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?

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Over Scheduling Increases Stress.

Endless line of stacked rocks representing stress and overs scheduling.
Sometimes it seems as if our tasks will never end

We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to stress. In an effort to “cram it all in” we end up missing out on the joy of our lives. Over scheduling ourselves can increase our stress significantly. It’s also a tough habit to kick. But reining in the tendency to fall into the over scheduling habit will yield huge benefits down the road.

Over scheduling ourselves is more than just a thing people say, it shows up in our behavior as well. When you overdo you rob yourself of precious sleep, leisure time, and time to devote to optimal self care. Which increases the stress you feel. Striving to get just one more (insert your favorite widget or task here) done ends up being a cycle that seems like it will never end. Choosing to stress ourselves can have huge impacts on our ability to stay present and engaged in our lives. Life is too short to wade through it only half present.

Manoush Zomorodi devoted an entire book–Bored and Brilliant: How spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self-– to dealing with a kind of over scheduling that takes the form of the addiction to devices and the internet sweeping our society. She shows how our tendency to “never be bored” or have a second unfilled is actually hurting us in ways we are only starting to recognize. You can find her book here. (I give this link only as a help to you, I am not receiving any monies from Amazon or Manoush.)

What can we do?

How do we step away, say no to things we may really want in order to have a more peaceful life? One step at a time. The habits you have today are not going to be changed overnight, but to be sure they can be changed.

Become more aware.

The first step in this process is to become more aware of what you are doing. I like diagrams. I think they are very illuminating. Sit down and write a list of all the things you’d like get done on the average day. Make it an exhaustive list.

Now sit down and consider the following

  • How many hours a day must you work?
  • How many hours of sleep do you need a day?
  • Do you have other people depending on you?
  • Do you have others who take care of repetitive life tasks for you?

If you are like me you have to work and likely those shifts are at least 8 hours. Ideally most adult people require about 8 house to be at their best. Yes, I know many people are not sleeping that amount. That’s likely why many people are in sleep debt, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Unless you live on Venus you have a 24 hour day. Given the information above that gives you just 8 hours to do all the life stuff apart from work and sleep. Grab your list. what is the likelihood that you will be able to get it all completed? You’re going to have to make some choices.

Pleasing versus planning

Take a look at your list. How many of the things on the list are things you might not really want to do, but are doing just to please someone else? I’m not saying that pleasing others is a bad thing, but if you are burning the candle at both ends to make other people happy you may find you are increasing your stress. Since we are talking about reducing stress looking at your habits is a great starting place. If you are a people pleaser it is often easy to say “yes” to requests before thinking about what that “yes” means to your schedule. I know this has been true for me.

So what now?

Once you are aware of it, you can begin to change it. That said if you start saying no to everything others want you to do you may find you are not only stressed, but lonely as well. Change is imperative and can be accomplished more easily than we sometimes believe.

Look

Look at your list and jot down how long each one of those items takes for you to do. You might be surprised that you are trying to pack a lot into your day and this could be increasing your stress.

  • Take a good hard look at those items
    • What are they?
    • Who do they benefit?
    • How likely are you to get them done today?
  • Determine for yourself which are the non-negotiable things on the list.
    • Things that if you don’t do them you will sacrifice a big chunk of your happiness.
    • Taking care of your kids.
    • Spending quality time with your partner.

Ask Yourself

Ask yourself the following questions about each item.

  • How much does getting this done affect my life?
  • Will someone else be harmed if I don’t do this?
  • What sacrifice do I need to make to do this?
  • Is sacrificing something to get this done worth it in the scope of my life?
  • Do I need help?

Put it on the Clock

Empty clock face to plot your activities. To determine the amount of stress you may be under.
Plot all the activities you have for the day.


When you start to put in all the activities you have on your list PLUS work and sleep hours, you may start to see a problem. It may be at this point that you will being to loosen your grip on all you want to cram in. You may even start to consider asking for help.

Round pie graph. Plotting activities to show how much time in the day. Helps to determine stress levels.

That one 33% wedge of the pie is often much too small to cram all the things we want to get accomplished done. At this point we are tempted to start doubling up on activities and not really being present for either.

STOP, Look, and chose a different approach. Start scheduling yourself more realistically and dare to be truly present in your activities. I think you’ll find you are much less stressed and much happier to boot.

You can review 5 Minute Stress Management here.

What strategies work best for you?

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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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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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