This really brings us back to the beginning when we first started talking about this subject of stress. Stress is the direct result of feeling like there is too much to do, relationship issues, deadlines to meet and feeling like we have lost control of our selves, our lives and sometimes even our feelings. In the martial arts what we teach students is a Black Belt Success Cycle.
The Black Belt Success Cycle goes like this: Know what you want Have a plan and a success coach Take consistent action Review your progress and renew your goals
Here is how this relates to reducing stress.
1. First you must know what you want / or what the problem is. Can you identify what you feel is wrong. When, Why and Where is it happening? What would you like to see happen that would make your life better? What is your goal?
2. Brainstorm some ideas of how to reach your goal. They do not have to make sense to you right now and you do not have to think of the perfect plan now. Come up with many different ways that you believe you could solve the problem. If you cannot think of any, talk to your supporters for their ideas and then get them written down. Now it is time to select a solution. You may want to have a ‘success coach’ as you weigh your different options and to help you stay on track. Pick one that you believe will help you reach your goal and that you are comfortable with.
3. Commit to working your plan and take consistent action. Persevere and do not give up. If you have a ‘success coach’ they can help guide you and keep you on the path you have chosen.
4. Review your progress. Is what you are trying working or not working? Do you need to tweak a part of it or try something new altogether? Has something changed for you, are the circumstances or end results the same as when you started on this path? Regularly checking in and then renewing and sometimes revising your goals will keep you feeling like you are in control of your life and the decisions being made that effect you.
Making decisions and choices about your life is a key part of reducing stress. In our next series of article we will discuss how to make the best decisions possible so that you stay on the path that will make you feel the best and result in the success you want out of your life.
I would like to start this article off with a copy of a post done by a young lady that wrote about being a perfectionist and the affect on her life. Now before you read this, be assured this is not out of the norm. This past year I was a part of a forum on stress at a local high school, and just the idea suggested by the panel that it was OK to be less than perfect in all aspects of your life, and that you would still get into a good college, was met with an uproar that was just as if we suggested that the students Facebook accounts should be discontinued forever.
The results of demanding perfection of yourself in your academic, sports, social, societal life is damaging to the mind, body and spirit. These affects may have life-long consequences. Here is some of what we see when we demand perfection:
Low self-esteem, Depression, Anxiety (performance, test, social), Health problems (ulcers, migraines, etc), Strained relationships, Loneliness, Frustration, Anger, Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues, Worry, Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors, Substance Abuse
Trying to be perfect is exhausting. It is a challenge that will never be, well ‘perfected’. In the words of John Wooden, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” (In case you are not aware of Mr. Wooden, his college basketball team won 7 straight national championships and national championships in 10 out of 12 years with this philosophy.)
How is it that other people seem to fit so much into their day, while I struggle with getting the necessary things done? I make a list of all of the things I have to do – but it never seems that I get anything done on it, or not nearly enough! I have too much to do!
We all know the feeling of “having too much to do”. Sometimes it is because we have over-scheduled ourselves or because we have procrastinated on a project and now it is just overwhelming and stressful. Finding the time to do everything is really about sitting down and deciding what needs to be done and what are the most important items on this list.
I have a t-shirt that I bought in one of the islands in the Caribbean that says, “It is good to do nothing and then to rest”. Just as it is important for us to have good time management skills and to work hard, it is also just as necessary to practice calming our mind and being still. For many it is very hard just to be still, to not be doing anything, to just relax. Relaxation is about being still physically while being alert mentally. Knowing how to ‘relax’ is one way of allowing your body and mind to rest, a very deep rest, which in turn allows you to build the energy you need for the rest of your activities.
Imagine I ask you to hold yourself up on a chin up bar and hold it as tight and long as you possibly can. In a very short period of time you start to get tired and it becomes more difficult. Soon your muscles are aching and there seems to be no power in your hands or arm to continue to hold. Finally it becomes impossible – you let go and you feel great relief. If we did the same experiment and I asked you to hold yourself up on a chin up bar for 10 seconds and then you got a short break and then held yourself for 10 seconds with a break – you would be able to continue that routine for a much longer time, and the reason is you allowed yourself to relax your muscles.
If we never take the time to calm our mind and body, fatigue can set in quickly and everyday activities will seem harder for us and soon we simply do not have the energy to do even the simple things. This kind of relaxing is not the same as watching TV, napping, chatting online or even taking a walk. It can be accomplished in these ways though. Continue reading “How to Reduce Stress Part 3: Learning to Relax”
We have all heard that ‘you are what you eat’. While we don’t eat stress, what we do eat can stress the cells in our body and brain, and they do know the difference between what is good for them and what is really just filler material – that most of the time is easier to get and can taste good. If we do not give our bodies what it needs you cannot be at your best, physically or mentally.
First lets talk about healthy food that reduces stress. Our bodies are made up of 70% water yet most people only eat between 5 and 15 percent of water based foods in their diet. Immediately that causes a deficit of the most valuable part of the makeup of your diet. The water you get from drinking water and in fruits and vegetables actually allows you to think better, as the cell connections in your brain are aided by water. Eating foods that are water based, fruits and vegetables as the majority of your diet is the best.
However putting good food in is only one part of the system. Reducing or eliminating the bad things we put in our bodies is also an important step. Here are two of the biggest culprits in our diet that are not healthy choices and will increase the affects of our stress.
Caffeine: hidden in more foods than you can imagine, can make you feel good short term, but can also increase sleeplessness and panic attacks.
Sugar: Looks good, tastes great and is added to more prepared foods than you can imagine, will give you a quick high and then a big let down. The up and down effect can leave you wiped out.
In our busy lives though, eating correctly is one of the toughest choices we have to make. Doing so though will make us feel better physically, mentally and just as important, we will know that we are doing the right thing!
Without getting all scientific on you, there are many reasons that physical activity is great when you are feeling stressed. First when you are stressed out your body produces cortisol and that can make you feel even more nervous and anxious, even to the point of feeling sick. Getting active will use up some of that cortisol and that will help to reduce the nervous feelings.
Just as important the physical activity also produces a chemical – endorphins – that help you feel good! They improve your mood and help you slow down, as well as when you are tired you can sleep better. All of us know of the physical health benefits of exercise, but the mental health benefits are great too.
What is your favorite thing to do? Is it walking, dancing, martial arts, skateboarding, basketball, frisbee??? Any activity can be good and if you make it a habit to get some activity that you enjoy in everyday you will find your stress levels being reduced. But when we sit around or are dormant, or only worry about what we ‘have to do’, then our stress levels will go up.
One warning; Do not let physical activity become a distraction to the point of being an escapism method. Physical activity and especially sports and teams can become overwhelming if we are over achievers and only add more stress to our lives, if we are trying to fit too much in to our schedules. Finding the balance of some physical activity everyday while continuing to work on the root causes of our stress is the best.