Reducing Stress Starts Here
Reduce stress with attention to self-care. If you’ve ever traveled by air you will be familiar with the recommendation to “put on your own mask before assisting others.” Recognizing stress levels in ourselves is a bit more complex than recognizing that our plane is preparing to crash. However consider that the chances of becoming overwhelmed with stress are much more likely for most of us. My number one recommendation for reducing stress is to take care of yourself because this is where we can have the most impact. Self-care helps you improve all areas of your life.
What does that mean?
When I meet with people who come for assistance around specific stressors I ask about many areas of their lives. How are you sleeping? What has your dietary intake been like over the last few months? What do you do for fun? How much time have you been spending engaging in leisure activity? What are you doing for exercise?
This can be confusing to people who come to see me for help over a particular stressor in their life. Because they are looking at that specific stressor as the problem. When actually the true problem may be somewhere downstream. As we work together they begin to see that ignoring balance contributes to becoming overwhelmed with stress.
Taking care of ourselves is not a high priority in a society that often stresses work and doing for others over attention to self care. However, if we are not taking care of ourselves it will be progressively more difficult to help others. We can often significantly reduce stress with attention to self care and many times without other techniques.
How do we know that we have lost the balance between self-care and giving? The most basic answer is—when we start to become overwhelmed. How do you know that you are becoming overwhelmed? If you notice being more irritable or have difficulties focusing. You may also notice more or new body aches and pains. Others may also give you feedback. The first step to tuning in is to listen to what your body is saying.
The human body is a wealth of information about how well we are doing. When we ignore it we invite it to turn up the volume. Continuing to ignore body cues can lead to a full blown break down.
Take a moment to scan your body from the top of your head to your toes. Mentally move down your body from top to bottom taking note of any pains, aches, tension, numbness, tingling.
What do you notice?
Many people who are stressed notice headaches, pain in the shoulders and neck, tooth grinding, stomach aches, muscle tension throughout the body, tensing feet/hands. When are are feeling emotions of any kind our bodies feel it too. Tune into your own body right now and see which spots are causing you discomfort. It need not be over the top, incapacitating pain. Just look at where things feel off and start to look at where that may be coming from because ignoring our body causes the body to turn up the volume.
Many times our bodies are trying to alert us to increasing stress. If we ignore it we set ourselves up for feeling overwhelmed at some point. “Tuning in” allows us to address those problem areas. Interestingly, often just the act of taking care of the body decreases our stress. Yes— even when the outside stressor doesn’t change!
Start by doing a daily body scan and then considering how to address the sensations that you notice. Eliminating a chronic headache can be as easy as changing your posture. Other efforts such as taking a few moments to engage in a relaxation exercise can also be helpful. It’s up to you to notice and to make some kind of change.
Move to reduce stress
Move your body. Moving the body engages the parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel more relaxed and at ease. It also has a side benefit of maintaining basic tone and fitness. Moving our body especially when we are stressed can disrupt things just enough for us to catch our balance and recalibrate.
Some things you can do that don’t take much effort are:
- Check the mail
- Take out the trash
- Spend time in a relaxing a bath
- Enjoy a short walk
- Walk the dog
You may be surprised by how much different you feel after just a few minutes of engaging in one of these activities. This is likely because of that engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system. There are many of these kind of activities that can be accessed in our lives. We just have to keep our eye out for them. One of my nephews does a few pull ups when he is stuck on a problem and it changes the situation just enough that he is then able to move forward. Look at the previous post on exercise and stress for a more detailed description.
Slow down for self-care
When we are overwhelmed we tend to add more and more to our days often without much thought. Taking some time to slow down and become more deliberative can be helpful because it causes us to look inward at the only place we can truly control, ourselves. Focus on doing one thing at a time. I often refer to this as the “Major Charles Winchester III effect.” This fictional surgeon of M*A*S*H said “I do one thing at a time. I do it very well. And then… I move on.” We can all take a hint from Charles.
Slow down, focus on the task at hand, and then move to the next task. In so doing you may actually get more accomplished and as a result will not only feel less stressed, but will also likely decrease the number of things to stress about.
Hope this has been helpful. Please take a moment to comment
Have a great day out in the world being the best you, you can be today! ~Cheers. Lynda