7 Days of Powerful, Practical, Immediate Stress Management Tools: Day 1

7 Days of Powerful, Practical, Immediate Stress Management Tools: Day 1

There is no quick fix to stress. There are, however, ways to manage your stress and/or anxiety in the moment that will help you to feel immediate relief. These tools, when practiced daily and constantly can also help you to manage your stress in the long run.

I decided to write about some immediate, practical stress management tips because I am all to familiar with that feeling of overwhelm, anxiety and mounting stress. For me it presents as tightness in my chest and shallow breathing, sometimes a tension headache, which feels like there is a tight band wrapped around my head. Those are my body’s signals to tell me it’s acutely stressed.

So I wanted to do a week’s worth of easy and effective stress management tools, and day 1 starts with a breathing technique. Go to my instagram for the post (@stresswellwithliz).

There are TONS of breathing techniques out there used for relaxation, meditation, and stress reduction, but today I want you to focus on one called diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing, strengthens your diagram- a muscle that helps you breathe. There are tons of benefits to diaphragmatic breathing, some being:

  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Lowers your heart rate
  • Helps you relax
  • Lowers your stress hormone cortisol
  • Mostly importantly, it reduces your feelings of stress

So, let’s get to that breathing technique. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position or lie on a flat surface
  2. Relax tension in your body
  3. Breathe in through your nose for 2-3 seconds. Expand your stomach with air and make sure your chest stays relatively still.
  4. Contract your stomach and exhale through your mouth, with a pursed expression, for about 2 seconds.
  5. Repeat several times.
  6. Indulge in the relaxation

You can try this just about anywhere. It’s free and only takes several minutes of your time. Go try it! And let me know how it goes for you.

 

Therapy is Not Easy

Therapy is Not Easy

Have you ever gone to therapy or considered seeking therapy?

I have. And I’m not ashamed to say that I currently do weekly talk therapy. In this post I have one overarching message to share from my experience with therapy and different therapists, and it is that therapy isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

Therapy isn’t easy in so many ways. The process of finding a therapist who specializes in the type of therapy you might benefit the most, let alone one in your price range, insurance coverage, and who practices nearby all present difficulties when tasked with finding a therapist. Luckily, Google is your friend when facing these difficulties.

You can research just about anything you need to know, from specialty, price, and location to patient reviews for therapists in your area. And trust me, you will want to do this research. It’s quite defeating committing yourself to a one-hour therapy session to find out that you and that therapist are not a good fit. That leads me to a second reason therapy is not easy.

After you find a therapist that fits your price, specialty, and location needs, you will want to meet the therapist in person and have one or several sessions with them to determine whether or not they are a good fit for what you are seeking from therapy. Several things you want to feel with a therapist are comfort, lack of judgment, openness, acceptance, and trust. You want to feel like you can build a trusting relationship in which you can be open and honest and also comfortable to share everything with the therapist who is trying to help you.

If you’ve tried therapy before or are in a situation now where you feel like you cannot be fully honest with your therapist, or if you feel judgment from them, I urge you to not give up on the idea of therapy as a practice that can help you. Just because the fit isn’t right doesn’t mean that therapy with the right therapist won’t help you. You might, however, need to evaluate your current situation and try seeking out a different therapist and potentially a different type of therapy.

This happened to me the first time I sought therapy. I had about five or ten sessions with a therapist where, in our sessions, we would talk about things that had happened and relationships in my childhood and adolescence that could have affected the way I feel and act currently. Doing so was extremely difficult and emotional for me. In my life, I’ve buried many things in my past as a coping mechanism, and uncovering those things brought a ton of emotional turmoil into my present and affected me long after the therapy sessions were over. After this experience I figured that therapy just wasn’t for me. It was too painful. I didn’t like revisiting the things that I had buried for a reason.

I got a bit older and my anxiety got worse. I had a full blown panic attack at 22 years old and lived in fear of another panic attack for two years after that. I had low mood and impulsivity but also was functioning fairly well in my life so I thought it was something I could try to deal with on my own.

Then I found myself one day staring into the train tracks, thinking of how easy it would be to just fall in, and I knew I needed help. I sought therapy from my school’s mental health center, since I didn’t know what else to do. I needed someone else to understand how desperate I was for help, and I was too scared to open up to anyone close to me about it.

This type of therapy was different. I saw the therapist for a total of ten sessions (since this was the free allowed amount) and we never spent a single session digging into my past. We talked about my past and childhood in small doses but we focused on my mood and problems in the present, and how I could deal with what I was facing in the present. I felt more comfortable engaging in these types of sessions and sometimes came away feeling sad, but also felt empowered and like I could regain control of my life.

After I finished that stint of schooling and moved across the country I figured it would be beneficial for me to continue some type of therapy, so that I could avoid falling into the super low mood and scaring myself. This is when I discovered ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

ACT is a type of therapy that focuses on your present self, and how you can make changes in your present to help yourself to feel better. Instead of emphasizing control of your thoughts and feelings, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does, ACT encourages you to accept and notice your thoughts and feelings. It helps you to develop compassion for yourself for having these thoughts and feelings, but also helps you to not linger or ruminate on them.

ACT therapy in combination with an open, comforting, trusting therapist has provided the right combination for me in what I am seeking from a therapy experience. However, therapy still isn’t easy.

The third thing that isn’t easy about therapy is… doing the actual therapy. Pretty intuitive but sitting with a stranger, talking about your thoughts and emotions, your childhood, your relationships with others, and your life in a nutshell is NOT easy! Revisiting past events and situations, which were potentially traumatic is not easy. Accepting impartial commentary and advice on coping with these events is not easy. And making changes in your daily life as suggested during therapy is not easy.

All of these things make therapy not easy. But the more important message here is that while therapy might not be easy, it is worth it.

For me, it’s really difficult to put a price tag on my mental health. Without my mental health I wouldn’t have my livelihood, and I might not have my life. I have prioritized therapy as an expense over other things in my life. I have worked to find a therapist that is a good fit for me, and one that I can trust. And I am now in a position where if I work at it I can improve my state of being.

Therapy is worth it in more ways than I could count or explain in a blog post. Therapy can restore your hope that you can have a happy life. Therapy can help you to find the things that mental illness or burnout or exhaustion might have robbed you from, like your confidence, self-esteem, and motivation. It can empower and give you the tools to help yourself when you need it.

So overall, if you’re reading this and you’re considering trying therapy, I strongly encourage you to try it! If you’re in therapy and not happy about it then I strongly encourage you to try a different therapist or a different type of therapy. Most importantly I encourage you to not give up. You’re a strong person for seeking help for yourself. And while therapy might be tough at times, just remember how worthwhile it will be.

Listen to Your Body

Listen to Your Body

Your body always knows what it needs before you know what it needs. And if you listen closely, you can hear it. 

When we are stressed, the body will exhibit signals, from extremely minute to obviously loud, and we can use these signals to understand and cope with the stress we are experiencing.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress, because stress manifests itself differently in different people.

The next time you feel stressed, if you are able, stop whatever it is that you are doing. Take a minute and listen to your body. Scan from your toes to the crown of your head and examine what you feel. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are your calves tingling? Is your heart rate accelerated or heavy? Are you sweating more than usual? Is your breathing shallow? And how do your head and your mind feel. Does your train of thought feel like whatever is normal for you? Are you feeling aches anywhere? These are just some questions to ask yourself, but the feelings in your body can guide you. I created a worksheet here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to help guide you in this process.

Bodily signals have been a way for the body to speak to the mind in organisms since the beginning of time. The body tells us when to eat, when to drink, and when to rest. Less acknowledged is the body’s ability to tell us when we are stressed.

The body acknowledges extreme threats with a very noticeable stress response. This response acts through the sympathetic nervous system, a part of the autonomic nervous system, which is a system that maintains homeostasis, or balance, in the body. The autonomic nervous system unconsciously acts to keep the body’s many systems in balance. So, without you consciously thinking about it, the body is working to interpret and react to external signals like threats to your body and life.

A sympathetic nervous system stress response is colored by symptoms like an accelerated heart rate and breathing, sweating, and a sense of urgency. This reaction prepares the body (fight or flight) to literally face the danger at hand or run from it. In modern society while such severe threats are much less common, we still experience stress, and stress that can be present for long periods of time.

A good way to listen to your body is to sit in a quite, comfortable place, observe your thoughts and feelings, and write them all down. Do a body scan like I described above. Use a worksheet like the one I created here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to guide you. I know you want to become less stressed, or at least better at managing your stress, and this is the first step in doing just that.

 

Driving in a Car with Anxiety

Driving in a Car with Anxiety

The other night I was telling my therapist how I was dreading going to a friend’s party. I wanted to go to the party. I wanted to show up for my friend. But, I also had a lot of reasons not to. There would be many people there. There would be many people there that I didn’t know. What it all boiled down to, was me not wanting to go to a friend’s event because of my social anxiety.

Then, my therapist said something that really resonated with me. The way I’ve been living my life, is with my anxiety sitting in the drivers seat. Not only has my anxiety metaphorically been sitting in the driver’s seat but it has also been driving me around and controlling everything I do. My anxiety has been controlling my thoughts, my decisions, my life, and ultimately me. My anxiety had become the largest factor in deciding whether or not I would do something, and whether or not I would spend time with a close friend.

My anxiety was controlling me and doing a great job at it!

However, my therapist next encouraged me that we could turn this around. I wasn’t stuck in this state, and I wouldn’t have to live my life, passenger to my anxiety, forever. She vowed we could work until I was the one sitting in the drivers seat, my anxiety the passenger, and they’d pay for it!

There was some comedic relief envisioning me taking control of the car, getting into the drivers seat, making my anxiety be a passenger, and making them pay for the ride. However, the intention is solid, and my therapist was right.

Anxiety, like stress, might not be something we can overcome. It is not something we can be cured of. But it is something that can be compartmentalized and towards which our perspectives can shift.

It is possible for us to learn that we can control our anxiety rather than let it control us.

And I want to share this with anyone living with anxiety. It feels like a true monster at times. But with practice and dedication to treatments like therapy, anxiety becomes a monster that can be calmed, tamed, and ultimately put in the passengers seat.

Anxiety, like stress, might be a natural part of life, and it can be helpful to our human experience at times. However, the trick to dealing with anxiety is in retaining our position in the driver’s seat and anxiety’s place in the passenger seat. That way we retain control of our lives and control of our anxiety. And ultimately can live the way we want to. Not the way our anxiety wants us to.

How to Stress Well while Traveling

stress_well_traveling

Traveling can be stressful. Planning your travel dates, requesting time off from work, purchasing plane tickets, booking accommodations, booking other necessary modes of travel, ensuring your travel documents are up to date, packing… not to mention being in a new place with potentially a different language and culture… the list goes on.

Luckily the joys of traveling outweigh all of these stressors. Otherwise we wouldn’t travel as much, right?

I’ve always had a passion for seeing new places, so I’ve grown to become familiar with the process of traveling, preparing for traveling, and dealing with stress while traveling. Recently I took an 8-day trip to Europe. This trip didn’t require much planning compared to other trips I’ve been on, but nonetheless I still prepared accordingly and practiced several key strategies to anticipate and manage stress during my travels.

I want to share what I’ve learned from my experiences, and the strategies I’ve learned that have helped me to manage stress while traveling. And maybe you can try out several of these tips during your next adventure and let me know how they work for you.

1. Do your research

This one seems straightforward. Do your research! Your research should start as soon as you decide you want to go on a trip. Whip out a word doc or an excel spreadsheet and open a new Google tab. Research where you want to go and find a place that offers what you’re looking for and fits with both your budget and how far you want to travel. Doing initial research to educate yourself about all of the factors that are important to you for your trip will provide you with insurance and also the confidence that you are making the right decision for you.

2. It’s all about preparation

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation for a trip is one of the best ways to keep stress at bay once you are actually on that trip. This tip goes hand in hand with doing your research, and it will help you to avoid situations that could cause stress. Prepare in terms of researching the weather so you can pack temperature-appropriate clothing, research the currency exchange rate so that you know when and how to exchange your currency, research the safest or most fun or communal (whatever it is you’re looking for!) hostels so you increase your chance that you will be staying at a hostel that you will enjoy. Bring back-ups of essential items like travel documents and credit cards in case of emergencies that you cannot fully prepare for. Preparation for a trip will help to minimize the possibility of stressful situations cropping up and catching you by surprise.

3. Mentally plan out or visualize how your trip will unfold and prepare accordingly

Visualize how the trip is going to go. How do you want the trip to go? How will the trip go in the best case scenario? Not only is it useful to visualize how the trip will go so that you can plan and prepare for each leg or day of your trip, but it will also help you to envision the type of experience you are seeking. Visualizing your trip beforehand will help you to imagine potential stressful situations beforehand, and this will allow you to prepare for, or at least know when to expect them while on your trip.

4. If you forget something, don’t sweat it

Packing for a trip can be very stressful for me because I want to ensure that I don’t forget anything. For some reason while packing I often think, it would be awful if I forgot something like my toothbrush… I cannot forget it! But in reality, wherever you’re traveling there will be stores for you to purchase anything you forget. Take packing seriously, but don’t sweat it. Keep a list of the things you will need, but remind yourself that it will be OKAY if you do forget something. You can likely buy whatever you forgot once you’re at your destination.

5. Get good sleep and hydrate the week before traveling

Getting good rest and hydrating well the week before traveling is important. It’s not always feasible, but if possible, you should try to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night during the week leading up to your trip. You should also make sure to drink plenty of water and fluids like coconut water. Traveling takes a lot of energy out of a person and continuing to stay well rested and well hydrated the week before your trip will help you to stay balanced and avoid any immune system weakness while traveling.

6. Hydrate and eat nourishing foods while traveling

Similar to the last tip, it’s beneficial to hydrate and eat nourishing foods while traveling. Traveling, especially flying, is very dehydrating to your body. Skip the alcohol and bread on the flight, and drink plenty of water, tea, and liquids like coconut water. Bring your own snacks and water bottle to the airport. Snacks at the airport are overpriced, and since you can take an empty water bottle through security you can fill it up at a water fountain once you’re past security. Taking these precautions will help you to feel better once you arrive at your destination. Retaining your physical strength will also bolster your mental clarity and ability to manage any unexpected stressful situations.

7. Keep an open mind

While traveling, keep an open mind. Things will not always go according to your plan. When I travel, I like to make a ‘loose’ plan for each day, and one that leaves flexibility in case unexpected opportunities crop up. I also don’t like to make reservations for anything, unless it’s something I absolutely want to do and it requires a reservation. Otherwise, I find reservations to become too stressful. Factors like train delays, language barriers, or getting lost might cause you to take longer than you expected to get to a reservation, and these situations can be very stress inducing. If you plan out your days loosely, and leave plenty of time for whatever might happen, you’ll be better suited if and when a stressful situation presents itself.

8. It’s OK to break away from your plan

In addition to keeping a loose plan, I think it’s also important that you remind yourself that it’s OK to break away from you plan. One of the fun parts of traveling is that you will discover things you didn’t plan for in your research. Perhaps it starts raining unexpectedly and you decide to ditch you plan to head to the park and instead discover a cozy tearoom. Don’t hold yourself to your plan very strictly. Use it rather as a guide of the things you’d like to do. That way, if a situation arises for which you must break away from the plan, you’re less likely to feel stressed by it.

9. Journal through stressful moments

There inevitably will be some stressful moments while you’re traveling. While we can prepare the best we can for whatever stressful situations might come our way, we might still be faced with stressful situations that have been presented to us to challenge us. Accept these moments as situations for learning and growth. Bring a small journal on your trip and write your way through any stressful times (if that’s your preferred method of stress management). Alternatively, take time to meditate, go for a solo walk, treat yourself to a nice meal or cup of tea, or spend time in nature. Release your stress in the healthiest way you prefer, and get back to enjoying your trip.

10. Take the time to reflect

Taking the time to reflect will help you to stay grounded while traveling. Sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself why you wanted to take a trip and what you wanted to get out of it. Take the time to thank yourself for planning out this opportunity for yourself. By choosing to travel, and experience a new place, you are actively committing to your growth as a human being. Reflecting and showing gratefulness to yourself is a natural way to increase levels of feel good hormones, like serotonin and epinephrine, and help you to keep a positive mindset during your travels.

 

 

 

 

How to be Your Own Advocate When it Comes to Stress

When it comes to Stress, you MUST be your own advocate! I cannot stress this enough. It’s one thing to have to manage our stress, and it is another to practice control over the stress in our lives that can be controlled.

Now, when I talk about the stress that can be controlled, I’m talking about the stress we experience from various commitments we make that might cause more strain than joy. If they are commitments we plan willingly, they are not usually sources of stress, but if there is some kind of pressure involved in the commitment, then this situation can be a source of stress as well.

Either way, you are the only person who truly understands your current, active level of stress. You are the only person who understands what exactly is on your plate at any moment, day or week, and you are the only person who can communicate your current level of stress.

Therefore, you are in the position to be the BEST advocate for yourself when it comes to stress, your commitments, and events in your life that you can control. So, how do you practice being your own advocate when it comes to stress? There are many ways, and I’ll talk about some here:

1. Understand your boundaries

Understanding your boundaries is a vital way to advocate for yourself when it comes to your stress and overall well being. Take stock of what is on your plate, and what you are comfortable with having on your plate at any given time. Understand what types of things bring you joy, and more joy than stress.

2. Communicate your boundaries

Once you understand your boundaries you can practice communicating them clearly and effectively. You don’t necessarily need to make your close family and friends aware of your boundaries, or be proactive about asserting your boundaries. Rather, practice saying no to things or commitments that will cause you more stress than joy. Speak calmly and slowly. Be confident! You are entitled to your boundaries.

3. Understand that other people, too, have boundaries

Other people have boundaries when it comes to stress. One of the best ways of advocating for yourself when it comes to stress is by showing that you respect other peoples’ boundaries when it comes to stress. Acknowledging other peoples’ boundaries will show them that you care about their well-being, and hopefully they will treat you the same way in return.

4. Ask for help when you need it

Asking for help is difficult. It is something I struggle with, but have been practicing recently at work. Some people see the idea of asking for help as a sign of weakness, and this might keep them from asking for help when they really need it. But it is a fact of life that you’re going to need help at times. You can be brave and go it alone, or you can be brave and seek help in close friends, mentors at work, or family when you need it. Trust that the people you ask for help will say no or be honest if they genuinely think they cannot help you in the way you are seeking.

Advocating for yourself when it comes to stress is extremely important. You cannot expect someone else to do it for you, and if you do lean on someone else to do it for you this isn’t necessarily 100% honest or sustainable. You deserve a life with only the stress you choose to take on. There is stress that you can control, and advocating for yourself is a great way of exhibiting control over that stress.

Tips for Managing Overwhelming Anxiety

todolist postI woke up this past Monday extremely anxious. Anxious about going to work, anxious about having enough time to finish all of the tasks I needed to finish at work, anxious that the tasks not only wouldn’t get accomplished but that they wouldn’t get accomplished well. I woke up anxious also about non-work stuff. Over the weekend I realized that I am leaving for Europe in less than two weeks and have soo much to do before then. Packing, laundry, planning, double-checking that I have everything I need for the trip.

Other life tasks piled on this list as I thought about how I still need to schedule the colonoscopy and wisdom tooth-removal surgery I’ve been putting off for months. I also got summoned for jury duty the day after I return from Europe and need to figure that out. And something that was bogging me not only in terms of anxiety but making me feel weird emotionally was that I needed to figure out a pet-sitting situation for my newly adopted dog while I am gone. I had booked this trip long before I adopted her, and I adopted her with the understanding that the guy I was seeing at the time would take care of her while I’m gone. Well that relationship didn’t work out and thus I lost my hopeful pet-sitter.

All in all, my brain felt like it was going to EXPLODE with the amount of things I needed to accomplish.

With this anxiety my sleep, too, has suffered. I’m not a good sleeper, and I never have been. But in times where I’m particularly anxious I have restless sleep or very vivid, haunting dreams that leave me waking up exhausted rather than rested.

Now that it’s Saturday, and I’ve worked through the week and worked through the anxiety, I want to share some tips that got me to the less anxious place that I am currently at now.

1. Write a daily to-do list

When the source of your anxiety is having what seems like a surmountable amount of things to do on your mind, one of the best things you can do is get those thoughts out of your mind and on to paper. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and write down everything you need to accomplish this week, or everything you need to accomplish in the future that is currently in your mind. Write one thing per line. Next, prioritize these items in order of what needs to be accomplished sooner to what can be accomplished later. If throughout the day you think of more things that are not on this list, add them to the list. As you accomplish things on your list, cross them off. Crossing items off a to-do list literally releases serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and your brain will elicit a feeling of relief.

2. Adjust your Mindset

Remember, life happens one day at a time. You can only attend to one task at a time, and you can only be expected to accomplish one thing at a time (unless you’re multi-tasking, which I don’t really recommend you do). Adjust your perspective and remind yourself to take things one day at a time.

3. Move your Body

Moving your body will help to relax your mind. I’m usually ok at getting enough movement in my day, but this week I went on two walks during my workday as opposed to the usual one walk I schedule in my day. Moving your body increases blood flow and oxygen distribution throughout your body and to your brain, and will help you to feel less anxious. Moving could also help you to pass off anxious energy. High intensity workouts like running or boxing allow you to transfer your anxious feelings through your movements, and also clear your mind. Think of your anxiety like energy that can be transferred, and punch (a punching bag!) or run it away.

Although there are more tips for dealing with anxiety, in this post I wanted to focus on those that helped me this past week, and that can help specifically for the type of anxiety where you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list.

I hope these tips can be useful for you! And feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions:)