Category Archives: Stress Management

Making “Not-So-Good” Habits Work for You

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“A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” – This is SAMHSA’s working definition of recovery.  this could be recovery from Mental Health or Physical Health concerns.

Recently I have seen  a good many clients that have come in reporting very similar symptoms.  They feel somewhat down or even distressed.  They are functioning relatively okay with work and home but feel like they have lost their way.  They report feeling empty, tired, anxious.  Most of these individuals have been very involved in family and/or community.  They have been the family coordinators, the church volunteers, the community activists.

When looking at the above working definition of recovery, these folks are definitely self directive, but somehow the other two areas of health and wellness and full potential have been overshadowed by others needs (others in their own family and others in the community).  When using the needs assessment tool I incorporate into my practice (the DLA20), it is clear that many facets of their life have been neglected and continue to be drained.  There’s just not enough nourishment and recovery built into their lives to keep pace with all the other routines in their life.

We live in a society of go, go, go.  Ample supplies of caffeine and energy supplements.  Ample supplies of foods and other items to grab quickly from moving to one activity to another.  We more and more are getting out of habits of nourishment and allowing for our bodies to recover.   Recovery is not just a mental feat but very much a physical feat as well.    We have to develop healthy routines to nourish our bodies and brain.  These routines have to be consistent in order to make an impact.   Just like we consistently go to the coffee pot, check Facebook, or volunteer to help another, we need to consistently eat nourishing foods, take time for some quiet,  and get some stress relieving physical activity.  But how?  It sounds simple but if it were that simple we wouldn’t have this problem of course.

The trick is to begin by connecting one activity to another.  The activity can be good or bad.  If you drink coffee every morning or check Facebook before bed on a consistent basis, then these are great activities to link with more nourishing habits like 10 slow breaths or eating an apple.    Once you have successfully linked these habits consistently you can build in more healthy habits like a walk or some yoga.  It’s better to start small though.  Later you may decide to even phase out the original activity, especially if it was doing more harm than good.  Getting overwhelmed and not doing anything at all is not an option if you want to stop the cycle of constant drain, low energy, and feeling like you’re in a fog.

Sometimes we need reminders, so setting timers, getting others involved are great ways to ensure more consistency.  Also subscribing to a blog whether it is mine or another wellness author could also be a good way to get a tickler to continue to work on developing healthier practices.  As with much in life persistence against failure eventually develops consistency regardless, so keep trying.

Work-Life Balance

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I was asked to do a talk on “Work-Life Balance” the other week.  “Work-Life Balance” is the new catch phrase that’s being used instead of “Burn-out Prevention”.  So in essence my focus was on preventing burnout.  Burnout occurs when someone had once really loved what they do at their job but started giving more and more to the job until it took over more and more of their lives.  After this process starts, the individual then usually starts to resent their work and job to the point where they start to do less and less quality of work.  This usually results in low work performance and increasing resentment for not getting any past rewards they use to get for doing a good job.  It really is a downward spiral if there is no intervention.

The idea of “Work-Life Balance” is getting more to the root issue  in that one must have balance and perspective with the roles they possess in order to not experience burnout.  A good exercise is sitting down and listing all the roles you possess.  If there are roles you don’t want then you may want to take them off the list.  If you can’t get rid of the role then keep it, such as the role of “house keeper” if you are single parent and cannot afford to hire this role out.  So once you have the list of all the roles you have, then list one task to do for each of those roles.  Next get your calendar out and place that task on a day and a time to accomplish it.

This is just one way to help maintain balance during the week, but you will start to feel overwhelmed if you forget the role of “caretaker of self”.  You can’t forget to schedule in time for yourself to do something nurturing, like an hour to read, get a massage, see a movie.   You need time to reconnect to what relaxes and/or inspires you so that you can recharge and be able to do these other tasks in your calendar.  Don’t forget that you need time to let go of the other roles and remember yourself.

How to Benefit from a Gratitude Practice

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         I think many of us can identify the calmness and peace that comes with having the thought of thankfulness.  If any of you have read my recent client manual or seen any research on what happens to the body when we experience stress versus when we cultivate peace and calm, you would put 2 and 2 together and know that anything bringing peace is going to have the power to heal.  This is something we intuitively understand but the science is building to show this as well.
         Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese scientist and water researcher, discovered that vibrations affect the molecular structure of water. In his years of water research, through high speed photography of thousands of water crystals, Dr Emoto has shown the most “beautiful” (symmetric and well organized)  crystals are those formed after the water is exposed to the words ‘love and gratitude.’   When water was exposed to words of “anger and hate”, the water crystals became asymmetric and disorganized.  The fact that the human body is made of 70% water, one would consider how  our thoughts can have profound implications on our health.
         The wonderful thing about this feeling of gratitude is that it can be cultivated quite easily.   One can do 15 minutes a day of gratitude practice and experience immediate benefits.  The long-staying results though comes like anything does…. with consistent daily practice.  That’s the kicker, right?  Many of us will start a practice for a week or so and then see it flicker out.  Here’s some steps to help build a daily “consistent” practice of gratitude that has good potential to last.
  • Start small, 5 minutes.  Success will lead to you trying again and not being overwhelmed.  Set a timer and resist doing more.
  • Link your practice to something else you already do daily, like a morning cup of coffee or brushing your teeth.
  • Do it right before or after this already daily routine.
  • During this 5 minutes jot down 3 things that make you feel gratitude.
  • Do this for a month.
  • Bump up to 10 minutes the next month.
  • Bump up to 15 minutes the third month, this time add a nice sitting posture and a minute of quiet after.
  • Continue to build as you feel so, adding other health routines like yoga or breathwork if desired.

How to Start a Breathwork Practice

keep calm and breath pdf

Breath is a powerful connecting force between the mind and the body.  Building and expanding on our breath not only increases vitality and energy, it can also be an amazing healing tool.  Although it is recommended to have an experienced teacher before beginning any significant breathwork practice, anyone can initiate this journey with some simple steps and create a 15 minute practice.  This practice can be added to a regular yoga asana practice or meditation practice.

  1. Identify a dry comfortable area to practice in.
  2. Limit distractions such as turning off or down your cellphone
  3. Wait a little after eating so you don’t have a full stomach. A little water before starting can be helpful.
  4. Avoid coffee before practicing.
  5. Decide on time to practice. Early morning is an ideal time to practice before your money cup of coffee/tea.
  6. Lie on your back or find a comfortable sitting position.
  7. Begin by just observing and tracking the breath as it comes in through your nose and down your windpipe into your diaphragm and track as it exits the body.
  8. Spend 5-10 minutes practicing observing.
  9. Spend the next 5-10 minutes focusing on long slow exhales.
  10. Sit in quiet for 3-5 minutes with normal breath.

At this point the work is on being the observer. Breathwork is not completed by “controlling” or forcing the breath, it is done effectively by observing and “playing” with the breath. If your goal in breathwork is increased vitality and wellness, then the safest way to begin your practice is by observing where you are first.   This takes time and cannot be determined with one breathing practice session but must be observed over time.  Variables like a new stressor or trying something for the first time can alter your baseline habits.  Overtime however one can determine the average count and length of the breath and identify a good goal to work on.  The goal is usually in lengthening both inhales and exhales comfortably without strain.  This will increase vitality.  However sometimes a person may need more help specifically with inhaling or exhaling and a trained instructor can guide the person in their practice.  There are also techniques like holds and various therapeutic practices that can target a particular healing aspect of the breath.  For more information on pranayama, a good book to reference is The Yoga of Breath: a Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen.

7 Ways to Begin Managing Stress

Stress is something that happens to us daily.  There’s good stress.  You know the type that makes you show up for a meeting on time and also enabled you to prepare the night before.  There’s also not so good stress.  The kind that wears at you and makes you want to run and hide (or eat chocolate, drink a beer, smoke a cigarette, etc… )  It’s the kind that may start out as good stress but then added to all the other little worries morphs into something that is not helpful.

There are a few things you can do when you start to feel this negative stress come on that may help you gain control and not run and hide.  Some such as the first item may seem deceptively simple. We tend to take these for granted but often they are neglected resulting in a low threshold for negative stress and its effects.

1.Take a drink of water.  Many of us stay dehydrated and when we are dehydrated it is more difficult to reduce stress hormones and that feeling of tension.

2. Take a breathing break.   Concentrate on long slow exhales. When we are stressed we hyperventilate (longer inhales than exhales) which signals the body to go into “fight or flight”.

3.Eat well.  Eat meals with a variety of protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Attempt to eat something with protein and fiber at least every 4 hours while awake.  This will keep blood sugar from dropping low enough to signal a stress  response.

4. Walk or do some sort of exercise.  Just 15-20 minutes a day will reduce stress hormones in the blood; 30-60 minutes will optimize this.

5. Shrink your to-do list and focus on only the top 3 tasks.  If that’s too much, shrink it to the most important task you can do right now.   Looking at 20 items can be overwhelming but when you are focusing on just the next step, you feel more in control.

6. Nurture close relationships.  Contact someone positive whom you want to keep in your life.  Soak in some of their positive energy to help give you more resilience.

7. Get enough sleep.  Work on things that will help you get better sleep like cutting out caffeine after 5pm.  Getting 4-8 hours of sleep a night enables your body to clean up toxins and excess chemicals like the stress hormone cortisol.  Sleep helps to give you a “clean slate” for the next day.

*If still no relief, reach out to a support group or professional assistance through a counselor or other healthcare provider.