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Make Stress Reduction a Priority

Updated on January 13, 2013

Most of us underestimate the harmful effects of uncontrolled, long-term stress. Left unchecked it can disrupt hormone functions, cause disease and accelerate aging. It also affects the people around us. When stressed we have a hard time controlling emotions, patience is difficult and basic courtesies go out the window. The people around you may not say anything (so as not to upset you any further), but your stress is obvious to others and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Excess stress has a profound negative effect on our lives. If feel your life is stressful but feel unable to stop it, there are some simple and easy techniques to reduce it.

Deep conscious breathing. When we are anxious our heartbeat quickens and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Have you ever noticed people speak in a higher pitch and become a little breathless when they are excited? When you feel this happening, quickly stop what you are doing. If at work or other public setting, go to the restroom. Remove yourself from the situation and take a few minutes. Pay attention to the sound of your breathe. Become aware of its sound and start to slow it down. Listen and pay attention as you inhale slowly and deeply and do the same as you exhale. It might be helpful to pretend your stomach is a barrel, when you inhale the barrel expands, at exhalation, the barrel collapses. This kind of breathing brings the most oxygen into your system. If you focus on the sound of your breath and how the ‘barrel’ moves, it will stop you, for those moments, from thinking about anything else. Just a couple of minutes of this type of breathing will bring down your stress level. You will return to your situation with a clear mind, you will function better and more effectively.

Visualization. This is best done in the morning, just before you arise from bed. When the alarm goes off, take a few moments to think about your day and how it will be. For example, if you exercise in the morning, envision exercising with gusto and feeling great while doing it. If you have a hectic routine with your kids do the same thing, envision yourself calmly and competently handling the situation. If you are giving a presentation or have a meeting, envision everything going well and smoothly. As you envision your day going great, feel good about it too. Get up from bed and start the day as you envisioned it. To make sure you do not go back to sleep after the alarm rings, either change to a position in bed you are not able to sleep in - or sit up in bed while you visualize.

Counting. The old adage of counting sheep to help you sleep is no lie. Sometimes it feels as if our minds are racing, we are unable to stop the thoughts. When that happens try distracting yourself from your thoughts. We think counting works really well. You can count the objects you can see or just count quietly in your mind. Try to tie the rhythm of your breath with your counting. This will help give the mind a little break, sort of like hitting an imaginary reset button in the brain. You do not have to be trying to get to sleep for this to work. Whenever you are anxious and find yourself going over the same things in your mind you can try this. Just remember not to count out loud, people might think you have lost your mind!

Much of the stress we feel is due to procrastination. It can be prevented by doing small things every day. Here are some helpful lifestyle changes that can go a long way in reducing your stress levels:

Get organized. Start with one room (or even one drawer), clear out the clutter. Catch up on paperwork, create files or folders assign them for specific categories of mail, for example, bills, home and car repair, medical. These files will help you be able to locate items when they are needed. Get rid of clutter and catch up on paperwork.

Develop a morning and evening routine. In the morning, do some light stretching or exercise, take a moment to think about when you come home later, for example, if you need to defrost anything, take it out of the freezer now. At night, prepare lunches and decide what will be worn the next day and set it out. Taking a few moments each morning and night will help simplify these times and allow you to save your energy for the day's unexpected events.

Create a schedule. Includes the usual errands and appointments, but also include fun activities, housework and socializing, this way you can make time all the things in life and not feel rushed.

Take care of your needs. Get enough sleep, eat healthy nourishing foods, limit alcohol intake. If you have unhealthy habits think about making some changes.

Talk about it. It is important to be able to vent your feelings. Sometimes there are no solutions to some problems, you just have to deal with whatever it is. No need for advice or help, but you do need someone that will listen to you vent about it. If you feel funny about venting, you can also write about it, journaling can also help you release tension and stress. Just getting it out and off your chest makes a difference.

Don’t be a hero. If you are asked for help but you feel you can’t take on another project, you have to say no. If you have difficulty saying no, practice by saying no from time to time, on small items. Once you realize that nothing negative happens if you say no, you will see how easy it is.

If you feel stress is a problem for you, I hope you try some or all of these techniques to reduce it. The most important step is to have an open mind. Stop skeptical thinking and instead imagine that perhaps this is hokey enough to work. Give it an honest try and just go with it. After all, you have nothing to lose but so much to gain.


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