Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stress! Eyes Buggin, Nail Chewin, Hair Pullin, Wanna Scream It STRESS!!!

There is not a person in this world who hasn't known the feeling of stress...when babies feel it they cry or throw something, when toddlers get it, they hit their siblings with toys and stomp their feet and lay down on the floor and squall, when teenagers have it they slam their bedroom doors, yell at their friends or Mom and Dad (which usually ends up getting them into trouble=more stress), and as adults when we suffer with it we do all sorts of things! Some of us internalize it, which means we try to pretend to the world it isn't happening, swallow it down into the pit of our stomachs and grit our teeth until we can get somewhere quiet. Then we get stomach ulcers and diarrhea and keep huge containers of antacids in our purses or on our desks. Some of us can't control ourselves as well and we seem to snap at the people who aren't even giving us any problems, like the guy in the next cubicle who asks how things are going, or the lady who is driving her grocery cart leisurely down the aisle at the store. Maybe we hold it in for a while, but when we get around someone we love and know will forgive us, we start an argument and are mean and nasty until we get it out of our system.

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it? But do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? How do you handle the stress in your life? Do you think you deal with it in a healthy way, or is it killing you? Silly as it sounds, stress really is a deadly thing, and if you don't know how to acknowledge it, defuse it, and let it go, it can lead to all sorts of health problems.

Stress makes risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure much worse. If you are under a lot of stress, your blood pressure tends to rise, you may eat 'comfort foods' that are not healthy for you, exercise may be the last thing on your mind after your nerves have been wracked for hours with drama, and if you smoke you're going to puff away when times get hectic!

Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of  heart attacks and strokes. That's why the people you may know who have had these things happen seemed to always be upset or worried and 'stressed out'.

The good news, friends, is it doesn't have to be this way. You don't need to quit your job and live on a commune to avoid dying of a stroke, or going 'postal' either. There are some very simple things that you can do to make dealing with the stress in your life easier to bear, and none of them involve pills, cults, or firearms!

The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Yes, I actually wrote that, take a deep, right from the stomach breath. Let it out very slowly. Now say this out loud, with no one around, but out loud just the same, 'No one is going to die or explode if I take a few minutes to myself.' When things get to be too much, do to yourself what you would do to an overstimulated child (after all we are still kids at heart!) and put yourself in 'timeout'. If that means going to an empty room, your bedroom alone, or even the car for fifteen minutes of silence, do it. It is better to take a fifteen minute break with no telephone, no computer, no kids, no boss and no coworkers than to keep trying to hang on and lose it completely. If it is not possible for you to leave your office or wherever, go to the BATHROOM and lock the door! That is a trick I used to use when I was trapped in the office and I thought I was going to scream if another email came in or another phone rang. Fifteen minutes of alone time, just clearing my thoughts of everything and I was calm, cool, and ready to go back to work with a fresh smile and a lighter heart. I would close my eyes, and think of the field behind my house when I was a little girl. Sometimes that field was covered with green spring grass and wildflowers, sometimes snow just waiting for my sled to go through, or maybe it was autumn and the thistles were letting go of their fluffy seeds and I was walking through them. Whatever memory I envisioned, it took my mind off of everything else and I could calm down and let my body relax. That is a quick fix, though, like a band-aid. You use that method whenever you need it, until you have time to do more elaborate work on getting rid of the stress of the day.

It is important that you identify the things in your life that give you anxiety and stress. My advice is to take a small journal and list everything that gives you worry or causes you stress. Make a 'Pro and Con' list and carry the journal with you for a week or so and work on those lists so you make sure you don't leave anything out. Then sit down and go over the list of 'Cons'. This is one time that ignorance is most certainly not 'bliss'! If you are going to help yourself you have to know what to work on, and you need to be honest about this. If you argue with your spouse, then you best put it on the 'Con' list. If you love them, by all means you put that on the 'Pro' list, too. Be detailed in what you write, don't just put 'job' as a 'Con', you need to list what it is at your job that gives you stress. If you like customer A but customer B drives you nutty, you know where to put each of those! If you worry about your weight but love eating, you know how to categorize those too. Remember, this is YOUR list, and it is for your eyes only.

Now that you have your list of things that bother you and need to be worked on, you have a beginning. You may have a huge list of things that give you stress, you may have a shorter list of things that make you happy and give you joy. That is not so unusual. Most people tend to remember the things in life that cause them difficulty than the times that make them smile. It's ok, don't let that bother you. The first thing you get to do now is to pick the smallest, simplest thing on that list of 'Cons' that you can control. It doesn't matter how little it is, or how insignificant it may seem. That is the first thing you are going to change.

I'm sure you all have heard it said that you cannot change anyone but yourself, and the way YOU react. So that is what you get to do here. Say that small thing is when you go to the bathroom at work the person before you never replaces the toilet tissue when the roll is empty. It is rude, yes. It is an irritant. If you go to sit in the bathroom and there is no paper when you get done, it sucks having to get up with a wet bottom (or worse) and waddle around looking for a new roll of paper! So what can YOU do to change this? Before you go to the bathroom, make it a habit of checking to see if there is paper in the stall! Sounds simple, right? But you have no idea how many people go literally off their rockers screaming in the bathroom because there is NO paper on the roller! How hard is it to look before you go? Not hard at all, simply a new habit to pick up, and it saves YOU from getting angry and having anxiety and being upset for a long time afterward.

This is only one example of how a small irritation can be avoided by changing your behavior. Start with those little, easy things on your list and think about what you can do on your own to stave off the things that bring stress into your everyday life. Remember, it gets easier as you go along. You build your own strength of character as you begin to take control of your life back. When you get to the more difficult things on your list, you will get more creative in how you handle yourself, and instead of getting angry and shaking with pent up emotions you will find that you have the ability to think calmly and find solutions that keep the peace and allow you to maintain your composure and self respect while still getting things done!

One of the things that makes people feel a lot of stress is the perception that they are not being taken seriously, or are undervalued. Feeling that others are not appreciating your time and skills can lead to depression and stress, not to mention loss of self-esteem. Don't be afraid to assert yourself in a healthy way. This doesn't mean standing up in a corporate meeting and telling the company president he is an ass and you deserve a raise, that is a surefire way of getting a one way ticket out the door! Being assertive is about earning respect and giving it to those who deserve it. If you are good at your job, don't be afraid to ask for an evaluation after a proper amount of time. If you've been with the company a year and others in your position have their name on their desk, it is not out of line to ask for a desk plaque as well. If you are a good mother and wife, you should demand respect from your husband and children. Same for good fathers, respect earned should be respect given. Love yourself and love those in your life, don't be afraid to show it.

Stress tends to disappear when we have loved ones around us we can talk to and enjoy hobbies and time with. If you aren't in a relationship, pets are wonderful to help reduce stress...and yes fish count! Many therapists have aquariums in their offices because of the calming effect fish have on anxious patients. Elderly people who own a pet have been shown to have better blood pressure and live longer. Exercise like walking, yoga, and light cardio done on a regular basis help relieve stress naturally and reduce risk for strokes and heart conditions.

So the next time you are ready to put a fist through the wall, or are tempted to head to the local bar and throw back tequila shots, don't! Instead, give yourself a fifteen minute 'timeout', take a walk once or twice around the block and get out that journal and start writing that list.

What about the list of 'Pros' you ask? Those are for when you feel like splurging, when you have had success in defeating a few of those 'Cons', or maybe when you need a pick-me-up to get you back on track after a particularly difficult week. Don't ever think you have to deny yourself a 'Pro' for any reason, life isn't about denial, it's about living. You only get one ride on this merry-go-round, so you have to hang on the best you can and enjoy the ride for all it's worth, and grab at that brass ring every chance you get!

Much love, life, happiness and health to all,
Dr. Beth

Looking forward to your comments and questions! Tell me what stresses YOU, and let's see what we can come up with to help you work through them!


  1. Hi. I am a single mother of two boys, my oldest is 14 and super smart. My youngest is 12 and has been diagnosed with every type of mood disorder out there. To me it seems more like autism and he has many traits that resemble ptsd. He has been bullied by the staff at school since 2nd grade. Last year he began refusing, was hospitalized, and put on a med that made him worse. The lack of help and services in my town are slim to none and he continues to miss school. He worries about teachers being mean or fits and the school hasn't done much except call the state 3 times in the past year and lie to me. I haven't been able to work in over a year due to it and have no income at all. I also have a sick father to deal with and I honestly don't know what to do next. If there is any advice that you can give it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I'd like to answer you in a complete fashion, so I'm going to post a full blog. The reply feature won't let me post a long reply, and I can't shorten it.
    Look for the new post!