Three experts offer tips for managing stress in the new year
Life can be stressful. Whether old or young, married or single, rich or poor, a grandparent, parent or childless, people in all walks of life encounter demanding circumstances that create mental and emotional tension and strain.
Managing that strain, commonly referred to as “stress,” is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. With a new year upon us and messages of new beginnings and resolutions, what better time than now to consider ways of setting a foundation to skillfully manage stress?
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Vivian Fahey, who owns and operates Best Life Counseling and Life Coaching in Boonsboro, said a primary component of stress management is practicing mindfulness. Closely related to self-regulation, mindfulness helps individuals gain an increased awareness of triggers and fight or flight responses.
“There is a small part of the brain, the amygdala, that takes over or hijacks the rest of the brain. We react and can feel very overwhelmed,” Fahey said. “When we practice mindfulness, it helps us to soften and to self-regulate and to eventually make better choices.”
Focus on your breath. “Focusing on the in breath and the out breath helps bring self-regulation and helps us to be in that moment because that breath is in the moment,” Fahey said. “Instead of sitting thinking about what we need to do next or of things in the past, we can be right here and right now.”
Learn to notice the good stuff in life. “We need to learn to favor the good stuff,” Fahey said.
She suggested going outside for a walk and fully experiencing a warm beautiful day, or completely taking in a hug from a child at the end of a workday.
“Recognizing the joy we have helps get us off that hedonistic trail and that endless desire for more pleasure,” she said.
Write down five joys before bed. “Taking time to record positive things is a way of reliving and re-experiencing them,” she said. “And it also trains the brain to notice those positive things.”
For example, if a person is instructed to go outside and notice all the blue things, the brain will scan and look for those things.
“In the same way, if you are writing down joys daily before bed, your brain will be trained to look for them throughout the day,” she said. “You will say, ‘Oh wow. This great cup of coffee feels nice and warm in my mug.’ Or ‘Wow, this person let me merge onto 495. Isn’t that lovely?’”
Write down goals. “People who do are 80 percent more likely to achieve them than those who don’t,” Fahey said.
Going into 2019, imagine that it is January 2020 and write down what happened over the course of the year based on what you’d like to accomplish.
“Or pretend you are a cat with nine lives and write down nine different happy endings for each life.”
While each goal might not be accomplished, living more intentionally will promote choices that lead to a positive year.
Move that body
Renee Schuckman, a group exercise instructor at Hagerstown Sports Club and Fitness, said a key component to successfully handling stress is making a plan to be active.
“One of the best ways to reduce stress is to move — walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, doing something where the body is moving gets you feeling good. Those endorphins make you feel better and your stress level is naturally reduced,” Schuckman said.
Make a commitment. “Whether it’s outside on your own or in a group setting, making a plan is without a doubt a good ticket for success. If you don’t have a plan, it usually doesn’t happen,” she said.
Getting a membership to a gym with accommodating hours, or signing up for a class will increase the likelihood of follow-through.
Get a buddy. “It’s more fun to exercise that way and it gives you more accountability,” Schuckman said. “It helps keep the temptation not to do it at bay.”
Some gyms allow options to bring a friend for free.
Ask for help. “I see people go to the gym and they don’t know what to do, so it’s not always effective. I love to help people and for people to be able to get the most of their time,” she said.
Take advantage of daily opportunities to exercise. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Go for a walk at lunch.
Eat with care. “Just because you go to the gym does not mean you can eat doughnuts all day,” Schuckman said. “Sometimes when we don’t eat the right things, we get really addicted to sugar.”
Sugar addiction can cause low energy levels, inflammation, joint pain and other problems, she said, including decreased effectiveness of workouts.
“Even if you are working out really hard - if you are not fueling your body with the right stuff, you are not going to feel as good,” she said.
Try yoga. Schuckman teaches a variety of classes including Pilates, cycle, and strength and core, but when it comes to stress reduction, yoga can be especially beneficial, she said.
“I think taking one hour to do a yoga class really gets you feeling so much better and gets you back on track and in balance. When you are not so stressed, you feel more able to cope,” she said.
Focus on the brain
Marie Hawse of Hagerstown Hypnosis Center said stumbling blocks or sticking points create obstacles for people in achieving their goals. For many people, stress itself is a significant stumbling block.
Hypnosis, a state of human consciousness involving focused attention, enhances the human ability to respond to suggestion and can be helpful in managing stress. Even as a board certified hypnotist though, Hawse said, hypnosis is not something that she can do to or for someone.
“I think of myself like a coach. I help guide clients to a place in the mind where change can be made,” she said. “Hypnosis is teaching the skills to control stress so that stress does not control you.”
Clean out the emotional junk drawer. Often as a starting point with clients, Hawse engages in an effort she calls “cleaning out the closet.”
“I ask a client if they have a junk drawer or a closet at home full or stuff. Maybe at one point that stuff was useful but now they are not sure what it was and it’s not useful anymore,” she said. “What we do is clean out the closet and get rid of all that stuff that might be preventing the person from becoming really successful.”
Practice relaxation and stress reduction. Hawse teaches various methods of progressive muscle relaxation and creative visualization to help clients find those which are most beneficial to them. Their homework includes deep breathing exercises to promote complete relaxation.
Collaborate. Hypnosis is not a medical or a mental health therapy. “It’s a specialty all its own, like a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor,” Hawse said.
“A client might have a sticking point on the subconscious level and may not even know that they have it. We work together in a collaborative effort to find out where the problem is,” she said.
Strike a power pose. Hawse teaches “high power” poses meant to stimulate high levels of testosterone which is linked to feelings of achievement, power and dominance.
“If you hold a certain pose, like the victory pose or the Wonder Woman pose, for at least two minutes,” Hawse said, “the way you feel and the way you think will actually change. You can be in control of your stress.”
Top photo: Marie Hawse of Hagerstown Hypnosis Center says hypnosis enhances the human ability to respond to suggestion and can be helpful in managing stress. (Herald-Mail file photo)