Saturday, April 16, 2011

STRESS- the word itself conjures up ...

Stress Awareness Day - 4.16.2011
Notes and tips by Vivian Takafuji, CMT, MQT, PhD

STRESS- the word itself conjures up not-so-pleasant images and thoughts for each of us as we read it, especially at this time of year during tax time…it's not likely a word that we need to be more aware of that it's there in our busy lives.

What probably does need further 'awareness' in this modern age is how we process the stressors in our lives and not let them overwhelm us and influence our thinking and emotions. Let's be realistic - we cannot eliminate all the stress in our lives but we can find ways to reduce our negative responses to them.

A certain amount of stress is actually necessary: our bodies need a degree of physiological stress and movement on our bones and joints for optimal conditioning, especially as we age. We need certain environmental stresses to keep our immune systems challenged and healthy. And yes, a certain amount of financial stress is necessary for our survival and to keep us propelling forward in our goals and endeavors.

If we work to change our mindset about how we view our stressors, maybe we can find ways to ultimately use them to transform our lives. What we need to learn and practice are some ideas on how exactly to make that happen; however, what 'works' will be different for all of us and needs to be adjusted for each situation as it presents, so keep trying! Here are some tips that have worked in the past for this writer:

  1. Pause and prioritize. Take a moment’s pause in the heat of it all – can anything wait until another time? One main item getting crossed off the list in a day instead of all ten might be enough to keep progressing in-time for your goals.
  2. Breathe from your abdomen. The "count to ten" adage really does have some merit- take the time for some deep breaths, focusing on the exhale, blowing out your mouth with pursed lips, trying to making them twice as long as your inhalation. You'll notice after a couple of breaths your physiology calming and the extreme emotions beginning to stabilize.
  3. Exercise. Our bodies are designed to move, being sedentary at our desks for 8 hours is contradictory to our very nature and design. However, intense cardiovascular exercise may not be necessary for everyone to adjust stress levels (and might be more detrimental than helpful to some) - just getting up to remove yourself from the stressful environment, person, etc can oftentimes be enough to help. Ideally, a walk outside with nature can be immensely therapeutic.
  4. Meditate. A large factor in our responses to stress is the build-up of mental "clutter" and the negative emotions- worry, anxiety, depression, etc. that we attach to the stress. By learning how to clear the mind, new possibilities are free to enter and who knows, long-awaited solutions may just come to us. A gentle movement therapy such as a Qigong or Tai Chi class is a great way to incorporate mind-body techniques.
  5. Get a massage. The benefits of a good therapeutic massage are endless. From this massage therapist's point of view, many shifts in the physical, emotional, and even spiritual aspects of the body are possible and very likely. For many, just knowing an appointment for a massage is on the calendar is an important psychological reinforcement to do something "good" for yourself and enough to break-up your stressful week. (To schedule your massage, visit
  6. Smile and laugh. Even if you need to force it, a smile can immediately shift your biochemistry and release the "feel-good" endorphins that are the natural painkillers in your body. Even better, if you can find a way to laugh- listen to a joke, watch a funny sitcom, etc, verbally expressing your state of mind can be stress-relieving.
  7. Find a support group. It doesn't need to be a formal group, even friends and family can be enough to lean on in tough times. Reaching out for help is never a weakness or cope-out! In turn, being a support for someone else can be therapeutic by taking ourselves out of our own stress-filled worlds and feeling good about helping another person.

We're not going to be able to make our life 'stress-free', but we can certainly try to make it 'stress-less'. The tough reality about stress is that it's always going to exist. Even If we can find a way to relieve our stress today, tomorrow will surely bring about an entirely new set of stressors. The best we can do is find ways to manage it in the present moment by continually practicing these tips (and other similar ideas). With positive reinforcement, we can work to improve our stress-levels, just like any other skill.

"When we change the way that we look at things, the things we look at change"-- Dr. Wayne Dyer

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