Why Stress Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

stress

If you’re trying to breathe and stay calm in more stressful situations and generally remain cooler under pressure, then you’ll often be approaching the idea of stress as something ‘bad’ that you need to ‘fix’ or address. Actually though, this is the wrong way to think about stress and it’s even responsible for some of the issues associated with it. The perception is that stress makes us less confident, less able to make decisions and generally weaker. But the reality couldn’t be further from that. In fact, stress actually makes us much stronger and also improves our performance in various other ways too.

How it Makes You Stronger

When you’re stressed, it triggers your body to release neurotransmitters and hormones which include adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Together, these contribute to pain relief, an increased heart rate, dilation of the blood vessels, increased blood viscosity and tension in the muscles. Blood and oxygen are directed away from the digestive system and immune system and instead they’re directed to your muscles and brain. This makes you faster and stronger and therefore better able to escape danger or confront it head on. What’s more is that it improves your focus and alertness and improves your ability to act quickly and respond to threats. If you’re in a fight then, or an athletic contest – stress can actually help you to perform better and achieve more.

How Stress Motivates Us

At the same time, stress has the positive effect of motivating us. An example of this might be when we’re studying, at which point it’s often anxiety that makes us revise more or double check our work. The same goes for interviews and any other scenario where the outcome relies on us putting in work. This type of positive motivating stress is called ‘eustress’ and people tend to be more successful if they experience this to a good degree.

stress

The key then is not to completely eradicate stress but rather to control it. By being able to dictate when you become anxious and how much stress you experience, you can thereby improve your ability to stay while at the same time tapping into the heightened strength, speed and intelligence that comes from a stress response. Next time you find yourself feeling anxious, don’t try to fight it (which will only make you more stressed ironically) but instead lean into it and channel it!


Soothing Tools

How House Plants Can Reduce Your Stress

house plants

Want a quick hack that can improve your stress and help your health in a number of other ways? Then just get some plants and put them around your home! Plants in your home have been shown in countless studies to be highly effective for improving mood and general health and there are a number of reasons for this. Read on and we’ll examine why house plants are so useful for stress levels and how you can benefit from them.

The Effect of Plants on Stress

It has been known for a while now that having plants around can improve the mood of an environment. Research has shown, that plants help to combat stress, depression and other negative emotions. In fact, many businesses are encouraged to add plants to their office environments in order to build staff motivation. Studies show that having plants help their staff deal with large workloads and to combat feelings of stress.

So what’s going on?

Well, the effect harkens back to our days in the wild. When we were still evolving, we would have had to seek our vegetation in order to stay alive. In the African savanna, seeing large patches of green would have meant that we had found areas rich in natural resources. Here we would be able to find food, shelter, hydration and nourishment.

As such, it seems that we still have a similar response to seeing plants. Our bodies still respond by engaging our ‘rest and digest’ state via parasympathetic nervous system activation. Our heart rates slow down and we become more relaxed. Even just seeing the color green has been shown to have this effect!

house plants

Other Effects

house plants

There are other benefits of having house plants around too. One is that they can help to improve creativity. This is a byproduct of increased restfulness – and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that we are at our most creative when we’re more relaxed. This way we lose the ‘tunnel vision’ that comes from stress and focus and instead we’re able to explore different ideas and alternative solutions to problems. Having plants around helps us to get into this state of mind and thus helps us discover more novel and creative solutions to our problems.

Plants can also help to boost our general health by cleaning the air and increasing oxygen. This has again been shown in several studies and it has been suggested that we should keep a few plants around for every family member to improve air quality.


Feel Better Now

Stress-Free Stress Management Checklist

stress check list

Looking to improve your stress levels?

Ironically, stress management can end up being stressful in itself! Knowing you have a problem with stress is of course the first step towards getting better but it also means you now know you have a problem… and it means you have a long road stretched out in front of you to ‘recovery’.

If only there were a stress-free way to manage stress… like a checklist for instance!

Do You Have a Stress Addiction?

The first point of order is to consider the possibility that you may have a stress addiction. Unlikely though it may sound, stress addictions are common as we find ourselves unable to pull away from work and other high intensity activities.

* If you ‘thrive under pressure’ and if you can never take time off, you may well have a stress addiction.

* If you feel bored and fidgety when you’re unwinding, you may have a stress addiction

* If your friends and family complain that they never get to see you, this is a sign of a stress addiction

* If you feel constantly ‘wired’ then you may have a stress addiction.

The first step to overcoming stress then is to recognize that you may feel it’s difficult to change these habits: but you must in order to gain freedom from stress.


Identifying Your Stressors

A good place to start when tackling stress is to look at your stressors. Stressors are things that cause stress and these can include things like work and debt. At the same time though, they can also include slightly smaller things in many cases.

Common stressors include…

– Impending deadlines

– Calls you need to make and don’t have time for

– Angry bosses

– Awkward colleagues

– Friends or partners who are angry with you

– Arguments

– The commute to work

– Untidy homes

– Health problems

– Inability to pay bills/debt

stress management

What you’ll notice is that some of these things are rather small and easy while others are big and abstract. A good place to start is by dealing with the smaller problems that you can tackle more easily. You might also be able to break down bigger problems into smaller issues.

For instance ‘work’ can actually mean:

– Awkward colleagues

– Bad bosses

– Uncomfortable working environments

– Unpleasant commute

– Painful working hours

– Large workloads

– Impending deadlines

So even if you can’t change your job, you may be able to deal with some of these specifics. Where will you start?


Good Habits
for Stress Management

A lot of these problems wouldn’t occur if you were to use good stress/time management habits.

Here are some good examples:

stress mangement
Stress Man. Businessman suffers from a headache

* Little and often – instead of letting your dishes pile up, try tackling them sooner so that they never build up to that level.

* The pomodoro technique – are you prone to procrastination? Get around this tendency by using the pomorodo technique: segregating your working hours into periods of work and rest using a timer.

* The 80/20 law – if you’re self-employed, you might find that 80% of your work comes from 20% of your clients. Cut the rest.

* Close open loops – don’t let things continue to stress you out over the long term. If you have a call to make, make it sooner and ‘close the loop’.


Lifestyle Changes for Stress Management

You should also apply these lifestyle changes to make stress easier to cope with:

1. Make sure you sleep well by going to bed at a similar time every day, by having 30 minutes to calm down with a book and by relaxing into bed

2. Make sure you give yourself breaks and holidays occasionally! No one should work 365 days a year!

3. Exercise – exercise improves stress and energy in numerous ways.

4. Eat healthily

5. Wake up with a daylight lamp, not a blaring alarm!


Dealing With Acute Stress with Mangement Tools

Finally, try to learn to deal with acute stress.

Some things that can help here include:

* Breathing more slowly which will activate the parasympathetic nervous system

* Learning mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy

* Reminding yourself of why you shouldn’t be stressed

* Removing yourself from the situation

There you have it: you now have all the tools and know-how to begin your move towards a stress-free life!


Other Soothing Tools

Prioritize More if you Want to be Successful

priorities

Why does Organization help Success?

When you want to be successful, you have to prioritize. This often means that some things get overlooked and unfortunately, sometimes they are things that you don’t want to overlook. But you have to make sacrifices if you want to achieve your goals and that means deciding what is most important, and working on it first and foremost.

The reason for this is simple: we want too many things. Human beings are famous for wanting too much. It’s like our motto, especially here in America. More, more, more. This is true in the food that we eat, it is true of the things that we buy and it is true of the money that we make. Of course, it is also true of the things that drive us and the goals that we have, and that’s not a bad thing.

The Problem

The problem is, when you have too many things that you want to accomplish, you aren’t going to have time for them all, and unless you prioritize, you are probably going to end up doing the things that are the most fun rather than the things that are the most important.

Example

Let’s look at an example of this. Meet Richard. Richard is trying to make a list of the things that he wants to accomplish over the next five years. Here is what he has written down.

  • Learn 5 new languages (1 per year) – Spanish, German, American Sign Language, French and Italian
  • Learn how to play musical instruments like a pro – first guitar and then piano
  • Learn how to do my own taxes and keep track of business taxes
  • Start my own business – some kind of retail store that is unique and fills a need
  • Volunteer more – do some church work, homeless shelters, give to charity
  • Become more organized so that I never miss appointments and always know where stuff is
  • Lose 50 pounds and get in shape like I was when I was in my 30’s
prioritize

We’ll stop here because you probably get the idea. Richard wants to do so many things, but accomplishing them will take up far too much time. For example, learning a new language in a year will take about 30-45 minutes each and every day. If you added up all of his stuff just from this partial list, half the day would be gone.

That’s why prioritizing is vital. If you cannot choose what is most important and work on it first and most often, you are going to accomplish very little.


More Coping Tools

How Bad Habits Become Good Habits

bad habits

You may be familiar with the idea that you cannot get rid of bad habits – you need to replace them with good habits instead. The reasoning behind this is that your mind thinks that you are taking something important away when you stop a bad habit; but when you simply start a good habit that pushes the bad habit out of the way, then you feel like you are giving yourself something.

So, what is the actual process in which bad habits become good ones? This is an important thing to understand, because it can help you get rid of all of your bad habits eventually. This article will go through the process step-by-step, using example bad and good habits.

Example Bad Habit: Skipping Breakfast

Example Good Habit: Having a Healthy Breakfast

So, you want to replace the habit of skipping breakfast with having a good, healthy breakfast instead. There are numerous reasons to do this, and studies have proven that people who eat breakfast are healthier, get more accomplished and are happier. Let’s go through the process of replacing the bad with the good one step at a time.

  1. Sit down and create a list of breakfast foods that you like. Then go out and buy them and keep them stocked in your kitchen.
  2. Stop eating food at 5:00PM each day. That way when morning comes you are hungry enough to eat something.
  3. Write down the benefits that come with eating breakfast and then post them somewhere that you will be able to see them when you get up in the morning.
  4. Make a habit out of going to the kitchen and looking at the food that is there. You don’t have eat anything at first. Just be aware that some good foods are stocked in your kitchen.
  5. Start small. Cut an orange into segments and eat one segment per day.
  6. Increase this until your body actually starts looking forward to having that orange every day.
  7. Don’t skip any days once you start eating. You may revert back to your old habit of not eating breakfast.
  8. Create a breakfast trigger. For example, as soon as you finish your first cup of coffee, then make something for breakfast.
  9. Increase the amount of food until you are having a full, healthy breakfast.
  10. Write down any benefits you notice from eating breakfast.

Soothing Tools

How Anxiolytics Work (And Whether You Should Take Them)

What are Anxiolytics?

Anxiolytics treat anxiety and panic attacks. Whether you regularly find yourself having panic attacks or you simply find yourself feeling stressed from time to time, then you may have been recommended anxiolytics by your doctor. These medications work in a number of ways to help combat both the psychological and physiological symptoms associated with it.

But how do they work?

Neuroscience

All anxiolytics work by changing the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that are associated with stress or anxiety. Stress is essentially caused by the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is our body’s chemical response to danger. When we think we’re under some kind of threat, we release adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine, cortisol and more and this leads to an increase in our heartrate, dilation of the pupils, dilation of the blood vessels and even increased blood viscosity. The muscles become stronger and we become more alert but the immune system and digestion are suppressed until we become safer.

Anxiolytics
Blackboard with the chemical formula of Alprazolam

Most anxiolytics work by increasing the amount of a substance called ‘GABA’ or gamma aminobutyric acid. This is an ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter. The purpose of an inhibitory neurotransmitters is to suppress activity in the brain and communication between brain cells. This leaves us feeling less alert and less anxious which in turn causes those anxiety-related neurotransmitters to subside. Essentially it works by sedating us slightly. Other anti-anxiety medication works by increasing serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter and when there’s lots of it in the brain, we feel happy and cheerful. Increasing this can therefore reduce feelings of anxiety and dread.

The Challenge with Anxiolytics

anxiolytics

The problem is that both these methods can lead to unwanted side effects as well as addiction. When you increase or decrease specific neurotransmitters, the brain responds by reducing its natural production of those chemicals. They also reduce its ability to respond to them (by removing ‘receptors’). Thus you can develop to the point where you need stronger doses of the medication to get the same results. Likewise, you can find yourself feeling even worse when you’re not using the medication. This is called ‘tolerance and dependence’.

Furthermore, using medication like this does not address the root cause of the problems. The root is the thought processes that lead to that chemical change. While anxiolytics might be useful in the short term for preventing the on-set of an attack, it’s important to use other methods in the long term to solve the problem.


Therapy Tools

The Harmony Safety Care Plan

Harmony Self Care Plan

The Harmony Safety Care Plan is used as an emotional regulation tool as well as a harm reduction technique. If you notice at the top of the Harmony Safety Care Plan is the Suicide Hotline’s number. The first thing a person sees is how to get help immediately. Also notice the plan follows the Triangle of Safety model.

The Triangle of Safety works from the general to the specific. Working from what you can do, where you can go, to the various of individuals you can ask for help. As a result, you realize you have more control over yourself and abilities. It moves your locus of control from external to internal.

Triangle of Safety
Triangle of Safety

Step One

Starting at the beginning, step one, looks at your warning signs for an emotional crisis. These include dark thoughts, nightmares, heavy depressive moods. Warning signs include the types of situations you put yourself in such as risky behavior. For example being around people you know are not good for you or going to “triggering places.” Pay attention to these maladaptive coping skills and warning signs.

Step Two

Step 2, identifying your internal coping strategies. What are the activities you can do to take your mind off the problems without contacting another person. Coping skills that only involve you and other items. These strategies include meditation, mindfulness, physical activity, showers, video games, and watching favorite show. Try to work on urges yourself first and if those do not work then move to step 3.

Step Three

People and social settings that provide distraction make up step 3 of the Harmony Safety Care Plan. Social settings can include support meetings, game night with family or friends, going to the park. People here are individuals in your outer or inner circle of friends that can provide a distraction. They may not be the people you who super vulnerable with. We save those people for Step 4.

Step Four

Step 4 involves the people you can for help. People from your inner circle make up this list. You need to identify at least 2 people. Make sure to write their numbers down as well because when we are emotionally flooded we forget numbers. In a crisis your phone maybe out of battery life. It is a good idea to write the numbers down.

Step Five

Speaking of numbers step 5 involves the contact information of 24/7 professional agencies. These agencies include local urgent care services and national urgent care services. The ones we have are the National Suicide hotline, texting a national hotline, and a line directly for teenagers.

Step Six

Step 6 of the Harmony Safety Care Plan contains therapist contact information.  It is important to have therapists’ and psychiatrists’ contact information so you can communicate with them. As a result they can help you and provide the resources you may need.  Lastly, is making your environment safe.

Step Seven

What do you need make your environment safe during an emotional crisis? For example some people who take medications will hand over the medication to a trusted individual. Therefore, they can only take their medication as prescribed. Other individuals remove all sharp objects from their homes. Number one thing is if you have firearms in your house please give them to someone else while you are having an emotional crisis. It is just best practice not to have firearms around during these times.

Finally, write down at least one thing that is important to you and worth living for. Even if it just to see the sunrise or your pet. These are both valid reasons to stick around on this plane of exist. Once you have completed the The Harmony Safety Care Plan put a copy in your self-soothe kit, wallet, or bag. Also give a copy to your therapist and/or psychiatrist. Lastly, you may want to consider giving a copy to the people you ask for help from. The more the individuals how to help you the better they serve you during a crisis.

If you want to know about the Harmony Safety Care Plan watch this video

Here is how to make a self-soothe kit

Last, but not least an explanation of the Triangle of Safety

Ear Seeds … Discreet Little Patches That Can Help You Chill

ear seeds

Ear Seeds for Mental Health?

Struggling with depression?  Dealing with anxiety that interrupts daily life?  Trouble focussing?  None of these are what would be considered “rare” and yet how many of us struggle with any/ all of these, more frequently than we care to admit?  Or perhaps more accurately … feel ashamed to admit?

Often times, whatever the trigger or triggers are that initiate a bout of anxiety, depression or the inability to focus, they seem to happen at the most inopportune time.  For instance … being hit with a panic attack right before you are about to give a speech.  You’ve practiced, you’re ready, you’ve been ready for weeks.  Yet NOW … anxiety, the little bitch that she is, decides to show up.

And in that moment, it’s not like you have a lot of options available. Or is there?

Ear seeds!  What, you’ve NEVER heard of them?  Okay, stay with me …

Ear seeds are used in what is also known as Auriculotherapy, and it’s not a new practice.  Auriculotherapy has been practiced in Asian cultures for the last 2,000 years.  It has only recently caught on in western culture in the last 40. How ear seeds work is, they apply acupressure to specific reflex points on the ear.  The “ear seeds” are tiny and discreet; so unless someone is invasively all up in your business, no one is going to see them. When you need to calm yourself, focus and just feel more centered, simply press on the seeds for 5-10 seconds to activate the pressure points. 

ear seeds

No needles, no need to have your acupuncturist by your side 24/7 and no need to put your life on hold … just your ear seeds that can be worn for up to a week at a time.


Soothing Tools

Fear Setting for Stress Reduction

fear setting

Fear Setting for Stress Reduction


Fear setting is an amazing tool that can be used to get over almost any kind of fear or doubt in your mind. Mental health professionals, self-help gurus and productivity experts recommend it as a means to get over fears of taking chances. For example, if you are someone who is thinking about branching out and starting their own business, you might find that fears of failure are holding you back. This is where fear setting would normally come in, to help you overcome those doubts and take a real chance on your future and on your dreams.
But this amazing emotional regulation tool has other uses too. Specifically, it can be a highly powerful tool for overcoming doubts and fears that might be causing you stress. If you’re afraid of losing your job, of your relationship ending, or of your credit score becoming so bad that you can’t get a loan… this can cause you underlying chronic stress.

The solution?

Fear setting, in order to remove those doubts and focus on what matters.

How to Use Fear Setting

The idea behind this tool is that you are going to write down all the things you find are making you feel stressed. Then, you will look at them and assess on a case-by-case basis, whether they’re really worth stressing about. Are they actually likely to cause you problems, or are you worrying for nothing? For example, often the things that bother you in a relationship are an image of our biggest fear in the relationship. Many fears involve abandonment by a partner. If you’re stressed about work, that often boils down to angst that you might lose your job.

Write down these fears then and then rate them each on a scale of 1-10 for their likeliness. And think about each point. How likely are you really to lose your job? Bearing in mind it’s actually illegal to fire someone without a good reason? Would your partner of 5 years really leave you over one argument? Likewise, come up with a contingency plan for each fear. What would you do if you lost your job? Worst case scenario it might mean moving back in with your parents, but probably you’d find something else faster than that.

fear setting

The moral of the story?

Most of our scary thoughts are inflated in our minds. Once we learn this, they become much more manageable!


Introduction to CBT

cbt

If you’re looking for a way to stay calm in a tense situation or a way to be focussed when all you want to do is relax – then CBT is something you should definitely consider. CBT stands for ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. Essentially, it is a set of tools used as a therapeutic tool when treating anxiety disorders. This also happens to be the preferred method of therapy among most health institutions today.

The best bit? As well as being highly effective and proven in countless studies, CBT is also very simple to teach and use. Here we will take a look at what CBT entails, why it’s so powerful and why it’s very much worth learning.

How CBT Works

CBT is essentially the natural evolution from behaviorism. Behaviorism is a school of psychology that views all of our behaviors and beliefs as trained. We repeat behaviors that create an outcome we are looking for. Behaviors that have been rewarded become reinforced and we perform them more often. Behaviors that have been punished or ignored become less common.

cbt
Diagram of cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT takes this principle and adds an additional cognitive element – showing that we can actually reinforce a behaviour through the way we think. If we have anxious thoughts about an action for instance, then we can find ourselves actually enforcing that association to the point of even developing a phobia. We don’t actually have to experience anything bad – our belief and predictions alone are enough to create the association!

The same can also work in reverse. For example, first, logically break down your fears. Then, explain to yourself why you shouldn’t be afraid of them. Eventually, you can completely remove those phobias.

CBT Example

So how might this work?

A good example is a social phobia, which can be created through the maladaptive belief that you’re going to embarrass yourself, that you’re going to faint or that perhaps you’re in some kind of danger. It is your job then to remove this association through CBT using techniques such as ‘thought challenge’. Thought challenging involves assessing just how realistic a fear is in a logical way and often you’ll be able to disprove your own fears to yourself.

You can then formulate these new thoughts as positive affirmations and actually talk yourself up before big events. Eventually, this can be enough to complete remove the phobia or anxiety – and it’s something that anyone can practice alone at home!

cbt


More Coping tools