It's that time of year again. Time to build up the courage to tell your in-laws that no, you don't like their casserole at Thanksgiving (unless you're my in-laws and reading this, because obviously I love your casserole and don't throw it out when you're not looking). Time to dig out that sweater that your aunt made for you in '93 that she still somehow expects you to fit into/like to wear (if either were ever true to begin with). Time to eat until you're about to blow and then buy that year-long gym membership to work it off, which you swear you will do starting next week because this week is just so busy/cold/ [insert excuse here]. Oh, and time to spend a ton of money you don't have in order to impress and compete with people you don't talk to from January to November. And eggnog. Lots of eggnog.
With all of this comes an incredible amount of stress, so now it's more important than ever to recognize it and relieve it. And yes, I'm pretty sure there's a sale on it somewhere.
Then it comes, out of nowhere: You're at Wendy's (can you tell that I'm writing this at lunch time?), you want nothing more than to take a sip of your soda, and you reach for the straws. Except the guy in front of you just grabbed the last one. That was the last straw (get it?), and now all hell breaks loose. Next thing you know you're pissed off at a guy who's trying to enjoy his lunch, just like you, and you've just put the "ass" in "embarrassed" due to the ridiculous scene that you've made. Over a straw. A thin, rolled up piece of plastic.
That's a great example of what happens when you don't take care of you. Stress builds all year, but when you're trying to juggle Turkey Day with Black Friday (which starts just as the the turkey is putting you to sleep) with Cyber Wednesday and Ruby Tuesday's (yep, still lunch time), it all comes out and gets you either a guest appearance on "Cops", "Jerry Springer", or an impromptu visit with me (which is always welcome!).
Yeah, so thanks for stressing me out over stressing out, Jason. And making me hungry for lunch. What exactly am I supposed to do about that?
Wait, the stress part or the lunch part?
The stress. I've already settled on Wendy's for some reason.
Good choice on both! And no, i'm not sponsored by Wendy's. Man, I wish.
Anyway, a quick review on what stress really is. Stress, believe it or not, is a good thing. Think of it like cholesterol for your emotions. If you had no cholesterol at all, then you'd be in serious trouble health-wise because you actually do need it for things like cell health and hormone regulation. Too much, though, and you're in serious trouble health-wise because you're clogging your arteries.
Unfortunately, just like fast food is an easy way to get way too much cholesterol, daily life has become an easy way to get way too much stress. So how is stress a good thing? Without stress, you wouldn't have motivation to do things, and you'd just wither away. Our ancestors wouldn't have had the motivation to avoid that saber tooth tiger, and you wouldn't feel the need to get up and get to work or do your paper for class. It's absolutely important. However, we're built to experience a little bit of stress once in a while, and it dissipated rather easily because it was so infrequent.
Lord knows, though, that this isn't the case today. You've got stress everywhere. That physical feeling of stress comes from a chemical the most primal part of your brain (your hypothalamus for those studying for a test) signals your body to release, called cortisol. Again, a little of it from time to time is good, but too much literally can impact the way that your brain is formed; you're not lying when you say that you're so stressed that you're losing your mind. It's not anything immediate, but the more stress you get, especially in your childhood, the more sensitive you are to it, and the quicker you are to anger or being overwhelmed. So yeah, you can legitimately blame mom for that one!
Stress comes in two forms: There's the first type, which happens in the moment, and that adds to the second type, which is cumulative and just builds up until you let it out in one way or another. It's like sleep. You short yourself a few hours one night, and you push through it and make up for it the next night. If you don't make up for it though, then the next day you're not only tired from missing that night's sleep, you're tired from missing the sleep from the night before. It's a new day, yeah, but it adds up until you wake up at the crack of noon on Saturday when you had to be at your friend's house for the Alabama game or birthday party at 10:00 AM. Not good either way.
The solution? When stress comes, deal with it then. Don't put it off, because you're only going to make it worse. There are a few tried and true solutions, and a couple of things that I've noticed that can help that I haven't seen other therapists talk about:
Yes, I know that "Waiting To Exhale" was a good movie back in the mid-90's, but that's not a way to deal with what life's throwing at you. Remember how we talked about stress being an actual physical/chemical thing? Well, do what you hear every yoga instructor say, take a deep breath, and breathe it out. While you're breathing, you're relieving your body of carbon dioxide and getting more oxygen to your brain. This allows you to clear out that cortisol and start thinking logically; it literally clears your mind. Take a breath, focus on that (and I mean actually focus on it, not just pretend to), do it a total of at least five times,and your body's alarm system that's causing the cortisol to be released will start to turn reset itself. The first step to stress relief is to stop adding more stress.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. To the gym. Or around the block. Or even just up and down the stairs. You can do a workout if you want to, but getting up and moving to get your heart rate elevated will release endorphins, your body's natural painkiller and feel-good chemical. Ever hear of a runner's high? That's a big endorphin release. Even just a small dose of exercise will get you some of that endorphin benefit, though, and that will help you power through whatever's getting you worked up.
3) Validate your stress.
I'm not saying that I want you to be stressed, but it's okay to be stressed. It doesn't make you crazy, it doesn't mean that the world is ending, it just means that there's some things going on that aren't going the way that you want them to. In fact, if you don't feel stressed, then that's a much bigger problem. If you beat yourself up about it, then you're only going to feel worse. On the other hand, if you can acknowledge how you're feeling and give yourself permission to embrace the stress, then you can own it. A lot of the cause stress comes from feeling out of control. If you validate it, then you own it. If you own it, then you can control it.
Now, some things that I don't see used enough:
1) Remember your successes.
Most stresses tend to be repeats or rehashes of things that have stressed you out before. How have you dealt with this before? Yes, that deadline for the report got moved up a day, but you've done these reports a million times, and you'll get this one done, too. The kids are running late again, sure, but are they going to get kicked out of school because they couldn't find their shoes? No, the teacher understood before, or the school didn't really notice altogether, so it'll be fine today, too. What's the end of the world for you right now is not the end of the world for the rest of us. It will be okay.
2) Ask yourself: In a day, in a month, in a year, will it matter?
I plan on getting more in depth on this in a later post, but it fits in perfectly here. Yep, that idiot in front of you on his phone made you miss the light. No, that's not going to make you late for work; that's a 90-second delay. A minute and a half won't make that kind of difference. You won't remember it tomorrow, you won't remember it next month, and you won't remember it next year. It won't matter then, so it doesn't matter now. Yeah, you said something dumb on your first date, but you're not being defined by that moment alone. If you are, then she's not the right one for you, anyway. People say dumb things. Ask my wife; it happens all of the time, and somehow we're still together.
3) Get in touch with me.
Yeah, you knew it was coming, and that shows just how smart you are! Anyway, I do mean that. Talking with someone about these stresses can give you an entirely new perspective. A little while ago I was working with a person, and when I asked him if he had tried a very small twist on his routine that would eliminate the stress altogether, he gave me a glare. I asked him what that glare was about, and he said, "I just feel like an idiot; I can't believe it's just that friggin' simple." He wasn't an idiot as we all have those moments where we have all of the puzzle pieces and just need a little help putting them together, but he was getting perspective and a plan. And yes, it made all of the difference in the world for him.
As you know, I don't BS people, I don't sugarcoat, and I don't try to tell you that everything is just fine when obviously it's not. What I do is listen, I offer a different perspective, and I work with you to make and carry out a plan to lessen the stress of a situation or, more often than you'd think, get rid of the stress altogether. It's a process, yes, but it's effective and nearly always quicker than you'd expect. Just because you've had this stress for weeks, months, or years doesn't mean that you have to have it tomorrow. We can meet up, talk about it, and tomorrow can be less stressful than today, and the next day can be less stressful than tomorrow, and so on. It all starts with dropping me a line either via e-mail, through this website, or even a good old-fashioned phone call to (302) 464-0021. Together we can do this.
Have a fantastic Thanksgiving, and no matter what stress it brings, you can get through it! Unless you're a turkey. Then you're screwed, sorry.
Remember: Nobody said that it would be easy, but nobody said that you had to do it alone.