Recently, I've learned a few ways to identify my biggest sources of stress:
- Thoughts during Exercise When I wake up in the morning to start my workout -- whether it's sweaty heart-pounding cardio or serene yoga postures, as I begin, my mind is flooded with what is worrying me or causing me stress. I used to think this was interruptive to my workouts and now I see it as an indication of what I need to either cut out of my life or work on. Often the workout will leave me less stressed, but the issue is still there and even though more relaxed, I need to work on it or it will resurface the next day (or when I lie down to sleep -- Oops! I just gave away the second one).
- Sleep Deprivation: If I'm overworked, sometimes my body responds by falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. But other times, thoughts swirl around in my head for hours and I just CAN'T get to sleep (or I wake up in the middle of the night for hours tossing and turning). Annoying to say the least! When your body needs the sleep the most, it sometimes can't get it because of stress. So what do you do? Give your brain new messages. Tell yourself all of the things that went well that day. Think of all that you accomplished, even if it's as simple as laughing with a friend and bringing her joy. Balance out the negative by recognizing all the positive that happens in your life. Counting your blessings is another way to recognize the good.
- Declining Mood: Maybe this sounds oversimplified, but if you're no longer enjoying your days, then something needs to go. Not all of life can be rainbows and prancing ponies (I stole this phrase from my niece who once complained about all of us "glass half-full" types☺), but we should be happy or content at least most of the time. If not, you need to identify if you are indeed over-scheduled, if you have friends or relatives who are draining you instead of supporting you. Cut out what you can that causes you stress and your mood will elevate. Not everything is on our control, but do what you can and you will see a difference.
- Negative Media: We all know it. The media isn't in the business to cheer us up or bring us joy. They may not even be there to entertain us. Their bottom line is making money, which is often obtained by what will get our attention. I'm sure there are plenty of artists and journalists out there fulfilling their life-long passions, but the decision-makers for news and information choose what will make them money or promote their ideas. Often this leaves us overwhelmed with the imbalance of misery and contention paraded before our eyes. Do what you can to avoid this cause of stress. Listen to your own music (may I suggest Sting?) instead of a radio, play your favorite DVD when you want to unwind instead of watching the news. We play plenty of carefree sitcoms from the 60s in our home and absolutely love it.
- Personal Media: Our ever so portable computers (laptops, iPads and smart phones) can also be a major distraction to the simplicity and joy in life. I learned at the middle school Back-to-School Night last week that it takes 7 minutes for our brains to focus back on what we were doing before we stop to read a text. Sometimes texts are happy interruptions. Other times they are adding to our To-Do List or mental stress and need to be paced. I could write a whole post about this (and likely will), but just be aware of the complications a handy dandy notebook can be and try to not make it quite so available to yourself so you can keep your focus on your family and friends right in front of you and what you need to get done throughout the day.
The older, wiser me now believes that stress is like pain -- it's a signal to our bodies that something is wrong. Just as a painful burn tells your hand to stop touching the flame, the stress is trying to tell us that we need to make some changes so that we can be at ease once again. Listen to your body and do what you need to do to help your body and mind enjoy life.
Top Photo by loop_oh