Would you like to experience complete stress management? Would you like to know the cure for stress?
There is a cure for stress.
Yes, there is a cure for stress! What do I mean by “cure”? I mean complete stress management, the cessation of stress. One is cured, never to be bothered by anxiety again! Would you like to know what the cure for stress is?
It’s true. Death is the cure for stress. Not a very attractive solution, is it? Seeing that death is the cure for stress we can assume that while being alive you will experience stress.
What is stress?
Hans Selye stated that stress is, “The non specific response of the body to any demand.” While that broad definition may not make things any clearer, we know that there is “good stress” and “bad stress”. “Good stress” could be qualified as graduation from graduate school, getting married or learning a new job. “Bad stress” is a car accident, the loss of job or loss due to death.
While stress seems to be all around us, one thing seems common.
Most people focus on the stress and less on the management of stress.
In other words, most people can readily tell you about the sources of their stress, but may be less eloquent in describing what is working to help them manage their varied problems. Yet, the goal of stress management is not the cure for stress, but the management of it.
Picture in your mind that stress - or more precisely our reaction to the “stressful” event - is like a spring being compressed.
Visualize this tightened spring as the muscles in your shoulders or the tense muscles of your forehead. The more stress, the tighter the spring is coiled. The spring holds kinetic energy trying to be released. This energy is held internally waiting for us to take action. This call for action is known as the “fight or flight” response.
Fight or Flight Response
When I was a kid in the ‘60s, I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s nature program Wild Kingdom. They would regularly feature some poor gazelle getting chased down by a cheetah. As a kid I never was sure if it was better to root for the cheetah or the gazelle.
If you have spent anytime watching the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, I’m sure you know the type of scene I’m talking about. It is the fight or flight response getting played out in its most natural raw form.
The “fight or flight” response is when our mind perceives a threat – real or imagined - our body becomes energized to take action.
The threat could be a threat to our physical safety, our emotional well being, the safety of another or to our way of life. The threat does not even have to be real in order for us to react to it; as long as we imagine a threat, our bodies will get ready to respond to the threat.
You have probably watched a scary movie. Sitting in a darkened theater you know that the movie on the screen is make-believe. You know that the people are acting, that the dialogue has been scripted, and that the scenery may be computer enhanced.
Even though there is no real threat, during a scary scene you might grab the person next to you, hide your eyes and become energized with worry, fear or anxiety. Your heart races and your body tightens. Its make-believe, and you know it, but your mind, then your body reacts to these imaginary threats.
Your “fight or flight” reaction is an autonomic, automatic reaction. It is built into your physical body with the purpose to help you deal with potential threats.
Being Stressed Out
The problem is not that you have this innate physical response. The problem is that your body is more likely to be activated to take action, or stay on a higher level of activation, for long periods of time. This is commonly referred to as being “stressed out”.
There is no shortage of stress nowadays. A common consequence of the modern age is that stress events happen faster and more often during our day. We are doing more and doing it quicker than any preceding generation. Most adults will readily lament about not having enough time to accomplish the things they want to within their day, week or month.
We have the common situation of feeling stressed out and needing to do something to lessen these negative effects.
When you are stressed, where do you show these reactions? Take a moment and think about this.
How can you tell you are stressed?
We know that stress symptoms can be physical, emotional or behavioral. Physical symptoms of stress include muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset or sweating. Emotional symptoms of stress can include being irritable, angry, crying or confused. Behavioral symptoms of stress can include being aggressive, yelling, over eating or alcohol and drug use.
We all have individualized ways we express our reactions to stress.
Why doesn’t everyone develop tight shoulders, diarrhea or over eat as a response to stress? Why don’t we all react the same way, and why do we show stress in the specific area/way that we do?
The simple answer is that we are all different.
The weakest link in your physiological system is where you show physical reactions to stress.
If your musculoskeletal system is weak, then you may develop muscle tension. If your cardiovascular system is weak, then you may develop high blood pressure, migraines or have a heart attack. If your gastrointestinal system is weakest, then you may develop an upset stomach, an ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome as a physical reaction to stress.
|While you and I may react differently to stress, there are two things that are important to remember. |
1. Have a stress management plan. You do useful things to decrease your reaction to stress. And, for the most part, your plan works. If it did not, you would not be reading this right now and your friends would be visiting you in the hospital.
2. Successful stress management means changing your thoughts and behaviors. The reason this is true is because in the end, you can only change your thoughts and behaviors. These are the only things you and I have control over.
A useful question is to consider what we have control over and what we do not have control over.
Generally, we do not have control over other people, places and things. That leaves only ourselves to try and control. Let’s look at a few common causes of stress and what we might do about it.
Please consider these three common stress traps. Miscommunication, misspending and over-control.
Anne Spencer, the author, stated, “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard.”
Miscommunications occur frequently. How many times have you responded to someone by saying, “No! That’s not what I meant. THIS is what I meant. Geez...”
We have all been in situations where someone either didn’t hear us, didn’t hear us correctly or misinterpreted what we said or meant.
Take a minute and think back to a recent time someone misunderstood you. It was frustrating, wasn’t it? But what is worse; not being understood or having someone disagree with you?
Being understood is usually more important to us than being right. It is more tolerable if the person disagrees with us, and less tolerable if they simply didn’t understand what we were saying.
|There can be a variety of reasons why someone doesn’t understand what we are saying.|
- The person simply doesn’t hear us. Perhaps they are too far away or there is too much noise.
- The person is distracted by something else. They might be distracted by things around them or distracted by their own thoughts.
- The person doesn’t want to listen.
- The person is trying to understand us, but simply got it wrong.
A lot of stress, arguments and bad feelings have been created by simple miscommunication leading to misunderstanding.
|What is the way out of miscommunication? Well, the best way out of a trap is to not get in it. You might try these tips:|
- Before attempting to start your conversation try to be clear what you want to say.
- Consider delivering your message in a way so that it is most likely to be heard.
- Ask for clarification or to paraphrase your message. Simple ways of asking to see if they received your message are, “Do you understand what I mean?” You can also ask, “Does that make sense?” Saying, “Repeat that back to me so I know I expressed myself clearly.” can also help, and doesn’t treat the other person like a child.
These tips do require a little work, but I suggest making the effort up front to avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings or having to backtrack to get your foot out of your mouth.
Misspending has nothing to do with your credit cards.
Misspending is spending $100 of you energy, vitality or interest on a $1 problem. Misspending is making a mountain out of a molehill. We have all done this.
Some of us, more than others.
However, how do you avoid misspending?
By slowing down and considering how much of your energy, vitality or interest does this problem warrant. If this is a $100 problem – have at it. But if you determine this is really only a $5 problem, regulate your emotional investment before you express yourself. To do this requires the simple actions of disengaging, assessing and then re-engaging in a modulated fashion.
An example of disengaging, assessing and re-engaging would be a person who takes a step back before hitting the panic button and asks themselves how large the problem is. Once assessed, they can re-engage in a more appropriate manner. By modulating their response the person can save their energies for things that really matter or put their focus into creating a sense of happiness.
Take a minute right now and remember a time that you took a step back and decided how far you wanted to get involved in something. It wasn’t hard to do, was it?
Thinking Before Acting
Don’t we all wish we could think before we act! In actuality, that is what happens. Thoughts come first, feelings come second and action comes third. Control the thinking and the feelings and the actions will fall into place.
I believe one of the greatest gifts of grace we have is the ability to control our thinking. No one else can control our thinking. It is perhaps the only area where we have complete control.
And do you want to know what the best part is? We can change our minds. We can change how we think about something.
That is freedom. The freedom to decide. What you decide about something, or someone, is how that situation or person will be for you. We get to decide because…
All Events Are Neutral
This does not seem true, but it is. All events are neutral. They have no intrinsic value until we assign meaning to an event.
This is why two people can be sitting right next to each other and observe the same event, but one person comes unglued and the other person doesn’t.
This is only possible because two people can experience the same event but have two very different reactions. Who is right? Which person’s perception is correct?
And what if ten people witnessed the same event? You would get ten different meanings. No two people can have the exact same reaction as no two people are exactly alike.
And what if there were one hundred thousand people experiencing the same event? We would have one hundred thousand different reactions.
I think you get the idea. Therefore, the event is neutral. All external events are neutral.
The event only takes on a meaning when we assign one to the event. We have the choice to translate the event in a way that makes us mad or sad or laugh or question. The possibilities are wide open and ultimately our choice.
That’s stress management.
The last stress trap is over-control.
We all like getting our way. I know I do. The problem is that others want their way too.
Over-control is best described as trying to control other people, places and things. Exactly the things we don’t have control over!
Most of us don’t like being controlled and will resist if we feel controlled by another. In our attempts to control other people we may get compliance, but we also get their resentment.
How do we avoid falling into the trap of over-controlling?
Step back and ask yourself if you have control over this person or situation. If you do, perhaps you are the other person’s boss or parent, and then it may be easier to get the other to do what you want. But if you are not in a position of authority you might consider a different approach towards getting what you want. Perhaps you would consider negotiating or compromising.
I’m Stressed Out!
Let’s return to the question of how we tell when we are stressed out. What physical symptoms occur before you come to the conclusion you are a total stress ball?
|Most people will describe symptoms such as:|
- Tight muscles – neck, shoulders, jaw
- Headaches – tension or migraine
- Lower back pain, or their ‘back goes out’
- Feeling of pressure in their neck, cheeks or face
- Feeling flush
- Difficulty with their stomach – nausea or diarrhea
- Confusion or difficulty focusing
Most of us can readily tell when we are stressed. But even though it may be easy to tell when we are stressed, how can you tell when you are relaxed? What are the physical symptoms that indicate you are in a relaxed state?
Take a minute and ponder this question.
While it may be harder to tell what it feels like when we are relaxed, we all have very specific, successful stress management strategies.
As I mentioned earlier, if your stress management strategies weren’t working your friends would be visiting you in the hospital. Therefore, while some days our stress management plans work better than others, for the most part, most of us have adequate ways of handling our stress.
As you take a minute and consider what helps you to relieve stress, I’ll show you what all stress management techniques have in common.
|Before I do that, let me list some things people regularly describe as their stress management techniques.|
- Listening to music
- Talking to a friend
- Walking along the beach, or in nature
- Taking a nap
- Going on vacation
- Going to the gym or yoga
- Drinking alcohol
- Watching TV
Let me make a few comments on some of the more common stress management techniques.
- Talking to a friend. This can help if, after the talk, you have gotten your worry or concern off your chest and you feel better. Talking to a friend doesn’t work if you both lapse into criticism, negativity and complaint. This will usually only serve to create more negativity, criticizing and complaining. Conversations about your crappy boss are especially vulnerable to this common mistake.
While your criticizing and complaining may be valid, they will not likely relieve you of such negativity. Try to talk to friends that uplift you, inspire you and give you positive coping strategies.
- Taking a nap. Generally, this technique does not pose any negative consequences, but I will use it to illustrate a principle.
Avoidance is a good short-term solution, but a poor long-term solution.
Taking a nap is not always a form of avoidance. Walking out of a conversation to reduce a stressful moment may be the absolute right idea. This form of avoidance can be helpful in the short term, but if there is no return to the problem at hand then all those unresolved, avoided problems will just get kicked down the road for a later day.
- Shopping. Let’s face it, we are trained to consume and while shopping is not inherently evil when an action turns into a compulsion, things go wrong. And when this happens shopping does not relieve stress it only creates more stress.
- Alcohol. Alcohol does work to relieve stress. It does so by chemically slowing down our higher thinking functions. Alcohol is a depressant and it slows down our functioning; the more you drink, the greater the impairment.
The use of alcohol doesn’t have to be a problem, but we know it can become a problem. A big problem, so be careful. Click Understanding Substance Abuse for more information.
What All Stress Management Techniques Have in Common
I will tell you what all these casual stress management techniques have in common, but I’d first like to compliment grandmothers.
You see, grandmothers are smart. They give us homespun advice that has survived generations. If the advice was not useful, it would not have survived.
Grandmothers are apt to say things like, “The glass is half full, not half empty.” Or, “When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.” And even, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
But what do grandmothers and the above stress management techniques all have in common? The common denominator among all stress management techniques is that you must first stop what you are doing, do something else and, second, you must put your attention on something else.
In other words, in order to read a current book you must stop whatever else you are doing and pick up your book. You must, also, take your mind off your worries and place your focus on the story you are reading.
If you listed praying as one of your stress management techniques you will see that you must stop whatever you were doing so you could begin your prayers, then actually put your concentration onto your prayers.
In light of this information, go back and notice how your stress management activities work. When you are doing the thing that helps you de-stress, where does your attention go?
Another way to look at this is to consider that a crappy vacation is one in which you get yourself all packed up to get out of town only to bring your worries and concerns with you. You go to a favorite location only to spend your time worrying about the problems back home. What a waste! You can stay home and worry for free. If you don’t both stop what you are doing AND put your mind on something more enjoyable, you will simply ruin what you are currently doing.
The Best Stress Management Technique
I listed a few stress management techniques, but there is one that is considered the best of them all. Any guesses?
It’s not sex, drugs or rock ‘n roll. The best of all the stress management techniques is exercise. Yup. That’s right. Good old exercise.
Exercise is the best through the actions taken the body gives the message to the brain that the threat (remember the ‘fight or flight response’) has been dealt with. The kinetic energy has been released.
You really can’t go too wrong with exercise as part of your stress management plan. Of course, this means exercising within the limits of your abilities and if using exercise equipment, using it properly.
Exercise can be a walk around the block, dancing, going to the gym, or casually riding your bike. Exercise may be the best of the techniques, but it is not the most practical.
What do you think would happen, if during a staff meeting, you decided to get up and do a few jumping jacks to burn off a little stress? Or, during a stressful conversation with your family member you decide to leave and run up and down a few flights of stairs? The outcome might not be so good. You probably would feel better, but you might be out of a job.
The Most Practical Stress Management Technique
There is a technique that is both effective and practical. That technique is diaphragmatic breathing.
The diaphragm is the band of muscle that sits underneath your lungs that actually creates breathing by creating negative and positive pressure changes drawing air into your lungs or pushing out.
Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? You were hit in the diaphragm. As you were gasping for breath your diaphragm was not working properly and you could not breathe until this band of muscle came back under your control.
We all used to breathe diaphragmatically. Yes, when you were a little rug rat you would breathe diaphragmatically. In fact, if you watch cats, dogs and babies when they sleep you will notice their stomach rising and falling as they breathe. They are breathing diaphragmatically, naturally.
If diaphragmatic breathing is our natural state, how come we aren’t still breathing this way? Modern life happened.
As we feel progressively stressed out by trying to keep up with impacted schedules, multiple deadlines and competing priorities our bodies must gear up to meet these demands. One result is that our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. We are breathing more quickly to get oxygen into our blood stream to deal with all the things on our plate.
We effectively train ourselves out of diaphragmatic breathing.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing is like deep breathing, but not exactly. How do we re-learn diaphragmatic breathing?
Before I provide the instructions, let me provide a little more information.
First, you cannot work at relaxing. Likewise, like you cannot work at falling asleep. You must simply let it happen. You can apply your attention to your breathing, but you must take the passive attitude of simply letting yourself become more relaxed.
|With that said, here are a set of simple instructions that will help you re-learn this valuable stress management technique.|
- Get yourself into a comfortable position with your feet on the floor.
- Gently place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belt buckle or waist band. Your hands will do nothing more than go along for the ride. Your hands will give you information whether your chest or stomach are rising and falling as you breathe.
- Know that there is nothing else you are choosing to do right now. You are simply taking a few minutes to take a break. The earlier part of the day is over and the rest of the day is not here yet. Right now, right here, there is nothing else to be done but take a break and pay attention to your breathing.
- If you happen to notice distractions, say, from inside the room or even the distractions of your own thoughts, simply let these distractions pass you by as you bring your attention back to your breathing.
- Close your eyes. Picture in your mind as you breathe air in through your nose the air travels down past your lungs into your stomach. Picture in your mind and let yourself feel as though the air in your stomach causes your stomach to gently inflate. You can picture in your mind a balloon in your stomach gently inflating as you inhale through your nose. As your stomach gently inflates, you will notice your lower hand rising ever so slightly.
- As you begin to exhale, picture in your mind, and let yourself feel, that your stomach gently relaxes and the air travels up past your lungs and out your mouth.
- Go as slowly as needed so your breathing remains gentle and relaxed with the easy rise and fall of your stomach.
- Stay with this, the picture in your mind and feel from your body, of your stomach gently rising and falling as you breathe. Stay with this image and experience for the next few minutes.
That’s it! These are not difficult instructions, but it can take some practice, to really allow yourself to breathe diaphragmatically. Go slow. Go as slow as needed so your breathing remains relaxed and easy.
To Wrap It All Up
• Life is stressful and death is the only “cure” for stress.
• The “fight or flight” response is nature’s way of helping deal with potential threats.
• As life gets busier, and more things can potentially go wrong, we commonly feel “stressed out”.
• Our individual perception of an event makes all the difference in the world; how we choose to interpret an event is how we will respond to it.
• We can choose our response.
• Exercise is the best stress management techniques but not always the most practical.
• Most people focus on the stress and not on the management of stress.
Good stress managers:
• …have important people in their lives they can talk to.
• …utilize a variety of stress management techniques.
• …are able to switch their focus from things that stress them out, to things to thoughts or activities that offer relief.
• …have learned to control their response to situations by first gaining control of their thinking about a situation.
• …have a sense of faith that, in the long run, things will work out.