Stress – it’s a matter of choice

Personal note

For many of us, the busy part of the year runs from September through May, and we spend the late summer gearing up for the flurry of activity that we are sure to encounter.

In fact, it has already started, with requests coming in for me to speak at such venues as the 2012 Midwest Worksite Health Promotion Conference as well as numerous smaller workplaces.  It is refreshing to see how seriously employers are taking the health crisis for which stress is a major piece of the foundation.

On a lighter note, I am now mastering – well, trying out – Pinterest, that visual board where you can post pictures to illustrate what you have to say.  Check out my “People I Admire” board to be introduced to women who truly are making a large difference in the world, and whom you may want to meet. Feel free to ‘re-pin” the posts, so that other people can benefit from these introductions, too.

Stress – it’s a matter of choice

It’s time for a reminder about the basics of good stress management, and especially about the skills you can easily master that will make you more stress-resistant – i.e., less likely to develop a stress response that you have to “handle.”  Life should be about more than just “handling” negative events; it should be about freeing you to make exhilarating choices.Over the past few decades, information on stress management has mushroomed into a huge field.  Yet, with all this attention, stress hasn’t gone away; it is now estimated that 85% of sickness is due to stress.

Luckily, we now know that only 10% of stress is due to what happens to us; 90% is due to how we think about what happens to us. And that we can change.

First, make sure that when you are faced with stress – a job change, a deadline, moving, etc. – you get enough deep, restful sleep.  Make it your top priority. Sleep deprivation sets you up for stress, increases your craving for sugar, fat, and salt, and decreases your motivation to exercise.  Good sleep can make molehills out of mountains.

Second, you must remember that “stress makes you stupid” which means that, under stress, you make stupid choices.  Here’s a way to slow down and consider more options, using the Stress Buster Formula I teach all my clients: Pause, Breathe, Choose:

Pause:  That’s all – when you feel irritated, angry, sad, or just plain rushed, just say gently,  “Stop it” to yourself.  Then pull yourself together and take the next step.

Breathe:  Let the muscles of your chest and belly go and breathe in slowly to the count of four, letting your entire body fill with air like a slowly inflating balloon.
Then exhale for four counts.  Repeat several times.  Once you have done this, you are now able to proceed to the final step.

Choose:  Look at how you are responding to the situation, and ask yourself a question or two, such as  “In the long run, what really counts?”  or  “How bad will it be if I am a few minutes late?” “Will worrying now make the situation better?”

Just contemplating these questions and the answers you come up with will slow down your stressful thinking.

(The above article will appear in Kristen Brown’s soon-to-be published book, The Happy Hour Effect:  12 Secrets to Minimize Stress and Maximize Life.)

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