Posts tagged ‘Tools’

Breaking the Stress Habit

“Harmful habits can be broken. You can break a bad habit of thought, just as you can break a bad habit of action. And you can develop new habits that are more helpful and healthful for you. ”

— Dr. Aruthur Freeman and Rose Dewolf

Without awareness, it is all too easy to fall into habits that heighten your stress arousal and ultimately exhaust your physical, emotional and mental resources.  Do not despair, there is an alternative, and it is never too late to start; however, there is no time like the present!  By recognizing the signs that you are over extended or stuck on the proverbial gerbil wheel – mindlessly running without an end in sight – you can apply these six suggestions to reclaim your well-being:

  1. Turn off your electronic devices when they are not required.  Being available 24×7 is an unrealistic expectation and is sure to drain your internal resources.  Just because you have the technology doesn’t mean that you need to be using it indiscriminately; otherwise, you may find yourself at the end of an electronic leash.  Consciously choose times when you are available to others and times when you are not.
  2. Carve out 10-30 minutes each day to do nothing but sit in the present moment.  Bring your awareness to your breath or another aspect of your moment-to-moment experience (sound, sensation, etc.) provides you with the opportunity to let your mind settle.  Doing so allows you to see your moment-to-moment life more clearly so that you can make better choices for yourself rather than getting caught in reactive patterns.
  3. Say “No” to engagements or commitments you do not really choose to participate in or when you just don’t have the energy to do so.  Make sure to reserve energy to take care of yourself.  Selectively saying “No” is not selfish; instead, by preventing yourself from becoming depleted you may have the resources to be useful when you do engage.
  4. Connect with nature on occasion.  Being in natural settings can provide a sense of renewal that enables you to reset yourself back into a balanced state.
  5. Pet an animal or play with a young child.  Petting an animal has been shown to decrease blood pressure.  In addition, domesticated animals provide unconditional acceptance that is rare to experience from other people.  Similarly, engaging with young children can be very freeing since they live in the present moment and may help to bring you there, too.
  6. When you find yourself in states of heightened stress, anxiety, or anger, stop for a moment to take several deep breaths.  The easiest way to do this is to exhale completely.  Once all of the breath has exited your body, allow the next inhalation to enter naturally, from your abdomen.  Repeat this three times in a row.  Taking a few deep breaths will bring your mind and body out of stress arousal, back towards a balanced state.

“Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you”
— Elbert Hubbard

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January 1, 2009 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

When Less Is More Than Enough

“There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do.”

— Bill Watterson

Intuitively, most people recognize that the nature of our 21st-century lives presents us with an abundance of stimulation, including information overload via email, voice-mail and cell phones; TV, radio, and the internet; driving in heavy traffic on a daily basis; work and family – to mention a few. As a result, most of us are in a state of heightened stress arousal throughout our waking days – perhaps even during our sleep.

On the other hand, friends of mine recently spent a week on an island resort in Fiji. At the resort, there was no TV, no radio, no cell signals, no internet, no newspapers, no bars, and no stores. Outside of their dwelling were lounge chairs and a private hammock on the beach and, of course, access to the ocean. The little 18-hut resort did offer some activities, but you could do absolutely nothing if you chose to. The motto at this resort is “Where less is more than enough.” 1

Not all of us have the near-term opportunity to travel to a place that eliminates the excess of activity we are exposed to on a daily basis, and even that would only be temporary. Still we can minimize the stimulation we are dealing with in small ways in our day-to-day lives. Without escaping to a remote island, you, too, can become aware of and manifest how less can be more than enough!

The key to having this be successful for you is to take on small lifestyle changes, one at a time. First, recognize what is causing you to feel over-stimulated or what is usurping your attention the most. Then challenge yourself to determine a way to reduce that in a small, doable manner for one week; set yourself up for success. After attempting the lifestyle change you identified for one week, check in with your experience to acknowledge whether or not it has made a positive impact for you. If it has, consciously continue that small lifestyle change for another two months to encourage it to become more of a habit. Otherwise, make a modification to the lifestyle change you attempted, or choose another that might work better for you.

A few examples:

  • Turn off all of the optional sound (radio, CD, phone) while driving in your car; there is an excess of stimulation and information to attend to without adding any of your own.
  • Take a break from reading the newspaper, watching the news on TV, or listening to the news on the radio for a week. Be selective in terms of the source and type of information you are taking in. Often, watching, listening to or reading news becomes a habit – a repetition of, or unnecessary, content day after day – rather than a source of new and useful information.
  • Next time you have a gift-exchange with a friend or family member with whom you would like to spend more time, instead of using time to shop for a gift, consider using that time in a way you can spend together: by having a meal at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, getting tickets to a performance you’d both enjoy, or doing something related to an interest that you share.

References:
1. Yasawa Island Resort, Fiji

January 1, 2007 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

Goal Setting for Positive Change

“It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are,
without any self deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events,
by which the path to success may be recognized.”

— I Ching

As we experience the end of 2003 and transition into the New Year, I encourage you to refrain from making New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions made at this arbitrary time of year are often based vastly on emotions and rarely include a realistic action plan that has been defined for your success.

Instead, I encourage the practice of setting goals for yourself. Goal setting is an ongoing skillful practice – all year round. Moreover, it is a practice that can help you experience successful change, if engaged in realistically and with awareness.

In setting goals for yourself, a concrete plan can keep you on course and increase your commitment. Start with a bite-sized, realistic goal, something that you will be able to accomplish in the next several weeks. If you have a large goal, break it down into smaller steps that will be less overwhelming and more reachable. Try putting together a plan that includes the following elements:

· Specific
Set a concrete goal that addresses behavior and results, not emotions.

· Measurable
You must be able to tell when you arrive, and to set milestones along the way.

· Agreed upon
Don’t be the Lone Ranger; ask others to help you and support you.

· Rewarding
Make your behavior change as much fun as possible. Decide how you will reward and acknowledge yourself; both for achieving your main goal and for passing the milestones along the way.

(Source: Stress Management, Beaverton, OR: Great Performances, Inc., 1987)

Example
Goal: I will develop a regular stress reduction practice over the next six weeks.
Measurable: I will begin by practicing mindful yoga or meditation 20 minutes, three days a week for the first two weeks, work up to practicing 20 minutes, four days a week for the second two weeks, and practice 20 minutes, five days a week by the end of the six weeks.
Agreed upon: I will share this plan with my sister and check in with her each week about my progress.
Reward: At each milestone, I will by myself some flowers for my office at work.

December 7, 2003 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

Taking a Time-Out

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound,
in fear of what my life and my children’s life may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

— Wendell Berry

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, has recently passed. The longer days of summer, bringing more sunlight, warmth and time spent outdoors, help to lift our spirits. Many people reserve time during the summer to take a vacation, get away, or in some way experience a change of environment and pace. Even so, the challenges of our everyday life persist or are most likely waiting for us when we return.

Just as a vacation can serve as a break from the routine of your day-to-day life, whenever you become aware that you are stressed or angry, taking a “time-out” can shift the progression of either of these two uncomfortable and destructive states of mind and body. A “time-out” may perhaps be the single most useful strategy in stopping the escalation of stress and anger.

McKay, Rogers, and McKay describe the process for taking a “time-out” in their book, When Anger Hurts. Although the authors describe this process based on anger or stress experienced while you are engaged interpersonally, with some simple modifications you can use the same process individually. Here are four steps they suggest as part of this technique:

1. “T” Time:
When you realize that your stress or anger is rising, communicate verbally or through a simple neutral gesture that you need (or want) to take a time-out.

2. Leaving and Returning:
Leave the stressful situation for an agreed period of time. “Agreeing ahead of time will prevent any misconception that this necessary separation is a form of running away or a means of punishing the other person with abandonment.” “It is important to allow yourself an adequate amount of time to cool off. It is even more important to return when the time is up.”

3. While You’re Gone:
While you are away from the stressful situation do something physically challenging that will help to reduce the tension in your body, such as taking a long walk or going for a run. Or use a relaxation technique that works for you, such as abdominal breathing, or meditation. “If angry thoughts come to your mind, let them come. And then let them go. … Don’t hang on to angry thoughts or wasting time building a case. The more you focus on proving how wrong and awful the offender is, the angrier you get. Resist getting stuck in rehearsing what you should say. If you do, you may return more upset than when you left. Don’t drink or use drugs while you’re away. Please don’t drive. Angry drivers are a real danger to themselves and others.”

4. When You Get Back:
“When you come back be sure to ‘check-in.’ More than anything else, this will help to build trust in the relationship. The check-in involves a willingness on both sides to communicate. See if you’re ready to talk about the issue. If not, set a specific time when you’ll be ready to do so. Talking about what made you angry will help you both to reduce the possibility of escalating anger in the future.”

Finally, the authors suggest that “the best way to get into the swing of taking time-outs is to practice when you are not angry. … The more you practice taking time-outs, the easier it will be when the real thing happens.”

For more details about this and related practices, I recommend McKay, Rogers, and McKay’s book: When Anger Hurts, McKay, Rogers and McKay, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oakland, CA (1989)

June 23, 2003 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Live the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves
Like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue

Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given
For you would not be able to live them

And the point is to live everything

Live the questions now
And perhaps without knowing it
You will live along some day into the answers”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

As we “spring forward” this weekend and we change the clock, officially marking this seasonal transition, many of us are feeling the uncertainty of personal, local, and global circumstances. One thing that we can count on is the uncertainty of life.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves throughout the uncertainty that living brings is to stay in the present moment rather than getting caught up in the speculation of what may occur in the future, or ruminating about what has happened in the past. “But how do we do this amidst the challenges that face us each day?,” you might ask? How do we respond to all of the worries that arise?

Lewis Richmond states in his book, Work as a Spiritual Practice, “Worry is the mind’s way of trying to deal with a fear, to explain it, verbalize it, define it, and organize it, so the fear is not so shapeless and menacing. Worry can be exhausting and destructive. But it can also be creative. Which one it will be depends on our attitude toward it and how we use it. In the same sense that fear is courage in the making, worry is wisdom in the making. It seems to threaten us, but it is also trying to help us. … Worry helps. Worry lets us know what is important.”

Lew makes the observation that “worry manifests itself as a question.” Therefore, to deal with worry, we can work with the question. Here are four steps Lew suggests for doing that:

1. Raise the Question: Ask yourself, “What is the question?”
“Construct a simple declarative sentence that states, as simply as possible, what the question is.”

2. Repeat the Question: “Whenever it occurs to you, repeat that phrase to yourself.”
Just the simple exercise of verbalizing the question can have a significant impact. The worst kind of worry is the inarticulate kind. Giving shape to our fear, giving it verbal form, can help.”

3. Follow the Question: “It means remembering the question and bringing it repeatedly back into consciousness … not obsessively, but attentively.”
If it transforms, then let it become the new question and follow it. Sometimes the question becomes a statement or becomes shorter, even compressing itself overtime into a single word. “Over time, the question takes on a life of its own. It moves under, around, and through your life, looking for a way through.”

4. Settle the Question:
“Either the question resolves itself into some kind of answer or else it subsides and dies away. If an answer comes, that’s good! But if the question dies away, if over time you forget about it, that’s all right too. Then the energy of the question gets put away, stored as though in a desk drawer, until the time comes for it to reemerge in another form.”

Engaging this practice, Lew suggests that we can “use the question as a digging tool, to excavate something buried within.” “The questioning spirit says, ‘I will stay with this question regardless of whether an answer ever comes. This question, for now is my life.’”

For more details about this and related practices, I recommend Lew’s book:
Work as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond, Broadway Books: NY (1999)

April 3, 2003 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Affirmative Aspirations: Positive statements of self-worth and acceptance

2002 has been a stressful time for so many people and the holiday season can add to that stress. While the holidays may offer joyous festivities with family and friends, it’s not unusual to feel additional stress during this time of tight schedules with so many things to do.

Acknowledging the stresses of the holiday season, I’d like to suggest affirmative aspirations as an alternative to the tradition of making resolutions to start the New Year.

New Year’s resolutions often derive from the negative judgments we hold about ourselves, the “shoulds” that we feel we are not living up to. We end up deriding ourselves when we find that we have abandoned these resolutions weeks or months later.

Instead of setting these types of resolutions, I encourage you to reflect on what is most important to you and to affirm that in your daily life. Affirmative aspirations are most effective when stated in the first person (“I”), present tense (confirming that it is already true) and reviewed on a daily basis.

Example: Upon reflection, I recognize that spending more time with my family is a priority and an aspiration for myself. I also notice that I often give more of my time to work than I would like, which reduces the time I have to spend with my family.

Affirmation: I am enjoying spending more time with my family each week while still successfully maintaining my commitments in my work.

December 20, 2002 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

The Power of the Breath

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

Sylvia Plath

 The breath is one of your most powerful assets for staying balanced throughout the ups and downs of living.

Using your breath you can positively impact your physiological state. By deliberately taking two or three diaphragmatic breaths in succession, you can counteract the stress arousal reactions that occur in your body when you become anxious, angry, or overwhelmed. Here is an easy way to shift into diaphragmatic breathing: exhale completely, once complete push even a little more air out, your subsequent inhalation will come from your diaphragm.

By accessing your breath, you can also positively impact your state of mind. Your breath can help you shift your mind away from distorted thoughts (ruminating/replaying the past, or worrying about/anticipating the future) and bring your attention back into the present moment, where you have real options. Whenever you notice your mind is caught in a preoccupying thought, simply bring your awareness to the process of your breath entering and exiting your body, and you will be shifting your mind back into the here and now.

As long as you are alive, your breath is always accessible as an anchor, a home base. The most challenging aspect of using the power of your breath is remembering to access it!

August 15, 2002 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

STRESS MANAGEMENT
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