by Dr. Sandra Hamilton | Featured Contributor
Stress. Just the word conjures up visions of feeling anxious, tired and stretched to the limit. Allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed by too many demands, decisions, and difficult people often results in feeling as if all that is within us is speeding up, and everything around us is spiraling out of control. Attempting to relax may seem impossible, our lack of focus can lead to frustration, and our responses to others may be irritable and destructive. Unyielding levels of stress may even trigger physical symptoms such as respiratory difficulties, digestive issues, and cardiovascular effects.
Our mind and body signal us when we feel overstimulated. These are the moments when our hands tremble from consuming too much caffeine, or our racing thoughts scatter our concentration. Even positive excitement about an upcoming event can impede our focus on the matter at hand.
Slowing down our breath and quieting our thoughts can effectively manage the discomfort of escalating tension. Consider the following four steps to tame stress and recover a sense of calm:
C: COUNT TO TEN AND BREATHE.
Deep breathing techniques focus our attention away from negative thoughts and induces physical relaxation. Though there are many useful methods, slowly inhaling, taking a pause, and exhaling for a total of ten breaths will slow your heart rate and connect you to your body. Feeling centered will help you regain your sense of calm, and spare you from making impulsive decisions or harsh comments that you later regret.
A: ALTER YOUR THOUGHTS.
Changing our thoughts can positively affect our feelings and perceptions of control. Instead of engaging in a self-dialogue that consists of helplessness and suffering, remind yourself that the situation will pass, could be worse, and may not even matter at some point in the future.
L: LEAVE THE SITUATION.
Sometimes conditions can feel so overwhelming that we need to remove ourselves from the situation to find relief and regain our equilibrium. Taking a brisk walk — even for a few minutes — is an efficient and convenient way to breathe, refocus our thoughts, and have a change of scenery.
M: MAKE CONTACT.
Problem-solving with another person can be an effective way to discharge stress. Reach out to a friend or colleague and ask if they are willing to hear you vent for five minutes. When we request a few minutes, people are more likely to take the time to listen. Keep it to five minutes and promise to return the favor. If you have more to say when your time is up, call someone else. If talking with friends doesn’t provide relief, consider seeing a therapist or psychologist.
Optimal functioning requires a moderate amount of stimulation to stay motivated and energetic throughout the day. Phrases like “being in the zone” express those moments when we have the energy to sustain our drive and the equanimity to accomplish our goals. Monitoring our thoughts, body signals, and emotions, as well as managing the pace of our responsibilities, is central to maintaining composure. If we strive for a healthy balance of stimulation without moving into a stressful state, we create the potential to live our days with peace, improved health, and more kindness towards others.
Dr. Sandra Hamilton
While taking pre-med classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I became so distracted by psychology courses that I changed my major to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. My contributions to She Owns It are drawn from the professional perspective of a clinical psychologist, as well as the personal point of view of a single working mother and entrepreneur. I have maintained an independent psychology practice for over 20 years, taught as an adjunct assistant professor for over a decade, and somehow managed to survive raising two spirited daughters.
My expertise is grounded in years of working with individuals, couples, and families who have worked their way through catastrophic experiences as well as the inevitable demands of adult life. I admire their tenacity each time they schedule another session in the face of painful insights and difficult feelings.
Therapy is not a haircut. It’s not a quick fix, and you don’t always feel better when you leave.