I have told the story of how I had a stress-related heart attack as a young, otherwise healthy mother of two little kids back in 2001. Since then I have had enormous respect for the mind-body connection and the danger of chronic stress. The problem for most American women today is that we have normalized a lifestyle that cannot be maintained without significant cost to our long term health and happiness. The stress in my life almost killed me, and I had to learn a new, better way. Here are some tips on managing the stress that I hope you take to HEART (pardon the pun).
Learn your own stress style. If not much bothers you then just give yourself what your body seems to be asking for. Let your brain turn off for a little while. Watch t.v., grab a light book, maybe even talk to someone else about their life. Just get your mind off of where the stress is coming from long enough for you to come back to it clear-headed.
If you internalize stress, become increasingly tense, lose sleep or sleep too much, eat too much or too little, snap at people for no reason then you need to override what your natural tendencies are telling you to do. In this case, you need to take a proactive approach to manage your stress. The first step for you will be identifying when you are entering your stress mode so that you are not blindsided and miserable before you had time to do something about it. Prevention is truly better than a cure when it comes to stress.
Exercise is your ally in battling stress. It relieves pressure, produces endorphins, and helps to maintain self-esteem during some of the most stressful events that may be causing you to doubt yourself.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Fruits, veggies, protein, and whole grains naturally give you more energy, whereas junk food and high sugar foods actually raise stress levels and make you feel worse as energy levels rise and fall making it more difficult to be at your best when you most need to be.
Get enough sleep. Not too much and not too little. No matter what is going on, try to keep your schedule consistent with what you are used to in less stressful times. Exhaustion makes cowards out of us all. You need the courage to face stress, so stay on schedule, and if you are having trouble sleeping develop a bedtime ritual that you can start an hour or thirty minutes ahead of time to wind down. Baby yourself a little. For me, this can include a bath and some reading, journaling and always a prayer.
Pray. Talk it over with your higher power. I call my higher power God, and I believe that his favorite prayer is “God, please help me.” Then, have faith that help is coming. Know that you are going through whatever it is for a reason. Look for the lesson and learn it rather than looking for ways to escape that ultimately only create more stress (procrastination, bad attitudes, addictions). Know that you have what you need to do what you must do, and you are not alone.
Get support. Delegate and then let people do things their own way. Share your feelings and get advice, support, and encouragement, but be careful with this and limit your time talking about the issue without changing it. I allow a little time for self-pity or complaining, but then it is time to get into the solution and make sure the people around you are helping you not increase your stress.
The fascinating thing about stress is that it is largely self-induced. You can’t choose what happens all of the time, but you can always choose how you are going to react. How you react says a lot about who you are, and I believe that the universe arranges ways to bring each of us into our truest and best selves. You may find that reacting differently to stress results in fewer stressful events in your life because you learned that lesson. Since this won’t happen overnight, find activities that are soothing to you, distracting when needed and happiness-inducing. Take a walk, do some art, volunteer, turn up your music sing and dance privately or with your family, get some physical contact with someone you love – hold hands, hug, make love, go for a drive just to change the scenery, watch a funny movie and laugh out loud. Find a way to focus on something else and you may find you feel better and more able to find creative solutions to the problem causing your stress.
Stay in reality. Most of the problems in our lives never actually happen. We spend a lot of time stressed out over what could happen, dreading our worst fears. When you feel stressed out it is important to look at the situation realistically. See things as they are, not worse than they are as that is dread and not better than they are as that is denial. Dread and denial are stressful. Denial caused my heart attack, and then I became frozen in fear about what was going to happen to my children. At the lowest time in my life, I never knew how I was going to pay the upcoming rent or buy groceries when our food ran out, but I realized that we never went hungry and we had a warm place to sleep every night. I feared an uncertain future, but in the present, we were always o.k. I started to replace fear with gratitude, and it made all the difference. It wasn’t long and money was no longer a problem in my life at all. I had learned that lesson.
Photo credit: Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash