While we can’t eliminate all stressful events or circumstances from our experiences, we can make choices to reduce some of the events, and certainly to reduce the impact of stress on ourselves.
You might begin by identifying the stressors that impact you. Some will be obvious, while others are more subtle and require time to reflect. Making a list of these could be a helpful way to stay on track.
Begin by identifying which of these cannot be eliminated, reduced, or changed. Next, consider the stressors that you could reduce, change, or possibly dispense with. For some, starting with those that are simple or easy works well; others will prefer to attend to the more challenging stressors. Choosing one specific issue of focus could also be helpful.
Having said that, life is not neatly divided up into separate categories, and making changes in one area of stress will likely impact others.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
This is an important step to reducing the impact of stress and taking care of yourself. Some areas to consider creating boundaries around might be
1) Time: limiting time spent doing things or visiting; choosing a particular time of day for certain things
2) Expectations: what are others expecting of you and is that realistic or desirable? What are your expectations of yourself, and are those currently realistic or desirable?
3) People: who, how much contact and in what form, and when?
Be prepared that not everyone in your circle will be happy with your new boundaries. Their expectations of you might be that you behave in familiar and predictable patterns. Their discomfort is not about you.
Family can be a great source of support and love, and sometimes family relationships are not supportive and helpful. During times of crisis or stress old family dynamics can become magnified. Being aware of the dynamics and personalities in your family you will know with whom you’re comfortable and relaxed, and from whom you might need to create distance.
Other social connections
Friends, work colleagues, and others in your social community can also be sources of support and companionship – or not. Consider those you enjoy being with, and feel relaxed and comfortable in their company. Do you do things together that you enjoy, and do you feel fulfilled and accepted, or do you wind up being drained and tired? Do you notice feelings of annoyance, frustration, or anxiety when with certain people? Becoming aware of your body response and your thoughts is a good indicator for creating healthy social boundaries.
Asking for Help and Support
This can be difficult to do, particularly if you are used to being the one to nurture, or the one to jump in to help friends and family. It can also be a wonderful two-way ticket to reducing stress. Perhaps there are practical tasks that you will require physical help with, such as household or yard maintenance, shopping, child-care or pet-care, or being driven to or accompanied at appointments,. These are practical ways for your family or friends to provide support, and allow time and energy for you to take care of yourself.
Creating, setting, and honouring healthy boundaries is a good start to reducing stress. For the events, circumstances, and issues that one cannot change or eliminate, there are practices that a person can incorporate to help reduce the impact of stress on oneself.
Time Out – Time Away – Time With
Getting outside to the park, in the garden, to the water, in the woods; connecting with the beauty that surrounds us is a great stress reducer.
Making time for enjoyable, pleasurable moments, laughing, and being “in the moment” adds light to the seriousness of life.
Staying connected with those who matter through e-mail, skype, face-book, phone, or in person keeps us connected socially and helps reduce the impact of the stressors.
Spending quiet time with pets is a wonderful way to de-stress.
In-the-moment stress reduction
Pause – give yourself time to…
Breathe – deeply and slowly
become Aware of and
Acknowledge what is occurring; allow the survival reaction to quiet so the intellect can assess and…
Relaxation Practices to integrate into lifestyle
Creative expression: being absorbed in writing, drawing, painting, dancing, gardening, crafting, or any expression of self provides a soothing break from the demands of daily living
Physical activities: yoga, exercise, swimming, and walking are a few ways to promote the release of endorphins
Meditation: there are many ways to incorporate the practice of quieting the mind, bringing attention to the breath, and tapping into the still space within.
Walking Meditation: walking very slowly and intentionally, letting the senses truly absorb the sounds, sights, smells, or tactile experiences is another lovely way slowing and calming the body and mind
Relaxation and Guided Visualization: drawing awareness to the breath, utilizing healing and empowering imagery through regular practice has been shown to have long-lasting benefits
Mindfulness practice: being fully present, intentional, and non-judgmental while performing a task allows for the suspension stressful thoughts
You might notice that all the above suggestions are pathways to the present moment. Eckhart Tolle states “Presence removes time. Without time, no suffering, no negativity, can survive…. The moment the judgment stops through the acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind.”
Alma Jean Inkster, M.Ed., RCC is an Clinical Counsellor at InspireHealth’s Victoria Centre.