Political Stress–What You Can Do To Decrease It.

Political tensions in Scotland were high in 2014 as voters decide to remain part of England rather than to leave.
2014 Scotland votes to remain a part of England

Political stress is becoming more common. In my practice I am hearing about the stress of the political climate with increasing frequency.

Whatever side of the aisle you land on (I am not here to debate politics) you may be feeling stressed.

This often occurs around the time of a big election when tensions are already high, but in the last 10 years or so it seems that the tension has been lasting longer. This is a global phenomenon. We are all touched by politics in some way.

If you are stressed about politics you are not alone. But what can we do about it on an individual level? The focus of this blog is to discuss stress and what we can do about it personally.

While none of us can directly change the political climate we can–and I argue should– manage our part in that climate. This is the part that is changeable on an individual level. Remember back in early posts we talked about looking at what we can control and what we can’t and developing strategies accordingly. Review those here and here.

Addressing Your Part in Politics

  • Know your issue(s)
  • Get involved at your comfort level
  • Act locally
  • Be kind
  • Get distance

Know the political issues you are passionate about.

Break down the issues and decide which are most important to you. There are a lot of issues in any cycle and it would be impossible for anyone to be well informed on ALL of them. Choose 1 or 2 that you feel most passionate about and focus on those. These are the issues that you will be best informed on. Everything else can be relegated to the back burner. In doing this you can be somewhat informed on those issues, while your primary issues are the ones that you’ll be most informed on.

Get involved at a level that feels right to you.

Get involved at your personal comfort level. Not everyone is built to make phone calls or knock on doors. If you feel most comfortable just being informed so you can talk with your friends and family about the issues you are most passionate about then that’s good enough. That said if you’ve always wanted to go door to door then find a way to do that.

Make local politics your point of entry and action.

Act locally. While national politics is often more accessible in terms of what we see and hear on the news or in our news feed, local politics is truly accessible to the individual.

Being involved at this level often provides a feeling of being really involved and then seeing how the issues play out. Also these are typically the politics that most affect us on a personal level, so getting involved here makes it more likely that you will have an effect that you can see/feel.

Be Kind

Be kind. Having political discussions is difficult if we don’t agree. Most of these conversations will likely occur with family members or work colleagues. While these conversations can be emotionally engaging they can also be minefields of disaster. If you devolve into saying things you can’t take back you will create more pain for yourself and your relationship. I would argue this also creates suffering for all involved. While you can’t control the others in the conversation, you can control your part. If things take a nasty turn, step back and even leave the situation if needed.

Take a break from the political fray.

If you are feeling so stressed that you don’t want to hear one more thing about politics take a break.

In my practice I often suggest a “news fast.” This is either completely tuning out of the news or radically changing your consumption.

I hear of many homes where the television is on to various news channels “all day.” Given that most news channels are cycling the same news over and over through the day that becomes a lot of repetition which can feel overwhelming.

I suggest turning off the television and consuming news through printed material. You may want to take a complete break and that’s good too. Every year I see more and more people taking a break from social media for a period of time. I think this is great because they are using their personal control over an issue that is feeling stressful to them.

In conclusion, if you are feeling stressed about politics you are not alone and better yet there is something you can do about it.

Which of the strategies above are you planning to implement to address political stress?

Leave your answer in the comment section.

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Technology and Stress–What Are You Missing?

Most of us have ready access to technology through computers and smart phones. This means that we are virtually never without access to information. We are also likely never far from our family or work. While this can be comforting to a point the constant availability can also be stressful. In this way technology increases our stress levels.

While this has enabled us to be more flexible with our time it can also increase stress if we aren’t able to set good boundaries around our use of these devices.

What’s the issue?

For many smartphone use has increased to the point that we are using them even in the midst of other activities. We’ve all seen it; folks who’ve made an effort to get together all sitting around looking at their phones. In many instances people still say they are “lonely” or feel “alone” much of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my smartphone as much as the next guy, but it can get in the way of relating sometimes. We have all had those moments when our partner gets home and we are deep into that audiobook or scrolling through social media. You find it hard to set it aside and lose that precious time with a loved one. Even though that’s what we were told that technology would do for us–free us up to do fun things with each other–and yet time and again we opt for tech over real world connection.

What will it take for us to use our devices when it is helpful and set them aside when we want to connect with others?

What to do?

I have a few ideas on this and the first and foremost we have to rejuvenate our capacity to sometimes be uncomfortable. We have to build a tolerance for boredom.

That’s right. We have to be willing to be bored to enter into a creativity zone, a connection with other people zone, a zone of having our own uninterrupted thinking. As a culture we’ve gotten away from that and I think it does us all a disservice.

After reading Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zamorodi as well as Atomic Habits by James Clear I am even more convinced. (Disclaimer, I am not receiving any compensation from either of the authors I just really enjoyed their books and provide links for your convenience.) Both authors discuss the role of boredom in how we get hooked into habits. And to be sure we are quick to fill any empty space in our days as if we fear what we may find.

We also have to be willing to set limits on our use of technology. That can be a little more difficult if your work revolves around use of technology, but even then we can set some limits on what we are willing to allow. In limiting our reliance on technology we may also decrease our stress.

Try this:

The next time you find yourself with some alone time.

  • Try not being “connected” to your device.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  • Turn off that audiobook and don’t reach for the radio or television.
  • Silence your phone.
  • Just be alone with your thoughts.
  • Look at what thoughts come up.
  • Do they have a theme?
  • When the 5 minutes are up take another 5 to write down what you noticed.

If you find you are having difficult thoughts try looking at a previous post on thoughts, feelings and behaviors here.

You can also take 5 minutes and do the exercise in the post 5 minute stress management here.

What happened with your stress levels when you spent some time disconnected from technology?

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

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Relationships and Stress: It’s about you.

Tree with swollen trunk. Sometimes we feel out of sorts when our relationships are out of sync.
When relationships having you feeling yucky.

Relationships come in many forms, work relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships to name a few. When one of these is out of balance we can feel our stress increase.

Knowing your specific needs within relationships will help to guide you in keeping all of your relationships healthy.

First it’s a good idea to determine who, what, why, and where. Well not exactly in that order. Start by considering WHAT you want from various relationships. Then consider WHO you want to provide those aspects. Keeping in mind that no one person can fulfill all your relationship needs. Look also at WHY those aspects are important to you. And WHERE does this relationship most impact you (home, work, social?).

Start with an exercise

In this exercise you map out the various relationships in your life to determine the number and closeness of the various relationships in your life.

Start by taking a blank piece of paper and draw 4 concentric circles like this:

circle exercise

In the middle circle you put yourself. Then consider all the relationships in your life and start to place them in the circles based on how close they are to you and how much trust you have in them.

Types of Relationships

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts, Uncles, Cousins
  • Co-workers
  • Friendships
  • Pets
  • People you see routinely, but don’t necessarily do things with.
  • Lover, partner, husband, wife

Just doing the exercise may help you to consider who you find most trustworthy and who you find difficult to trust. Also consider the last time you had a conflict with each of the individuals on your map.

When relationships are out of sync what can you do?

Remember the only parts within your control are your parts.

When you begin to identify that one of your relationships is out of sync. Sit down and start to look at what the issues seem to be coming up most often between you and that person. Look at the earlier post 5 minute stress management to determine what is within your control and what belongs to others. Once you figure out what is coming from your side of the relationship you can start to make changes.

By looking at your overall stress management you will begin to see some recurring themes in your thoughts. Check those thoughts and correct any that are distorted. By correcting those distortions you may be able to alleviate a lot of the stress you feel, by simply thinking more clearly.

If difficulties remain after you have completed this step then it may be time to talk to the other person. By talking to the other person about what is stressing you and why you may find information on the issue you haven’t considered which can help your stress levels decrease. Review the earlier post thoughts, feelings, and behaviors here.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you!

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Managing work stress more effectively.

Managing work stress can seem more difficult because the stakes are high. Most of us will have to work at some point in our lives. Applying some simple concepts can go a long way to helping you decrease your work stress.

Work stress can feel like we are on a carousel that just keeps going as we feel more and more stressed. We just want to get off and relax.

Work is something that most of us have to do to live our lives as comfortably as we can. For many work can take on a life of its own creating a high level of stress which can drain you of energy. If you are feeling stressed at work you are not alone. According to The American Institute for Stress about 65% of workers experience stress in the workplace.

Taking hold of work stress is different for everyone depending on the type of job. Those with jobs that offer the most autonomy tend to have less stress overall. Because when work stresses rise those with higher levels of autonomy have the ability make decisions to offset stresses.

When you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety due to work stress sit down and ask yourself a few questions:
  • Am I sleeping well?
  • When was the last time I exercised?
  • Do I eat well and regularly?

If these areas are not well managed visit previous posts for sleep, exercise, and eating.

Once those areas have been addressed move on to the following questions:

  • Are you over functioning on the job?
  • Can you better balance to chores of the job with the less stressful aspects?
  • Is it feasible for you to decrease your number of work hours?
  • Is this job the right one for you?
  • Can you better set limits on the number of hours you work?

Work/Life Balance

Often we get into a rut and just make assumptions about how our work must go. Asking the above questions can help you start to pinpoint which aspects of work are most stressful for you.

Functioning within the demands of the job to better manage work stress.

Ask yourself am I stressed because I am giving more than the job demands? If the answer is yes, is this something that you can cut back on? We often train others to believe that we are ready to give a 110% all the time. That’s okay if you’re happy with it, but if the result is just higher stress levels, you may want to consider pulling back a bit.

Finding better balance to decrease stress.

Most jobs are a mix of things we enjoy and parts that are drudgery. Are you focusing all your energies on the chore aspects of the job and not getting around to the more joyful aspects? If so you may want to look at how you can organize your job to have a better balance between the two.

Can you decrease hours?

Many times we assume that we must work full time. If you continue at a job for a number of years you may be able to cut back on your hours. This option isn’t for everyone. If you are able to decrease your work hours, you may find that your stress levels also go down.

Limiting your time to decrease work stress.

While we are talking about hours. Ask yourself if you are one of the people who can work for long hours and not realize how much time you are putting in. If so you be subjected to stress from family and friends who wonder why they aren’t getting more of your time. If this is you start looking at how you can limit your time, still getting all your work completed, but also being able to spend quality time with friends and family or just doing leisure activities at home.

Optimizing paid time off

Since we opened the door to discussion of time away from work, another good question to ask is, Am I optimizing my vacation time (or Paid time off)? If you work a job in which you get paid time off for vacation then optimizing that feature of your job can also reduce your stress.

When I started my career in nursing I made the decision that once I had accumulated a set number of vacation hours that I would begin taking time away from work. I didn’t have to go anywhere special, but this self imposed rule meant I must take time off work. After accumulating vacation time I thought was sufficient (which took about a year) I started taking at least 1 week away from work every 3-4 months. That was 22 years ago and I still maintain that regimen and find that it helps me manage my stress fairly well.

If your job doesn’t have paid time off, you may consider starting a vacation bank account in which you save money to pay bills when you want to be away from work. This also works out well if you have a sudden illness that takes you off the job for an extended period.

Right Job?

And lastly ask if the job you are doing is the right one for you. If not how can you start to make a shift so that you are moving into a job that better fits you? This may take time and require you to investigate other options and maybe even try some things out prior to quitting your current job. Finding a job that is a good fit for you can decrease your stress significantly.

Once you have a better idea of which aspects of your work you find stressful you will then be able to use the 5 step method to determining how to change things to bring your stress under control. You can revisit the 5 step method in Stress-101 here.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Have a great day–Lynda

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

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Stress management and exercise. A dynamic duo!

Stress management and exercise go well together. You may be saying, “but Lynda I am already stressed out how the heck can I fit more like exercise into my day?”

My response…

Stress management is not about simply ‘fitting it all in’, but rather fitting the right things, in the right amounts into each day. –Lynda

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” 

Hippocrates

Before starting any exercise regimen please consult your healthcare provider.

How do stress management and exercise go together? According to the folks over at Harvard health exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline while also increasing beneficial chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins help you to feel less pain and increase your mood. Check out the full article here.

So what is the right amount of exercise? Well it will be different for everyone based on ability as well as current level of activity, but essentially for good health we are talking about 20 minutes each day as a minimum.

In fact the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate activity OR 75 minutes per week of intense activity OR a blend of the two. They have great examples of what constitutes each over at their site. Check it out here.

If you are not currently meeting this guideline set by the American Heart Association don’t despair. You can start exercising for less time at lower intensity and gradually increase your efforts over time.

The key is to stick with it.

I usually recommend choosing a start date and then assessing where you are physically. AHA defines moderate exercise as 2.5 mile an hour walking pace (24 minutes per mile) or biking less than 10 miles per hour (about a mile every 6.5 minutes).

Carve out a 30 minute period of time and find a treadmill (or a sidewalk) or bicycle (stationary or regular) and take a stroll or a ride. Then…
  • Start a stop watch (or just note the time) and begin walking or peddling.
  • Tune into your breathing.
    • When you notice your breathing increase in effort, but you can still comfortably talk, that’s moderate exercise.
    • If you start to huff and puff and can no longer speak a sentence that is vigorous exercise and you’ll want to slow it down a bit.
  • Once you’ve reached your limit write town how long you were at it.

Be honest with yourself and remember self judgement is your foe. The purpose of this is to assess where you are not give yourself a lot of grief over not being further along. It’s hard to get anywhere when someone is standing in your way telling you that you’re a failure. Most of the time that voice is our own slowing us down and increasing our stress.

Once you have the information on your current ability you can start to increase up to the recommendation over time.
  • Let’s say that you can comfortably walk at a moderate pace for about 10 minutes.
  • Do it daily until it’s a habit and it begins to feel easy. This should happen in about a week.
  • Then start increasing the time by about 10 percent of the total each week.
  • By week 8 you should be able to comfortably do the exercise for about 20 minutes.

Start to notice the effects of regular exercise on your overall stress levels. Are you…

  • Sleeping better?
  • Has your appetite come under better control?
  • Are you less easily irritated?

Most will notice a decrease in the amount of stress they feel day to day over time. But to notice it, you need to tune in and listen to what your mind and body are telling you.

Let me know what you discover.

Have a great day–Lynda

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Stress Management and eating habits, an intersection.

Managing stress by looking at your eating habits may seem odd. However, when you consider how much time you spend obtaining, preparing, and eating food it starts to come into focus. And that’s before considering how the foods you choose impact your brain and body.

Let’s face it the standard American diet needs some re-evaluation. Plates of food like the one above are tasty and easy to find, but they rack up the calories, fast! And truth be told the foods above are not even among the worst many are consuming.

Most of use really like these kinds of foods, but to achieve optimal health these meals need to be limited. You can dive into exercise and rack up hours of sweat, but even for avid exercisers these kind of meals can be problematic. The hard to swallow truth is that most people can eat beyond any exercise program.

“Garbage in garbage out”  ~George Fuechsel

Stress and Food?

I started thinking about the intersection of eating habits and stress more after watching Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Supersize Me. The goal of the film was to show the deleterious effects of eating fast food every day on the body. Morgan set a plan to eat fast food three times a day (specifically McDonald’s) for thirty days. If he was asked if he wanted to “super size it” he had to say yes. He also set as part of the challenge to eat around the menu (he couldn’t just eat the same thing every day).

Where the stress shows up.

What got my attention wasn’t just the significant amount of weight gained during the filming, but that he talked about how his mood was awful and he felt physically ill much of the time. He talked about feeling lethargic, irritable, and depressed. After a meal he would perk up for a bit only to crash a few hours later. More concerning was the change in lab work he had done prior to starting experiment which showed significant increase in cholesterol and indications of fatty liver when repeated at the end. All in just 30 days of eating a fast food diet.

What can you do?

That food can influence your emotions is really gaining traction. Check out an article from Harvard health here.

So it’s kind of a no brainer (pun intended) that eating a lot of processed foods won’t help you manage your stress better. Of course when we are stressed we often reach for easy and fast options.

Eating is just one aspect of stress management. Don’t forget to review other aspects to stress management here..

Stress and eating.

No matter how effective our stress management, we will all have those days when we can’t catch our breath and that’s where spending a little time looking at how eating and stress may intersect for you can be helpful.

  • Consider how eating and stress intersect for you.
  • Eat regularly.
  • Weed out the junk from the cupboards.
  • Pre-pack snack bags or even whole meals.
  • Say no to the easy option and go with the slightly more difficult one.

Consider how eating (or not eating) may be adding to your stress.

  • Do you arrive home at the end of a stressful day and have less energy to make more healthful meals and then grab the easiest option?
  • Do you feel stressed because you go all day without eating and subsequently arrive home stressed and hungry?
  • Do you take the time to shop for healthful foods or are you loading up on quick convenience options?

Eat regularly.

Look at your eating habits. As a counselor I am often struck by how poorly people can treat their bodies. I often hear about the habit of not eating until very late in the day. It’s hard to feel at your best if your body is struggling to find the fuel to keep you going. Fad diets aside, the demands of your brain may require more frequent eating.

Weed out the Junk!

Imagine heading to your pantry and finding only healthy options rather than bags of chips and sweets! Weeding out the junk in your cupboards leaves you with less temptation when you have that stressful day. This translates into fewer food binges that can leave you feeling Blah!

Pre-packing meals and snacks.

Pre-packing meals and snacks to grab when you are on the go will help you stay on track even when you are experiencing increased stressors. While this requires a bit more effort once you are in the habit it can reduce the stress that can come when feeling hungry and not having access to healthful food options.

Just say NO!

Saying no to the easy options will help build the mental muscle to stick with your convictions and may also help keep stress levels lower. Of course planning ahead and having healthful options on hand will help this occur a bit less often.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

What about my burger fix?

I am not saying that all fast, fun, quick, foods are off the table. But there is value in knowing what you are taking in and making that a clear choice rather than feeling backed into the vending machine only to make the fast and convenient impulse that leaves you feeling worse.

Notice I have not talked much about weight. Nutrition is important no matter what you weigh. That said decreasing your stress by choosing to eat more whole foods and stepping away from processed foods as much as possible could lead to weight loss.

You might also find that what you start to think of as “fast food” starts to look a little different.

Try looking at your habits and making a change or two and let me know what you think!

Have a great day–Lynda

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Welcome to The Stress Nest

This is a blog dedicated to stress management.

Thanks for dropping by.

While stress management is a term that can mean many things, it is my hope that I can boil it all down and present easy to follow methods that you can try out in your own life.

Within these pages we will look at what stress is and how we can better manage stress to reach goals or just plain relax. You might wonder how stress can be “managed”, don’t we just want to rid ourselves of stress and be done with it? Well the simple answer is…Yes…..and…NO. While stress is often seen as something bad we just want to get rid of, we also need stress in our lives to help motivate us to reach our goals. That’s right stress–in the right amounts– can actually help us! But overdo it and you can be stressed out and your productivity will suffer.

You may have dropped by because you are overwhelmed with stress and wanting to find a way to decrease the stress in your life so you can be more productive and happier. Or you may just have been intreaged by the name. Whatever the reason, WELCOME!

Prepare for a journey that just may change your life for the better.

Why should you listen to me? Good question.

For the past 15 years I have been helping people to look at their lives and make changes that actually improve their lives. As a nurse practitioner in the mental health field I have years of experience in helping people to identify what is stressing them and set goals to address those areas and alleviate the negative impacts of stress while holding on to the beneficial aspects.

Take some time to look around. I’m glad you decided to come by.

I plan to provide new content weekly since I am still working a regular job. I am hoping to tailor material based on feedback so please feel free to leave comments.

Have a great day –Lynda

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

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