Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Finding your decompression chamber

decompressionArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

Each morning I  walk about a mile from the train station to get to my office. At the end of the day I make the same trek in reverse. Colleagues who hear that I ‘have’ to walk so far each day offer their condolences. My kindhearted coworkers regularly offer me a ride, especially when the wind is whipping up or the rain is pounding down. I often decline.

What they don’t realize is that the walk is one of my favorite parts of the day. I climb steep steps, cross a footbridge above the freeway, meander along neighborhood sidewalks, and take a short jaunt through my ‘woods’, a clump of mature trees that casts a shady retreat for the green grass below,  a distinct contrast to the concrete jungle that surrounds  it. This daily walk has become my decompression chamber of sorts…that place in between the stressors of life where I feel no stress. Something about moving my legs, breathing in fresh air, and being out in nature, though only for a brief 15 minutes, relieves my worries and cares that have built up either on the morning commute or during the work day.

We often think of stress as the troublesome things that happen to us and around us, the tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. But in actuality, stress is internal. It is our somatic response to external events that are perceived as taxing. From the website http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 we learn this: “When you encounter a perceived threat — a large dog barks at you during your morning walk, for instance — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.”  Wayne Dyer, philosopher, author and speaker, aptly states it this way:

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

That being said, how does your ‘stressful thinking’ appear in your day to day life? Maybe it shows up as moodiness or anxiety. Other signs may include dry mouth, nervous laughter, inability to think clearly, tears, impulsive behavior, headaches, fatigue, tense muscles, to name a few . We’ve all experienced one or many of these on occasion. Maybe for you it’s every day – or every hour of every day. Though normal under trying circumstances, these behaviors can be self-defeating and can lead to much more serious symptoms if left unattended. When stressors and their symptoms are ever-present, our “fight or flight’ reaction stays in “on” mode. Over a period of time, this creates an overexposure to stress hormones that can throw most all of our body’s processes out of whack, and puts us at risk for health issues such as anxiety, headaches, sleep issues, heart problems, depression, digestive problems, weight gain, and concentration impairment.

Not only can poorly managed stress lead to health problems, it can elicit other unhealthy behaviors like excessive eating or drinking, criticism toward others, negativity, and procrastination. Think back on the last time you felt a high degree of stress. Did this affect your outlook on life in general and/or influence the way you treated others?

Situations that cause us to feel stress are a part of everyday life and they’re probably not going away any time soon.  But there are coping mechanisms we can develop to navigate them when they do occur. Those who have developed this emotional intelligence competency of stress management can sense early on when they are experiencing rising agitation, and can maintain composure to minimize hostile reactions. They have learned to not sweat the small stuff and have developed a high tolerance for frustration. It’s not that they don’t feel frustrated, or enjoy being frustrated—they just have learned to stomach it in a manner that doesn’t cause upset. Good stress managers know when to push for what they want and when to back off. They have learned to make choices that have a positive effect versus ones that drag them down.

If the way you typically respond to difficult situations is not working that well for you, it’s time to make a shift.  How? The simple answer is this:

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” –William James.

Nicely put but difficult to do.

So how do we begin to choose a different set of thoughts?

First of all, learn to recognize what you are feeling, in the moment. Take note of the symptoms that you are experiencing most often. What sort of situations trigger these emotions and reactions?  Is there a different way to deal with the stressful situations that can help you avoid some of these symptoms?

Secondly, we need a go-to toolkit of stress management techniques ready and available to pull out of our pocket when needed. Here are some ideas – which of these could work for you during your day?

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Take a walk/exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Practicing thankfulness
  • Making a to-do list
  • Laugh and/or make others laugh
  • Take a nap or go to bed earlier that night
  • Prayer
  • Avoidance (take a break from the people and/or situations that cause stress)
  • Visualization
  • Doing something fun
  • Talking to a friend
  • (add in your own)

I realize not everyone may get to take a 15 minute walk to and from the train station on each side of the workday, but I hope you can take some time to discover your own decompression chamber before the effects of continued stress take their toll.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” –Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

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