One week into the New Year and we’re all ready stressed out, or perhaps still stressed out is more accurate. Why not begin a de-stressing program? The following exercise can help to reduce the stress in your life.
Make an appointment with yourself, sit quietly with paper and pen and quickly jot down the first five most stressful situations that come to mind. It might be the first hour of the morning trying to get the kids off to school or it could be when they arrive home in the afternoon. Stress might come from a messy house, a personality conflict with a friend or family member, or deadlines at work. It may be caused by your own unrealistic expectations.
Whatever first comes to mind, write it down in columns across the top of the page.
Under each column list the factors that make it stressful. Take your time to carefully pinpoint the origins of each stress. For example if mornings are difficult some comments in that column might read; oldest child won’t get out of bed, the youngest always complains about breakfast, the kitchen is in chaos by the time they leave for school.
On a second page make note of all your emotional reactions, which probably range from furious to relieved, along with an infinite variety of other emotions. Be sure to also include positive reactions that arise.
Then review all you’ve written and use different colored highlighters to match up the situations on the first page with your reactions on the second page. If you feel rage with the child who won’t get out of bed mark both with the same color.
In the next step carefully analyze each stressful situation. What about the situation can be changed? How might you react differently? The idea is that stress is a combination of factors that involve the behaviors and reactions of all participants. The causes of stress interact with your reactions.
After problem-solving to modify the situations on the first page, it’s time to assess your responses. To see how it works let’s return to the child who won’t get up in the morning. The problem-solving component would raise several questions, such as what time does she go to bed, does she go to sleep immediately, if not, then why, does she have insomnia or other problems with sleep? What would motivate her to be more responsible in the morning? Is she aware of the stress she creates?
Assuming she becomes more motivated your job is to notice any positive changes and offer encouraging comments. You also would decrease your own stress by allowing her to take more responsibility, not buying into her behavior when she doesn’t get up, letting her deal with the consequences.
Much of our stress is self-induced by trying to control too much of what happens around us. When we can let go and allow others to realize their actions have consequences we can be less reactive; we don’t have to blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong. Much of the stress we experience comes from within, from self-imposed guilt for not supposedly being “good enough.”
By examining stress as described above responsibility becomes a family affair in which everyone cooperates, there is no blame or judgment and best of all, stress levels can be greatly reduced, making for a truly happy new year.
Elinor Stanton is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist, in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Elinor is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and is a certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She welcomes requests for professional assistance with a variety of troubling issues, including mood disorders, trauma, anxiety, panic and phobias as well as marital problems. Comments and questions are welcome and may be submitted by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 394-2861.