Sixth Step to Managing Your Stress [Part 6 of 7]

In previous posts in this series on stress management, I covered the importance of drinking enough water. I also shared information on the importance of eating well. And I have covered getting adequate sleep, exercise and breathing properly. In this post, I will offer the benefits of a practice of daily prayer or meditation– or both.
 
Now, what this section is NOT about is religion. I am not proposing that you need to adopt a religious practice if you don’t already have one. I am suggesting that if you are feeling stressed, you might consider taking some “time out” each day. This could include a 10-minute meditation practice. It might be a short visualization session. You could listen to calming music. Or you could turn off all your electronic devices—and your thoughts—for a few minutes every day.
 
Pray if you feel more comfortable with that. Pray for world peace or peace of mind…but use the time it takes to pray as a way to slow down your mind for a few moments. Studies suggest that people who pray or meditate see physical benefits. They have lower blood pressure, slower breathing, and a slower heart rate. Their brain waves show that while still alert, they can relax more deeply. These are all benefits of stress management.
 

Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, with Arianna Huffington all promote the benefits of meditation.

They are among other celebrities who tout its benefits. If you search “meditation” online, you will find that there are dozens of ways to meditate. Find one that suits your style. 

The idea behind meditation or prayer is to focus on the present moment. Slow your mind. Focus on the present moment. Let go of worry about tomorrow. Let go of regret over the past. Both of those activities are useless. Instead, focus on the NOW.

 
Too many people spend time in regret over things that happened in the past. If someone has hurt you in the past and you are having trouble getting past it get help from a counselor or a minister. You don’t need to continue to suffer over something that is now in your past. Turn to a brighter future, but live in the moment.
 
On the flip side, many people are consumed with fear or anxiety about the future. Again, it is time wasted. I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t prepare for the future by getting a good education. I think it is a good idea to save for a rainy day. That is healthy planning. 
 
If you are so worried about the future that you forget to enjoy the present moment, what’s the point? Life is made up of moments. These moments that cannot be retrieved except through memories. If you are so consumed with the past or the future that you forget to focus on the present moment…well, you get the drift.
 
Many people have trouble developing the discipline that a meditation practice requires. That is meaningful. Have seen the movie, Eat, Pray, Love? There is a scene in the book in which the main character attempts to quiet her mind. Instead, her mind is racing with commentary about the deficiency of her efforts.
 
That is how we are. We are running a commentary all the time. It is that commentary that we need to switch to the “off mode.” We only need to do it for a few moments each day, but it takes practice and discipline. Stress management, after all, requires managing your stress with intention.
 
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have trouble. Each of us has to start somewhere. Give yourself a break. You probably didn’t grow up learning how to meditate. You need not set up expectations that you are unlikely to meet right away. Give yourself time to practice. Take five minutes to set aside the commentary. But if they come up, that’s okay. Just keep setting them aside.

 
Set aside five minutes to sit and be still and to quiet your mind. After you have mastered the ability to do five minutes, you may increase it by a minute a day. Be gentle with yourself. Some days will be easier than others. Don’t make creating a meditation practice something that adds to your stress! That would be self-defeating.
 
If nothing else works for you, try remembering the first lines from the “Serenity Prayer.” It is a prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12- step programs. It works for me in moments of stress: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference.” Remember there IS a difference between those things that you can change and those you can’t. I don’t know about you, but I find that idea very comforting.
 

A Note about the Importance of Gratitude as Part of Your Practice

 
A growing body of research points to the importance of feeling gratitude. “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart, a German theologian, philosopher, and mystic offered that piece of advice.
 
Studies show that a practice of gratitude affects our lives in positive ways. It can impact your physical health. It can also affect your psychological well-being and our relationships with others. It definitely helps with stress management.
 

Keeping a gratitude journal is a good practice.

It is a way of reminding ourselves of the many things for which we have to be grateful. In one study, a thousand people from ages eight to 80, kept a gratitude journal. In as little as three weeks, participants reported the following benefits:
 
Physical:
 
✓ Stronger immune systems
 
✓ Less bothered by aches and pains
 
✓ Lower blood pressure
 
✓ Exercise more and take better care of their health
 
✓ Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
 
Psychological
 
✓ Higher levels of positive emotions
 
✓ More alert, alive, and awake
 
✓ More joy and pleasure
 
✓ More optimism and happiness Social
 
✓ More helpful, generous, and compassionate
 
✓ More forgiving
 
✓ More outgoing
 
✓ Feel less lonely and isolated
 
Practicing gratitude offers clear benefits. You can find thousands of books on the topic of gratitude and the importance of being thankful. The research is clear and continues to come out each day.
 
My best advice to you is practice gratitude every day. You will start to see benefits almost immediately.
 
If you are in a place right this moment when things seem so bad that you are thinking, “Yeah, right. I should be thankful that I lost my job”…or “I should be thankful I have been diagnosed with cancer. Fat chance.”
 
I get it. Sometimes, life sucks. We all suffer at times. Being alive means experiencing challenges. Try to feel grateful for what you do have as opposed to dwelling on what you don’t have. That can help. And even on your darkest day, there is something that you can find for which to be grateful.
 
If you don’t believe me, try this one experiment for three days. For three days, first thing in the morning, write down on a blank piece of paper the things for which you are grateful. Start with being able to get up. Some people can’t do that much. So you have an opportunity to start fresh on a new day.
 
Not feeling so grateful about that? Then how about your first cup of coffee? How about the rain pattering on your windowsill? How about the sunrise? How about whatever you have for breakfast? How about your car—beat up and dilapidated as it may be—that is going to take you to that job interview—or the doctor—today? How about the air that you breathe. Or the water running from the faucet? Or the phone call from a friend who is checking on you to see how things are going? Get the idea?

 

The only people who don’t experience stress in their lives are the ones who are already dead.

As long as you have life, there is hope. No job? You have an opportunity to get an even better job. Got a bad diagnosis? No diagnosis is ever final. There are miracle cures in the news all the time. You have to be willing to believe in miracles. And you have to be willing to do what your doctor or your healer tells you to do. But we hear of “miracle cures” all the time. They happen.T
 
As I said earlier, the only people who don’t experience stress in their lives are the ones who are already dead. As long as you are living, you have hope. And as long as you have hope, you can make things better. Remembering the things for which you have to be grateful can help. Try the three-day experiment and see if you don’t start to feel better. I am betting you will.

Third Step to Managing Stress [Part 3 of 7]

I am offering this series on managing stress for teachers and busy professionals. Stress is a concern for many people and throughout the year. But it is especially troublesome during the holiday season. We become over-busy during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have way too many things on our to-do lists.
 
In the series so far, I have covered the importance of staying hydrated (Part 1). And I covered eating well for good health (Part 2). Today I want to cover sleep.

 
Sleep may be the most undervalued and underrated of all the healthy habits you need. Too many people underestimate how sleep (or lack of sleep) impacts their health and well-being. It is also undervalued and underrated as it pertains to how you manage your stress.
 
Many people are unaware of how much sleep they need for good health. They attempt, instead, to get by on the sleep they can get instead of what they need.
 
If you are a parent, you appreciate the value of sleep in your children. Children who get the sleep they need perform better in school. They are well adjusted, and practice better impulse control. We all recognize a toddler or pre-schooler who has missed their nap for the day. They are cranky, whiny, and miserable. What makes us think that as adults we are immune to those symptoms when we go without the sleep we need?
 
If you aren’t sure how much sleep you need for good health, consider this. The average adult needs 6 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Because this is an average, some people can go with less, and some need a little more. The key is to strike the sweet spot for yourself so that you are your most productive and happiest.
 
Sleep is not something you can defer and delay and catch up on during the weekend, either. It doesn’t work that way. You need a routine that includes an adequate amount of sleep every single night.
 
In case you are thinking that it is no big deal if you are functioning on less than the sleep you need, think again. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers some startling statistics about drowsy driving. A 2013 study estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes. 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths that year. As if that isn’t bad enough. That same agency suspects that it is under-reporting the actual statistic.
 
Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.
 
And driving is only part of the problem. In another study, over 40% of Americans admit that they feel sleepy during the day a few day every month. One out of five (20%) reported feeling some level of daytime sleepiness a few days or more per week. Over 51% reported that sleepiness had interfered with the amount of work they were able to complete in a day.
 
Some of this sleepiness is the result of poor sleep habits and hygiene at night. These habits interfere with the amount of sleep you get. And they impact the quality of the sleep you get.
 
As a result, you are likely to experience one or more of these conditions:
 
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of anxiety and even depression
  • A decreased ability to concentrate and understand information
  • A suppressed immune system
  • And undesirable weight-gain since sleeplessness and/or sleep interruption which interferes with
  • The hormone production that your body requires to regulate a healthy weight
Are you convinced yet that sleep is an issue that merits serious attention? You may be wondering at this point what you can do to improve the odds of your getting a more restful sleep. Thankfully, there are many possible steps for you to consider. For example, start with your habits around bedtime.
 
Do you have an established bedtime routine? Or, are you too tired to drag yourself off to bed, so you continue to sit in front of the TV until the wee hours of the night? If you fall into the latter category, you may need to change up your night-time routine. If you are staying up late to watch TV or surf the Internet, turn off the electronic devices. Put them away. Read a book or magazine instead.
Studies show that reading from electronic devices causes your brain to think that it is still daytime. As a result, your brain will resist the idea of going to sleep even though your body may be tired. Read a book for a change. Avoid electronic devices for the hour before you want to go to sleep.
Other practical suggestions for improving your sleep include:

  • Take a warm bath or relaxing shower before bedtime
  • Avoid strenuous exercise right before going to bed
  • Drink herbal tea or a warm glass of milk before going to bed
  • If you have a television in the bedroom, turn it off before trying to go to sleep. Consider removing it to another room. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary where you go to relax and rest.
  • If you have a desk with your computer or piles of work in your bedroom, move it out. Your bedroom should be separate and apart from anything related to your work.
  • Strive to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the evening—move your dinner hour up if you need to.
  • Avoid anything with caffeine afternoon every day. And avoid drinking alcohol in the evening. Caffeine and alcohol both tend to stimulate the brain. Both substances can cause you to either have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
  • If you are a pre- or perimenopausal woman, consider talking to your doctor about your sleep issues. Hormone fluctuations can have a significant effect on your ability to sleep well.
 
Sleep is an absolute necessity. Too many of us are struggling through our days feeling groggy, and grumpy. We feel out of sorts because we have not gotten the sleep we need to function. Going without adequate sleep can create hormone imbalances, too. These imbalances can lead to feelings of listlessness. They can contribute to weight gain and even depression.
 
Don’t ignore this critical aspect of your daily life. There is a reason you get sleepy during the day—it is because you need to sleep! Make time for it like you would make time for other life-enhancing experiences. You will be glad you did.

It’s Almost Here

holiday list

The countdown is on. How are you doing? Are all the gifts purchased and wrapped?All the baking done? Any parties to plan or attend?

I don’t have to tell you that the litany of holiday activities and “to-do’s” is seemingly endless. And the pressure! Ever arrived for an event and realized you didn’t remember a gift for Uncle Bob or Aunt Sally? Is that the worst feeling, or what?

I watched the show “Black-ish” recently and was struck by the story line regarding the pressure we put upon ourselves–and sometimes the pressure others put on us–to make every holiday better than the year before. It is a tall order for many of us, but we continue to try.

All of this activity can be stressful, needless to say. That is why I am offering a FREE webinar Tuesday, December 15th at 7:00 p.m. EST. Here are the benefits of my program:

  • You will learn what stress is. The fact is that “stress” means different things to different people. What stresses me out might not even register on your radar. What stresses you out might be something I deal with every day. Stress is different for each of us, but…
  • Stress has a definite effect upon each of us physically, mentally, and emotionally. I will help you understand what stress is and how it might be impacting you negatively and you aren’t even aware of it.
  • You will also learn how to recognize the stressors in your life, and
  • You will learn why it is important for you to understand stress to be…and stay…healthy and well.
  • Finally, you will learn 7 specific strategies that won’t cost you anything but might save your life. These 7 strategies are simple (if not always easy) and can impact your general sense of wellness and well-being.

So, what do you think? Is it going to be worth an hour of your time to check it out? If so, I hope you will register here.

I hope to see you there.

Until next time.

You Are Invited to a Special Online Event

You Are Invited to a Special Online Event

Holiday Gifts
Holiday Gifts

We have all heard the song about the holidays being the “happiest time of the year,” right? But this holiday season has already been overshadowed with tragedies and terrorism from Paris to Beirut to San Bernadino. The airwaves are filled with rancor and vitriol and personal attacks instead of messages of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.”

On top of what is happening globally, the holidays are fraught with other kinds of stress. We tend to overeat, over-drink, and overspend. We fret over whether we have gotten just the right gift for everyone on the list. There are parties to attend and host, there are end-of-year tasks to deal with at work, and last minute details often forgotten until, well, the last minute.

It all makes for a stress-filled time of year even though there are good times to be enjoyed.

I am reminded that it was ten years ago this Christmas that I left my home and started divorce proceedings. In fact, many of my moves have been over the holidays to accommodate my teacher schedule.

This year will be my first Christmas without my mom, and my 29th year without my dad. And my 7-year-old car has decided that it is time for some major repair work…ouch.

Let’s face it, in spite of the fact that this is supposed to be a happy time, sometimes it just isn’t.

In case you are feeling overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, I want to invite you to join me for a FREE LIVE webinar that I will be hosting next week. The date is December 15, 2015. The time is 7:00 EST. The registration link is here.

I hope you will sign up and plan to join me and others who will be exploring how we can take better care of ourselves during this stress-filled season so that we really can enjoy ourselves and be happier and more ready for the new year.

So sign up now, and join me.

How to Manage Your Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress - Photo by Shutterstock
Holiday Stress

Photo by Shutterstock

The holiday season is supposed to be the “happiest time of year.” At least that is the message that we hear in the songs, holiday specials, and all of the other messages–both overt and subliminal–to which we are subjected during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (And let’s face it…the holiday hype now begins long before Thanksgiving.)

The fact is, however, that for many people, this isn’t the happiest time of year. Moreover, it is a time when stress levels just ratchet up and up and up. There are pressures to spend more money…sometimes money we don’t have…so the credit cards get a work out with only passing thought to how they will get paid in the new year.

There are also pressures to eat things that we know aren’t good for us; but they go with the season, right? The standard Christmas gathering isn’t complete without fudge and Christmas cookies of every shape and description. Many of us just resign ourselves to gaining 5 or 10 pounds during this time of year…again, with little thought as to how that will make us feel as we hit the new year.

And then, there are the family get togethers and relationship pressures that we all face. Getting together with certain family members that we would rather not see, but they are, well…family. You have to deal with their intrusive questions that are supposed to show that they care but really make you feel like shouting, “It’s none of your business!”

All of these pressures add up, and instead of feeling happy, many of us just feel isolated, depressed, and dejected. For strategies for managing stress during the holiday season, go here for a “cheat sheet” on how to manage and reduce your stress as well as building natural resilience so that you feel less stress even when you are experiencing stressful situations. Continue reading “How to Manage Your Holiday Stress”