As in keeping with my stellar tradition of procrastination, I am finally delivering Part II to the mini-mental health series I started nine years ago...or something like that. This piece originally was going to discuss positive/negative self-talk, but I decided to go a different route this weekend for the following reasons: 1) Because I can instantly see people imagining themselves on a random red couch talking to a shrink who's doodling behind his pad of paper and horned-rimmed glasses which 2) will require of me a longer explanation of why self-talk actual has legitimate merit which 3) will require me to have the opportunity and time to rewrite several drafts and 4)...I just felt the Spirit leading me in a different direction. Get on it! It's a good train.
But seriously, I'll get to the red couch another week. This week I'm just going to brush on some positive ways to relieve stress. Mostly because...well....I need it for me sometimes. And I feel more motivated to do it myself when I'm preaching at others (it's called conscience, I've heard). So allow me to touch on some of the ways stress can be appropriately relieved.
First of all, and this may seem like a "no dur" statement, don't isolate. I'm fairly certain the majority of people are aware of this. But isn't it true that at the first sign of depression, anxiety, stress, or anything remotely distressing, the first thing we do is lock ourselves in our house, board up our windows, and hunker down for our mental winter hibernation. In our own little world. And when we're already struggling with our mood, our own little world is not a safe place to be.
For some people, isolation is not even a result of stress or depression. But we may acquire both from excessive isolation. If you're favorite pastime is playing video games, fine. Set a time limit and play video games. But make sure you make yourself get out, meet some friends, and break that streak of aloneliness. Your brain will thank you for the positive interaction.
Make a 'Lil Box
We worry about 100% of the things around us when only about 5% of them will actually happen (I made those statistics up so don't cite me in your next dissertation). But we have to make a conscious effort to retrain our brains- not to worry, but to focus- on the things we can fix and improve. Everything else goes in a little mental box with a whispered prayer and pushed to the side.
Set reasonable goals! What does that look like? Next time you get into an exercise routine, don't expect to run a marathon by the end of the month. Instead, set reasonable goals. Get a planner and mark out your goals visually. If all you can do at first is run a half a mile, applaud yourself! That's better than sitting on the couch for the rest of your life because you can't run twenty-three miles today.
Find a Shoulder, an Ear, and Maybe Someone With Chocolate
Remember sleep-overs as a kid? Sharing life's problems and copious amounts of sugary sweets? Get back to those roots!There's something to be said about having a confidante (and your dentist will love me for the sugar tip). This allows a safe haven to vent and gain needed advice without allowing our stress to build to the boiling point where we end up hurling a chair through the office window. But remember, there's a difference between venting and whining. A fine line exists and sometimes it takes awareness and practice to walk it. A relationship takes two. Your friend may hope to use you as their listening ear once in a while. Don't forget to take their stressors and needs into account. And, if need be, no shame lies in finding a trained counselor.
If you're the type of person who demands perfection, who has the gift of gusto, this rule is for you. When stress and pressure is building up around us, pushing ourselves through to the end of our to-do list is not only inadvisable, it can be dangerous. We can be our own worst enemies. Force yourself to apply the 50% Rule. Do what absolutely needs to get done first. Do it like thus:
-Water the plants
-Clean the Fridge
Get a planner and sort it out:
-Water the plants
-Clean the fridge
See the balance? If you're anything like me, it all has to get done. Now! Do all the chores! *fist pump* But I will regret it by the end of the night and work will be a living nightmare the next day. And my fist pump turns into a face palm as I ask myself why I made my fridge clean enough to be a surgical surface at midnight the night before.
Time to Grieve
Few things exert stress on us as much as grief. Say your careful planning pays off and you actually run that marathon (yay!). You're body will be more physically drained after a funeral. And that's no exaggeration. (Really.....let that sink in.) So when things spring up that cause emotional pain and suffering, we must...MUST...allow ourselves time to grieve. And we MUST acknowledge the things that grieve us. Lost a loved one? We cannot lie to ourselves and pretend we're fine. Lost a pet that was with the family for years? You may grieve. Had a child move out for college? You may grieve. Acknowledge that. Accept that. Allow that.
After the Grief....
Learn to adapt. When people tell you, "Things will go back to normal"...they're lying. Things will be a new normal. And that will be alright eventually. Not at first. But eventually. Wounds will heal, but scars will remain. The scars turn into something we've adapted to. And we will find the happiness again. But be willing to accept the change and do what you must to make that transition.
So you have it. Seven areas to focus on when we feel overwhelmed. And what's one of the quickest ways to turn our attention from the stress to the blessings? Look for the little things. All green lights on the way to work. A good cup of hot coffee. A pull through parking space. Next time we'll talk about that red couch (just kidding).
What do you find that has worked for you? Anything you would like to add? We would love to hear from you! Go.
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