Slowly, slowly, slowly …

Stress can kill you – from the inside out and often we are not even aware that we are stressed until it is too late. So what can we do? How can we identify stress? And most importantly, how can we eliminate it?

As easy as the initial answers may appear or as easy as we may wish them to be: they are not. Everyone experiences stress to some degree, at some level, at some point in time. However, when stress becomes that truly dangerous part of your life where it is “eating away” at you most literally that is where we need to start focusing. It is also quite often the case that others will alert us to our stress level while we may be unaware of it or really condemning it already.

For example, I remember clearly one afternoon when I was sitting at home; years ago and my voice became loud – much louder than I normally speak – and I actually saw and felt myself yelling at my cat. This was such a shock and such a wakeup call for me that I immediately realized I had to take action, I had to reflect and find out what exactly was going on. It may seem silly to some readers but part of recognizing your own stress level, like I was able to do in this example, is really knowing yourself as well as knowing a few other things, such as: is the object of your stress reaction also the cause?

Allow me to share with you a few thoughts, suggestions, and tips that have worked for many people I work with. Yet, please know that this is only a brief overview of a variety of issues that often require much deeper digging on your and my part.

The first step is to be able to identify some stressors (stress indicators) and these can be simply things like muscle tension that lasts over a long period of time, moodiness, constant fatigue where no stimulants can aid you, sensations of forgetting simple procedures or steps that you've been doing or engaging for years, continuously getting sick, falling asleep and not being aware of it, overeating / under eating, and drug use (this includes alcoholic beverages, legal and illegal drugs) to keep you going.

Once you identify that you are stressed or are realizing that someone else you know is clearly stressed but not aware of the danger s / he is in – hopefully you're the angel assisting them at this point – you move towards managing stress and then extremely towards eliminating the stress from your life. Easy right? Wrong. It's not necessarily easy because often we are so deep in a cycle of stress or negativity that we can not dig ourselves out and we need help. But at times we can or we do get the help we need. If you are not sure how stressed you are I invite you to take some tests addressing individual stress levels. I especially recommend “The Stress Reliever Personality Test” or the “What is your Stress Index” by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This will help you get started.

From there you need to identify your stressors: personal or professional. Again, I highly recommend working through this with a trusted person. Maybe you do not do that in the first step but absolutely for reflection purposes. You need to look at both these arenas and even little things like flushing or increased sweating or indigestion and such are physical stress symptoms. Your trusted friends may be able to point out other things, such as your uncertainty inability to make decision, lack of clear thinking, constant doubts, poor productivity etc. These may be behaviors that you have not really noticed because you are caught up, naturally so for lack of a better term, in them.

The biggest concern is that excess or chronic stress has directly been linked to cardiovascular disease and depression. Both can be extremely difficult to get out of once the vicious cycle of unhealthy living has been entered into. This can mean heart attack in the first case or clinical depression which, left untreated leads to suicide in about 15% of all cases. These are proven numbers and you do not want to be part of either of this group, not do you want to grow an ulcer, become addicted to some kind of drug (whether legal or illegal) as all that happens is a constant veiling of the root cause. Which then brings us back to doing the work of identifying your stressors and your reaction. We are all different so your reaction to stress may be overeating while mine is not eating. This means you need to know yourself! Again, this may seem easy but it's not. Most of us know the person we let the world see or the person we wish to be but really knows ourselves is not necessarily present at the beginning of this journey. Yet, this early stage is quick and the more you begin to know yourself the more you begin to understand and love yourself and both of these are key components of a stress free and healthy life.

Why is it so important that you know yourself if you are trying to identify, manage, and eliminate stress? It is crucial because if you do not know yourself you may be choosing a strategy that helps others, possibly thousands of other people, but that can not work for you because you are YOU. For some people I work with physical exercise is the answer to stress relief. They go to the gym or biking. Others go to the shooting range. These are great options as they get the adrenalin going (one of the physical reactions of your body to stress) and then you immediately eliminate the stress. Yet, the results may be temporary only and I have seen people who have become almost obsessed with physical exercise as a way to not feel stress that actually just covering up the root cause in their own way; meaning they avoid the real issue, which most of the time is based in a fear of knowing themselves.

For me, once I realized I was stressed to a degree where it could possibly kill me I made one very crucial decision: take time to get to know me or better: re-know me. I got up every day 30 minutes early – and I am not a morning person – to engage in light yoga and a good cup of Café Latte. These 30 minutes proved to be my life-changer and life-saver (in addition to my cat, who is the one alerting me to my stress level, of course). Did I do strenuous yoga: NO. Did I always do 30 minutes: NO. But I did take these 30 minutes every morning so beginning the morning in harmony and quite time. Some people may call this meditation to some degree. From this first step I began changing my diet. This was a more subconscious switch because my body was suddenly not craving many of the bad foods any more as I was giving my body and soul sufficient attention every morning. I then also began to make more time for myself; such as not checking all the bills in the mail immediately upon returning home but first spending time with the cat or changing my clothes to shed whatever may have happened during the day. Then I began to meditate and things naturally evolved from there. I am providing this example because it highlights possible steps for you but also because it illustrates that we all need to find our own ways, our own strategies and if you are not sure what may work for you a coach or counselor or trusted friend may have some suggestions.

From here you need to identify the “Ws”: when do you feel stressed? Where do you feel stressed? Why do you feel stressed? This leads to “what” causes me stress. Very often, ironically enough it is you who is causing yourself stress because you are in disconnect with someone else's preferences either in your personal or professional life. What this means is that your preferences of handling a situation, of spending the evening, of running a meeting may be very different based on your personality than what you are encountering. This is normal but what you may be doing is blaming the other person or persons for their preferences while they are really out of your power. Let's face it: we can not change another person unless they want to and even then we can only help. So if a friend wants to see a zombie movie and you do not then there does not need to be stress. Instead both of you can agree to disagree and either watch a different movie, no movie or watch the movies separately. There is no need for stress but we do often stress over these seemingly simple items, do not we?

What I am trying to get you to see here is that you will not change your friend's preference for specific type of movie. Either you will be able to change the fact that most offices and business open at the same time, which is probably the reason why you are stuck in traffic every morning, so all you can do is one thing: change your reaction to it.

In other words, when I teach about stress management I refer to a seemingly simple formula:

A + B = C.

A is everything that is NOT within your power and it really has no intrinsic meaning to you.

B is everything that is within your power, such as your reaction to an event or situation or person; which means you need to first stop and think to be rational about the situation. This can be done by simply taking in a few deep breaths; then you need to move to controlling the inner dialogue within you, avoiding the blaming another for your stress or discomfort (the blame game, which means you are giving away your power to the other person or the event) and to keep the perspective of how important this issue is, what it means to you and what you can do now.

C is the Consequence. This is entirely in your hands: you determine your attitude and then your altitude.

Yes, it is that easy and Yes, it is that difficult but most importantly: you can distress your life, slowly and kindly in accordance with who you are. This means you are slowly turning the tide on the silent killer: stress.

I wish you the best and I know it can be done because I did it and many others do it: just remember that you may need to ask for help and that that the first sign of courage and strength on your road to determine your own stress -free life.

Natalie Forest
Super Focus Mentor
© 11/2013