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A dose of inspiration

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." - Carl Bard

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something that we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. " - Frederick Keonig

"Stress is the trash of modern life- we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life." -Terri Guillemets

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Discovering and Releasing Stress

STRESS is a word that is thrown around often and has so many different meanings to different people. Some will describe themselves as being "stressed-out" or "under a lot of stress." Others will say that they have "stressful lives" or that they are "a stress case." They may be "going through a stressful situation" or are feeling "overwhelmed by stress." Any way you state it, it all boils down to the same thing, something is off balance in your body or mind. If you can identify the stress (they always say that the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?) then you can actively take steps to reduce the stress to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

STRESS can be identified by really paying attention to what is going on in your body, mind, mood, and behaviors. For some, stress may be felt in the physical body in the form of tight muscles, or even clenching. You may suddenly find yourself clenching your fists, or tightening your jaw. You may have tension headaches or tight muscles in your back or neck. For others, they may notice frequent stomach aches, feeling overly tired (even when getting a sufficient number of hours of sleep), or they may be more irritable and impatient than usual. Some people experience signs of depression when they are stressed, such as feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, increased or decreased appetite, lack of interest in normal activities, feeling overwhelmed, or increased crying spells. Likewise, some experience stress in their bodies through anxiety symptoms, such as feeling on-edge, an increase in worries, possible panic attacks, or feeling shaky and nervous. When people are feeling "stressed out" they may have an increased urgency to get things done and may have a lot of trouble relaxing, and consequently trouble sleeping. At the extreme level on a continuum of stress, a person's health can also be at risk, including an increase in stress hormones which can alter brain chemistry leading to depression, increased negative thoughts, and an increase in the likelihood that overall health will be negatively effected. Stress has been proven to be connected to development and continuation of cancer, heart disease, and a decrease in the power of the immune system to fight off illnesses. If these reasons are not enough for you to want to change your ways and decrease your stress level, I don't know what is!!

So now that I have basically forced you to focus on all of the negative aspects of stress (sorry about that!) I hope you have a better understanding of how stress is recognized. I bet you would be surprised at how stressed your body feels if you try laying down in a quiet place and scanning your body from head to toe to locate the tension in your body. I challenge you to give it a try! Are you clenching your fists? Is your jaw closed tight? Do you feel a knot in your stomach? As you scan through your body, tell yourself to let go of each individual section. If your jaw is tight, let your bottom jaw slightly drop open. Open your hands and face your fingers upwards, letting your arms fall next to your body. Let go of the tension as you find it, hiding in any area of your body. When your body is relaxed, it is impossible for stress to exist at the same time, so you may want to try this exercise frequently to make sure that you are not holding tension and stress in your body.

Letting go of the tension in your body is very important in order to feel relaxed and at peace. It is also important, however, to understand how your thoughts effect your body's reaction to and ability to cope with stress. Many things can influence how we react to any given situation, including past experiences that relate to a current situation, your mood at the time, and your perspective about the situation. For example, if you were ever involved in a car accident while it was raining, your brain may interpret rainy days as dangerous and you may feel anxious while driving in the rain. Before you had the accident, a rainy day may have been like any other day, but the negative experience of being an accident has resulted in added stress to this event. An argument with your son or daughter could feel like the end of the world if you have already been facing many stressful encounters that day. If you are trying to get over an illness and are already feeling irritable and on-edge, then getting stopped at every red light on your way to work in the morning can compound the stress of the day. Recognizing how your thoughts effect your emotions is very helpful in reducing stress and coping with potentially stressful situations.

Just as you pay attention to physical signs in your body to identify where your stress is being held, you can pay attention to your thoughts to understand how you are contributing to how much you are effected by any given situation. Are you thinking the worst of everything without any actual evidence that you should be thinking this way? Are you assuming that your day is going to be horrible because of one unfortunate cirumstance, such as dropping a glass of water on the floor before you leave for work in the morning? Do you always expect yourself to do poorly in everything you try? Do you assume that other people don't like you? These are just a few examples of negative thoughts and misconceptions that can lead to the negative thinking that results in stress. If you have already made up your mind that today is going to be horrible, and then you have to stop at every red light on the way to work, and you fear that you are going to be late for work and possibly get fired, you are thinking the worst possible scenario which will increase your stress level. The next time you catch yourself thinking negatively, stop yourself and challenge these thoughts. Monitor your own thinking and question whether or not these thoughts are true, and whether or not it is going to help you in this situation to expect the worst. How about this? You drop a glass of water, think to yourself that you need to clean it up so you don't cut your feet, and then just do it. Get in the car, relax by taking a few deep breathes, and drive to work. If you hit every red light on the way, you can take some deep breathes and remind yourself that you can only go as fast as the traffic conditions and lights will allow, so worrying is not going to change anything. Most likely, if you think positive, you will get to work on time, will feel relaxed and ready to start the day, and will have a good day because that is what you are expecting to happen!

Now that you hopefully have a better understanding of how you experience stress, how you can detect it, and how you can alleviate it, practice on your own. Let me know how it goes!

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