Wavy trees in the fog beside the road. Burnout can feel like things are spinning out of control.

Burnout risk may be around the next corner. What is the risk that at any given moment you will experience burnout? The answer depends on a number of factors you face in the day to day. Some of those things are beyond your control and others that are within your power to change. The issue to to find the factors that you can change.

Environmental Risk

The type of environment in which you live and work can push you toward burnout or protect you from burnout’s grasp. Your job is more than just a list of tasks and may extend beyond the workday. Your work environment is comprised of:

  • Interpersonal Relationships at work
  • The number of hours you work
  • And the setting in which you do your work
    • Shift work
    • Working from home.

The demands of the job also have an impact. As more people are forging into the digital arena job stress is often on location at home as well. Setting poor boundaries around work can mean always being at work and never really being home.

Interpersonal Relationships

The people with whom you work can make the job seem easy or like drudgery. Looking at the ways in which you interact with co-workers can tell you a lot about this area. Having a group of people who respect one another and work together makes the job much easier and likely more efficient as well. The only aspect of this area you can control is your own part in those relationships. Do you tend to be uplifting or a drag at work? Are you a complainer or an optimistic problem solver? Looking at your part can improve the whole if you are not happy with your work relationships.

Work Hours

The number of hours you work has a big effect on whether you will experience burnout. One study showed that there was a 12%-15% increase in the odds of burnout for every 5 hours per week worked OVER 40 hours (McMurray et al. 2000). So keeping yourself to 40 hours (or less) can go a long way to helping prevent your chances of burnout. Again this is more challenging in a digital work environment where work may occur at the dining room table. Setting clear boundaries around the work and sticking to those boundaries will help limit your risk.

Work Setting

Location, Location, Location

Work setting is becoming more and more difficult to define. When I was growing up my father went to a job in a certain location and returned home at the end of the day. Forty some years later my brother works from home from his laptop and rarely goes to an office setting. It’s very important for my brother to set limits with his work and define what a workday means for him. If he sets poor limits he can find himself working more than is healthy for him.

Time, Time, Time

There are many jobs in which shift work is a part of the setting. Those who work in factories, healthcare workers, and as well as retail workers are working shifts. This can mean working two or three shifts over the course of a month making home life much more difficult to manage. Another aspect of time, is rotating schedules in which each week there are different days you may have off from work. Trucking can be like this. All of these can work for you if you pay close attention to your personal needs. For me when I was working shifts it was most important for me to know which days I would work and which I would have off and when ever possible that those work days all occurred on the same shift rather than in rotation.

Recharging, Rebooting, Recovering

Take the time to notice what stresses you out. Look at what gives you a boost and helps you to recover from work. Look at what is meaningful for you in your day to day life —interacting with your children, spouse, friends; honing some kind of talent that has nothing to do with work; learning a new skill; taking up a new hobby or developing one. These are all methods toward warding off burnout in the day to day. If we are workers only we are set up for burnout in ways that often sneak up on us. Having a broad range of interests that you make time and space for in your life goes a long way to decrease your burnout risk. Partly because there are other things you find meaningful, but you will also be more likely have others who can clue you into what’s going on with you if you begin to show signs of burnout.

So what’s the take-home?

You have to be willing to make change where it is possible (within yourself) even if it is scary to do so. Having confidence that you can manage whatever the results of your efforts will be helpful. Take a long look at what may be burning you out in your work and make some tough decisions.

Often just asking a few questions will create a space in which you can look at things more objectively and make some meaningful change for yourself.

  • Can I change any part of the work environment which will in turn decrease my stress?
  • What can I do?
  • What is beyond my control to change?
  • If I don’t stay at this job, what then?

Another burnout risk is your thinking style. Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? What kind of thoughts do you find yourself having most in relation to work? People who are less flexible in their thinking are more likely to develop burnout than people who are more flexible in the way they think about things. For a great Youtube presentation on thinking style and stress check out Doc Mike Evans here. For more on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they relate to stress check out the June post here.

Thanks for dropping by the stress nest.

Have you experienced burnout? What strategies worked for you to manage/eliminate it?

Leave a comment

Information from this week’s blog post was adapted from Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working: Chapter 12 Prevention and Communication: A Most Effective Tailored Treatment Strategies for Burnout.

Burnout Prevention~One, Two, Three, Cha Cha Cha.

Chaotic fireworks burst-a kind of "burnout."

Burnout prevention is a topic that seems to go unnoticed. If we want to be healthy then preventing burnout is key. The question is how best to go about burnout prevention.

Well, like most things related to health, the answer is–it’s different for everyone. The study of stress shows that we all respond to stress differently. Knowing more about how you respond to stress will carry you closer to knowing your own best strategy or strategies.First let’s look at the different levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary Burnout Prevention

Primary prevention occurs prior to the onset of any burnout symptoms. This kind of prevention comes in the form of counseling about coping with stress and considering what stresses uplift you versus those that are more difficult for you. Think public service announcements.

Secondary Burnout Prevention

Secondary prevention comes when an individual arrives at some awareness of symptoms by happenstance. This is what happened when I visited my healthcare providers for usual check ups and found that I had several stress related issues. I was completely unaware of these symptoms until being seen by my healthcare providers. They were able to pick up on these symptoms and inform me. Think a kind of stress surprise.

Tertiary Burnout Prevention

Tertiary prevention is a process of keeping known illness from causing lasting damage through rehabilitation and prevention of relapse. I was engaging in this type of prevention when I made decisions concerning my work/life balance that subsequently addressed the symptoms that came to light in secondary prevention. Think total behavior change at this stage.

Role of Emotions

Looking at your emotion management can help you look at your burnout potential. One of the most beneficial emotions when addressing stress is confidence. Feeling confident that you can effect change in your environment cognitively, physically, and socially can go along way toward inoculating you against stress.

How can this be? Because, when stress arrives (as it always will), feeling confident within yourself that you can make meaningful change will serve to decrease the stress you feel. On the flip side if you are certain that nothing you do will effect change or help you will be left in despair.

Challenging your thinking helps you build new skills. Building new skills helps you address all kinds of stress more effectively. This process is not one we enjoy, but at some point we need to do something different. One of my mentors used to repeat the adage, “If you want something different to happen, you have to do something different.” You can review challenging your thinking here.

Questioning Around Stress

How do you find that different? Sometimes asking yourself a few questions can be helpful. Questioning the situation and your part in it will help you to shift your stress. Here are a few questions to get you started.

  1. Which of my needs have been neglected?
  2. Which of my abilities remain underdeveloped?
  3. Which of my objectives are unrealistic?
  4. Which of my thinking patterns are dysfunctional?
  5. What in my environment is a burden?
  6. Are there things I don’t know about the things I find stressful?
    • What parts are missing?
    • What am I not seeing?
    • Are there areas that I am avoiding?
  7. What one thing can I change which will result in the best outcome?
  8. Is there a way to reclaim a portion of my freedom/autonomy?
  9. What must I resolve to move forward?

Often simply answering the questions above will cause some movement in areas that may have had you stuck.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Have a great week. Thanks for dropping by The Stress Nest.

Information from this week’s blog post was adapted from Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working: Chapter 12 Prevention and Communication: A Most Effective Tailored Treatment Strategies for Burnout.

Burnout~A consequence of unregulated stress.

Angry Shark street art. Talk about stress!

I have been making my way through a book on burnout–Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working–a compilation edited by S. Bahrer-Kohler. A hefty tome which is taking me some time to move through. Here at the first of the year–a new year, and (depending on who you ask) a new decade I thought it would be fitting to do a few posts on the phenomenon of burnout. What it is, how it manifests, and what we can do about it. I myself have been visited by the burnout bug. It’s one of the reasons I decided to make some changes in my work/life balance, but more about that later. Burnout is a classic consequence of unregulated stress.

In my work I talk regularly with individuals who are experiencing burnout. Many people are caught off guard by symptoms of burnout. I know I was, after all I am supposed to have all my stuff together right? Burnout can affect anyone and it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for it. Framing burnout as a consequence of unregulated stress helps people to better understand what they are dealing with.

What is Burnout?

According to Mirriam-Webster, one definition of burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” You can find the full definition here. I also consider burnout a consequence of unregulated stress.

In chapter 4 of Burnout for Experts–Burnout Symptoms and Cycles of Burnout– the author reviews burnout. Burnout in terms of work involves three basic components–

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Cynicism
  3. Lack of Professional Competence

Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can sap the life out of anyone. It’s that sense that no matter how hard you work you’ll never get ahead. Recognition for work is a piece of it, but also the match between you and your co-workers. If you are a generation X worker surrounded by baby boomers (or vice versa) there may be a mismatch in the way you and your coworkers approach work that can increase your chances of burnout.


Cynicism can also wreak havoc on your life in general including your work life. Again according to our friends at Merriam-Webster Cynicism is: “1. The doctrine of the Cynics and 2. Cynical attitude or quality.” Anyone in the dark? That leads us to look up Cynic which–drum roll please– is “a faultfinding captious critic.” Captious is “marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections.” Well enough said, this kind of attitude is likely not to make you any friends on the job, but when you start to notice cynicism in yourself or others, it may be a sign of BURNOUT.

Lack of Professional Competence

Lack of professional competence is a difficult one. Because the author did not tease out her intended meaning. I see this as both a potential symptom of being a new on the job and of burnout. These of course can overlap and the author does suggest that young people are more prone to burnout because of not having a lot of experience and expertise on the job. We older workers have likely seen a number cycles of the job and tend to be less influenced by the ebb and flow of these cycles. Competence to my mind is another matter and can increase or decrease based on your stress levels. You’ve probably had an experience at least once in your life when you had prepared for some event or challenge and then came up blank. That can happen more often when we experience unchecked stress.

What causes Burnout?

Any overly stressful situation or conglomeration of situations can cause burnout, but the author also notes that burnout is influenced by the following:

  1. Workload
  2. Lack of control over decisions
  3. Insufficient reward
  4. Undermining of Teamwork
  5. Lack of fairness
  6. Conflict between core personal values and job.


Workload is not just about the amount of work, but also about the amount of time allotted to do that work. Business continues to press workers to “do more with less” and grind out the product. Whether that product is a thing or a service being pressed to do more in the same amount of time is a recipe for burnout.

Long hours can cause issues as well. I also believe that the advent of smart phones and internet have increased burnout because many workers are in essence “always available.” These devices have blurred the lines of what it means to be at work. I have counseled many people on being available after hours and working to set limits on work where possible. Setting limits with managers who want to regularly contact you after work hours can be difficult because we want to show that we are ready and able to take on the work. But being over zealous in this can lead to a cycle of never having down time which of course can then lead to burnout.

Lack of Control over Decisions

This is a big one. It’s one of the biggest factors I think that leads to burnout. The sense of being stuck in the middle with no power. Few of us want to be in this position. Often it is not the stress of the work that leads to burnout, but the situation of having little to no autonomy as to when various parts of the job get carried out and how. We can’t all be the decision makers at work, but if we can find some part of our work that we control this can be protective against burnout. Also having the confidence that you can change jobs if you wanted to. Feeling stuck is never a good feeling and can push us to burnout if not addressed.

Undermining Teamwork

Working for an institution that does not value teamwork can be stressful. I’ve had managers that seemed to actively work at squashing teams. Teams that work well together can really crank out work which can leave others looking bad by comparison. Feeling undermined can push workers toward burnout which then tends to show up as missed work days. Sometimes because of illness and sometimes because of just plain feeling fed up. All of this can be avoided if managers value teams and encourage them to flourish.

Lack of Fairness

Lack of fairness affects workers at every level of business. From factory workers to physicians each sees when he/she is not being treated fairly. While we often can’t control this as workers, we may be able to control where we work. On an organizational level businesses can ferret out where fairness is an issue by looking at where turnover is high. Departments that have difficulties retaining workers are often areas where a lack of fairness is high.

Conflict Between Personal Values and Job

The conflict that can arise between one’s personal values and how you must perform on the job can push workers toward burnout. Finding a job that better represents your values can go a long way to avoiding this.

Other Issues

Other issues that can influence burnout are the state of your personal relationships, how you are sleeping, and how well you are caring for yourself away from work. Look at previous posts on sleep, eating, and relationships. We will continue to look at various aspects of these in coming weeks.

Let me know what you think about your experience here at the Stress Nest. Leave a comment or drop an email. Whatever works for you. Your feedback will help me to tailor the content such that you are finding what you need here.

Thanks for dropping by and Have a Wonderful day~ Lynda

Go Green and Decrease Stress!

Picture of green agave plants.

A New Twist on a Green Revolution

Going green, so to speak, is one way of decreasing your stress. I am not talking about the green revolution in which you reuse and recycle, but rather something that is starting to get more recognition in city planning across the United States. Namely having ready access to green spaces as a means to help increase social cohesion and decrease overall stress levels in populations.

A recent article Walking Green: Developing an Evidence Base for Nature Prescriptions in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health caught my attention. As a provider of mental health services I have often considered that access to nature would likely improve mental health, but here is one study that confirms just that.

Hopefully we can all appreciate how stress relieving it can be to spend time in nature. What has been a hunch of those providing care is now being born out scientifically. If you are a person who has access to nature (i.e. trees, wild animals, grasses, water expanses, etc) bravo. One way to help decrease your stress is to get out and take a walk in the great outdoors.

Location, Location, Location

One aspect the article mentioned is having tested two locations or conditions. Walking along either a busy street OR walking in a forest preserve. They were able to show over the course of the study that those who walked in the forest had lower perceived stress levels. So while walking in general helps lower stress levels as discussed in previous posts (here and here) we now finding that the location of the walk can amplify the effect.

Make it Meaningful

So what does this mean for the average person like you and me? Well, to my mind this represents a very low cost means of accessing stress reduction. Finding a place to walk in nature near you could be the biggest contribution you can make to your overall stress in 2020. If you live in a large city this may be more challenging. Many larger cities have started incorporating green spaces within walking or commuting distance.

If you can take the time to get to a green space once a week or more to take a walk (some studies suggest that you can even sit and just be in the green space) for 30-50 minutes, you will go a long way to helping reduce your stress. As we’ve discussed previously intention makes the meaning. Setting aside/planning a time when you will spend time in nature will make it more likely to happen.

What Constitutes a Green Space?

ANY location of relatively unspoiled nature. It can be a small park at the end of the block or a large forest preserve. It can be a location with a large expanse of water with unobstructed view. A beach can be a green space. A mountain, a large field of grass with a path, a fitness path.

Whatever is available near you. I find it much easier to go green and decrease my stress when access is relatively close. There are several in my community less than a 20 minute drive from my home.

Banyan tree in a city park in Sicily. Opportunity for citizens to take a break with nature and decrease stress.

Find It and Use It

Once you find your local green space be sure to use it. Also by linking other stress reducing habits you’ve built you can increase your overall effect. For example, you could make it a part of your DIY stress kit as discussed in a previous post. You may even decide to make it a part of “unplugging” from technology if only for the time you are spending in nature. I once walked several sections of the Appalachian Trail and found no need for music or distraction. Nature had me completely enveloped. And while not every aspect of that adventure was stress free (let’s just say there were tears) I did find that I slept very well while out in nature. Since striking out into the back country is not everyone’s idea of “stress relieving” take a moment to consider simply going to a local park and sitting or walking for 30-50 minutes. You may find that your stress levels go way down.

Give it a try making an effort to go green and decrease stress may work so well you can relinquish your gym membership. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Thanks for dropping by The Stress Nest.

I hope your 2020 is filled with much more fun and much less stress.

Happy New Year!

Attitude and Stress~The choice is yours

Sicilian god cultivating a plant

Attitude and stress have an interesting interaction. We often feel justified in feeling upset or resentful when stress is high, but research suggests that cultivating a more positive attitude may be more beneficial to our physical and mental health.

Bad-itude or Gr-attitude?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary resentment is “an indignant sense of injury or insult received or perceived, a sense of grievance; (a feeling of) ill will, bitterness, or anger against a person or thing.” It defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being grateful or thankful; the appreciation of an inclination to return kindness; gratefulness.” Choosing gratitude over resentment is a choice that leads to more benefit both for you and those around you.

Okay so what’s the point?

When we cultivate gratitude our bodies respond by increasing our subjective sense of well-being likely through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that induces calm). When we are grateful we have lower heart rate, better immune response, and a higher sense of positive well-being. Conversely when we are resentful our heart rate increases, our immune system struggles, and we have higher tension which in turn increases our feelings of anger or bitterness toward the world. Check out this article in psychology today which talks about the benefits of gratitude.

Can I really choose?

Yes, you really can choose gratitude over resentment. There will always be situations that increase our stress, but we can choose to get mired in the negative aspects or focus more on the positive parts of our lives. This may mean letting go of hurt and identifying where things are going right in our lives. While the driver that cut you off in traffic this morning can increase your resentment in the moment, holding on to that is a choice. When you look at the whole of your life that momentary hurt doesn’t amount to much, but when you hold on to that throughout the day you are doing damage to yourself and possibly those around you.

For the most part it’s up to you

I’m not suggesting that you ignore injustice or harm, but much of what stresses us out in the day to day isn’t about world peace or even what’s happening in much of the world. Typically it’s about things in our lives much closer in. What I call “toothpaste issues.” If you are prone to resentment you can choose to make a shift. This won’t happen over night, but as you consciously choose to focus more on the positive over time you will notice a shift. Most of the time making that shift is about looking at what can be done about what irks us and then taking action or choosing to let it go. If you want to take a deeper dive into changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors check out a previous post here.

Choosing Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude creates an attitude that will decrease your stress. Start creating a more positive attitude by:

  • Thanking people
    • Taking time to say thank you to those you interact with is a powerful way to step into gratitude.
      • Thank everyone from the neighbor who shoveled your walk to the cashier at the store.
      • This helps to cultivate positivity.
    • I have been amazed at the number of people who are genuinely touched when thanked.
  • Keeping a journal of gratitude
    • Take note of things that you are grateful for , review the list, and add to it regularly.
    • This activity can help you realize on a difficult day that all is not bleak.
  • Letting go
    • Taking time to let go of old hurt is a great step toward unburdening yourself.
    • Holding on to hurt is not the same as holding others accountable.
    • Holding onto hurt only makes you miserable.
    • Letting it go helps you feel lighter and happier.

How can you start cultivating gratitude today?

Thank you for dropping by.
Please a comment about what you’d like to see more (or less) of as we move into the new year.

The Heirarchy of Stress

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

We don’t often think of placing our stress level on a continuum, but looking at our stress through the lens of our needs can be helpful. Stress and needs often go hand in hand. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we can begin to map out where our stress levels are on a continuum from less severe to more severe. This also allows us to determine where our stress is coming from. Knowing where our stress comes from helps us to build a plan to address it more effectively.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who developed the hierarchy. This was a theory he developed concerning how people are motivated. It is said he preferred to focus on the positive in people rather than just seeing symptoms. He completed his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin and went on to complete more research at Columbia University.

As you go through your life you may be surprised that stress can accumulate from a variety of areas. Using Maslow’s hierarchy you can develop a map of your stress. By looking at where your needs are not being met you will also find where stresses arise. This will help you to develop action plans that better address those areas and in turn help to decrease your stress.

The Hierarchy

The model is arranged in the shape of a triangle as shown above. Each portion of the triangle builds one upon the other and ends in a peak. Maslow broke down the human condition into five areas. Our Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization needs.


What the body needs for survival comprises the physiological level of the hierarchy. We all need enough air, water, food, sleep, clothes, shelter, and general health. If any of these areas are compromised in your life your stress levels will rise. Addressing the physiological needs is a good place to begin. Looking at the following areas is helpful. By baseline general health I simply mean are you overall healthy. If you have chronic ailments such as diabetes or heart disease are these in good control? Some of these things will be in your direct control while some may not be–such as quality air. Looking at what you can control can be helpful in reducing your stress levels.

  • Enough quality air
  • Plenty of water
  • Healthy diet
  • Quality sleep
  • Enough clothing for the season
  • Reliable shelter
  • Baseline general health


Next is safety. Looking at your level of personal, emotional, and financial safety and security are key to helping your stress levels. If you are not feeling safe it’s more likely that you will be feeling very stressed. Do what you can to address each of the areas of safety. Health gets a boost in this level as well to health and “well being.” Again in some of these areas you may not have direct or immediate control, but you will likely be able to formulate a plan to address each of these areas over time.

Social Belonging

Humans for the most part are social beings. Having a level of social belonging can be a key part of keeping stresses low. Family, friendships, and intimacy are important parts of life. Finding a social group can be difficult, but there are a lot of tools in the modern era that can help. Search engines such as Meetup.com can help you to find a group of like minded people. Being a part of a social group helps us to feel “part of” rather than isolated. This can go a long way to decreasing stress.


Self esteem is the next level in the hierarchy. Beyond feeling good about yourself feeling competent in your work, confident in your friendships and family life, and having a level of expertise somewhere in your life all have a positive effect on reducing stress levels. Many times the more expert we are the more autonomy we have over our lives which can also be stress relieving.


The peak of the hierarchy is self-actualization. Self actualization is living a life that allows you to realize your full potential. Developing a skill or talent in life, parenting, finding a compatible mate. Self actualization is the cherry on top. It allows you to navigate your life as you desire for the most part. And to be sure it requires you to have all the previous levels of the hierarchy locked in.


What is the hierarchy of your personal stress? Take a few moments to look at how your needs and stress stack up. Start looking at what you can do to address your levels of stress in each of the areas. Take a few moments to review some of my earlier blog posts on eating, sleeping, exercise, and finances which may help you to better manage your stress levels. Remember stress is inevitable, but there is something you can do to address what stresses you. It just may be easier than you realize.

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Thank you for dropping by and have a great day.

Change your brain and Decrease your stress

Face make of junk found on beach. Talk about stressful!

We once thought that changing the brain in adulthood was impossible. Now we now that to be false. The brain is more plastic (able to change) than we previously believed. In less than 15 minutes a day you can begin to change to your brain and decrease your stress.

The Background

Mindfulness based meditation has been in the in the mainstream for nearly 30 years now. Jon Kabat-Zinn began using it in western medicine starting in the the 1970’s. He started a stress reduction clinic in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. The ideas he started with there didn’t gain public popularity until the early 1990’s after he wrote and published the book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Mind and Body to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. This book was embraced and from that point Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) started to spread.

Meditation as a Tool

What does this have to do with meditation and how can you benefit from it? Meditation is a portion of what MBSR teaches in an 8-week course along with different ways of thinking about obstacles.

I often suggest that people give it a try especially in managing anxiety. Because meditation is often affiliated with Buddhism there is often some hesitancy. Sometimes folks believe it will interfere with their religious practice. But meditation is not THE religious part of Buddhism it is simply a tool that Buddhists use to move closer to enlightenment. Meditation also helps with many other aspects of human life and we can benefit from those without becoming Buddhists. You can find a free MBSR course here.

How it can help

A January 2019 article entitled Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators caught my attention. They looked at folks who had no experience in meditation and had them listen daily to a meditation recording that was 13 minutes in length. The control group listened to a non-meditation pod cast. Study participants engaged in fairly rigorous pre, mid, and post study testing in a variety of areas including memory, attention, and mood.

After 8 weeks they found statistically significant differences in the groups. While the study group was small (n=40) they were able to pull some interesting findings.

The Kind of Help

They found improvements in:

  • Mood
  • Emotional regulation
  • Working memory
  • Recognition memory
  • Responses to stress
    • Including improved ability to cope under stress

Importantly they found that the effects were not present at 4 weeks (the mid-point), but required more than 4 weeks to see the changes.

Interestingly sleep was not found to be improved although a number of other studies have shown improvements in sleep with use of meditation. The authors opined that the time of day that the participants engaged in the activity could have had an impact and urged that future studies control for this.

The Brain

The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis works to help us manage our stresses and bring our bodies back into homeostasis. When the HPA axis is out of whack we can feel overly anxious or overwhelmed. When stresses occur it works to help us recover.

Meditation seems to help regulate the HPA axis. Over time engaging in meditation appears to help the hippocampus grow and the amygdala reduce in size helping us to better regulate our mood. The amygdala is the part of the brain that jumps into action when emotions emerge. When it is over-activated it can get stuck in sending distress messages to the frontal cortex (the part of the brain that helps us to make a decision on how to act). When the frontal cortex is overwhelmed we can have difficulties making decisions or in extreme cases may even blank out.

In Conclusion

Imagine having access to a system that is free, requires less than 15 minutes a day of our direct attention, and has the potential to impact all the above areas of your life. Sounds like a miracle of sorts. We are finding that meditation can change your brain and decrease your stress.

That said, while meditation can provide improvements in a number of areas, it is not a silver bullet. Meditation alone will not solve your problems. But by using meditation you can create an optimal internal environment. One in which you are more likely to best handle your stressors most effectively.

Another activity that can decrease your stress and cause positive brain changes is exercise. Check out the blog post on exercise here and here.

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Finding the “just right” amount of exercise

Avatar of author on treadmill depicting vigorous exercise
Avatar of author doing yoga depicting low to moderate exercise

Exercise, the Good and Not So Great!

We all know that exercise is good for us, but finding the “just right” amount can be difficult. Most of us need more exercise. To find out just how much check out my previous post on exercise here. Finding balance in your physical activity can help decrease overall stress levels.

I was intrigued by an article I read that discussed the pros and cons of exercise. Because exercise in our society is often billed as a more is better kind of thing this article got me thinking of something I had not previously considered in terms of exercise even though I talk about it with patients nearly every week. Finding a balance.

In their article The Goldilocks Zone for Exercise: Not Too Little, Not Too Much, authors James H. O’Keefe MD, Evan O’Keefe MS, and Carl J. Lavie MD discuss the right amount of exercise. These men have a knack for getting to the heart of the matter which kind of makes sense since the two MDs are affiliated with cardiovascular centers.

The Good

They discuss the benefits of physical activity on cardiovascular risk such as lowering of resting heart rate and blood pressure as well as improving lipid and glucose levels. They also mention the benefits on improving body mass index (BMI) as well as the reduction of emotional stress, improvement in sleep, and the encouragement of adopting other healthy behaviors (e.g. improving eating habits).

One of the mind blowing parts is their assertion that “a routine of regular exercise is associated with an increase in life expectancy of up to six years.” They go on to place further perspective around that assertion stating “If medical science discovered how to cure and/or prevent all cancer, the average life expectancy in the United States (US) would rise about 3.5 years.” I find that truly amazing and hopeful.

The Downside

The trick is finding the right amount of exercise. Not too little and not too much. They discuss that workouts of more than 60 minutes tend have a decline in benefit due to the enormous amounts of free radicals released during exercise Our bodies can’t clear it out fast enough and that puts us at higher risk of cardiovascular events. Of course factors like age, genetic risk, and other lifestyle choices impact this issue as well. And keep in mind that for every 20 Americans who are not meeting the exercise guideline there is just 1 who is overdoing exercise. Not exactly an epidemic of over exercising going on. But I like knowing that I don’t have to kill myself 7 days a week in order to get the benefits of physical activity.

Back to the Good

I was relieved to see that even as little as 50 minutes a week of strenuous exercise conferred benefit. They also looked at studies of indigenous people who typically get 16,000 steps per day attending to life activities. They found that when physical activity occurs through the day in light and moderate intensity there is no upper limit as there is with more strenuous activity! This is comparable to taking a brisk walk, gardening, doing housework, golf or racket sports, and even bowling.

And in terms of weight “for overweight or obese individuals, physical fitness is an important predictor of longevity, whereas weight loss is not.” As a curvy woman who has always carried a few more pounds this is music to my ears.

Finding Balance

To find balance consider engaging in the following:

  • Moderate intensity physical activity 150 minutes per week
    • OR
  • Moderate intensity physical activity for 75 minutes a week.
  • Limit sitting for longer than 30 minutes
  • Add physical activity if you are sedentary
  • Reducing physical activity if you are overactive (450 minutes a week or more).
    • Changing to low impact activities such as yoga or walking
  • Adding more low to moderate intensity physical activity to your life
  • Take at least 1 day off a week from vigorous exercise

How can you add balance to your physical activity?

Taming Stress with Self -Talk

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bright green minus symbol

Taming stress with a shift in self-talk is easier than you think. By taking some time to consider your self-talk and how you can make a shift from more negative forms to more positive forms you will be able to better move toward your goals. This perspective shift is key to laying the foundation for change and thus taming your stress.

What is Self-Talk?

Self-talk is talking to the self (often about the self). Self-talk can take many forms and not all self-talk is bad for you. In fact as we will see in this post there are some kinds of self talk that you may want to cultivate to help you better manage your stress levels. Taming your stress could be as easy and shifting your self-talk perspective.

Types of Self-Talk

We all have self-talk. In fact most of our thinking revolves around the self (even when we think it does not). Self talk is inevitable, but you can have an impact on the kind of self-talk you choose to engage with.

  • Negative
  • Postive
    • Motivational
    • Instructional

Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk is talk (thoughts) about the self which are negative in nature. This type of self talk can be toxic especially if we don’t do something to reframe our thinking. Because we often simply believe this kind of talk as “true” without investigating it more it can lead to poor choices. Negative self-talk is often the focus of therapy. Once we become aware of it we can use skills to reframe the thoughts into more accurate ones which can then bring our stress levels down.

Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk like the name suggests is talk (thoughts) about the self which are positive. There several types of positive self-talk as detailed below. Positive self talk is easy to overlook as we tend to take the positive for granted especially if it does not match the idea we already have about ourselves.

When we are working on self improvement it is easy to forget about the positive aspects about ourselves and the positive things we are already doing. Your positive self-talk is a benefit and a resource you can call on to help you during difficult times.

Review more about negative self-talk in the post Stress, Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors for specific types of negative self-talk.

Motivational Self-Talk

Motivational self-talk is often pursued as a means to improving self-esteem and creating a positive climate for pursuing goals. We can use motivational self-talk to encourage ourselves to set specific goals. We can use this type of self-talk to get ourselves engaged and ready to make an plan of action.

A 2008 article in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise detailed a study in which tennis players were able to decrease their competitive anxiety and improve self confidence. Check the article out here.

Instructional Self-Talk

Instructional self-talk is used to learn a new skill or take on a challenge in our lives. This is a great tool to use when we want to move toward a specific goal. Once we have an action plan and are ready to get moving in the direction of our goal, instructional self-talk can help us to move through the steps required to meet our goals.

So what’s the point of all this Self-Talk talk?

To decrease our stress levels it’s important to recalibrate your thinking between the negative and positive forms of self-talk.

Becoming more aware of our self-talk and determining the types we are most likely to engage in is key. While we will likely never completely eradicate negative self-talk we can make some changes to better address things we would like to change.

First we must become more aware of our self-talk. Review the post on the inner critic here.

Some ways to uncover your self-talk are:

  • Free association journaling
  • Self reflection several times a day
  • Ask a loved one what they think your self talk says

Free Association Journaling

Free association journal writing is a good tool to elicit self-talk. Simply put, this is a type of writing in which you start writing and write whatever comes into your mind for 15 minutes. Often I ask people to start with something neutral and my typical suggestion is “start writing about an orange.” It doesn’t take long before we will start writing about ourselves. Take a look and you will likely find some information about what you think about yourself.

Self-Reflection several times a day

This can be done by setting a reminder and asking yourself “what am I thinking about myself right now?” Jot down what you are thinking without judgement. Do this three to four times a day for three days.

Ask a loved one for their perspective

This is likely the easiest avenue, but could lead to some inaccuracies if there are issues between you and your chosen loved one. Another way would be to ask several loved ones and look for patterns of response. For example if each person you ask gives as one of their responses “you are too hard on yourself,” this is likely at the core of your thinking in some way.

Taming stress by shifting your self-talk style

Once you have started to tune into your self-talk and placing it in one of the above categories you may find that more of your self-talk tends toward the negative. You are not alone. This is a tendency we have as humans. Work at not judging your self-talk but taking some time to look at it and determine what part you want to change.

Often people get bogged down with emotionally laden words to describe the self. In my practice I encourage people to look at these and then start to shift them to descriptors with less baggage

I have a list that I call “The ‘F’ word list.” While not all of the words begin with ‘F’ they all come with varying amounts of emotional baggage. Once you’ve identified some of the ‘F’ words you use most often I encourage you to be on the look out for these words and then to shift your language to become more descriptive and less judgmental.

For example consider exchanging these words
  1. Failure
  2. Fat
  3. Judgement
  4. Bad
  5. Lazy
  6. Abnormal
  7. Stupid
  8. Fake
  9. Fault
With These
  1. Did not meet my goal
  2. Overweight
  3. Assess
  4. Not where I’d like to be
  5. Not as active as I’d like to be
  6. Move to a different beat than most
  7. Inauthentic
  8. Responsibility

When we are more aware of our self talk we can more easily shift our thinking into one of the more positive forms. This exercise is not about turning everything on its head and making it pie in the sky wonderful. It’s about accurately identifying our thinking without judgement and laying a plan to do something different.

Self judgement often leads to more negative thinking and a brick wall that may encouraged you to give up on making change which of course does not lead to any improvements in how you feel or your stress levels.

Once you have identified your negative self-talk you can work at inserting more positive forms of self-talk into your thinking.

For example if I am “not as active as I would like to be” what can I do to become more active? This may require some insertion of motivational or instructional self-talk into my day. This allows me to think more clearly about how to become more active rather than beating my head against the brick wall of “I’m just lazy.”

Use more positive self-talk to your advantage. Not to create inaccurate thinking, but to make some changes and decrease self-judgement. Shift o self-assessment and consider when you’ve been successful in the past. Often skills that have been helpful in other areas of life are transferrable. Using skills you already have to build new ones will help decrease your stress as well.

Give it a try and tell me what you think.
Drop a comment in the comment section.
Thank you for dropping by. Have a great day ~Lynda

DIY Stress Relief Kit~ on-the-go stress relief.

red park bench against a tall hedge. Stress relief on the go.

Chances are we are all going to have ongoing stress in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we should give up and just deal. Accepting that there will be a certain amount of stress is beneficial so you can address it. Putting together a DIY stress relief kit is a great way to take your skills on the road.

Remember those exercises back in 5 minute stress management and Effective stress Management makes you a better you? Knowing where and when your stress is likely to increase is helpful, because then you can make a plan for how you will manage it. Taking some time to build a DIY stress relief kit for when you are away from home can be a great help.

We can all be great stress managers at home, but what about when we have to be away? Whether it’s the day to day chores about town or being on vacation making your own Stress Relief Kit can be a great go to when you are away from home.

What is a DIY Stress Relief Kit?

A DIY stress relief kit is a collection of physical an/or virtual items and reminders that help you to better manage stress as it arises. The U.S. Department of defense has endorsed a helpful application for phones called Virtual Hope Box and is a collection of virtual distractions and inspirations to help individuals better manage stress. It is customizable to the individual and is available in both the Apple and Google app stores.

Stress Relief to Go

It’s easy to build a DIY stress relief kit. First think of what helps you when you have an increase in stress. Second think of items that speak to each of your senses. And then find portable versions of those items to take with you.

Here are a few ideas

  • Sight
    • Pictures of loved one(s)
    • Images of a favorite place
    • book
    • puzzle book
    • small bottle of bubbles
  • Sound
    • Music/book/podcast
    • Ear plugs-for those that are sound sensitive when stressed.
  • Smell
    • Favorite fragrance
  • Taste
    • gum or mints
    • favorite candy
    • Tea bag
  • Touch
    • Pocket rock
    • Favorite touchstone item
      • ring/necklace
      • clothing item

The kit can include anything that helps you when you are feeling stressed.

Then what?

Once you have all the items that you think will be helpful, choose a way to store them. A small container or ziplock to throw in your bag may be all you need. It also depends on how long you plan to be away from home. I often carry items daily, but when I leave home for an extended period I add a few more items.

Test Drive Your Stres Relief Kit

Don’t forget to test drive your kit and add or subtract items as needed. Your kit is only as good as how you use and care for it.

What do you think?

Will you make a stress relief kit to take with you?

Leave a comment in the comments section.

Thanks for dropping by. Have a great day ~ Lynda