Monday, September 17, 2018

Creating Your Own Set of Stress Management Techniques

Stress Management techniques are the set of methods each of us reaches for to manage stress in our lives.  Everyone has a different bag of tricks and not all techniques used for stress management fit everyone.  The important thing to know is that just having some stress management techniques to reach for is the first step in coping well when these life events arise.  To be unprepared is to ignore that sometimes life is stressful and to avoid healthy coping techniques is an invitation to anxiety, exhaustion, and depression.

Knowing your source of stress is a great place to begin.  It can be the job, the kids, health concerns, or any number of things that contribute to your daily stress.  If you have not yet identified what it is that leads to your stress, try to spend some time journaling about when your stress is more prominent or when it begins and ends.  This can help you identify where it's coming from.  Once you know the source or cause of your stress, you can identify what needs to change or what needs to be added to your life in order to better cope with the stress, reduce the stress, or completely eliminate the stress entirely.

Coping with the stress might mean that while staying in the stress, you practice ways to reduce your physical symptoms without removing yourself from the event.  For instance, you might learn breathing techniques that slow the breath and therefore slow the heart rate and blood pressure.  Reducing the stress can include breathing retraining used in coping with stress, but it might also include other kinds of adjustments such as reducing hours at work, reducing the frequency of exposure to stressful events, reducing productivity, and working with cognitive behavioral techniques to reduce the amount of time you worry.  Eliminating stress can mean that it might be time to let that current job go and find a better one with less pressure.  It can also mean moving if the area you live in is stressful and unlikely to change.  Eliminating stress means just that, removing it from your life and making a change for good.

Taking the time to develop a set of stress management techniques for yourself is well worth the time.  Once you know what works for you, it's easy to reach for and easy to apply.

Thanks to Dimitar Nikolov for the great photo

Monday, August 27, 2018

Personalizing your Relaxation

Everyone has a different idea of what relaxation is.  Where one person might believe that heading out to sea on a lovely sailboat to catch a glimpse of the sunset on the ocean horizon is all they need to quiet their mind and slow their breath, another might feel that heading out on the ocean in any vessel, at all, is the equivalent of being trapped on a floating, inescapable prison cell.

The point is that no one else can tell you what relaxation "should" be--for you.  Each individual will need to come to an awareness on their own as to what it is in life that brings them a state of calm, meditative peace.

Each of us does need to keep in mind, however, that we do not have to adhere to the expectations of others that what they find to be personally relaxing, is what we should find to be relaxing, too.  Just as important, is to know that we have a right to enjoy the things we find relaxing, without others telling us we should not find those things to be relaxing just because they do not find them to be relaxing for themselves.

Though a beekeeper may find it very relaxing to suit up and spend time working with their bees and honey, someone else might find it difficult to understand how spending time with hundreds or thousands of flying insects, with the potential of stinging, could possibly be relaxing.

At the same time, there are many who find massage therapy to be very relaxing, healing, and calming.  Yet, for others, the notion of being touched in this way by a stranger is more stress and anxiety inducing that it is relaxing.

When it comes to relaxation, self-trust and self-knowledge is key to making the best of your time and effort, but for this you may have to explore a little bit and try a few new things in order to discover what things may bring you the most sense of relaxation and peace.  In the end, it is you who will be the decision maker about what is and is not relaxing for you personally.  In this way you give your body your full attention and let it know you are listening to what it has to say.

Here are a few (non-animal-harming) ideas for things that some have found relaxing:

*Rock Climbing
*Sailing, canoeing, kayaking
*Hot Springs
*Massage Therapy
*Tea Ceremony
*Sauna, Hot Tub, or Steam Room
*Art (Painting, drawing, pottery, etc.)
*Day Spa
*Tai Chi and Qigong
*Peaceful time with animals
*Conversation with friends

Thanks to JacobEnos for the great photo

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Relaxing Art of Conversational Meditation

Many time we think of meditation as something one might do solo, in private, with silence and without the distraction of others.  However, meditative conversation is a relaxing way to be fully present and in the company of a good friend, while also relaxing and reducing stress.

Traditional definitions of meditation include things such as "concentration on one's breath" or "repeating a mantra".  They can also include activities such as staring at a candle flame or using a guided imagery in one's mind.

But when it comes right down to it, meditation is actually all of these as they all have one thing in common, and that is that they train the mind and consciousness to be fully present and focused on whatever it is that is happening right now.

In meditative conversation, one must work to sharpen their listening skills so they can remain fully present.  It's not uncommon to talk about oneself too much, or change the topic your companion is presenting to be all about "me, myself, and I".  Other common mistakes that distract from being fully present in conversation are things like talking over the top of your friend, rushing to reply before your conversation companion has finished their sentence, and continually changing the topic to focus on your own life and events.  There is a common misconception that conversation is made up of, "I talk about me, then you talk about you".  Which is not really a conversation.  It's two people talking about themselves in the presence of another person. It's talking "at" someone, not with them.

Here are some tips for meditative conversation you can try the next time you plan to get together with a good friend, companion, acquaintance, or partner.

*Meditative conversation is best done in a quieter, relaxed setting where complete focus can be directed at listening and responding to what is heard.  A bar scene is for other kinds of communication, and the loud music and distraction does not make for truly focused discussions.

*Practiced listening skills are key, in that one cannot be listening to another if they are already trying to figure out what their own next sentence will be.  Actively work to not just remain silent (which is not all that "listening" is), but to also hear what is being said.  Active listening involves responses that let others know we are following them, are curious about details, want to know more, can relate to what they are saying, and are truly interested and have heard what they've just said.  Rushing in to turn the topic focus to oneself is not the idea.

*Eye contact, or at least facing one another if outdoors or wearing sunglasses, is a way of showing interest.  Looking away, or over the top of someone's shoulder only says, "I'm not really interested in whatever it is you are saying."  Today we have a very big problem with people looking down at their phones or computers and not really demonstrating attention when others are speaking to them.  Bragging that you are only "multi-tasking" doesn't help the other person feel you are truly present for them.  So put gadgets away and bring your full attention into the present.  When it comes to meditational conversation you are either "fully" present, or you are not.  Partial presence is not fully present.

*When it's your turn to speak, don't dominate the airspace too much, but also don't deadpan or respond with one-word replies.  That causes an imbalance in conversation in which the other person has to "carry the load" of the entire conversation by themselves, and it also says you are not bringing yourself to the moment and are not participating fairly in conversation.

*A good conversation is done with just one other person.  Many good talks can come with more people present, but all involved would need to practice these meditative skills and as the crowd grows, the listening skills and etiquette tends to meander. 

Meditative conversation with another can be relaxing and enjoyable, especially if both individuals are fully present.  Try this with a good friend or companion and see how different a conversation can be.

Thanks to vxla for the great photo

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reducing Stress by Unplugging

In an era that revolves around computers and cell phones, we sometimes just need to unplug.  But what does that really mean?

It's not just the physical presence of a computer--its screen and keyboard; or a cell phone, with its thumb typing and scrolling that keeps us distracted from the life that exists right in front of us.  It's everything that comes with those machines.  Such as emails that fill our message box.  Voice messages that must be listened to and replied to.  Updates that require our attention.  Battery charging that has to be addressed throughout the day.  Tones and sounds that alert us all day to who is trying to reach us or what message type we just received (i.e., voice, email, page, etc.).

And then, there is the constant, unquenched human sense of curiosity that keeps us glued to our devices in order to extract endless information.  Anything at all we might be curious about can be typed in to one of our handy devices at any time, and it will produce enough information for us to feel we've gathered at least a piece of the answer.  Right there.  On the spot.

But we are forgetting what it really means to be human beings, and since we aren't the machines our machines push us to be, we need to go back now and then and remember to just be human.

Human is much more non-mechanical than a machine is.  Human beings need rest and it's clear we don't go as fast as machines do.  When we try to, we exhaust ourselves and then wonder why we are so tired.  Much of today's stress is caused when human beings attempt to keep up with a world pace that has exceeded their ability.  When this world pace pushes us on a daily basis to constantly stay plugged in, it's imperative that we take the initiative to intentionally unplug now and then.  This means putting the phone down, leaving the laptop at home, shutting off alerts, and yes, even unplugging completely sometimes.

If you find that just one day is more than you can handle to be away from your electronic connection to the world, then start out slow.  Try going for just one hour to begin with, and work you way up.  Leave the phone in the car during some events, or shut it off and set a timer in order to not turn it back on until the timer goes off.  Consider unplugging your computer an hour before bed and not plugging it back in until morning.  See how you do.

The point is that machines and humans are not the same thing.  A human being is not a machine.  It's a living organism and living things need rest and restoration periods in order to prevent and reduce stress.  When we become identified with our machines, we forget that they are not who we are and to put them down now and then and let the body rest, is one of the best things you can do to reduce your anxiety and stress level.

Thanks to theilr for the great photo

Friday, May 25, 2018

Reducing Stress by Seeking Social Support

Though it's healthy to develop the ability to enjoy one's own company and have a certain skill in doing things alone, there is also a need to find emotional and psychological support from others, and spending time in the company of like-minds and familiar friends has been shown to result in the lowering of stress, anxiety, and depression.

In addition, isolation leaves us in the company of only one set of ideas... our own.  And if our ideas about life are negative or we tend to do a lot of catastrophic thinking, we have only ourselves to listen to day and night, and only our own catastrophic conclusions to come to.

That's why it's important to break out of our shell now and then and seek out the company of others-- be they friends, family, or new acquaintances, because it is in this occasional arena that we remember our human nature and the social aspect that comes with it.

Even if you are an introvert and need your down time to re-energize, too much isolation can only lead to more anxiety and stress since it does not offer any of the interactive human needs such as conversation, validation, support, encouragement, or many of the other perks that come from social interaction with other human beings.  The key for introverts is to know how much human interaction you need, and to set boundaries from there.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

*Consider taking a class at your local recreation center.  It's a way to meet other people and get out into the community where you hear the voices and opinions of others.

*Ask a coworker to lunch.  Even if it doesn't go well, you have introduced a new view and personality into your day, that is different from your own.

*Attend a meetup group that you find interesting.  Meeting others of like-minds and like-interests can lead to life long friendships.

*Call an acquaintance and ask them to lunch, dinner, or simply for coffee and conversation.

*Join a local competitive group such as softball, golf, chess, running, etc.  It really doesn't matter if you join to win, the point is getting involved and meeting others who do the same.

"We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone,... alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders."    ~Maya Angelou

Thanks to cuatrok77 for the great photo

Monday, April 16, 2018

Play for Grown Ups: Reduce Stress and Balance Your Life

It's easy for adults to drift away from play once they put childhood behind them, but it's also important to recapture play once in awhile--even as adults--in order to maintain a healthy and balanced adult life.

So what is "play" for an adult?  Play is "activity done for enjoyment and recreation rather than for serious or practical purposes." 

When we think of play, we typically think of children and their endless energy, games and activity.  Not to mention the laughter involved in their activities.

For adults, play holds the same kind of action and creativity as it does for children, but has a few differences.  Though children are using play to develop their minds and bodies, adults can use play to stay healthy, happy, and even to reduce stress created by lives that require of us that we stay serious, mature, and focused for so much of the time.

Play can range from card games with friends, to making cookies or building something with wood.  What is "fun" and "playful" is unique to each person since what is fun for one, is never always fun for all.  It's what brings you joy and laughter.

Here are some ideas to get your Inner Child hopping:

-Climb a Tree
-Try finger painting
-Go swimming at a water park (take some water toys)
-Go ride a bike
-Go dancing
-Go kite flying
-Have a water balloon fight
-Play with your cat or dog
-Go to an amusement park
-Play a board game
-Try snow-shoeing or cross country skiing
-Ride a Ferris wheel or Merry-Go-Round
-Find a go kart race track
-Join a softball or bowling team

Thanks to Ivan Dimitrov for the great photo (left side cropping)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Challenging Catastrophic Thinking to Reduce Fear and Anxiety

According to Terror Management Theory (TMT), we human beings go out of our way to avoid the reality that we will all, eventually, die.  Much of our everyday anxiety can be traced to this fear and the avoidance behavior that follows.  In fact, you've probably already felt unease by this photo of the famous sculpture, The Kiss of Death, which has a tendency to have mixed responses from viewers who are either drawn to it or repulsed.

Our fear of death can drive us to perform a lot of avoidance behaviors in life.  From avoiding a drive on the street closest to the cemetery, to drinking or using other substances to numb out from the reality that life has limitations and will not go on forever.  A healthier approach to the reality of death is to come to terms with it in a way that allows you to live your life as fully and meaningfully as possible without denying its eventual end.  Extreme avoidance of this reality can lead to delusional, faulty, and catastrophic thinking.

Many of the more common anxieties among humans stem from this typically unconscious fear of death, including the fear of traveling over bridges, the fear of heights, the fear of traffic, and the fear of dangerous animals.  But what really happens when fear takes hold is a faulty thinking style called Catastrophic Thinking.

In Catastrophic Thinking, people tend to leap from a first thought, such as, "What if the bridge collapses?", to a rapid set of thoughts that are unconscious, and which trigger each other like dominoes falling one on the other.  As the fear thoughts are triggered, they eventually end in a catastrophic thought such as, "I'll die", or "I'll be injured or unable to survive", or "I won't be able to handle it, and that  will be the end."

Catastrophic Thinking can be approached with a couple of coping skills.  First, we can practice something called Positive What Ifs, in which we rethink the fear thoughts and trigger a whole new set of feelings.  For instance, we might consider "What if the bridge does not fall?  Then what?"  This question promotes a new set of thoughts that like before, trigger each other like dominoes falling, but the end result is a thought such as, "Well, then I'd just walk across it and go on with my day."

Another approach to tackling Catastrophic Thinking is to use a scaling question in which a scale from 1 to 100 is used to rationalize the thinking.  On the scale, 100 represents the chances that the event will actually happen.  If you are 100% sure an event will happen, then you would rate the fear thought at 100%.  But if you use some rationalizing, then you would first ask questions such as, "If the bridge has been there for years and has never fallen, then the chances of it falling today when I walk over it are about 5% or less."  Realizing the rational helps lower fears and reduce the chance of catastrophic thinking, as well as the anxiety that would follow.

The thing to remember is that our brain is wired to be on the lookout for dangers because we have a survival instinct and fear death, but we can sometimes over-do it with our worry and begin to think our way into fearing death a little too much.  To believe that things are more dangerous than they really are is a form of faulty thinking, but we can reduce or minimize unnecessary faulty thinking by practicing our rational exercises and disputing negative thoughts.

Thanks to feistytortilla for the great photo