Taming Stress with Self -Talk

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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

Decrease Stress with a Pet~ and get healthier too!

A lady and her dog take a selfie and decrease their stress.

Decrease your stress by adding a pet to your life. Having a pet has been shown to decrease blood pressure, improve overall health, and decrease both sick days and doctor visits. If you can afford to have a pet (both in terms of financial commitment and time) it may help you live a longer, healthier life.

Why pets may be good stress busters

In a 2012 review article in Frontiers of Psychology Andrea Beetz and co-authors Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, Henri Julius, and Kurt Kotrschal looked at 69 original studies concerning the effects of human-animal interaction (HAI) and the oxytocin system (OT).

Here we have what appears to be the effects in both mind and body from something as simple as owning (or even interacting) with a pet such as a dog or cat. More studies looked at dogs, but there were a few cats in the mix and even a few birds and fish. Effects for birds and fish were a bit less strong since the studies they looked at did not allow for human-animal contact only viewing.

The Mind

In terms of mental benefit they detail a number of studies of school aged children (mostly pre-school up to 1st grade) with a dog in the classroom. The bulk of the studies they looked at showed-

  • Decreases in aggressive behavior
  • Positive effect on empathy
  • Improved social attention
  • Improved interpersonal interactions

Effects in the adult populations were similar. They mostly looked at older people and people with dementia. This is where the birds and fish came in showing that just being able to watch birds in an aviary and look at fish in an aquarium had positive effects on restlessness and improvements in mood.

They also found studies highly suggestive of a positive relationship to stress reduction as well as reduction of fear and increase in trust. Since most of the studies were with dogs it must be noted that subjects in the studies did not have an aversion to dogs.

The Body

Well you may say “that’s awesome” but what about the body you mentioned earlier. Well they also detailed studies that indicated benefits to our body overall. These benefits include-

  • Reductions in overall blood pressure
  • Decreases in heart rate
  • Increases in heart rate reactivity.

These effects were better with one’s own pet, but the effect occurs with non-familiar, friendly animal interaction as well. As little as 5-15 minutes of stroking a dog showed effects. That’s a pretty powerful effect.

Human-Animal Interaction also had a subjective decrease in anxiety and fear in subjects. Some studies also looked at pain and noted that individuals with a dog often used less pain medication and had fewer overall doctor visits.

But That’s Not ALL!

An Amazing Hormone

The peptide hormone called oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released into the circulatory system via a network of oxytocin containing nerves through sensory stimulation. Oxytocin has many effects on the human body, but particularly increases

Mind

  • Eye Contact
  • Empathy
  • Trust
  • Social Skills
  • Positive self perception

Oxytocin also deceases depression and counteracts aggression.

Body

Oxytocin has great benefits for the body as well. And warning….this might start sounding familiar.

  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Increases the function of the parasympathetic system
    • the parasympathetic system works as a brake on the sympathetic system, so better function is a really good thing.
  • Decreases subjective experience of anxiety
    • Subjects report feeling better

Tying It ALL Together

So how do pets and oxytocin interact? Well it’s conjectured that given the effects of Human-Animal Interactions that pets are actually causing this to occur in the body, though there are no definitive studies showing causation there is so much overlap that there is a growing belief that the two are indeed connected. In fact in one study just making eye contact with your dog was sufficient to show changes in oxytocin production. How cool is that?

So it seems that pets can and do decrease stress. I have seen this in my practice. It’s so amazing to see people change in their mood and stress levels after getting a pet.

So, if you can afford one (and I recommend checking your local animal shelter) both at the beginning and through the animal’s life. And if you have the time to spend with your pet I wholeheartedly recommend adding a pet to your life. Not only will you likely feel less stressed, but you just might live longer as well!

Now having a pet isn’t the only way to improve your life don’t forget to get optimal sleep, eat well, and get some exercise.

How has having a pet enriched your life?

Thanks for dropping by and have a great day~ Lynda

Take Control of Finances and Bring Stress Levels Down

Person holding debit card. Stress and finances.

We’ve all been there before. You roll (or walk) up to the ATM, insert your card, and find that something is not quite right. You’ve misplaced the funds and things are just not quite adding up. Which makes your stress skyrocket. Finances and stress are often linked, but you can do something about it.

Key Financial Management Mistakes

  • No budget
  • Overspending
  • Champagne taste on a beer budget

Budgeting is key to financial success

If you want to know how much money you have at any given time, you need to spend a little time to develop a budget. This need not be a huge undertaking, but you need to sit down and write out how much is coming in (income) and where it is going on the way out (expenses). Taking hold of your finances will go a long way to helping you manage stress.

Most of us have one income stream (our job), but if you have multiple streams of income be sure to tally the monthly income from all streams.

Don’t overlook expenses. Take a moment to sit down and write out an exhaustive list of your expenses both essential and non-essential.

Essential

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Car expenses–gas, service, insurance
  • Phone expenses–mobile (and landline if you still have one)
  • Utilities–gas, electricity
  • Groceries
  • Healthcare expenses
  • Savings
  • Pet expenses

Non-Essential

  • Going out to eat/drink
  • Stops at coffee shop drive throughs
  • Vacations
  • Shopping
  • Subscription services
    • Netflix
    • Hulu
    • Internet service
    • Cable
    • Music

Overspending

Overspending simply put is spending more money than you are bringing in. It’s easy to get caught up in this especially if you are stressed. How often do you buy something as a way to manage your stress even when you don’t have the money to do so? If this is you then sitting down and looking over your finances will likely do far more to manage your stress than buying that new (fill in your preferred impulse purchase here). Any quick search of how to better manage money typically brings up “SPEND LESS THAN YOU BRING IN” messages.

If you are using money to mange your stress levels you may find you are consistently in the scenario at the top of this article. Always running on an empty bank account. This simply makes the stress levels climb as you attempt to find more and cleverer ways to move things around.

Starting to budget while uncomfortable will help you to see where your money is going and make changes to address any problems you discover. It puts you in the diver’s seat of your life and help you manage stress more effectively.

Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

After taking a good hard look at your finances and discovering WHERE your money is going, start to think of the HOW and the WHY. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do I purchase expensive items when a less expensive one will do?
  • Am I spending on vacations when I don’t even have an emergency fund?
  • When I go out with friends am I spending more to look cool or together?
  • Am I mindful of my budget when spending on non-essentials?
  • Would being able to save money give me peace of mind?
  • Am I engaging in mindless spending?
  • Do I use money as a way to address emotional pain?

Taking a good, hard, non-judgmental look at how you spend your money can help you make meaningful change that brings your financial stress levels down. And by all means be honest with yourself. You can’t make meaningful change if you don’t honestly assess your finances.

Financial bottom line

After tallying your income and expenses separately. Simply subtract the total of your expenses from your income. This tells you your bottom line and it can be helpful to know how much (or little) you have to work with.

Total Income Minus Total Expenses Equals Discretionary Income

Discretionary income is the income you get to do with as you want. Buy lattes and/or expensive shoes. But also keep in mind your goals. Do you want to take a big vacation? If so perhaps you put a percentage of your discretionary income into savings.

Notice that I have listed savings as an essential expense. Having at least 6 months or more of income in savings in the event of an emergency will also help your stress levels.

How are finances connected to stress?

One topic I hear about over and over again in my practice is money. It does not matter how much money you have coming in if you have poor money management skills you can suffer as much (or more) than someone who has very little money coming in. I hear about money related stress from people from widely differing incomes. It all comes down to how you manage those funds. Taking control of your spending by composing a budget and looking at your spending is key.

Don’t forget that this process can be used in other areas of life as well. Review eating, sleeping, and exercise.

Tell me what you think in the comment section.

Thanks for dropping by and have a great day. ~Lynda

Stress Reduction by Sleeping Better.

Sleeping stress free cat!
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Robert Frost

Sleeping well is an important part of stress management. It’s a no brainer that having a high level of stressors can interfere with sleep. So while we focus on sleep let us not forget that we must also look to our other stressors and work to manage them as well. Don’t forget to review the steps in the previous section Stress-Management here. That said getting in the habit of sleeping well could greatly reduce the stress you feel while awake and your ability to manage any stresses that do come up.

So what constitutes good sleep?

We often focus on the hours of consecutive sleep as one measure. February 2015 the National Sleep Foundation changed the sleep ranges for many categories of humans.

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

Check out the full article here.

For the purposes of this article we will focus on the young adult through older adult ages.

First determine if you are getting enough sleep. Track your sleep on paper by writing down when you go to bed and when you wake as well as estimating how long it takes to fall asleep and any interruptions to your sleep through the night. You could also use one of the fitness trackers on the market to track your sleep.

If you find you are not getting enough sleep take a look at your habits around sleep. Are you…

  • Getting to bed at approximately the same time each day?
  • Rising at the approximately the same time each day?
  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex?
  • Turning off the television and stepping away from screens at least one hour before bedtime?

These are important components to having the best shot at a good night of sleep. Changing schedules from day to day can wreak havoc on sleep quality. Having a good routine is a must. Another important component is not using your bed as the command center for your life. Your brain needs to know that the bed is for certain activities which allows it to relax when bedtime rolls around. Things like solving the problems of the world and watching television or using computers cause the brain to become more stimulated which interferes with sleep. The blue and green pixels from television and other screens also suppresses melatonin (a sleep promoting hormone) which naturally rises as bedtime approaches.

Doing those things and still not sleeping well? Start looking at your daytime habits. Are you…

  • Getting at least 30-60 minutes of natural light?
  • Avoiding stimulants like caffeine at least 5 hours prior to bedtime and nicotine at least 1 hour prior to bed?
  • Getting 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise during the day?
  • Avoiding intense exercise within 4 hours of bedtime?

Natural Light

Exposure to natural light (sunlight) in the early part of the day helps to reset the circadian rhythm which helps make you more alert during the day and sets you up for better sleep at night.

Stimulants

Stimulants used through the day and into the late afternoon and evening can interfere with sleep. If you don’t experience sleep difficulties no worries, but if you are struggling with sleep cutting off the supply of caffeine to your brain earlier in the day may be helpful. If you are a heavy caffeine user it is best to taper your use over time as cutting off the supply suddenly could cause a major headache.

Exercise

Exercise helps the body in multiple ways, but can also help improve your sleep. According to the folks over at hopkinsmedicine.org “30 minutes of moderate exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night.” And moderate exercise isn’t marathoning or olympic style speed stuff. The moderate zone is when you are noticing the effort, are breathing heavier, but can still talk and hold a conversation (but can’t sing), and you notice you are sweating a bit after 10 or so minutes of effort.aking one or more of these changes is a benefit to your sleep and helps to decrease stress during your waking hours.

Give it a try

Make one or more of these changes and decide for yourself if they help improve your sleep and help decrease stress during your waking hours.

Sleeping better and still stressed? Take a look at a previous post for other stress reduction strategies here and here.

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