In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Over the past few months I have seen an increasing rise in referrals for stress and anxiety, and would like to share with you some skills you can use when feeling overwhelmed.
Examples of how stress and anxiety can disable a person include Gene, who was studying in the university library for an exam. Now, under the best of circumstances Gene is highly anxious; here he spent the time switching between the text and the clock. When it was time to leave for the exam, he froze and instead of going to take the exam, sat in the library watching the clock tick away the time he should have been spending in the classroom.
Then there was Sean who was getting better control of his anxiety, yet woke up one morning in a state of panic and could barely leave his bed for the next two weeks.
Frank called recently to say that a friend with whom he spoke on a regular basis didn’t call one day. He tried calling the friend and texting him, but there was no reply. Frank went into a panic mode and couldn’t figure out how he could confirm that his friend was all right. Instead, he stared at the phone, paced the floor or was so worried with fear that he became sick.
Nancy was raised by an overbearing mother and now, as a mother of 37 with two pre-teens, could not let them out of the house by themselves. She felt the need to take them everywhere they needed to go, even though she was agoraphobic herself. Someone would have to bring her to our appointments.
Paul is 16 years old but so highly stressed and anxious; he has become obsessive about rechecking things for fear he might make a mistake or forget something. His high school studies are suffering as a result.
Many of us have what I call a negative default brain. That is, our initial, impulsive thought is a negative reaction to a situation. This takes over our thinking process and leads many people to a negative “space” with negative feelings, which often leads to negative actions. As much of the counseling I do with clients is about personal control, this has become a real eye-opener for me. When clients realize the power of their negative thinking and understand that there are ways to control it, they discover a new sense of self and power.
Here are some stress and anxiety reducing tips:
Use positive self-talk. Research has shown that most of us see situations in a negative light. However, when we are conscious of how we are thinking we can control it. Positive self-talk is a way to become our own coach and motivate ourselves. Yes, it takes practice but it is a wonderful skill to possess.
Talk out your worries. None of us are so perfect that we are able to solve all our stressful situations. To share worries with another person who you trust and respect is a powerful way of enhancing your abilities to understand and solve situations. It allows us to see situations from a different perspective and brainstorm with a trusting friend or therapist.
Work off stress. This is one stress reduction technique that many people, myself included, tend to minimize. We know it’s a good strategy, but we come up with all kinds of excuses as to why we can’t do it. There are chemical reactions in the body and brain that cause one to relax and think clearer with exercise. When one is upset or angry, physical activities can help conquer the anxiety, stress and anger.
Learn to accept what you cannot change. As mentioned last time, this is a skill I use countless times each week. I find myself sharing this strategy more and more as I meet people suffering with their stress and anxiety.
Avoid self-medication. Self-medicating might seem like a good idea, but it causes a tremendous dependency and extreme damage. There are actually healthy ways to affect the brain and body – exercise, sports, healthy eating and joining a competitive team. Chemicals, including alcohol, can increase stress in many forms. Over the years I have seen clients find inner strength by enhancing self-esteem without the temporary high of drugs and alcohol.
Adequate rest. If one does not get enough sleep, one becomes moody, which in turn, affects performance.
Balance work and recreation. Just as adequate rest is essential for stress control, so too is rewarding your hard work with activities you enjoy.
Do something for others. This is one of the most powerful skills any of us can use. Not only will you help another, you will feel good about yourself. The flip side is understanding that there are some people you can’t help. Those in the therapy field who do not realize this will become very stressed out, lose confidence in their ability and begin doubting their own skills and profession.
Give in once in a while. Relax and stop taking everything so seriously. Choose your battles wisely. Anyone who needs to fight about everything obviously has low self-esteem.
One at a time. This essence of feeling stressed is too many expectations. Learn to put things in perspective and do what you can, when you can. Set priorities and check off chores as you accomplish them – then praise and reward yourself.
Stress and anxiety often lead to a sense of powerlessness, depression and anger. I have learned that as the client realizes the connection between these feeling, they can also learn to be empowered. As my clients often hear me say, “Knowledge (understanding) leads to empowerment over the ills that seem to control us.”
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