Taking Control of Stress

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!! St. Paddy’s Day always makes me happy! Green is my favorite color and this day brings to mind fun, family, and faith! All of which I highly value. I love that shamrocks are used to commemorate Saint Patrick’s evangelism in Ireland. (He utilized the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, fun little fact for you.)  I also love drinking green beer to celebrate Irish heritage. I have been known to dye the noodles of a spaghetti dish green so my kiddos to join in the consumption of green and yummy things! It looked like worms and really has no relevance from a historical standpoint, but they loved it! But today, I cannot help but look for my 4 leaf clover. I have not had a green beer and, to be honest, I am in a bit of a lousy mood.

Which made we want to talk about the reality of self-care, mindfulness, etc. Not every single day is full of joy and exquisite recognition of the beauty in life. Sometimes your dryer goes out, your phone won’t charge, and your gloriously-cyclical, womanly gift of the month joins you in your already stressed existence. Oh and you picked up a Saturday shift to bring in some extra dollars. So St. Paddy’s Day 2018 is not going down in the history books as an awesome day, well not so far anyhow.

So why am I sharing the details of my less than stellar Saturday with you? Because it’s real life. My threshold for whining children, my husband, and cold coffee were not up to par today. Not. Even. Close. But why is that, what is going on in my body that creates a heightened level of irritability, less focus, and leads to poor communication?

If you have time, check out this 14 minute TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal

She briefly discusses the realities of stress and how chronic stress can be harmful. She presents incredible research about the idea that perception of stress can be the key to changing the way our bodies responds to said stress. Fascinating right? Essentially, we decide the power that we give stress. Stress will absolutely create a physical response in your body. The chemical dump that is created from moments of stress prepare us to be faster, stronger, provides increased endurance, makes us more social beings, etc. Viewing this response as preparation to move mountains, overcome, and succeed can change the way our bodies react to stress.

Stress is, unfortunately, inevitable and stress is not always the result of negative moments in life. Moving, new jobs, traveling, growing your family, and other touchstone moments of life create stress reactions in our bodies. And then, of course, there are the stressful moments that are simply frustrating and exhausting.  But how cool is it that we can control the manner and degree in which stress impacts our systems? We have a say in whether chronic stress will lead to heart disease, premature death, migraines, gastrointestinal issues, so on and so forth. Stress can be to blame for many of the physical, emotional, reproductive, and really any category of ailments that we are plagued with, but what if we can have a preventative relationship with stress that helps us overcome the potential of being brought down by our exposure to seemingly constant stress?

In case you were curious about the answers to my rhetorical questions…It is SO cool and we totally can! Here’s how…

Adjust the lenses that you use to view stressful situations. Rather than seeing each difficult moment or hurdle as your potential downfall, be rational.  First, remember that your body is built to have a chemical reaction to stress, if you are experiencing an aroused or heightened state, this is your body preparing to conquer and overcome this situation. Then ask yourself: Can I overcome this moment? What are the steps and timeline involved in overcoming this moment? How have I coped with something like this before? The answers to these questions are not always easy, but sometimes these types of questions can help sort out the flat tire moments from the facing foreclosure moments. These questions can help you prevent a broken dryer and cold cup of coffee from taking over your emotions. It helps you put your stress into perspective and avoid allowing unnecessary reactions to commence.

Practice relaxation techniques. Coping skills are key: practicing mindfulness and increased self-awareness aides in my ability to have a healthy relationship with stress. Because I have been able to get to know myself, my triggers, and my signals of dysfunction, I am better able to utilize my coping skills before I allow stress to take control.  Now, let’s be clear, that does not mean that I do not make mistakes and react poorly to stress from time to time. What it does mean is that I can (ideally) change the course I am traveling down in my reaction to stress. The STOP Method, box breathing, yoga are all go to coping skills that allow me to take control of my physical and emotional reactions to stress. Mindfulness can also create symbiosis between your mind, heart, and body! Rather than working against your body or being angry at yourself for reacting to stress, get in tune with your body and develop a level of understanding about how your particular system reacts to stress. These steps put you in the driver seat; you decide the course created by stress. You can decide to be empowered rather than defeated.

Take care of your body. When you are experiencing stress you can benefit from increased water intake. Drinking more water helps your body to flush out the chemicals released when your brain senses stress. Activity or movement also serves as a stress reliever. I mentioned yoga, some people prefer running or boxing. Allowing your body an outlet for the physical reaction to stress can encourage a more healthy relationship with stress.

Don’t take yourself too seriously in the passing moments.  Ok… sometimes we just need to take a deep breath, release our unrealistic expectations, and take a moment to relish in the lighter side of life. Let me give you an example, mornings can be rough. Trying to get the kiddos out of the house and to work on time may sound simple, but that is not always the case. There are a LOT of moving parts that have to fall into place. As the clock ticks closer to 8:00, stress heightens and begins to impact everyone’s mood …the moving parts fall everywhere but into place.  Rather than allow the tension of a failed morning bleed into the rest of our day, we will often have a dance party on the drive to school and we say our daily mantra “I am brave, I am strong, I am kind, I am important” to hit reset. We hug, kiss, and say I love you. We acknowledge that being in a hurry led to a stressful morning and we are not going to let it ruin our day. This same reaction can apply to conflicts at work, missed due dates, speeding tickets, broken appliances, and other moments that are definitely stressful but do not deserve to take over your mindset.

Let me place a disclaimer here…if you have consistent physical symptoms that concern you, please see a physician to rule out any underlying diagnoses. Also, if you think you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder or depression, changing your relationship with stress can certainly help mitigate your symptoms, but talking to your physician or pursuing counseling may be necessary.  There are also critically stressful moments that may require additional intervention. However, no matter what your circumstance is utilizing positive coping skills, taking care of your body, and checking your perspective are all beneficial steps to take to aide in stress management.

So cheers to ☘️St. Paddy’s Day☘️ and driving the snakes out of your mind. Don’t allow negative thought processes to take over and control your relationship with stress. You are equipped to overcome the moments that seem overwhelming.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 😊

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