Tracking Daily Stressors

Like many Internet users, I regularly receive all kinds of information regarding health, beauty and style along with hundreds of other topics I delete. But this particular day, the subject matter caught my eye. Dr. Don Colbert, a renowned physician and author, sent a mass email newsletter about stress management. It was both practical and he wasn’t trying to sell me something. He gave 14 suggestions for someone who might be experiencing burn out – whether the stress was due to work, health, relationships or some combination of the three. For most of us, just one negative stressor can be enough to push us over the edge, but unfortunately, many of us have excessive levels of stress in all three areas. The results of adopting the following tips are dependent upon ones commitment to truly improve ones health and the quality of life we claim we desire. 1.    Learn how to say “no”.  This one is difficult - for women in particular and both genders - if one has a “take control” kind of temperament. Regardless, the word “no” has proven to be healing for both the individual and their families when priorities take precedence. 2.    Avoid people who stress you out. If these people are neighbors or even co-workers, this is more doable that if our stressors are people we live with. Having some time away (a long bath, tinkering in the garage, exercising or slipping away to read a favorite magazine or book) can produce enough of a break that we can re-energize to deal with a stressful relationship. Sometimes letting that person know that you are maxed out emotionally can be effective. Communication can be powerful when two people want a healthy relationship. 3.    Take control of your environment. Must you watch the news right before bed? Maybe not. There are no rules that force you to have lunch with a cantankerous co-worker. Eat alone or take a walk - read a book or find someone easier to spend time with. Don’t call your parent or child daily when they spend all your minutes complaining. Call them three times a week. If a daily call is necessary learn to terminate the call once it takes that stressful turn. 4.    Pare down your to-do list. We “list worshippers” would be much more effective if we categorized tasks according to priority. When we pressure our minds and bodies to accomplish everything in one day, we become our own worst enemies. For many of us, if you were to take our list away, we would have a panic attack. Don’t believe me? Try spending a day in which there is nothing on your to-do list. You will feel listless, unproductive and even sad. That’s a clear indication that a list needs to be pared down and real free time integrated into the schedule. 5.    Avoid hot-button topics. If you are the kind of person that feels passionate about politics or religion, don’t frustrate yourself by sharing with people who are diametrically opposed and love to argue. An outlet for your passion might include writing or at the very least, sharing with others who will listen even though they may not agree. Choose your listeners carefully. 6.    Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. This is difficult for some temperaments, but critical to a healthy heart and mind. If you have some control, by all means do what can be done to change a negative situation.  If you do not have control, acceptance accompanied by a new focus that directs your energy elsewhere can have a positive impact on your day. The only total control we have for change is within. 7.    Exercise regularly. This doesn’t mean you have to “bulk up”, but more frequently it does mean to “get up” and do something that keeps your body moving. If we walked briskly for just 30 minutes three times a week, some of the pent up stress we frequently ignore until physical symptoms manifest themselves, could be released. Many of us are like the proverbial tea kettle that is just about at the boiling point. When the heat is applied just a few minutes longer, you can count on some loud steam being released. 8.    Eat a healthy diet. No, that doesn’t mean you are relegated to lettuce and carrots for the rest of your life. There’s nothing wrong with lettuce and carrots, but no one is suggesting that you morph into a rabbit. Probably the healthiest method of eating is to eat smaller portions of the foods you enjoy. The body – if we will permit it – will begin to hunger for what it needs for proper nourishment outside of steak and chocolate. At some point, believe it or not, a green bean and some fruit will be exactly what you crave. 9.    Get enough sleep. How do we do this when the majority of people have to get up at the crack of dawn for a job or they have young children who need to meet an early school bus? Go to bed earlier. There is research that shows sleep patterns improve when an individual goes to bed earlier than 10pm. Even if you wake up briefly during the night several times, as long as you are in bed for seven or eight hours, the body is at least resting. 10.    Look for the upside. All of us are aware that attitude is often what keeps terminally ill patients alive well beyond what medical science predicts. If it works for those who are ill, why wouldn’t it work for the rest of us? Most people who have experienced real tragedies will share months or years later that what they went through changed something in their life for the better. 11.    Set aside relaxation time. Dr. Colbert suggests that this be done daily – not just once a week. For some of us an early morning with a cup of coffee while everyone else is still asleep is just what the doctor ordered. For others it might be lunch alone outdoors with no interruptions. For some it might be staying up in the evening beyond the rest of the family to get that time alone. The relaxation is generally a time when one is alone and no one is asking something of us – even if it just requires us to listen. Regardless of temperament, we all need time to crawl inside and take a mental and emotional nap. 12.    Connect with others. No man (or woman) is an island. All of us need friends. Take the time to find a person who accepts you for who you are and enjoys your company anyway. Maybe it is a relationship nurtured on the phone versus face to face, but nonetheless, it is a caring, unrestrained relationship. Men need a male and women need a female friend like this. You may have to test the waters with one or two people before you identify the individual you connect with, but it will be well worth the time it takes. 13.    Do something you enjoy every day. I don’t know about you, but I always saved that for Sunday – if I could get it in even then. It would make a difference in my attitude at the end of each day if I knew I was going to read or knit or even spend an hour in my garden. We do have control over how our day goes – if we discipline ourselves to plug playtime into our schedule. It might only be 15 minutes, but it would at least be a daily practice that we could look forward to. 14.    Keep your sense of humor. Okay, so some of us don’t have a great sense of humor, but we sure can appreciate someone else who does. Hang out with those who laugh easily at themselves and the silly things that occur daily to most of us. If we can surround ourselves with people who do have a sense of humor, it can’t help but rub off on us. Each of the above recommendations involves some action by us in order to reduce negative stress. Dr. Colbert narrows the activity required to four A’s:  avoid, alter, accept or adapt to whatever is stressing us out. Unfortunately, like everything else in life, for change to take place, we have to change. If we can alter our circumstance, by all means go for it.  But – as is often the case – we are unable to change the circumstance or the people involved – there are only three other options left - avoid, accept or adapt. Pick one!

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