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Reducing Your Learning Curve

Nothing creates more stress for me than having to learn something in the world of technology. As my daughter has lovingly said, Mom, I think you were born missing the technical gene. I couldn’t agree more. Yet in order for me to continue writing, blogging and sharing my love of God, people and ways to create a meaningful and happy life, working with my computer and cyberspace is a necessity I cannot ignore.

I admire people who can sit down, experiment with the computer and learn to do all the wonderful things it has to offer. I am not one of those people. Recognizing and accepting that has been the first step in reducing stress levels and adjusting my learning curve to one I can handle.

So how have I met this huge learning curve?

First, I not only acknowledge and accept my limitations in this area, but am comfortable in that knowledge. I don’t have to compare myself with others. Understanding technology is simply not part of my persona and never will be. Instead, I can maximize my strengths while improving in those areas that are more challenging.

Second, what is the minimum I need to know in order to do my work? I need to have step by step instructions and the ability to apply it. I need enough understanding and knowledge of terminology and language to converse with a mentor or teacher. That has been frustrating because new terminology is introduced every day. I continue to stick to the basics and learn the rest a little at a time.

Third, I know too much while knowing too little. Most computer self-help books are either too elemental or too advanced. A lot of what I already use is without full understanding of terminology and vocabulary. Because of this, traditional classes do not work for me. I budget time and money to hire a mentor to help me. On my own, I get self-help computer books and gradually learn the basic terminology so I can ask the questions I need to ask for assistance.

Fourth, breaking down any new learning into small steps and chunks of information is important. As a former teacher and facilitator of many groups, I am aware of the importance of application of knowledge to facilitate learning. No matter how busy, I challenge myself to learning something new every week in this area.

Fifth, I grace myself time to learn. I don’t even try to keep up with the fast, mad pace of technology. I work at a pace I can handle which reduces stress levels. Understanding how you learn is also important. I am very visual and tactile. So I save time, money and energy by hiring a mentor to help me.

We are each challenged with learning that might be difficult but necessary. For me it was technology. Yours may involve learning how to communicate more effectively, creating a happier marriage, applying good parenting skills, learning how to budget and care for your finances, etc.

No matter what the area of learning, the same principles apply:

• Acknowledge, accept your strengths and weaknesses. This is not limiting. It enables you to brainstorm and come up with alternative options and solutions. Resist comparisons to others.

• Define specifically what you need to learn. Create a plan of action that works for you. What is your learning style? What do you need in time and finances? What can you learn on your own – what do you need assistance for.

• Recognize that it takes time to learn and apply that learning. Adopt an “I can do” attitude and perseverance. Stick to your plan of action.

There are so many things we can accomplish with an appropriate attitude, determination and the willingness to apply self-regulation and discipline.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Reducing Overload and Time Pressure

I am not a techie. Although I operate a website, post blogs twice a week, podcast and do other functions on my computer, the language of computers and technology is still foreign to me. When I have very concise step by step instructions I can usually maintain my ability to function. When something goes wrong or I need to learn something new on my computer, I quickly find myself on overload and feel the pressure of time as I try to complete my designated tasks.

We all have our panic buttons. Everyone has their Achilles heel. For many it is when they have to get up and speak in front of a group of people. I love speaking and find people easy to talk to. My computer doesn’t enjoy going out for a cup of coffee and conversation. While I enjoy the benefits of technology, I struggle with the huge learning curve that can seem overwhelming at times.

Become aware of your vulnerable spots. Perhaps it is relationships, communication or the world of finances. We get overwhelmed when bills are greater than our bank account and we have difficulty learning how to budget; communication deteriorates with our spouse; our children are out of control, and the expectations and requirements of our job keep rising. Whatever the challenge, recognizing what pushes your panic button and when it is pushed allows you to prepare and take action.

When we are on overload or feeling the pressure on our time and resources, panic sets in it bringing along anxiety and fear and worry. What do I do? How will I manage? I already have so much to do. I’m so tired. I wish I could just run away. I’m not going to make it.

Our thoughts begin to spiral downward. We magnify the problem and diminish our ability to resolve it. We compare ourselves negatively with others who seem to have it all together. We have instant recall to all the times we have tried and failed while forgetting all the times we have succeeded. We label ourselves incompetent, stupid, etc. instead of recognizing that we have both strengths and weaknesses and we do not have to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We can’t do it all. And we are okay.

Here are some things you can do when overwhelmed.

1. Reduce the immediate stress level. Take some calm even breathes and ask God to help you relax and focus. Panic and fear puts our bodies into survival mode so we can run or fight. You need to use this stress energy in a different way.

Do the following exercise. Find a private spot. Stand in a comfortable position. As you breathe in air, slowly raise your arms above your head. Hold for a second and say to yourself, I am relaxed and in control of my time and my abilities. Let out your air as you lower your arms. Do this several times. 

2. Challenge your negative thinking. Instead of allowing your mind to dwell on all the “I can’ts” refocus them on all the “I can’s”. Resist thinking about how big the problem is. Instead, reframe it into something that is a challenge rather than a disaster. Tell yourself I can find the resources, develop the skill or do whatever it takes.

3. Break the problem down into manageable steps. Any overwhelming task can be broken down into productive steps of action. Become familiar with your typical response to trouble. What have you done in the past that hasn’t worked? What can you do today that will. Ask for help. Get support from others who will encourage you as you learn. Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know. It isn’t a reflection of your competence, abilities or self worth.

Life is full of challenges. Sometimes we will feel as though a truckload of problems has been dumped on us. The first thing is to step outside of it, put it into perspective and work on the demands one at a time. Otherwise our problems become monsters instead of challenges we can meet.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Maximize the Return on Your Time

Every day we have 24 hours. Some of that time is needed for sleep and rest. Some of that time is needed to make a living and do all the things necessary to maintain life: shopping, preparing meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. The allocation of our time will be tempered by the demands of life.

However, we can be selective in what we include in those time constraints. While jobs, careers and home life have certain expectations, we can delegate, we can say NO, we can negotiate, and we can choose activities in our free time that give us a sense of purpose, fun and achievement.

Here are some ways you can maximize your time and make time work for you.

1. Have a regular time to get up and go to bed. Good sleep habits will maximize our time because we will be rested. Resist the temptation to go to bed when you feel like it. If you bring work home with you, stop working at least an hour before bedtime and focus on something pleasant.

2. Develop a positive attitude. It can have an enormous effect on our moods, energy levels and our ability to accomplish even unpleasant tasks. If you are feeling pressured, ask yourself what needs to change? What is under my control – what is not? A positive attitude can make a huge difference in managing our stress levels.

3. Schedule meals. I know it sounds like an impossible situation when everybody in the family is going in different directions. But it is a perfect time for everybody to be together and enjoy each other’s company; even if it is for only one meal.

Make it important enough so family members will want to be there. The TV is shut off, the answering machine takes messages and cell phones are not allowed. Talk. Share. Listen. Laugh. Make this a pleasant time. Don’t scold, remind or bring up unpleasant things. This isn’t the time to talk about chores. Talk about school problems later.

4. Have family meetings. Everybody is included and expected. This is where you discuss schedules, chores, rules, vacations, special events, etc. Kids can share their frustrations and have input in the discussion. 

Establish meeting rules ahead of time. While parents have the last word, it is a way to develop cooperation. Chore lists include everyone – even parents. Be sure jobs are appropriate for age level and ability. Post both chore lists and family rules. Create incentives and rewards for completing jobs. A removal of a reward can be the incentive for completing jobs.

5. Schedule personal down times. Find pleasant things to do in the evenings that give you a sense of satisfaction as well as rest. There will be days when you just want to zone out.

But if zoning out is a habit, it’s time to evaluate what is happening during the day. Are you experiencing high levels of stress every day? What changes are under your control to make? Are there changes I can make at home, adjusting schedules, elimination of some activities, more delegation, etc. Do I fit my job? What can I do to prepare myself for a different job? Taking courses on line can be time well spent for future opportunities. Even in a tight job market, employers are looking for people who can be flexible, creative, responsible, innovative and willing to work together.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

You are the CEO

You are the CEO of  your time.  How are you spending it?

Establish Routines – Follow a Schedule

Nothing sounds more boring than having to live within a rigid schedule that I “have to” adhere to no matter what. Rigid schedules are not only boring, but can create constant pressure that increases stress levels. We feel we are at the mercy of everyone and everything and we can’t wait for the weekend, for that moment of “bliss”, when we can kick back, sleep in and just do whatever we feel like doing.

But the illusion of having such free time, is soon crushed by the reality that clothes need to be washed, the house cleaned, and all the other boring, unenjoyable and sometimes downright unpleasant tasks that require attention whether we like it or not still needs to be done. Is there a way out?

Developing daily routines doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible and it doesn’t mean you can’t have some “moments of bliss”. It just provides the structure to make time work for you. Dependable routines, as boring as it may seem, actually allow you to schedule in fun and down times.

Remember – it is your time. The kid in us resists self-regulation because it reminds us of a time when our parents were in control. But you are the adult who is now in charge of your time. You are the CEO. What do you want to do with it? What do you want to accomplish? This requires thinking long term and not just short term.

How we think about time is a key to managing it. If time is controlled by others, then we will feel we have no choices – we “must”, “have to”, or “ought to” do certain things. While it might seem like an insignificant shift in thinking, when we consider it is “our” time and we are choosing how to regulate it, it is freeing.

Words such as “have to” or “must” hold within them a feeling of helplessness. We have no choice. If we replace those words with I choose, we are in the driver’s seat. We choose to go to work; we choose to have a regular schedule from which to operate, we choose to delegate, we choose to teach our kids responsibility; we choose to regulate TV, multi-media and computer game times, etc.

Responsibility means we have the ability to respond. Life demands we work to support ourselves. But life also gives us the opportunity to make goals and work to accomplish them. While choosing to self-regulate may seem like drudgery or hard work, when habits that establish structure are put in place, those habits actually free up our time, allowing us to become more efficient. We are able to schedule more satisfying projects along with the jobs that might not be as satisfying.

In Thursday’s blog I will give you some specific ways you can make time work for you.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Structure – Schedules – Routines

Nothing creates unwanted stress more than feeling we have no control over our environment. If we are reactive instead of proactive, good days only occur when everything is going well and bad days when everything isn’t. We are at the mercy of whatever is happening around us.

As kids we rebelled against having to pick up our toys, hang up our clothes and clean our rooms. It wasn’t any fun and we thought it was easier to just step over piles of stuff or wait until we felt like doing it. As adults we still rebel against “having to do” things we don’t feel like doing.

Self-regulation is never easy. But routines, structure and schedules free up our time to do more of the things we want. Without it, we become a slave to chaos: searching for that blouse we wanted to wear to work, coming home tired to a dirty kitchen, moving the pile of laundry off the sofa so we can sit down and relax, and trying to find that remote so we can zone out with TV or escape into chat rooms and cyberspace. We are no longer in control of our lives – disorder is.

As you look around you at the mess and clutter, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Where do I start? How do I put in place schedules that have simply evolved but are no longer working?

First Step – STOP

Turn off your cell phone and put up a Do Not Disturb sign. Take a piece of paper and pencil and write down your typical day from beginning to end; when you get up, eat, go to work, come home from work, and prepare meals, evening routines and bedtime rituals.

Where do breakdowns occur? For example, I have to wash dishes before I can cook; I have to yell at the kids to get them up, I’m late and I haven’t made lunches yet, I forgot to pick up groceries for dinner, etc.

What needs to be done on a daily basis to create order? What needs to be done each week? Have I been avoiding doing these things because I am feeling overloaded or I just don’t have the energy? Do I resist getting family members involved because I don’t like conflict and I don’t know how to delegate?

Habits

Habits are just patterns of behavior we have developed. We do them without thinking. Changing any habit requires knowing what you are currently doing, what you no longer want to do, what you do want to do and a way to put a new habit in place. It also involves acknowledging and accepting your own resistance to change.

Replacing habits takes time, energy, commitment and motivation. Doing the preliminary work enables us to know what we really want. Knowing that you can easily replace habits is both liberating and exciting. You are taking charge of your life.

Next week, we will take your findings and put a new plan of action in place.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Not Enough Time

What stresses you out the most? 

Perhaps the most common source of stress today is time – not enough time – trying to find time – putting a time frame to all the demands that the world seems to put on us; time for our kids, our spouses, ourselves, our careers, friends, rest and relaxation.

Along with a shrinking time frame there is a subtle and sometimes not so subtle expectation that we are to not only accomplish more, produce more, within a shorter period of time, but also improve the quality of our work at the same time.

Competition, the need for constant training and improving skills in new technology, adds an additional layer of stress: will I be let go, will I be outsourced, if I lose my job will I be qualified to find a new job, who will hire me at my age?

The pressure of time also invades our homes. Our kids have more and more options that compete for their time and you are left to decide how many extracurricular things they can do and still focus on school work. Many single parent households struggle with guilt that somehow they are not giving their kids every opportunity.

With all the options and demands on a family, as schedules become more hectic and complex, and as husbands and wives work longer hours and are asked to be more flexible in their jobs, a new norm for family life has emerged.

Members of the family eat their meals as they are dashing out the door, rarely is everyone at the dinner table at the same time and little time is given for discussion outside of demands and expectations. The “leave it to beaver” idealism of former years is replaced with a survival atmosphere with everyone struggling to create a new norm.

At times it seems the world is spinning out of control. We are not only working harder and faster but we are on information overload with a shorter learning curve. There is little time for perspective, teaching values or living principles. We are infected with a time disease.

Time management isn’t just our To Do lists. It isn’t just juggling schedules between family, spouses, church and social activities. It is keeping up with Face Book and Twitter and other social media. It is learning all the new things our smart phones can do. Our phones have become an extension of our fingers. We are lost without that instant access to information we just might need.

Technology is both liberating and enslaving. It isn’t just saying “No” to other people – its saying “No” to ourselves. More options require tougher choices. Speed demands less time to give thought to our decisions.

The marketing ads tell us we can have it all. Can we? The marketing gurus tell us all the latest gadgets will make us happier. Are we? At what point does the culture of speed and gadgets and unlimited options replace our ability to sit down together as a family to have dinner, or spend time listening to our kids concerns? At what point do we slow the world down in our personal lives to live within the principles and values we believe are important and have chosen to live?

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Where do I Begin?

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7

So if I am dis-stressed, what do I do about it? 

God gives us both promises and encouragement. He reminds us that with His help we can accomplish most anything. Understanding how our minds work can give us the tools to act out the faith He gives us.

Where do I start?

Our personality traits have an influence on how we respond to life. While one person might get distressed in a situation, another person may be challenged or energized. Our life experiences and our DNA help shape and mold the core beliefs we hold about who we are, what we can do and how we fit into the world.

But we are not held captive to a set of personality traits. It is what we do with life experiences that make the difference. It is how we choose to respond rather than simply reacting.

Many of us can remember parents or grandparents who met the challenges and struggles of life with a spirit of determination and hope. We might have read stories about people who have overcome severe adversities. They remind us that if they can survive and find solutions we can too.

Stressors

Anything that creates stress is called a stressor. Remember that good stress is measured in our ability to enjoy and live life. It allows us to make goals and accomplish them. It enables us to get excited and experience happiness and joy. Distress comes when we are overwhelmed, exhausted and challenges become insurmountable obstacles. Here are some of the more common ways we get distressed:

Time management: juggling schedules – doing too much – not saying No.

Time pressure: We are expected to maintain or improve quality, increase productivity within a smaller time frame. We are infected with a time disease.

Overload: too much information, new technology, requiring high learning curves

Disorganization: there is stuff all over the house – we don’t know what to do with it so we shuffle it from one place to another.

Lack of Structure. We have no defined schedules or routines or family structure

Relationships: Enormous stress is created when there is constant disconnect and disharmony in our relationships with family, children, spouses, co-workers, and bosses.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you how you can take the challenges creating distress and turn ways to turn them into positive action. We will also find ways to better define our stressors and problems so we can find more adequate solutions turning our distress into energizing stress.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

When Stress Becomes Distress

Everybody has stressful days that result in sore necks and shoulders. Sometimes we have sleepless nights as we wrestle with problems. But then we regain our balance and go on with life.

Our bodies are extremely resilient and flexible. Even when high levels of stress extend for longer periods of time, we are still able to cope as long as it doesn’t go on forever.

It’s when problems seem overwhelming with no solutions, we are having difficulty adjusting to change and we remain stressed for longer and longer periods of time without relief that we become dis-stressed. Our sleep becomes chronically disturbed, making it harder and harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. And with less rest, our bodies have difficulty restoring itself.

Symptoms of distress

Other problems emerge: irritability may now become a chronic response to life; there is always a dull headache and we constantly have gastro-intestinal problems. We grab for that cookie or fat, mouthwatering, sugar laden muffin to give us a moment of bliss or respite. The once in a while glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day now becomes a daily ritual of one, two or three glasses. Our heart seems to be racing more often, and we worry about hypertension – high blood pressure and arterial disease. Our hands and feet always feel cold or clammy even when others seem comfortable and we can’t remember when we felt happy. We have lost our joy and zest for living. 

As our distress becomes a habit, we rely more and more on short term coping strategies such as prescription drugs, food, alcohol, or smoking. We overeat; especially on foods high in carbohydrates, fats and sugars, junk food. We are too tired to exercise and we gradually lose interest in taking care of ourselves. We don’t exercise or take prescribed medication.

Take your stress levels serious

In 2004 a team of psychologists published findings from a review of nearly 300 scientific studies linking chronic stress and the immune system. These studies, dating from 1960 to 2001 and involving 18,941 test subjects, showed incontrovertible evidence that stress causes changes in the immune system.

What they found was that short-term stress temporarily boosts immunity, but chronic stress weakens the immune system, making us more vulnerable to common ailments and serious diseases. The elderly and people suffering from illness are more susceptible to changes in the immune system due to chronic stress. Other studies show that exposure to chronic stress early in life makes us even more vulnerable to a depressed immune system throughout our lifetime. 

The bottom line

We can’t eliminate stress – nor do we want to. Good stress helps us meet our goals and live happy lives. We just want to keep it from becoming chronic stress where there become fewer and fewer moments of peace, contentment and joy. If we are constantly stressed in a negative way, unable to resolve problems or adapt to change, our stress system begins to work against us.

2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC