  Your family can take care of themselves for one day.  Alone time is just as important to you as it is for everyone else.  Think of yourself as a gas tank; eventually you will run out of fuel.  More importantly, don’t hang on to guilt. If something doesn’t work out today, it may tomorrow. Stressing over things you cannot control is futile. Use the little stress you do have to accomplish goals, not sabotage them.

Laughter is a wonderful release. You’ve probably noticed those times when you’ve laughed so hard, you cried.  This is probably due to the fact you haven’t laughed in a while, and the tension released through laughter is the best cure-all method for dealing with stress-related issues.

Avoid stressful situations whenever possible.  If you are a working mom, it’s probably not the job but the people who are causing you the most stress.  Take everything in stride.

If you can’t finish a task, don’t worry about it.  If dinner doesn’t turn out as you expected, improvise or order out.

Life is too short; and stress can reduce it further.  Nothing is more important than your health or state of mind.

Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said, “No one can make you a victim without your consent.” She was right; it is, after all, up to you.

So, where do you begin?

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