WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 –Among daily frustrations, life and career transitions, and the demands constantly put upon us, our lives can be quite hectic. Add to this our self-imposed demands and life can both seem and be a constant challenge, which leads, of course, to stress.
Stress isn’t always bad. From working with clients, I know that in small doses, some clients claim that stress can be used as a motivator that helps them perform well under pressure. Stress can help you stay focused and become more energetic. In fact we have all seen that in emergency situations stress can provide a needed kick of extra strength. Recall that image of someone lifting a car to free a trapped child, and you’ll see what this can mean.
Over a long, sustained period of time, however, stress can generate non-productive thoughts, and worse, can negatively impact your health. The toll stress can take on your body and mind can include ulcers, weight loss, depression, aches and pains, lack of clarity and focus, irritability and feeling overwhelmed.
Stress raises the levels of cortisol and adrenalin in your body. If your stress levels stay elevated for a sustained period of time, your immune system can become impaired. In turn, if your immune system is impaired, you are at a higher risk for contracting any number of unpleasant or dangerous diseases. Even the short-term effects of stress can affect your quality of sleep and slow both your digestive system and metabolism.
So what can you do to lessen the stress in your life? Learning how to set limits and boundaries is important if you don’t want to constantly be in an “emergency” mode. Since we know that in certain situations stress is hard to avoid, what we can control is how to react to different situations so that we can lead more productive, healthy lives.
There are several things that I teach my clients to do when confronting stressful situations. By choosing how you’ll react to certain situations you can make conscious decisions as to the kind of emotional response you’ll have instead of feeling the stress.
Make a plan that connects the response you desire to situations that typically raise your blood pressure. For instance, one client originally came to me with time-management issues. Through our work together, he was able to remain calm and get things done and create this response as his new “normal” rather than becoming uptight and on edge just by glancing at his desk and in-box.
Another suggestion is to make sure your daily “to-do” list is realistic. By choosing a realistic number of tasks that you can accomplish, you avoid pressure that would otherwise exist if you set no limit or an unrealistic number of tasks that could not be completed in a day.
Next, take several minutes to reflect on how much you’ve already accomplished. We live in a chase-and-conquer society, meaning that the minute we accomplish one goal we’re on to the next without internalizing the accomplishment we’ve just had. Reflection and self-appreciation can be great de-stressors!
Another way to eliminate stress is to add some structure to your day. Routine has a way of calming people. For instance, if you have something that you typically do daily, try to do it the same time everyday. If something gets in the way of the routine, know that you’ll take care of it after you finish what wasn’t originally scheduled.
Last, but definitely not least, be compassionate with yourself. Stop looking to be perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist! Give yourself a break and give yourself permission to be human!
Studies have shown that self-compassionate people are optimistic and happier. What a wonderful thing to aim for. The truth is that you can create new habits and a less stressed existence at any stage of life. It takes awareness, practice, and commitment to see it through.
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