Right now, stress is running very high. With the arrival of the Covid 19 public health emergency, there are so many unknowns, and so many sudden unforeseen pressures. Surely everyone is being impacted in one way or another. You likely have had to make dramatic changes to your work and home life.
Recently, my clients have reported a host of dramatic changes that upended their lives. These include:
- Suddenly losing work
- Working dramatic amounts of overtime
- Having the kids home all the time
- Spouses working from the same home as they are
- Fear of being around others bccause of underlying health conditions
- Being isolated and feeling lonely
And big changes like that bring with them lots of worry and fear.
What Can You Do To Lower Your Stress?
Managing stress is one thing that you do have control over. Lowered stress brings with it only good things. It’s good for your immune system and your health in general. Mental Health Improves. Relationships flow more smoothly, and productivity soars when we have good, strong stress management skills
If you want to manage your stress, it’s important to focus on actions, behaviors and practices that will help your body become calmer. I like to recommend to my clients that they develop a very specific practice. For example, you might walk around the block each day for 20 minutes at noon.
If you are are not very specific, you run the risk of getting vague and floundering. What do I mean? Think of all the people you have heard say “I tried meditation, but it didn’t really work for me”. I’ve personally heard countless clients say that. When I press them for details, I never really found anyone who made a sustained, disciplined effort who did not reap the benefits of a meditation practice. I have, however spoken with tons of people who sort of tried something for a couple of minutes and gave up.
Help your body release the stress it’s carrying. The threat brain is stronger than the thinking brain. Working with your body is essential because if your stress is high intensity or high frequency, you will be fighting your survival physiology. Surging adrenaline, clenched jaws, choppy breathing and rock hard shoulders will all obstruct you from using your thinking brain to deactivate the fight of flight system.
Some stress reducing behaviors my clients have found helpful are:
- Working out
- Breathing practices
Write Out Your Stress Producing Thoughts.
Again, Most people can’t think their way out of stress and anxiety. This is going to be especially true if you have a history of chronic stress, unresolved anxiety disorders, mood disorders, PTSD, or any kind of a trauma history. These are all mental health conditions that impair what we call our brain’s “executive functioning”. Executive function is a broad term that contains many sub functions, but importantly, it includes our ability to regulate our emotions, suppress our impulses, and plan and organize our actions. It is also our brain’s executive functioning that allows us to examine and question our thoughts and beliefs.
If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your brain neurologically struggles to inhibit stress, fear and anger.
So, I suggest you write out your stress related thoughts. It’s important that you write them out. Most people think they can do this practice in their heads, but they can’t. Trust me, I’ve heard this from literally thousands of people over 25 years.
Here what to do:
- Write the thought or belief in a short complete sentence. For example, “My team leader is going to let me go if I cut back on my overtime right now”.
- Question the thought. List out the evidence that that might not be 100 true.
- Come up with a better, but believable thought. For example “My team leader was pretty good when I asked him to leave early last week, so it’s likely he would just say no, not fire me”.
This practice is not about making up a pretend fantasy. It’s about questioning the accuracy of your thoughts, and seeing them clearly. Some thoughts are just the voice of fear and stress. Writing your thought and beliefs out, and questing their accuracy can help you keep your mind from running away with you.
Be Supportive, But Limit Your Time Around Negative People.
Emotions are contagious. We are herd animals and we use emotions to rapidly communicate with the larger group. It’s emotion that allows us to instantly transmit a wealth of data that goes far beyond mere words.
This means that if you want to have less stress, you have to have better boundaries. You might have to say ” no” more often or put a bit more space between yourself and others.
We all need to vent and get support. That’s part of the give and take of any healthy relationship. So what is a negative person? I consider a negative person to be someone who does not take feedback when it’s respectfully given. It’s also a person who has no intention of managing their own mental and emotional state. Just look around. These people exist in the world and sometime we’re related to them!
You can tell because you feel bad after you spend time with them. Now, you may have a very valid, good reason to not speak up to them. So if that is the case, take some distance or limit your interactions.
Recognize Your Thoughts As Thoughts, Not Necessarily Reality.
There is a difference between the world itself and the way we think about it. But this difference is often hard to discern. Much like forgetting that you have your sunglasses on, we fail to recognize our thoughts because we are looking through them. One final practice that can help you become more mindful and present, and less stressed is called “labeling”.
Count how many times in an hour you have a certain type of thought. For example, you could count how many times you worry, or think about the future, or imagine a scene that hasn’t happened. This can help you begin the process of distancing yourself from stress producing thoughts. With distance, comes clarity and increased peace of mind.
Control Your Stress, Or It Will Control You
Uncontrolled stress leads to a world of hurt. It damages your physical and mental health, fuels poor judgement, and even destroys once loving relationships. But, the time to take care of yourself is now. With practice, you can get better at managing your stress.
If you want me to help you manage your stress better, please visit my anxiety therapy page to get a better sense of my clinical practice.