When learning about health and wellness, the workout that is most often forgotten is that of stress reduction. Stress is defined as a feeling of both emotional and physical tension. It can occur in specific situations or over a period of time. Stress is inevitable. We all experience it. However, what causes some people stress might invigorate others. Our stressors are different, as are our techniques for dealing with it. Most people deal with stress without thinking of it. They may take a walk, talk a problem out, etc. Unfortunately, some people’s stress management techniques only heighten the problem.
Many people use food to “take the edge off” or to calm down. It’s as if it has a medicinal effect. We usually eat poorly when food is being used to deal with emotions. It’s when we’re exhausted or frazzled that we tend to eat of control. It’s important to identify the events and feelings associated with uncontrolled eating. Food may be a distraction from stress but is it actually alleviating it? Watching TV for some people might seem like a stress management technique, but is it really taking away their stress? And still other people just ignore stress. They wait for the problem to go away or assume there’s nothing to do about it. That solution does nothing but tear away at their health. Stress is a part of life, and in fact, it can be a component to our success. If you’re too complacent about a situation, it may never drive you to change it. However, most stress can be detrimental to your health and well being. Do you or your clients let stress control you, or do you take control of it?
Stress management refers to controlling or reducing the tension that occurs from a situation. There are four key indicators of how you will handle stress:
- ATTITUDE – Your attitude can influence whether a situation is stressful to you. For example, a person with a negative attitude often perceives more situations as stressful. Negative attitude is a predictor of stress because this type of person typically responds with more stress than a person with a positive attitude.
- HEALTH – Your physical wellbeing influences how you handle stress. If your nutritional status is poor, the body is stressed and you can’t respond well to stressful situations. Your body will be more susceptible to illness and fatigue. So, eating well and getting plenty of sleep are instrumental to your stress reduction.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY – Inadequate physical activity can result in a stressful state for the body. Regular physical activity can actually contribute to a decrease in depression and an increase in wellbeing. Countless studies have shown physiological and psychological benefits of physical activity on mental state.
- RELAXATION – Relaxation is a primary way to reduce stress. When a person has no hobbies or tools for relaxation, they may be unable to handle stressful situations because they have no outlet for stress. Each person needs to find his or her own methods of relaxation. For some it’s meditation, for others it may be gardening. Again, you need to question certain activities that merely distract you from stress rather than relax you. For instance, does playing a video game distract you from your stress or does it cause a feeling of relaxation?
Ultimately, you want to bring attitude, health, physical activity and relaxation together for your stress management. You may not yet have the toolbox of relaxation tools and therefore may need to learn new relaxation techniques. In order for you to manage stress, you may need to make emotional and physical changes. It’s important to be able to identify your stressors and have a plan for your stress management.
Try the following exercise with yourself and your clients. First, list three events that are stressful to you. Then list three cues your body gives you to indicate you're feeling stress. An awareness of your stressors and stress reactions will help you with your reaction to stress. First, try to manage or rectify the situation that’s causing you stress. If you’re having a problem with your spouse, communicate with him/her. If you’re bored, find something to do. If you’re uptight, take a walk or meditate. If the situation is out of your control or can’t be changed, it helps to have a plan to deal with stress.
Relaxation and meditation exercises can be an excellent tool when you’re stressed. For some, trying relaxation exercises can initially be stressful in itself. Relaxation is a practice and takes practice. It’s important to approach it as a learning experience. Do not get frustrated if your mind wanders or if it is difficult to sit still. The benefits of meditation or relaxation exercises will be reached gradually. Try to do it consistently. If at first, 10 minutes is too much, than try five minutes. If five minutes is too much, then begin with three. There is no "wrong" way to relax. Below is a sample relaxation technique to try on your own or with a client.
Sit in a comfortable, quiet and upright position. Find a place with few distractions. Turn off your phone, eliminate extraneous noise and find a comfortable temperature. You may choose to light a candle or play some soft music to set the mood.
- Start by watching your breath. Imagine you can watch your breath as it passes through your body.
- Watch the breath as it first enters your nose and travels down to your lungs. See how the breath is filling your lungs with clean oxygen and energy. Than, watch the breath travel up through your body until it is released.
- Keep your breathing steady and even. Try to match the "in" breath with the same force and quantity as the "out" breath.
- After practicing this, continue with the breath, sending it to the very base of your spine. Let the oxygen light the base of your spine so you can see it as a fiery red. Your mind is looking down your spine like it’s a glass tube. With each breath, feel the red glow brighter.
- Now, start to move the breath up the spine. With each inch, see a different color ignite. See and feel the purest colors of green, blue, orange, yellow and purple. Keep watching this collection of colors until you have reached the top of your spinal cord and than the very top of your head. After you have done each color separately, connect the colors in a beautiful rainbow. Your spine contains your body’s energy. Let it glow!
This is just one of thousands of meditation or relaxation exercises. Find ones that work for you. Some people prefer to focus on the flame of a candle. Others may prefer to listen to the rolling of the ocean waves. The important thing is to take care of yourself so you can prevent stress and manage it as it comes.
Letting stress take over your life will defeat your health and well being. Without taking time to balance it out, stress will quietly take over. Don’t assume you are not bothered by life’s stressors and that you are immune to its effects. You will eventually get sick, feel tired, depressed and agitated. It’s important to identify what stresses you – what cues your body gives you when you’re under stress – and to have a plan for dealing with it. Keep things in perspective and learn to nourish your well being for peace of mind and better health.