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Living Fit: Stress management involves learning to control reactions

October 9, 2013
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mcgoffAs a young lawyer, I had a recurring dream in which I had moved to a remote mountain cabin, deep in a wooded forest, with majestic mountains in my backyard and a waterfall that fed into a crystal clear lake in my front yard. I awoke each day to the sunrise, fresh mountain air and the energy of the calm environment. There were no phones, computers, demanding clients, irritated family members, traffic or boring social commitments. No stress. I felt relaxed, at peace and calm, thinking about this wonderful life.

Suddenly, my tranquil thoughts were shattered by an annoying sound; my alarm clock. As I slammed the clock to keep it from buzzing, I realized I was not in the mountains, but instead waking up to face yet another stressful day as a young lawyer, overcommitted in every aspect of my life and dreading what the day might bring.

Over the years, I realized the stressful days I dreaded did not have to be perceived by me as such. With patience and perseverance, I realized what caused me (and most people) to experience stress, and I changed my thinking about life’s challenges.

In my current profession as a corporate health coach, I am frequently asked, “How can I get rid of stress?” Everyone expects a one-sentence quick fix to this predicament that has faced humans for hundreds of years. The truth is you cannot get rid of stress. Stressful situations will always be there, no matter your age, socioeconomic status, or profession. But, what you can do is change your thoughts about stress.

First, a few words about stress and the detrimental effects it can have on us. It is true that worry and stress can weaken our immune systems and lead to heart disease, cancer, GI disorders, and mental health problems. 75 to 90 percent of all primary care physician visits are related to stress. Stress can deplete your energy, take away your creativity, decrease your decision-making ability and leave you in a continual state of exhaustion. Stress can result in negative self-talk and unreasonable self-expectations. Stress can lead to sleep deprivation as you lie awake night after night, worrying about “what ifs” that often never happen.

If stress can cause all of these ailments and problems, why do we allow it to take a front seat in our lives?

Many of us experience stress when we lack control over a situation, whether in our homes, at work or in our social circles. You cannot control the difficult client or boss who wants the project done yesterday. You cannot control the traffic jam that makes you 15 minutes late for work. You cannot control the high winds that knocked a large tree onto your house, ripping a gaping hole in the roof. You cannot control your elderly parents’ need for care in a nursing facility, causing you to wrestle with them over selling their home and giving up their freedom.

When you find that you cannot control these situations, your heart beats faster, your blood vessels constrict, your breathing increases and all of this can lead to health problems, exhaustion, self-doubt, and sleep disturbances. However, it is very important to remember that stress will only cause these detrimental effects if you allow it to! Stress is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond. You cannot control other people or situations, but you can control yourself and how you respond. This is great news! You can control 90 percent of the situation, when you thought you had no control at all! It is all how you look at it.

Stress also comes about because we set unreasonable self-expectations, thinking we have to be and do all things for every situation and everyone. Let go of this self-imposed perfectionism (and requiring those around you to be perfect) and enjoy a relaxed attitude, increased energy and greater achievements at work and home.

Yet another reason people are stressed is because they are on 24/7 worry duty in order to handle the “what ifs” of life. Constant worrying will not make the issue turn out the way you want it to, nor will it make the issue go away. It will only further drain your energy and cause more stress. Instead of poisoning your mind with “what if” scenarios, ask “what if not”?

Now that you know the detrimental effects stress can wreak in your life, what can you do about it? Remember, stress is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react.

Think of a stressful event in nature, such as a hurricane, and compare it to your life. Hurricanes bring high winds, rain, torment, destruction (people, situations); however, inside the hurricane is what is known as the eye of the storm, where it is completely calm and peaceful (you). You cannot control the winds and waves (people, situations), but you can put yourself in the eye of the storm and control how you will react by staying peaceful and calm.

I can hear you now: “How do I find the calm in the eye of the storm when I am used to being in the thick of the winds and rain?” Patience and perseverance. You have allowed stress and stressful situations to control you for years. Give each of these stress relief tips a try. I guarantee you will begin to notice a difference in how you react to the storm encircling your inner calm.

1. Adopt a new language. Your daily language governs whether you see life as exciting, peaceful, frightening or stressful. If you wake up to “battle a new day”, you begin with a stress state.

2. Let go of tension. Through the day, check in with your body and notice where you are holding tension. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. Are you breathing?

3. Make up your mind that no matter what comes your way, you will be calm. Before you leave the house each day, consciously decide nothing and no one will upset you.

4. Think Positive. Don’t worry about the “what ifs”.

5. Meditate. All you need is one minute. If you don’t have one minute in your day, then we seriously need to talk!

Tips for meditating

n Set a timer for one minute

• Find a comfortable position

• Balance hands, symmetrical and still (i.e. both on lap, both clasped)

• Close eyes, smiling is fine

• Stop mental chatter/ inner thoughts

• Imagine energy encircling your body

• Observe and focus on your normal breath (inhale/exhale naturally, don’t force it or take big breaths)

• Numerous thoughts will come into your mind. It’s ok, just return your attention to your normal breathing and let them go away.

Living stress free does not mean there is no trouble, conflict, challenges or difficult people in your life. Rather it means refusing to allow conflict, people and challenges to affect your response and mood. We can respond with stress or we can respond with calmness and a level head. You decide, and let me know how it goes!•

__________

Sharon McGoff is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, a certified personal trainer and health fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, and a certified life and wellness coach with WellCoaches, Inc. She welcomes your questions or comments at Smcgoff@comcast.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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