5 Simple Ways To Cope with Stress

Just when you thought you could escape it…

Stressed BusinesswomanStress is an unavoidable part of life.  That’s right—you can’t stop it or avoid it.  Sounds stressful huh?  Well, it’s not all bad since humans are equipped to handle stress—the good (eustress) and the bad (distress).  We’ve got what’s called the fight-or-flight response (sometimes it’s called the fight, flight, or freeze response) and it’s hard-wired in our brains.  When faced with a stressor (like a big scary tiger) we either fight (hand-to-paw combat), or flight (run away really fast), or freeze (we can’t move away but have increased awareness).  Of course, stressors are not only big scary animals.  Stress can show up as a new job, a first date, a surgery, accident, bad day at work, fight with a loved one, and so on.  Stress can have lasting physiological and psychological effects if we don’t take care of ourselves and cope with stress in healthy ways.

Since we’ve all got to deal with stress, we might as well be as prepared as possible, right?  How you ask?  With coping strategies of course.  And it’s a good idea to have a few at your disposal since you never know when you’ll need them.  Also, when you have positive coping strategies at the ready, you won’t be inclined to adopt negative ones that could lead to harmful or unhealthy outcomes such as substance abuse, smoking, social isolation, obesity, and other health problems.

Top Five Coping Strategies (to keep on hand) for Stress

1.  Meditate — a practice by which one clears and quiets the mind, (among other mindful techniques) which has been researched to bring about a positive change in brainwaves, blood pressure, neurochemicals, and sleep/wake cycles.  In doing so, it significantly decreases stress levels.  Try it a few times to feel the difference for yourself.  For more information on meditation click: http://1.usa.gov/Mkdeog

2.  Seek out Supportive People — Access a supportive person or people and talk it out.  Your friends, family, supportive co-workers or group members can really help curb the effects of stress when they listen with a caring ear, and in a nonjudgmental way.  When good supports are hard to find, you may decide to invest in a caring therapist, counselor, coach, or social worker.

3.  Exercise — Ever heard of “burning off steam”?  Or, you could say, “exercise to get rid of excess stress.”  Makes sense huh?  Dance, walking, yoga, aerobic classes, bike riding, housecleaning, gardening, karate, tai chi, swimming, horseback riding, etc, helps to unleash pent-up stress and release those feel-good neurochemicals called Endorphins.  Exercise is any type of regular body movement that gets your heart rate up.  In my opinion, it’s got to be something that you like to do so you’ll keep doing it.

4.  Sleep Well — your body needs around 8 hours per night to reboot, relax, sort out, and repair itself.   And if your body isn’t in tip-top shape, it won’t be able to best deal with the onslaught of stress and stress chemicals that flood the brain and body. If you have difficulty getting the recommended amount of sleep, see your primary care physician or sleep clinic for help.

5.  Hydrate with Water —  When stress happens, a flood of chemicals is released in the body. Hydration—or drinking water—helps to flush out excess chemicals, carry nutrients to all parts of the body, and support every organ in the body.  Dehydration can not only feel awful, but can lead to serious physical problems and bodily disfunction.  Talk to your doctor about how much water to drink per day for your optimal health and stress relief.

These suggestions are just some of the healthy ways to cope with stress that’s a part of every person’s life.  If you experience acute or traumatic stress or stress that you can’t cope with, please see your primary care physician or licensed therapist for ongoing or intensive support.  Email Lisa Brandi LCSW your questions and comments or to begin your own healing journey.

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

Lisa Brandi LCSW, Online, Phone, and Email Therapy

References:

“Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, 18 June 0022. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

“Meditation: An Introduction.” National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

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seagulls in winter

               The winter months can be brutal not only on your cold fingers and toes but on your mental health and well-being.  The winter sun is low on the horizon and stays that way seemingly all day if you even get to see the sun through grey winter skies.  On the shortest day of the year the sun rises about 7:15am and sets at about 4:30pm–9 measly hours of light.  The start of winter also is a time that many people celebrate, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or Kwanza.  I’ve always reflected on the timeliness of these holidays, since it’s at this time that people seem to need a energizing distraction, to come together with family and celebrate. 

               For people living with mental illness, loss, trauma, or grief, the stress of holiday expectations  in combination with the lack of sunlight can be a double whammy.  A recent study released by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that all mental illnesses, not only Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), follow a pattern of modulating intensity throughout the year–decreasing in summer months and increasing in winter months, especially eating disorders, schizophrenia, ADHD, suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and anxiety (Ayers, etal., 2013). It makes a lot of sense somehow.  Winter has the tendency to isolate people, keeping people indoors, off the slick roads, out of nature’s frozen landscape, and subsequently out of the sunlight. 

               It’s surmised that Seasonal Affective Disorder is due in large part to low bodily exposure to light and its symptoms are similar to depression, however only surface between late fall and early spring (encompassing all of winter).  Treatments include light exposure, also called phototherapy, increased socialization, acupuncture, medication and and/or supplement use–most notably, vitamin D.

               The holidays at the beginning of winter do well to focus our attentions (and sometimes overwhelm them).  We’re immersed in social gatherings and family-time, gift-giving and receiving, bright ornamental lights on our houses and trees, fireplace and candle flames, special songs and music, rituals and focused prayers.  It’s a time of replacement suns if you will–everything a glow, artificial or not.  And it’s a time of sensory excitement–shops and TV shows are loaded with songs and sentiments of the season. 

              But, it’s January now, a month removed from the holidays, and 2 cold months away from spring.  How can we think and do things differently to feel differently if winter gets us down?

  • ·        Pay loving attention to what little light you do have–a fire burning in the hearth, the sun coming through the kitchen windows, candle light–and see its winter-time beauty.

 

  • ·        Take the time to let the sun filter through your eyelids, feeling the warmth on your face as it does.  Take time to bathe in whatever sunlight you can get.  I take a drive down to the water on sunny days just so I can soak up light through the car windows. Usually the sunlight is enough to make the inside of the car warm so you don’t have to keep the car running. 

 

  • ·       See your doctor about your vitamin D levels–if they’re low, you’ll be prescribed a super-strength vitamin D that you take once per week and will feel better.

 

  • ·        Enjoy whatever kind of exercise you can–indoor dancing, weights, walking the dog around the neighborhood, yoga.  Enjoyment is the key–move the way you want to, not how others expect you to.  I personally consider housecleaning a two-for-one exercise–getting clean and fit!

 

  • ·        De-clutter your indoor spaces and limit the stress on your senses, since you don’t have the luxury of getting outside as much where natural space is limitless and noises are dispersed. 

 

  • ·        Schedule time with friends and family and schedule time for yourself–a balance of these is the key.

 

  • ·        Remember what gives you joy and go get it or do it–listening to music, doing artwork, writing a friend, staying up late to watch a movie, reading your favorite blogs online, saying a prayer or meditating, reading sacred or spiritual texts, knitting or crocheting, petting your cat.  Whatever it is, remember to fit it in.

 

  • ·        Massage yourself (as best you can) with creams or massage oils and healing kindness.  If you don’t have a loved one to do it for you, and can’t spend the money on a massage therapist, do it for yourself.  Stimulate and care for the biggest organ of the human body–your skin. Affirm your body’s innate intelligence and healing potential while you work.  You’ll find you’re a bit warmer for it as well.

If you are suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression, other mental illness or life stressor, please see your primary care doctor for professional support.  Depression can be a life-threatening illness and is treatable.  Find ongoing, additional support right here at  www.LisaBrandiLCSW.com

Reference: Ayers, J.W, Althouse, B.M., Allem, J, Rosenquist, J. N., Ford, D.E., (2013). Seasonality in Seeking Mental Health Information on Google.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol. 44 (5), 520-525.

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