What to Do for Stress Overload - Part 1

Life is full of stress, and it’s not always bad. If we’re honest, most of us enjoy the adrenaline rush of meeting an unexpected challenge once in awhile, but none of us do well when the stress of heavy workloads, over commitment, family needs and uncontrollable circumstances never lets up.

The reality is, your mental and physical health is at stake if you don’t make it a priority to engage in stress-relieving activities and habits that help you relax.

I have developed a list of 14 things you can do to start now. Today we will talk about the first 7, and then we will cover the other 7 strategies next time.

1. Give yourself permission to get away regularly. This may be a solo activity, or can include anyone you enjoy being with – your spouse, friends, family, etc. It can be a weekend at a cabin or hotel, or an afternoon at a park with a good book. In a pinch, an hour in a quiet place or listening to music can even be helpful. The only “rule” is that it’s not work and that it’s focused on relaxation. Find some time every week to give yourself time away from your responsibilities. It’s worth paying a babysitter, if necessary!

2.  Develop your favorite hobby or activity. This can dovetail with Idea #1, but focus on something creative, challenging or refreshing. Have you been wishing you knew how to play an instrument, sew, or refinish furniture? Have you thought about getting back into golf, working with a fitness trainer, or exploring your ancestry? Would you enjoy writing, Geo-caching or restoring an old car? Create time in your schedule to do things you WANT to do so your entire week isn’t consumed by what you have to do.

3.  Read at least 15 minutes a day. Reading can be a stimulating adventure or an intellectual “conversation” with your favorite author. It can engage your mind in topics that are different from your stressful circumstances and give you an opportunity to learn new things. Many people like to read inspirational or devotional books because it centers their minds above their daily grinds. Choose reading material that helps you “get away from it all” for awhile. Television is a popular escape, but it doesn’t engage your brain in the same way reading does. If you don’t have 15 minutes a day for self-enrichment, you’re too busy!

4.  Engage in Expressive Writing. This is an exercise in which you pour out your stress onto paper or keyboard in order to process it more effectively. Write down all the big and little things that stressed you out today. Write how, exactly, they made you feel. This will help you “pop the cork” on your bottled up feelings, and many times, you’ll review what you’ve written and realize the issue wasn’t quite as bad as it felt at the time. Putting your thoughts and feelings in writing can help put them in perspective.

5.  Share a good belly laugh with someone. I saw a cartoon recently that said, “Have coffee with a friend, and you won’t need therapy!” We can skip over all the reasons why therapy is necessary and beneficial to many people, and simply acknowledge that having a good laugh with a friend or a child can dissipate stress very quickly and effectively. The reason most public speakers begin with humor is because we know it pumps endorphins into your brain, creating a sense of relaxation and receptivity. While sharing a laugh with another person is the best way, even reading jokes or watching a comedy on television can reduce stress much more effectively than a suspenseful drama.

6.  Utilize Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) Exercises. Lie down or sit comfortably in a chair so your back is supported and your feet touch the floor. Breathe slowly. Begin with your toes, focusing on the tension you feel, and consciously relax them. Repeat the process as you mentally move up to your feet and ankles, calves, thigh muscles, buttocks, torso, fingers, lower & upper arms, shoulders, back, neck and facial muscles. As you address each muscle group, concentrate on noticing the stress and then feeling it release as you relax. With practice, you can learn to go through this exercise quickly and do it anytime, anywhere. When your body relaxes, your mind will follow.

7.  Use aromatherapy. Certain aromas derived from plant oils have been shown to lower Cortisol levels in the blood, which reduces stress and anxiety. Aromatic products are readily available in the form of scented candles, lotions and oils, bath salts, and diffusers. Scents often used for stress and anxiety reduction include lavender, chamomile, patchouli, lemon, vanilla, rose, sandalwood and orange. Scented products can be a helpful and effective way to help keep stress under control even if you can’t get away from your stressful surroundings.

Next time we will offer 7 more practical ideas to keep stress from overloading your life.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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