Recognizing and dealing with stress Part 3

Natalie and Tammy have explained the signs and symptoms of stress, as well as some tips for how to stay healthy during stressful times.  Have you gotten past the point of taking care of yourself (maybe too many late nights, too many work hours, not enough exercise, too much fast food, soda, and not enough rest)?  You may already be feeling the full results of a stressful situation, because, let's face it, it's hard sometimes to change destructive patterns!  If you have found yourself wishing you could turn back the clock to do these things in a healthier way, it's time for damage control!  Plus, we can all use more tips on how to manage in this often-times chaotic world, right?!  Read on... 1. Schedule time for fun and relaxation.  You might be thinking: "Schedule fun time?  Schedule relaxation?  What fun is that?"  In trying to balance our lives, it's easy to let fun and relaxation fall to the wayside.  We do tend to be a "doing" focused society, which doesn't always leave time for the fun stuff.  This means it's even more important to make time, which means regularly blocking off time in your schedule to rest, relax and have fun.  Don't wait for a week long vacation once a year to do this!  It could be an hour or two of "me time" a week.  You may have to ask for help (child care, carpooling, delegating household chores/responsibilities, etc.) or set some firm boundaries with people in your family, but doing this ensures you have more balance in your life and limits the excuses of not having enough time.  Oops!  I'm getting ahead of myself!

2.   Set boundaries and communicate your limits with the people in your life.  Tammy also talked about the importance of asking for help, but this one is so important it bears repeating. Figuring out your personal limitations is so very important.  Most of the time, stress is a bodily and emotional response to surpassing your limits of time, space, emotion, and energy.  If you have nothing left to give others, how can you possibly take care of yourself? Boundaries and limits mean saying "no" when you need to, not being a constant "people pleaser", and taking care of yourself so you DO have more quality time to enjoy with others.  I often hear people say they feel like telling others no is being selfish, when in reality, if it's used appropriately based on your personal limitations, it's actually self-nurturing and self-protective! If you have a hard time saying no, this is a difficult one that might require professional help for you to become stronger and more assertive.  Natalie's article on Codependency in the resources section of our website is a great resource to get you started.

3.  Laughter and Gratitude.  I've mentioned in other blog posts and articles how important it is to practice the art of Gratitude.  I encourage most of my clients to keep gratitude journals because of it's psychological impact on changing mood and destructive thinking.  When we are stressed out, it's easy to fall into negative thought patterns, forgetting the things we do feel grateful for.  This can lead to even more stress, as well as depression and anxiety.  Gratitude doesn't mean you ignore things that are bothering you or pretending everything is great when it's not.  It's simply one tool to assist in shifting your thinking from being self-defeating to enlightening and reassuring.  Along the same line, make sure to laugh!  Laughter truly is great "medicine".  It also makes coping with stress much easier!

4.  Try to let go of the things you have no control over.  It's amazing how much stress we can actually bring upon ourselves through our behavior.  Do you constantly try to control other people or micromanage the details of everyone else's life?  Do you ask for help, then rush to do whatever it was you asked for because you were afraid it wouldn't be done "right" or like you would do it (or in your timeframe, even though you didn't specify what that was)?  Do you find yourself yelling at other drivers on the road, obsessing about the weather, or spending most of your time angry because the people around you don't make the decisions you think are the best ones for their life (and they have no impact on you whatsoever)?  If so, you may have some issues with trying to control things you simply cannot control.  Ask yourself, "What is it that I have control over in this situation?".  If the answer is "nothing", practice letting go.  If you come up with an answer (e.g. "I'm allowing it to happen because I'm not setting boundaries", "I'm not telling others what I need then getting mad at them because they don't automatically know", etc.), those are the things you DO have control over... Working on what you can control, and letting go of the rest.  I know this can be easier said than done sometimes, but it really does help!

5. Life Balance.  Usually stress comes as a result of some area of life being thrown out of whack.  Take a look at the areas of your life, and identify the area that is unbalanced.  Work on restoring better balance to help you feel more fulfilled.  For more information on life balance and tips on recognizing each area of your life, see the Life Balance article in the resources section of our website.

Tomorrow, Teri will talk about stress in kids... Stay tuned!

Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.