In this current climate of political unrest, public outrage, violence, natural disasters and the like, it is hard not to feel the turbulence within our psyches and our emotions. We are inundated with immediate news, as our technology allows instant documenting and reporting of some heinous incident or another. All day long, we are made aware of unsettling developments in our community and the world. It’s overwhelming! This constant barrage of upsetting information can easily cause us to feel stress, which when compounded with more and more stress, becomes anxiety.
Stress is a ubiquitous, toxic influence of our time. Our relentless, competitive, materialistic culture seems to manufacture stress, and it is never out-of-stock. The medical community tells us that excessive stress can lead to physical ailments, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and even cancer. And from a mental health perspective, stress left unchecked can create anxiety, which causes emotional distress including nervousness, compulsions, phobias and panic attacks. Since stress is perceived as a natural part of modern day existence, we tend to shrug it off and “suck it up”. And in the process, we continue to lose sleep, pull our hair out, scream at our kids and overindulge in cocktails to take the edge off. But you don’t have to simply accept stress, you can learn to effectively deal with it through relatively simple means. There are two categories for dealing with stress: stress reduction and stress management.
It’s 8:53a.m, and it is taking you three light cycles to get through the intersection located one mile from your office. You drum your fingers on the steering wheel, scream insults directed at less aggressive drivers in front of you, (who have the audacity to stop on red) and intermittently lay on the horn in a desperate attempt not to be late for your 9:00 meeting. You arrive 10 minutes late and slink into the meeting room amid chastising glares. Moments later, having heard nothing that was said because of the lingering effects of your stressful commute, you are startled when your name is called, signaling that it’s time for your presentation. To your horror, you realize that all your materials are sitting on your desk, left behind in the morning’s rush. This example illustrates an opportunity to implement some stress reduction in your planning process. Wouldn’t it make for a much more pleasant and leisurely morning if you set your alarm clock for fifteen minutes earlier and allowed yourself a buffer for traffic? Then, instead of being a hostage at the intersection, you could arrive early enough to get some coffee, gather your notes, and grab the best seat at the conference table before the meeting begins. Stress reduction involves the anticipation of the sources of stress for you, and they’re not the same for everyone. What drives you crazy: oblivious drivers, long lines, inconsiderate or rude people? Whatever it is, think of ways you can limit your exposure to those stressors. Take an alternate, local route with fewer cars, go shopping at off-times or make an appointment at the DMV to avoid long lines, and go the other way when your negative, insensitive co-worker looks like he wants to vent.
Alas, not all stressors are predictable, and it’s hard to avoid what we don’t see coming. Stress management is the concept of learning how to deal with a stressful situation when it arises, without blowing a gasket. The foundation of stress management is establishing balance and grounding from within, so that you carry a sense of calm and peace with you into whatever situation you encounter, creating something like a force field around you. This can be accomplished, in part, through developing your spirituality by meditating, being mindful and having an attitude of gratitude. Try to focus on the things that you appreciate about your life, and nurture yourself by taking the time to meditate and deliberately choose positive thoughts. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Keep calm and carry on,” but a sense of calm doesn’t come naturally to many people. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, notice what is happening to you: do your shoulders tense up, do your hands become sweaty, do you get a knot in your stomach? Honor these sensations and acknowledge them, then take a deep breath. Did you know that stress and anxiety cannot exist in your body at the moment it is filled with oxygen? It’s true. For that brief moment, your body relaxes and you have a reprieve from the anxiety, allowing you to concentrate and focus on the best course of action. Often, when you are up too close to a problem or a stressor, you are at a loss for what to do. If you take a breath and step back, you have a better overall view of the entire picture. Develop a calm, peaceful place within your mind where you can go when stress threatens to overtake you. Think of somewhere you love to be, where you are relaxed and calm—somewhere like the beach or the mountains. Picture yourself there, and try to imagine all the sensations you would have: what do you hear, smell, see, feel?
Cultivating and inner calm is the best defense against stress, anxiety and panic in these turbulent times. We each have the ability to choose whether to be drawn into external chaos, or to go inward and consult with our emotional intelligence to reestablish balance. Building a strong core of inner calm involves learning to ground yourself through meditation, yoga, spiritual practices, breathing exercises and affirmations. When we build a nucleus of calm and peace, we take that with us into a chaotic world, but we are not tossed about in the storm. We choose to plug in to that belief that we are safe, we are loved, and we trust in the universe. A good start to building that inner shield is in developing your first chakra, the root chakra. Some ways to accomplish this are to stand firmly on the ground with feet at hip width, engaging all four corners of your feet. Feel the solidness of the ground and how it supports your body. Or sit on the ground, preferably on grass or raw earth to really connect to the elements. Put you attention on each part of your body that is making contact with the ground, and feel the support and the energy as it is absorbed into your energy.
Many people have done poorly at handling stress throughout their lives, and they develop conditions such as General Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, to name a few. These conditions can be treated through specialized counseling and psychotherapy techniques. EMDR, (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a cognitive technique that helps clients readdress and reframe dysfunctional thinking and traumatic memories in a manner that alleviates the associated pain. Clinical hypnosis helps clients identify patterns and thinking errors that have resulted in their emotional distress. The process of clinical hypnosis in itself is highly relaxing, by design, and provides a respite from chronic stress during the hypnotic experience.
Whatever your level of stress, don’t let it go unchecked. Implement some simple stress reduction and stress management techniques, and begin to cultivate your core of inner calm. And if you’re struggling with more significant stress problems, make the best possible investment in yourself by seeking professional guidance through therapy. Taking that first step can provide tremendous relief , so take a deep breath, pick up the phone and make yourself and your mental well-being a priority!
*Risa Bos is a licensed mental health counselor specializing in anxiety. She is a certified clinical hypnosis provider and a qualified EMDR practitioner. Risa received her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Rollins College in Winter Park, and has counseled clients with anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction and relationship issues since 2008.