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 to Become Socially Fearless With Hypothesis Testing

fearless

What is Hypothesis Testing?

Hypothesis testing is a concept taken from cognitive behavioural therapy and that involves testing a negative ‘hypothesis’ in order to disprove your fears and help you to overcome an illogical anxiety. This is a technique that you can use to absolutely smash through limiting fears and it can be perfectly targeted towards destroying social anxiety.

How it Works

When you’re afraid of something or something causes anxiety,then normally this is linked to some kind of belief about what will happen. We are not afraid of heights – we are afraid of falling. Likewise, we are anxious in social situations because we think we might stutter, we might get shouted at, or we might make a fool of ourselves. This is the ‘hypothesis’. Hypothesis testing then involves proving how unlikely this is to yourself. In the case of a social phobia, you can do this by simply facing your worst case scenario to see what actually happens.

Putting it Into Practice

Afraid you’ll make a fool of yourself in public and get laughed at? The reality is that most people are kind and understanding. If you actually do stutter or make a mistake people will generally turn a blind eye and be compassionate. You probably know this already on a conscious level, so all that’s left to do is to prove it to yourself so that you believe it on every level. This is where hypothesis testing comes into play and to do tis you’re going to actually make a fool of yourself on purpose.

So find a shop where you don’t visit regularly, go up to the till and then purposefully stutter and act shy and confused. Chances are you’ll be absolutely terrified while doing this but if you can get through it, you’ll find that in 99% of cases, the assistant simply overlooks your struggles and is perfectly polite. And once you’ve done that, you can do it again and again and you’re likely to find the exact same thing happening each time.

hypothesis testing

Of course you might have to build up to this if you’re too scared to begin with. Start by occasionally letting yourself stutter in conversation with friends and then in public. Perhaps try speaking to more strangers over time and generally you can gradually teach yourself that there are much worse things than not sounding perfectly eloquent all the time! People will go easy on you – so make sure you go easy on yourself too.


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Why Motivation Doesn’t Matter

motivation

Motivation for Success?

You may think that motivation is the key to success. Many people do, and that’s why so many people fail at their goals. Motivation is a fickle friend. It’s sort of like the classic literary muse. Sometimes it is there, guiding you along, and sometimes it is as elusive as a breath of fresh air in a fire. Thus, if you wait until you are motivated, you are never going to achieve your goals.

So, what is a person to do then? How do you reach your goals if you aren’t motivated to do so? There is only one way that you can make it through the times when you don’t feel motivated and that is by committing to something and sticking to it.

It is very easy to complete tasks and work on your success when you feel motivated. When you are motivated, every task seems easy and every goal seems achievable. However, when you are not motivated, every task seems like total drudgery. Your goals seem like they will never be realized. When those times come and you cannot conjure up enough motivation to get you through the tasks that you have set for yourself, that’s when you need to sit down and remember the commitments that you have made to yourself.

What if I Lost My Motivation?

There are a couple of steps before that which will help you when the time comes to use commitment to proceed. First, you have to teach yourself that commitment is important, even if it is to yourself. Most people have a habit of breaking commitments to themselves and so it is not a big deal when they do it again. You need to convince yourself that making a promise to yourself is just as important as a promise you make to someone else.You also need to have the commitments laid out and on paper in advance. You aren’t going to be able to use the commitment to force yourself to complete your tasks if you don’t know what they are. Make sure that your commitments are written down somewhere.

motivation
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The bottom line is that you recognize that you are going to have times when motivation isn’t enough, and when that happens, you are going to want to have a plan of action and pre-recorded commitments so that you can push through when you don’t feel like working and get the things that you need done accomplished.


Three Common Causes of Stress in Your Life and How to Deal With Them

causes of stress

What Causes Stress?

One way to tackle stress is to improve your health, your energy levels and your mood. By doing these things, you can help yourself to become more resilient and hardy to stress and you can avoid letting the smaller things bog you down. But that’s a fairly abstract way to combat anxiety that doesn’t always have an immediate effect.

The other route to take then is to look at the specific causes of stress in your life – the stressors – and to remove them. Some of these will be big and some of them will be small, but all of them contribute to raising blood pressure and making us feel a little less calm and relaxed. The problem is, many of us can’t put our fingers on exactly what it is that is causing us stress and even when we do, it’s not always obvious how we can deal with the problems.

causes of stress

Read on then and we will look at some of the most common causes of stress and at what you can do to deal with them once and for all…

The Commute Cause of Stress

Did you know that the only ‘universal fear’ is things heading towards you? Thus, walking to work and having hundreds of people moving the other way down the street is pretty much a recipe for stress – especially if you’re running late or if you have a long way to travel.

One solution then is to avoid the rush hour. You can do this by speaking with your employer and asking them to give you more flexible working hours: perhaps you could work 8am-4pm for instance instead of 9am-5pm? Alternatively, look at other ways of getting in, like cycling. Or just arrive a little early!

‘Open Loops’

Many of us have lots of niggling jobs and stresses in the back of our minds that contribute to our stress. For instance, you might need to call your relative. Or maybe you have a bill to pay. These are what are known as ‘open loops’ and they can drain us of energy, focus and positivity. The solution is to deal with each of them as soon as possible rather than letting them drag on.

The Money Cause of Stress

Money is a huge stress for many of us and can cause many a sleepless night.

The solution? Creating a budget. Budgets show us how much we’re losing and where and allow us to formulate a plan to get back on top. What you will often find is that simply cancelling some of your recurring bills and changing your lifestyle a little can make a big difference and help you to get back in the black.


Stress Mangement Tools

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 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

How Distractions Prevent You from Success

distractions

Distrac…..OH SHINEY!

Distractions are all around us. You probably get distracted by something a thousand times a day. Most people get distracted every few minutes and have to return to the task that they were working on. People with ADHD can get distracted for an hour or more without even realizing that they were off task.

But these kinds of distractions are not the ones that are keeping you from success. There are other distractions in your life and you are probably going to have to get rid of them to achieve your goals. In this article, we are going to discuss four distractions that are preventing you from achieving the success you want.

Online Distractions

The first distraction that we will be discussing is online socializing. If you are like most people, you waste an incredible amount of time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and various other social networks that do nothing for you except tell you what your friends had for lunch. Social media can be important to your success. If you are using social platforms to build a group of people that could buy something from you later, then it is fair to spend some time on social media. Otherwise, limit yourself.

distractions

Friends and Family

Your friends and family may be distracting you from success. It is perfectly fine to spend time with friends and family, but if you are constantly committed to helping them out, going places with them or putting off your work for other people, then you need to pull back and realize that your success is just as important as your relationships.

Power Lunches

Lon lunches are distractions. In corporate American, power lunches are definitely one of the ways that work relationships are built and deals are brokered. But if your power lunches and other functions are not contributing to your personal success, then you need to stop worrying about them and focus on what is really important.

The Siren Song of Possessions

distractions

Finally, you want to avoid the siren song of things. This is the urge to spend money on the things that you think you need in order to be successful. Maybe you think that if you had a faster computer you could get more done. In most cases, that simply isn’t true. You don’t need to spend money on things to become successful and you may need to make some short-term sacrifices in order to achieve your goals.


Soothing 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

How to Get to Sleep When You’re Very Stressed

sleep

I am Too Stressed to Sleep

If you’ve ever been very stressed, then you’ll know that this can make it very difficult to get to sleep. Common when we’re stressed is to lie awake listening to our hearts thudding in our chest and getting even more stressed that we’re not able to drift off and thus re-energize for the days ahead. This is what makes the situation so bad: we know that the less we sleep, the worse the stress is going to seem tomorrow. Ironically, we’ll experience more of the very same stress that is keeping us awake!

So what can you do to overcome that stress and just drift off?

The Right Frame of Mind

The key thing to remember here is that you can’t ‘force’ yourself to overcome stress and you can’t ‘force’ yourself to relax. The whole idea of forcing yourself to relax is actually contradictory. This is where many people fall down: in trying to make ourselves fall asleep we will often start tossing and turning and even getting frustrated and angry that we aren’t sleeping. This only increases our stress more, increases our heart rate more and continues the vicious cycle. If you have ever looked at your alarm clock at 4am in the morning and felt like you’re the only person awake, then you’ll know this well.

So how do you break this cycle? The solution is to stop forcing yourself to sleep and to instead just let it happen naturally. Specifically, this means you should remove the pressure of ‘having’ to fall to sleep. In fact, remove the objective completely.

So when you go to bed, you’re not going to bed in order to sleep any more. Instead, recognize that simply relaxing and resting can actually be very good for you too and allow yourself to do this. Focus on how nice it is to just lie back and not need to do anything and remember that even if you only do that, you’ll still be relaxing and rejuvenating to some degree.

The irony is that as soon as you start enjoying being in bed and as soon as you take away the ‘need’ to fall asleep, you will almost always drift off right away. And not only will this improve your ability to get to sleep but it will also enhance your quality of sleep as you’ll be much more restful.

sleep

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