Venus Nicolino, Ph.D. of clinical psychology, answers your questions in this section. This week: ways to de-stress
Dear Dr. V,
I’ve been so stressed out, I feel like I can’t even think straight! I’m a busy mom, as well as a small business owner. I’m so stressed, I feel like my body actually aches and I often get headaches. I get upset with myself when I can’t do it all, which leads me to feel more stress! Stress is normal but why do I feel so overwhelmed and what can I do to help myself?
Mother of Three
Dear Mother of Three,
Sure, stress is a normal part of life, and affects people differently. However, it’s clear that too much stress can overload our coping mechanisms and result in stress side effects.
Types of Stress
Stress can be put into one of two categories: mental or physical. Mental stress is characterized by such things as worries over money or a loved one’s health, loss of a loved one or losing a job. Physical stressors include a lack of sleep, poor diet or the effects of an illness.
And then there are the “stealth type” stressors that seem to be the ones that put people over the edge: Running around to make sure everyone in the family gets to their game on time, making sure little Fluffy had his shots, pleading with uncle Jimmy to take care of himself, and so on. These stressors fall under a category known as obligations.
What’s a Body to Do?
Remember when the bully next door used to scare you? If it has been too many years to remember, here’s a reminder as to what your body did in response to this extra stress. First, your heart rate increased in order to pump more blood to your muscles in case you needed to sprint away. Second to go into hyper-drive were your blood pressure, breathing and metabolism. Basically, your body went into full-scale alert so it could act quickly and effectively to a high-pressure or threatening situation, what’s known as “the fight-or-flight response.”
Now picture yourself in this heightened state of alert for many hours of each day and you’ll understand why stress turns into distress. The balance of your daily stressors is out of whack with your abilities to cope with them. Your body simply cannot sustain this type of stress without some sort of side effect, whether it’s tension headaches, stiff upper-back muscles or trouble sleeping. And if the stressors cannot be decreased or addressed in a healthy manner, your body may experience such health problems as high blood pressure and heart disease.
“Everyone has a busy lifestyle these days, but some people seem to manage stress better than others,” said Sharon Ronen, who offers a slice of relaxation at her Spa Studio & WellSpa in Los Angeles “What’s their secret? They have found healthy, productive outlets for releasing stress, and ways to keep their lives in balance despite the hectic pace of daily life.”
How To Do
Stress can cause faster aging, so here are a few ways Ronen recommends to decrease stress:
Create a lifestyle of maintenance and prevention rather than one of crisis management. In Europe and Asia, people get regular massages, skin care treatments, chiropractic and acupuncture work, rather than waiting for pain to seek professional care. We can all learn a valuable lesson from this. Think of skin care, bodywork, and healthcare as a way to slow down the aging process and prevent illness and degeneration. Don’t just get spa treatments or a spinal adjustment on your birthday. Make prevention a priority in your life and you will reap the benefits in the short and long term.
Find a few minutes a day to create some stillness and space for yourself. This could be a yoga class, a tea ritual or just a10 minute breathing session. The point is that you take time to step away from stress and go inward. Learn a few key acupressure points (between thumb and pointer finger, temples, jaw hinge) and apply gentle pressure to those while breathing deeply. Take a massage class with your special someone or a friend so you can learn a few moves to use on yourself or others for stress relief.
Exercise daily. This means something different to everyone. If you think you don’t have time to get to the gym or yoga/Pilates studio, just take a 20-minute walk and you will find that it has both mental and physical benefits. Start off with walks, and they can grow into workouts, yoga, spinning, or other cardiovascular activities. Just begin with something manageable for your daily routine and work up from there.
Set technology boundaries for yourself, pick a time after which you do not check email or answer your phone. Turn off your PDA (or at least put it on silent) before and after certain times of the day. Set an auto-responder on your email to alert people to your availability if desired. Don’t take your “Crackberry” to dinner or on vacation. Technology is great, but don’t let it rule your life.
Never underestimate the power of your support network. Nurture your friendships and relationships and they will feed your spirit. Put effort into maintaining these relationships and they will always be there when you need them. Sip a glass of heart-friendly wine and download your brain with a friend or loved one, or spend some quality time with your pets. Slow things down and enjoy every moment.”
And may I add, Mother of Three, shed the superwoman costume. No one is perfect. Give yourself a break. Reach a balance about what really needs to be done and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. Also, be willing to make adjustments when necessary (so you leaped over a crack in the sidewalk instead of a tall building. So what? You tried your best).
Sharon Ronen is a licensed esthetician and founder/CEO of Skin Haven Spa Studio and WellSpa in Los Angeles, CA. For more information log on to www.skinhaven.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 323.658.skin.
Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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