When you get overwhelmed by the stresses that life throws at you how do you cope? Many people find they just don’t have good coping skills. They tend to obsess on the problem, let it effect their mood and interactions for the entire day, or turn to alcohol or tobacco as a coping mechanism.
Stress is normal we will all encounter major stress. What I teach is to plan for how you are going to respond. Will you let this stress effect your health? Will you allow it the ability to raise your blood pressure, to give you waves of anxiety? Will you breathe short and shallow? Will your heart race? Will you carry emotional burden all day?
Stress management is something many don’t give enough time or thought to. I like to look at it as a tool box full of different tools. If you never have used the tools in this box the chances are you won’t know how to use them when you really need them. For that reason stress management is something that is practiced. Kind of like child birth and Lamaze in order for that to work you need to practice.
Some of the initial tools to learn include:
Being in the present - if you are reflecting on past events – take a time out and be in the present. What around you is positive, is it the sunshine, the breeze, family, friends, a flower, a pet, a companion, a song…take the time to be in the present. Sure the past comes back, but if it is too much to bear and you can tell it is effecting your health be in the present.
Breathe - sounds like a cliche right? Well it isn’t. When we experience a major stress we often breath short and shallow only filling the top most portion of our lungs. Take a few deep cleansing breathes. Make your belly extend out when you breath in. This is a great one to practice and use when you experience a health stress. If you are lying in the ER freaking out about what is happening and feeling powerless, use the breath. Focus on nothing more than taking a breathe in through your nose, feel the air as it travels down into your chest. Try and make it feel like you are bringing the breathe right down to your pelvis.Then slowly exhale out through your mouth. Listen to the sound, feel the cool air go in, and the warm air come out
Imaging - This one is my favorite for when those stressors haunt me at night and I can’t sleep. Where are you peaceful? For me it’s at the beach. What do you see? What do you feel – warm, cold, a breeze, the warm sand, the cool sand below? What do you smell? What do you hear – the waves lapping the shore, the birds, children laughing. Sure at first you hear the clock ticking and the voices in your head pulling you away from your peaceful place, but the more you practice this the better you are at tuning them out. Initially just stop and acknowledge the things breaking you away, but then go back to your peaceful spot. This is a great one to practice during medical procedures, it helps to keep your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate lower, and gives you a sense of control.
Exercise - This is a great form of stress management if you go about it right. Some people feel the need to work out like a mad man. This isn’t so good. When you do this the exercise creates a physical stress response, chances are your body already is responding physically to the other stress. Examples are your blood pressure tends to run higher, your heart rate and respirations are higher. Then you are going to exercise and drive these up even further. This means you could be burning the candle at both ends. It is far better to take it a little easier than you would for a normal workout, maybe go a little longer, but keep the intensity backed down just slightly. Hit the weights afterwards, try some yoga stretches after – the yoga breath would be quite helpful as well. And while you exercise don’t focus on the stress or finding a solution. Be in the present, focus on the positives.