Conquering Stress In Difficult Times
The article was derived from the newly released book HAVEN’T YOU SUFFERED ENOUGH? Clinically Proven Strategies to Conquer Stress by Dr. Brenda Lyon, PhD, CNS, RN. Dr. Lyon’s message is grounded in validated theory, research and her over thirty-year study of stress.
We’ve been experiencing very difficult times in the last four months. COVID-19 and civil unrest has brought increased demands along with uncertainty giving rise to even more stress. Although you know how to take care of and protect yourself, your family and your colleagues, current circumstances at work and in your home likely increase your demand load. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to prevent and eliminate stress by actively managing your demands, maximizing your resources and proactively directing your thoughts. The aim of this article is to provide self-care tips that can help you successfully prevent and eliminate psychological stress.
Causes of stress
To both prevent and eliminate stress, it is essential that you understand what causes it. There are two conditions that must be present for anyone to experience psychological stress:
1) your demands exceed your resources; and
2) you anticipate some type of harm or loss as a result.
When demands outpace resources and you perceive the situation as one in which there is potential for harm or loss of something important (threat), stress is experienced.
Self-care Tips to Prevent and Eliminate Stress
How we talk to ourselves matters because you feel what you think! In a demanding situation rather than saying to yourself “I’m overwhelmed” (not helpful!) say “I’m overloaded” which triggers your need to pay attention to the demands you’re experiencing and go into your DEMAND MANAGEMENT MODE:
1. Eliminate non-essential demands. Non-essential demands are superfluous. Your self-generated demands are often the most troublesome. Unload non-essential self-generated demands (perfectionism or expecting yourself to be your ideal in a situation that is not ideal, focusing only on the negative in situations and negative self-talk). Pay attention to the words you use in your thinking. Get rid of external non-essential demands (set limits and be okay with saying “no”).
2. Manage essential demands. If essential demands are not met there is a likelihood of a negative consequence. Delay what you can and/or delegate what you can. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask for help when you need it! Don’t expect that someone else will do it just the way you would . . . good enough is good enough!
Maximize your resources. Enhance your internal resources. Nurture your self-esteem — be patient with and kind to yourself. Take good care of yourself. Allow time to recharge your batteries and maintain a good energy level through sleep, good nutrition and exercise. Use your social supports -- don’t hesitate to ask for help or pleasant diversions to help you recharge.
Accept situations that you cannot control. Trying to change things and situations that you cannot control is a waste of time and energy and is a root cause of unjustified guilt and situational depression. A better strategy is to accept those situations and work around them, develop contingency plans, and/or go with the flow.
View difficult situations as challenges or opportunities to learn. Use “adventure thinking” and focus on what you will learn from the experience. Find something positive in difficult situations to focus on. You can find something positive, no matter how small, in every difficult situation. Difficult situations and stress are not the same thing!
Avoid dysfunctional anxiety. Anxiety is triggered when you anticipate the potential for harm or loss of something important. Anxiety is functional when it motivates you to take action to create or increase safety. Dysfunctional anxiety, however, is disabling. To deal with dysfunctional anxiety take deep diaphragmatic breaths, be “present” focused (use mindfulness exercises -- prevents “anticipations” and non-helpful “what if” questions), do the “work of worry” – identifying if what your anticipating has a reasonable chance of happening, taking action to prevent or lessen the potential for harm and letting go of anticipations that are not grounded in reality. The work of worry eliminates anxiety when your concerns don’t have a reasonable chance of happening and/or helps you constructively prevent or lessen or deal with actual potential harms/losses.
Avoid unjustified guilt. Avoid idealistic (unreachable) expectations of yourself – or ‘shoulds’ as they result in unjustified guilt. Remember it’s not humanly possible to be your entire ideal self for any role in situations that are not ideal.
Avoid chronic anger. Set realistic expectations of others. Let go of unrealistic (not going to be met) expectations of others. Holding onto unrealistic expectations only damages you. Expect instead what you know will happen, accept it, and move on.
Avoid frustration. Set realistic goals. Break large complex goals down into smaller accomplishable steps or tasks. Give yourself plenty of time, allowing for interruptions.
Plan ahead yet take things a day at a time or a task at a time. Being “present” limits your focus to the now of what needs to be done maximizing your effectiveness on the task at hand.
Manage your environment. Find a system of organization that works for you and use it! It’s tough to function in chaos. Chaos contributes to feeling out-of-control and wastes time. Also, choose to be around or influenced by people that you enjoy – who uplift you. Avoid naysayers and chronic complainers as much as possible.
Attend to your spiritual self in whatever way works for you.
Maintain a sense of humor. Choose to be around people who can laugh. Create humorous experiences by reading humorous literature or watching humorous shows. Laugh a lot!
Allow yourself to grieve. Accept that any significant loss can trigger a complex of grief emotions. Allow yourself to be sad as it is a reminder of the importance of what was lost. Be patient with yourself as you explore establishing new or revised patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing as a result of the loss.
Maintain a grateful attitude. Every morning, think about what you’re grateful for . . . you can’t feel grateful and stressed at the same time!
Brenda L. Lyon, PhD, CNS, RN, is the author of the book “Haven’t You Suffered Enough? Clinically Proven Methods to Conquer Stress”.
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