Video: How Mindfulness relieves stress
- Why do I keep snapping at people I care about?
- I messing up at work/school too often! How do I fix it?
- I cannot believe I just flipped that person off . . .
- I don’t usually drink so much. What is going on with me?
- My blood pressure is WHAT?! That’s too high!
In big cities like Austin, stress management skills are essential for navigating the ever-building traffic, the overwhelming choice of places to go and do, and of course, the financial strain of trying to live in Austin. So many things going on that even deciding what to do to unwind can create stress! But there is a way to approach stress that helps us leverage the motivation it is trying to create. Stress, like anxiety, is a state of heightened awareness. It is an alert signal that tells us that we need to do something to restore balance.
Symptoms of Stress
- Feeling edgy
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Clinched jaw
- Rapid movements
As stress progresses, you can see other physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional symptoms of stress:
- Muscle tension
- Body aches
- Stomach aches, nausea, constipation, diarrhea
- Frequent illness due to a compromised immune system
- Sleeplessness, excessive tiredness during the day, sleeping too much
- Sexual dysfunction and/or low libido
- Feeling like you have the “jitters”
- Trembling hands
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heartbeat, erratic heartbeat, chest pain
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Grinding teeth or clenching your jaw
- Dry mouth, trouble swallowing
- Obsessive thoughts
- Pessimistic attitude
- Difficulty working through logical problems
- Lashing out at people for minor stressors
- Appetite fluctuation: Eating too much or too little. Excessive carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereal, sugar)
- Substance abuse
- Biting nails, fidgeting/wiggling
- Frequent sighing
- Compulsive behaviors
- A sense of not being in control
- Feeling emotionally flooded/overwhelmed
- Difficulty relaxing
Stress is a fact of life. And stressors in a rapidly growing city like Austin can be different than those in smaller rural areas (where the stress is equally distressing, just different). Traffic in the city may be a major stressor, whereas a farm owner in a rural area may be more directly stressed by a lack of rain.
With stress management, we are not talking about getting rid of any emotions; instead, we are talking about how to effectively respond to them by listening to what they are trying to tell us. By learning to respond to uncomfortable emotions, like stress, we are able to turn them into useful tools that help us find what we are looking for: balance (homeostasis), peacefulness, calmness, joy, etc. Remember, stress creates discomfort, which motivates us to do something different to feel better.
Responding to stress instead of reacting to stress
A ‘Reaction’ is when you act without thinking; for example, somebody says something that you don’t like, and you say something hurtful without thinking. A ‘Response’ is when you take time to consider what you are about to say or do; using the same example, a response would mean that you first consider the impact/consequence of saying something hurtful, then decide to try another direction (ideally, one that helps the situation rather than making it worse). Applied to stress management, we can consider the situation at the start of this section: Late to work, the car won’t start, behind on bills, etc. Just one of “those” days. Clearly, it is stressful right from the get-go. In this case, stress is a state of discomfort that, in spite of its obnoxiousness, is trying to help us. If you just react impulsively, you may kick the flat tire (did I mention that there’s a flat tire, too?), hurt your foot, resulting in a new frustration of a limp and pain. If however, you take the time to consider what needs to happen, you will likely respond by taking a breath, finding your phone on the dashboard, then calling your boss to let them know that you’ll be a little late…or perhaps you think to call a colleague to cover for you so that you can tell your boss that you’ve got things covered already. Or maybe the Uber can show up fast enough to get you to work on time. This does not erase the frustration with the situation, but you can see how it is better than adding a broken toe to the equation.
Letting stress help you, not paralyze you
Since stress is inevitable, we do well when we use it to our advantage as we learn to navigate life’s ups and downs. Like other uncomfortable/undesirable states of mind, we can allow stress to be a ‘warning light’ that tells us when it’s time to take a break, slow down, take a vacation, etc. Just be sure that you know what tends to help you; if you are not sure, then counseling may be helpful for you since sometimes a neutral person can see options that you may have missed.
How to manage stress effectively:
- Take a shower or bath
- Listen to music
- Get a massage
- Play music
- Play a game
- Talk to a friend or family member
- Take a walk in nature (or just sit in nature). We have no shortage of great parks and greenbelts in Austin!
- Drink a soothing drink (Chamomile)
- Simply wash your face
- Breathe in and out with a smooth rhythm (meditation)
- Tend your garden
Stress management FAQ’s
I heard that there is ‘good stress’ and ‘bad stress.’ What is the difference?
It’s true, sort of. The brain only knows general stress, we deem it as ‘good or bad’ depending on what it relates to. Getting a flat tire would be ‘bad’ stress. If, however, you get a promotion, buy a house, or even win the lottery, your body will release the same biochemical cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline, and testosterone, but because those are generally good things, we would call them ‘good’ stress. Any kind of big change puts us in a higher alert state so that we can pay attention to the new circumstances whether its to adjust to heartbreak or new found fortune. Remember, the chemistry is the same, but our interpretation of how it feels is based on context.
If stress is supposed to help us, why do we want to get rid of it?
We don’t! Stress is a survival mechanism designed to protect us, so we want to manage it, not get rid of it. Counseling helps you recognize, interpret and manage stress so that it helps you make healthy decisions. So, what we call ‘getting rid of stress’ is actually just responding to it effectively so it can dissipate.
Why do somethings stress me out, but not other people?
Genetics, how we were taught as kids, and the environment we were raised in all come together to make us who we are. We are all wired differently, raised differently, and in different circumstances, so what stresses us out is a matter of individual differences in who we are.
Stress Management Resources
National Institute of Mental Health – 5 Things You Should Know About Stress
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – Great information and links about stress
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Stress management and stress reduction techniques
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine Live Chat – 1-800-273-8255 is the 24/7 hotline
(512) 472-HELP – 24/7 Texas Crisis Line
Learn about Stress Management: Stress Management Articles
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.