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Did you know stress could be good for you? How do you deal with stress?

Dealing with the stressors of life can help you build resilience, or break you down bit by bit, depending on what you do.

What does stress look like? What does your stress look like? Stress is a common experience in our modern world, yet our own version of stress will be different than anyone else’s, according to the demands that life puts on you as an individual. And just so we are on the same page, stress is not healthy or unhealthy! Stress simply means a type of pressure that builds or tears down what it is pressing against. It can do negative number on our bodies and minds, and can deteriorate our quality of life, if left unmanaged. So what can we do to help alleviate and manage stress without adding more? That answer will be different for everyone according to his or her comforts, interests, and capacities. Here are a few ideas to get you started, as you begin to identify how you can deal with your stress:

Mindfulness– You may have heard of this new thing called mindfulness. It’s on magazine covers, many books have been written about it, and you can add it to just about anything. Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Walking… But what does it actually mean? In these contexts, Mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose, and without judgment. There is a body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness on many common concerns, and the research around its positive effects on stress have led to a plethora of 8-week programs called “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” or MBSR. MBSR programs help you tap into what you already possess but tend to forget about while going about life on autopilot: compassion, patience, presence, awareness, and the capacity to be non-judgmental. When we act on autopilot we tend to re-act instead of re-spond. This can make an already stressful life that much more stressful. When we act mindfully, we are paying attention to the thing we are doing now- not worrying about the future or fretting about our past, simply living in the moment. Merely paying attention moment to moment is mindfulness. If you’d like to see how Mindfulness can positively affect you and the stress you experience in your life, you can cultivate a more intentional mindfulness practice. There are many books to choose from (just search Mindfulness for Beginners or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) or you can join a program, like those at UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness and be guided through an 8-week journey which can ultimately lead to a more calm, present, and less-stressed you!

Exercise– I don’t know about you, but after a good hard workout, my body is so worn out the last thing on my mind is stress. Previous blog posts have focused on exercise and its ability to help you sleep and beat the blues, and it turns out exercise can help manage stress levels too! Exercise produces endorphins, chemicals produced in your body that inhibit pain and produce feelings of euphoria. Looks like the exercise is one of the keys to overall health and well-being, including stress-reduction!

SLEEP– Yes sleep. Sleep is important, and previous blog posts have focused on the benefits of sleep (see “How Can I Fight Insomnia?” http://coherenceassociates.com/i-cant-sleep-how-can-i-fight-insomnia/). Did you know that your sleep can affect the level of stress you experience? When we sleep, we enter into REM (rapid eye movement) cycles which is when we file away all of our experiences in our super computer, a.k.a. our brain and nervous system. When this occurs, we can process through the troubling events of the day, store the memories away, and learn what was needed while discarding the rest. When you don’t give your brain the opportunity to do this, by not getting enough sleep, your brain acts like a slow laptop, struggling to get through even the simplest of requests. You may have noticed this effect before after a notably tough night of sleep. But, if you’ve gotten used to not sleeping well, you might have gotten used to the negative effects as well. This might make it more difficult to identify its connection to the stress you feel every day, and to decide to take steps to improve your quality of sleep. Chronic fatigue leaves us with a sense of trudging through life, without the vibrancy or kick in our step we once had. This state becomes so familiar, we have simply forgotten how much better we can feel with consistent sleep.

Fun– What is the opposite of stressed? Is it resilience? Calm? How about desserts… Desserts and stresseD- get it? OK, so corny jokes aside, when was the last time you experienced fun? Laughed? Were you so engaged in what you were doing that you forgot the rest of the world existed? Fun can counteract yucky feelings like stress. If you are like me, you might think to yourself, who has time for that? I’ve got work, and groceries to buy, and don’t forget the dishes… So many things to do besides have fun. Is that stress talking to you, convincing you there are so many reasons to keep it around? Yes, you can hold to your stress like it’s a grown up blankie that keeps you from having fun, or you can let go. And it doesn’t have to take up time. For instance, have you ever tried to get a toddler in a car seat? This is perhaps one of the most stressful things a person can experience. If you tell a kid, “Listen, we are running late, and I know there will be traffic, and if we’re late one more time…” ummm, yeah, that kid will climbing into the third row and laughing at you and your stress respond in no time. Instead, try telling them “Whatever you do DO NOT SIT IN THE CAR SEAT! Seriously, I had a new seat put in and it could catapult you into space, and then we’d never get to school!” Well now that is a little more fun, for you and the kiddo, and it didn’t take any more time (in fact I’ll bet it took less!). Fun doesn’t have to be a big chore. It can be something like mindfulness that you work into your life, and it can ease the tension and stress that seem ever-present in our modern lives.

Essential Oils– This trick has worked so well for my family, and me I can hardly write a blog post without mentioning how essential oils can help us with our modern problems. Did you know that there is research to back this up? Check out the recent blog post, “A Revoilution” http://coherenceassociates.com/essential-oils-a-revoilution/. I’ve mixed oils such as lemon, orange, bergamot, ylang ylang, lavender, cedarwood, and lime, into rollers for topical application and into diffusers for aromatherapy. And I can tell you bedtime has never been so peaceful. My own stress levels have never been so moderated. My husband has even requested a mix to help him deal with work stress. Since adding essential oils into our lives, I can tell you that our stress levels have decreased and we have all experienced more stable emotions. Do oils solve all of our earthy problems? No way! Do they help us get through stressful times with more calm and grace? In our experience, yes. If you are interested in checking out essential oils, you can stop by a Sprouts or Whole Foods and smell for yourself. There are plenty of companies to order from online as well, in addition to many books on how to use essential oils to help many common concerns.

The mismanagement, or lack of management of stress is a real problem in our modern society, and it can get in the way of enjoying the life we work so hard to create. If you are interested in learning more about working with the stress in your life, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, has written a book called, “The Upside of Stress, Why Stress Is Good For You, & How To Get Good At It.”

These were some simple tips to help, but if you’d like some individualized help as you figure out how you can reduce your stress, talking with a therapist can help you identify negative stress, sort out priorities, learn new skills, and build resilience. Coherence Associates, Inc. (760) 942-8663 coherenceassociates.com

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