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A Picture of your Personal Stress

Look over the symptoms list you put together. Which symptoms are causing you the most concern? Which ones are you worried about? Which could affect your life in the future if you didn’t do something now? 

Review and put a star by any of  your symptoms that require your immediate attention. 

Ask yourself the following:

• Is there a pattern to my stress symptoms?

• Are more of  my symptoms in one area (more physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or relational?)

• Which physical symptoms are you most concerned about? (stomach upsets, digestive problems, constant tight muscles, always getting sick, sleep issues, etc.) Do the same for each of the other areas.

• Are there any areas in your life symptom-free? (When you are relaxing with friends, exercise times, by yourself, etc.)

When do you experience more of your symptoms? 

You may notice that you experience most of your symptoms while at work, or in your relationships, or concerns about your family or the future.  Begin to identify when you experience higher levels of stress. Stress is cumulative and will affect you overall.  We are looking for those times that increase your stress.

Enlarging the picture 

Take a piece of paper and draw a picture of what you look like experiencing your stress symptoms. Have fun with it. Use words, symbols, stick figures, diagrams, or whatever you want to convey an overall perspective of what your life looks like with your stress.

Now draw spokes from your picture and pencil in all the things that are creating these stress symptoms in your life.  Get a picture of what is happening. 

Then complete the following:

• Right now, I am most concerned about. . . .

• During this exercise I am learning this about myself. . . .

• Because of this evaluation, I want to work on . . . .

Share your pictures and concerns with a good friend who will be honest with you. Ask her to help you identify negative habit patterns that you might not be aware of.

Don’t take offense. This is for your benefit so you can eliminate the things that are adding to your overall stress level.  These might include learning how to reframe situations, challenge negative thinking and rigid beliefs, learn constructive communication, time management, anger management, etc.  We will learn more about each of these in future blogs.

Remember, Chronic stress

• Keeps your immune system depressed so you are more susceptible to diseases and colds, etc.

• Can keep you constantly exhausted, unable to get sleep, cranky, irritable with symptoms of chest pains, headaches and depression

• Will suppress T-cell responses and lower antibody levels in the  body which are necessary to develop a strong immunity to disease

The next step

Once we get a picture of the symptoms of our stress, what it is doing to us physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally, we can then begin to design a personal plan of action to eliminate or reduce these in our lives.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Stress Symptom Check List

Make a list of all the symptoms you are experiencing mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relational.

Nancy Loving Tubesing and Donald A. Tubesing have put together a Stress Exhaustion Symptoms Cehck list.  Get a copy and take the test.

Here are some of the symptoms we experience when stressed:  

Physical symptoms:

Weight gain/loss, appetite or digestion problems, headaches, constant tension in muscles, teeth grinding, restlessness, racing heart, cold hands and feet, always sick.

Mental symptoms:

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, bad dreams, lack of worth, negative attitude, poor concentration, forgetfulness and confusion, worry, underlying fear and anxiety.

Spiritual symptoms:

A loss of meaning and purpose, lack of joy, laughter or happiness in your life. Loss of faith, hope and peace. Cynical. Resentment and long standing grievances have replaced forgiveness. No church affililation or connection to people in a faith community. Little to no bible reading or prayers. God has been excluded from your life.

Relational symptoms:

Lack of friends, lack of intimacy, distrust, irritability with those around us, communication breakdowns, moody, anger, blaming and fault finding, misunderstandings, judgments, aggressiveness and ongoing tension.

We can probably find ourselves somewhere on each of those lists. But the stress may be mild or temporary.  It is the things that continue and become chronic stress symptoms that we need to pay attention to.  Is there a pattern?  Is our stress connected in some way to how we think or believe ought to be happening?  Is the stress that is causing you symptoms out of your control?  Do I need to change my attitude and way I respond?

What on your list is the most troubling? Which ones affect you day in and day out? Which ones do you want to work on first?

In my next blog, I will give suggestions on ways to problem solve some of these trouble spots in your life and find ways you can reduce or eliminate them.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Your Personal Stress Signals

What stresses you out? 

The things that stress me out may not stress you out at all. 

I get stressed when I am under time pressure, when I haven’t had time to prepare, or when I have to deal with technical or computer issues.  I do not get stressed when speaking to large groups of people, teaching or giving workshops.  Yet for some people the thought of public speaking sets their hearts racing and their palms sweaty.

Recognizing what creates stress for you is important so you can find ways to reduce, manage or eliminate the stress before it becomes chronic over time.  

Anything that forces us to adjust or adapt in some way is considered stress.  Stress is not bad unless it becomes distressful to our thinking, our behaviors, and our every day living. 

We do not have control over many things. But we do have the ability to choose a different way to respond to events. 

The things that create distress in our lives are often attached to our beliefs and perceptions about what we can and cannot do, our expectations, our assumptions, our rules of should, ought and must. I have to get this done by this time, I should be able to do this, I ought to have a promotioni by now. 

Recognizing Your levels of Stress:

Listen to your body. Our bodies are constantly adjusting. Do periodic body checks.  Is your neck or shoulders or lower back hurting? Take a break and do some gentle stretches and quick stress releases. 

Listen to your feelings. If you are having fewer moments of enjoyment and peace and your moods are becoming unpredictable and more irritable you may be suffering from distress.

Listen to your spirit. Apathy, cynicism, loss of meaning and purpose  are all symptoms of stress overload. Cynicism is one of the highest risks for stress related health problems.

Listen to your relationships. When your irritability level rises, it is probably time to look at your attitude, expectations, assumptions, rigid rules, etc that is driving your moods and attitudes.

Do a quick stress symptom check 

Make a list of all the symptoms you are experiencing physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and relational. Nancy Loving Tubesing and Donald A. Tubesing have put together a Stress Exhaustion Symptoms check list. Get a copy and take the test. Here are some of the symptoms they list plus others: 

Physical symptoms:

Weight gain/loss, appetite or digestion problems, headaches, constant tension in muscles, teeth grinding, restlessness, racing heart, cold hands and feet, always sick.

Mental symptoms:

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, bad dreams, lack of worth, negative attitude, poor concentration, forgetfulness and confusion, worry, underlying fear and anxiety.

Spiritual symptoms:

A loss of meaning and purpose, lack of joy, laughter or happiness in your life. Loss of faith, hope and peace. Cynical. Resentment and long standing grievances have replaced forgiveness. No church affililation or connection to people in a faith community.  Little to no bible reading or prayers. God has been excluded from your life.

Relational symptoms:

Lack of friends, lack of intimacy, distrust, irritability with those around us, communication breakdowns, moody, anger, blaming and fault finding,  misunderstandings, judgments, aggressiveness and ongoing tension.

What on your list is the most troubling?  Which ones affect you day in and day out?  Which ones do you want to work on first? 

Next week’s blog will give you suggestions to problem solve some of these trouble spots in your life and find ways you can reduce or eliminate them. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Build confidence

Build confidence by focusing on your genuine attributes

The Cost of Stress

Stress is expensive

When we remain in a constantly activated high stress mindset, we negatively impact our long term health and our pocket book.

Chronic stress costs money and affects every aspect of our lives. It has long term impact on our personal health and it especially affects our families, our relationships, and our ability to do quality work on our job. Our worries and fears have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.   

Replacing negative thinking and behavior patterns with positive problem solving can reduce distress and allow us to be proactive. 

In a Wellness workshop I gave several years ago, the following facts and figures were available at that time. Although these statistics are several years old, they give us a chilling reminder of what chronic stress can cost us. 

• 30 million Americans have some form of major heart or blood-vessel disease

• One million Americans have a heart attack every year

• 25 million Americans have high blood pressure

• 8 million Americans are alcoholics

• $15.6 billion are lost by American industry each year because of alcoholism

• 5 billion doses of tranquilizers are prescribed each year

• 5 billion does of barbiturates are prescribed each year

• $19.4 billion are lost by American industry each year because of premature employee death

• $15 billion are lost by American industry each year because of stress-related absenteeism

Stress costs the American industry about $300 billion annually or $7,500 per worker per year. Those statistics are probably higher today.

Stress Affects our Immune System

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.

Our immune system helps us fight off diseases. What they found was that short-term stress temporarily boosts immunity, but chronic stress weakens the immune system, making people more vulnerable to common ailments and serious diseases.  In particular, the elderly and people already suffering from an illness become more susceptible to changes in the immune system due to chronic stress. 

Other studies show that it isn’t just the stress we are feeling today that harms our ability to fight off disease.  Exposure to chronic stress early in life makes us even more vulnerable to a depressed immune system throughout our lifetime.

Stress deteriorates behaviors and lifestyles 

When stressed we don’t take care of ourselves.  We are more likely to overeat, eat foods high in carbs, fat and sugar or junk food. Foods offer us a quick relaxer from our stress. When stressed, we don’t exercise or take presecribed medication. Or, we overmedicate.   Alcohol, tobacco or other drugs are used as a quick fix.  

If you find yourself in constant turmoil, high anxiety and worry, it may be important to take a look at ways you can reduce these levels. There are many things we have no control over.  But we can choose different responses that can minimize stress instead of escalating it. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

How Chronic Distress Impacts Your Health

Distress is epidemic

It has been estimated that in the western world two-thirds – 75% – of all office visits to physicians are stress-related.

It is a major contributing factor either directly or indirectly to the six leading causes of death in the United States, including coronary artery disease, cancer, respiratory disorders, accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.  

Stress aggravates such conditions as

    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Diabetes
    • Herpes
    • Mental Illness
    • Alcoholism and drug abuse
    • Family discord and violence

 

Stress can make us sick. It isn’t just a theory. Research can measure the results of stress in our bodies. Too much stress over time becomes distress that can have a cumulative damaging effect on our health and life.

A research study at Duke University indicated that mental stress depletes our body of oxygen reducing blood supply to the heart by restricting blood vessels (Ischemia). Myocardial ischemia is a temporary condition that if left untreated can be a precursor to a heart attack. Ongoing tension, frustration and sadness can trigger a drop in blood flow to the heart.

Effects of Prolonged Stress

When we are constantly putting our bodies into survival flight/fight mode, we increase adrenaline into our system that causes our heart to pound and blood pressure to rise adding to the normal wear and tear of our blood vessels and arteries. The fatty acids and glucose dumped into the bloodstream to give us energy to fight or run from a real physical danger, now with nowhere to go, can eventually deposit themselves in the crags and cranies of our arteries and veins.

The damaging consequences of chronically over activating your cardiovascular system has been well documented. If your blood pressure rises to accommodate running away from the hungry tiger at your door, you are adapting and using the F/F system as it was intended.

But when blood pressure is consistently raised because we keep  thinking about our spouse’s transgressions, our dismal work place, the co-worker that drives us up a wall, the constant fear of losing our job, etc. we are headed for trouble.

If you already have heart disease, even small, run-of-the mill stressors, along with anger and hostility greatly increase the risk factor of further damage even when on a low-fat diet. 

Chronic stress keeps the immune system depressed as well so we are more susceptible to disesases and illnesses.

So do we need to take stress serious? Yes we do.  Learning to relax your mind and body is part of it, but the next step is examing the thoughts and beliefs that keep us locked in fear, high anxiety, and worry. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Stress Facts

Stress is universal. Everyone experiences it in some way – every day.

Stress is normal and natural. We can’t live without stress. It enables us to set and achieve goals and enjoy life. Stress is also a survival system that alerts us to danger and prepares us to meet that danger.

How we perceive what we can do and what we can’t do in life, can either energize us to accomplish goals or create unwanted stress or distress.

Any situation that we perceive as threatening, whether physically life-threatening or simply embarrassing or emotionally threatening will trigger a Fight-Flight stress response.

Stress is triggered by what we believe is happening. It is a subjective process. A loud bang in the night can send the heart racing until we discover it was the cat knocking something over.

Past experiences can trigger stress. Past traumatic and unpleasant experiences can be triggered over and over again along with all the feelings associated with it.

The more anxiety, resentment, anger and frustration we can work through and let go, the healthier we become.

The best protection against heart attacks is love. The heart that loves is free and joyful. In the expression of love, the give and take of love, we become healthier. Hanging on to resentments and past grievances do the opposite.

A low self-worth can create corrosive stress.

How you see yourself, what you feel about yourself, what you believe others think of you, etc. all have an effect on our stress levels. What are you saying to yourself about who you are? What’s your self-talk like?

Stress can become a habit. We develop habitual ways to respond to life that can be stress-laden.

If our first responses to events are consistently fear, anxiety, worry, panic you immediately put yourself into survival mode instead of a problem-solving mode. One keeps you frozen like a deer in the headlights – the other uses that concern to find solutions.

We all experience life events differently and respond to stressors differently. Stressors are anything that create some kind of response within our body.

When we interpret life events as consistently containing some kind of danger, we will constantly gear up to fight or flee.  When we change our perceptions, we change our responses. 

We all react to the world in different ways. We all handle the amount of stress in our lives differently. We all need a certain amount of tension to complete goals and do our every day work.

What is  important for each of us is to learn what things trigger unwanted or unnecessary distress. Then we can alter our thinking to so we can use our stress energy to complete goals instead of fighting a paper tiger.  

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Visualizations to use with Healing

I have used healing visualization many times when recuperating from surgeries and illness.

After a back fusion, I used the recovery time in the hospital to visualize healing and reduce pain levels.  Its amazing how powerful such images can be.  The visualization reduced pain levels so I did not need all the pain medication available to me and the relaxation and visualization increased and maximized my healing. 

Healing Visualizations

Here are some visualization images you can use to deepen relaxation, reduce pain levels and induce healing. Allow your mind to create the images that are right for you. Any relaxation and visualization exercises are better when you have time and a quiet place to do them. 

Find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably or lie down and will not be interrupted. Go through the relaxation exercise that relaxes all the parts of your body.  These are never done while driving.

Healing Pool of Water 

To deepen that relaxation, visualize yourself going down a flight of stairs. Count in your mind from 1 – 10 as you take each step down into a deeper relaxed state.

When you have reached the bottom, imagine you are standing beside a beautiful healing pool. Place yourself in it. Feel its relaxing water healing every cell in your body. Imagine a bright light shining on you that intensifies the healing.

Stay there as long as you want before returning up the stairs to your relaxed spot. Slowly open your eyes. Be sure to give yourself time to allow energy to flow back into your muscles before resuming activities. 

Healing Mist

After relaxing your body, lie still and imagine that with every breath you take in, you are breathing in a healing mist. This healing mist flows throughout your body, touching every nerve cell, calming and healing and releasing it from pain.

My “Pac Men”

This a visualization I used after back surgery. As I recovered in the hospital, many times during the day I closed my eyes and focused on breathing in a healing mist that went immediately to the surgery site.  As it touched nerve endings reducing inflamation and pain, I created images of the blood cells working away, healing and mending the bones.  They took on the image of little “Pac Men”.  My mind drew that image from old Pac Men computer games. 

Closing the Gate

Pain is experienced in the brain. The gate-control theory of pain tells us that our sensory pain signals travel to the nerves in our spinal chord then up the spine to our brain.

One way of reducing pain levels is visualizing little gates along our spinal chord that we can open and close. 

Pain is important as it tells us when something is wrong that we need to pay attention to. But when we are dealing with ongoing chronic pain, we can reduce some of that intensity by relaxing and visualizing ourselves closing those gates from time to time.  

Throwing the Switch

Another similar image is imagining a switch, like a large light switch, at the base of the brain. When you push the switch to the off position, you stop the pain messages. 

Again pain messages are important.  They tell us something is wrong and we need to pay attention.  But when we continue to experience chronic pain after the problem has been attended to, these visualizations can relieve pain signals. 

These visualizations have been created by people in the healing profession that I have used in my own life over the years.  They are examples of how we can create our own visualizations using images that put us in charge of our health, our healing and our pain.  

The concept is the same: choose the images and thoughts that induce healing versus creating tension. Our first response to pain is to tighten up.  Relaxation and visualization allows the blood to flow so our bodies can heal.  It already knows how to heal.  We are just creating an environment that maximizes that healing.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Mini Relaxation Exercises

Here are some additional ways to reduce stress on an ongoing basis throughout the day. They are quick and easy and once you start doing them, they become habits that continue to make life easier and more pleasant. 

Mini-Relaxation Exercises

1. Develop the habit of becoming aware of your breathing throughout the day. If it is fast and rapid, it is probably shallow and  increasing your stress levels.  Immediately, take a few deep, slow breaths and as you breathe out, say to yourself: “Let Go” and create an image of all the tension draining away.

2. Use mini visualizations like the one posted last week – standing under a beautiful waterfall.  Create others that bring you an immediate calming and relaxing response. Bring to your mind a peaceful walk through the woods or anything that will trigger deep peace and relaxation. I like to reflect on the promises God gives us throughout scripture.  It creates an immediate image of love and peace.    

3. Become a kid again! Imagine yourself rolling down a grassy hillside or covering yourself with leaves or running through mud puddles. We can release the kid inside us through our imagination. Even though we aren’t doing it physically, we are reaping the benefits mentally.

4. Throughout the day, focus your mind on what you do like rather than what you don’t like.  You can bring positive thoughts into any situation.  

5. Laugh.  Reframe your situation into something funny.  Even the most disasterous event can have its humorous or comical side.  We love to listen to  comedians because they take our tragedies and turn them into humor. 

6. Whenever you feel tension, anger, anxiety or stress, do the following: stop, take some deep slow breaths and then ask yourself:

Why am I feeling this way? Am I simply reacting to someone or something I have no control over? Is there any reason I need to remain in this anger mode? If I do, will it make me feel any better or solve the problem I am facing? Is it worth feeling upset over?

Instead of hanging on to anger, anxiety, fear and stress, let these emotions tell you what needs to be done, what you can do and what you can’t.  Then look for solutions instead of hanging onto resentment, anger, frustration, worry, etc.  

Throughout your day, whenever you feel tension and stress, take some slow, deep breathes, take a quick internal inventory and breathe into the tension spots.  Imagine your tension and stress are a bundle of rocks and you have just sent them rolling down the hillside. If you see your muscles tied in knots, imagine you are untying the knots and you see the muscles relaxing. Allow your mind to create the visualization that works for you.   

©Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

Use Relaxation Strategies Anytime – Anywhere

Once you are able to relax and let go of unnecessary tension by using a relaxation exercise once a day, you can start using that relaxation response wherever you are.  

The body quickly responds to breathing evenly, slowly, and deeply. When you add such phrases as “letting go”, your body will let go of tension and become more relaxed anywhere, anytime.  

Here are some ways to use the relaxation response at any time:

Healing Waterfall

This is a quick visualization I have used many times when I have been on the run and I want to maximize those minutes when I am waiting in line, in the elevator, in the doctor’s office, etc.

Since I have already taught the mind to respond to both images and accompanying words, I can use this process to quickly reduce stress levels. Instead of thinking about how slow the line is moving or what I need to be doing, I simply use that time instead to relax. 

If you can, close your eyes for a moment. If not, you can still visualize.

Focus on breathing calmly, evenly and deeply.  Imagine yourself standing underneath a beautiful, warm, gently cascading waterfall. Actually feel the gentle stream of water wash over you and as it does, visualize your tension flowing away as well. Let go of your stress and allow yourself to relax in this quick moment of relaxation.

Driving

Nothing can create tension faster than to be late for an appointment and the traffic reduces your progress to a crawl. Your thoughts increase the tension in your body and you feel angry, anxious, frustrated, pressured, helpless, aggressive, etc.

Use your mind to bring you calm instead of adding more stress. You  are stuck in traffic. You will not arrive at your destination any faster by feeling angry and getting more and more tense. So change your thoughts.

Instead of creating additional stress, go with the flow of events that you have no control over. Use this time to monitor your thoughts and attitudes. Reframe your situation. 

Our thoughts can create stress or it can reduce stress.  We choose.

I can’t make the traffic go any faster by thinking about why it should, must or has to. But you can tell yourself, since I have to go slow, I will just use this time to think about pleasant things.  Recall some of the pleasant memories you have used in your relaxation/visualization exercises. Think about how much you love your family. 

Traffic slow downs often make other drivers become aggressive and we react to their aggressiveness with our own.  “You can’t cut me off like that”  or “You jerk, you didn’t need to cut in front of me”.  You have a choice to either allow yourself to react to what others are doing or to tell yourself it isn’t worth it to allow myself to get frustrated and angry over something so trivial. 

We may get angry for a moment, but we choose whether to hang on to that anger or not.  

Stay in the moment rather than fretting about the future or what you should or ought to be doing. You can either be reactive or proactive.  It is your choice at all times.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC