In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways. A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension. A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors. Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple. We can work overtime to meet the deadline. We can resolve arguments with our partner. We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school. We can complete the to do list eventually. Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade. What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.
Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not. We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health. They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:
Creative self expression
Using your imagination
Superficial social connection
Intimate social connection
Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
Mindful self compassion.
The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response. What changes do you notice in your body? What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?
If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
In 2007, my sisters and I decided to run a 10k together. It was perfect timing, as I had just moved from Logan (Go Aggies!) and needed a new hobby. I trained hard and finished the 10K in a little under an hour. The morning of the race was an emotional high. All of the runners at the starting line anxiously waiting for the race to begin. The high as you finished the race. The amazing feeling of accomplishing something. I had found my new passion.
Fast forward to 2009 when my husband, sister, and I decided to run the Wasatch Back Relay Race. I had recently gone through a very difficult miscarriage, and, without knowing it, was headed into almost two years of infertility battles. My second leg of the race was at two in the morning. The stars were bright as I ran along the side of the road in the dark with just myself, my music, and my headlamp. At some point, I remember starting to cry and allowing that to happen. The rest of the race, something magical occurred. A lot of my worry, anxiety, sadness, and fear got translated into my running. I allowed all of those feelings to fuel my run, and it felt amazing. That race helped me heal from a lot of sadness. Over the next two years, I ran races and trained to help myself get through a lot of the feelings that came from infertility.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and my husband and I have three wonderful children. They are seven, four, and eighteen months old. Now running takes on a different role in my life. It helps keep me in shape. It is a hobby that gives me some time away from my kids so I can be a better mother. It motivates me to make and accomplish new goals. It makes me a happier, more satisfied person. It helps my patience with my kids and my husband. Running keeps me sane.
When you exercise, your body releases something called endorphins. These chemicals helps reduce your perception of pain and can also trigger a positive feeling. These chemicals will help you fight feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise is consistently something I encourage my clients to participate in.
What do you like to do to stay active? What kind of exercise keeps you sane? This summer, get outdoors and experience some different activities and find which one you like the best. It will be one of the best things you do for your physical and mental health.
One of the best things we can do for our mental, emotional, and physical health is to simply live in the present moment. The phrase is becoming cliché, but that doesn’t mean its significance has reduced. Rather than living fully today, we often spend our entire day worrying about what’s coming up in the next one. Or, we waste away our lives regretting and lamenting what we have (or haven’t) done in the past. Neither of these strategies are helpful in getting the most out of the here and now. So, how do we stay in the present? Here are a few tips:
Do a little bit of writing (or reflecting) each day, preferably with a pen and paper
In our fast-paced world, we feel like we are working at a million miles per hour. Writing helps slow things down and clear our minds, which is very therapeutic. To write clearly is to think clearly. There’s a power in writing down our thoughts and expressing what we are thinking and feeling.
Put away the technology!
Smart phones, iPads, and computers are constantly distracting and “stimulating” our minds. Put them away! Be present where you are, especially if your children or those closest to you are competing for your attention. You won’t regret it.
Take time to breathe
Obviously, we are all breathing throughout the day, but sometimes its just enough to survive! We want to thrive, not just survive. Take a step back, and take a few deep breaths. Not only is this good for the nervous system, but deep breathing is a useful tool in grounding us and helping us develop a healthier perspective on life.
In conclusion…slow down. Enjoy the present moment. Soak it in. In our pop-tart, microwave society, we are always running from place to place, both literally and figuratively. Take some time each day to reflect, put away the technology, and practice being fully present in the moment.
Maybe I have been watching too much Kung Fu Panda with my boys, but like Master Oogway says: Yesterday is History, Tomorrow’s a Mystery, Today is a Gift…That’s Why They Call it the Present.
Please, if you have found other ways that have helped you stay present and joy in the moment, share in the comments or share with your friends. I would love to hear your ideas.
As I work with clients, I often find myself recommending various techniques to help manage our behaviors, emotions, or thoughts. So I’d like to spend some time sharing these tools with you. This is the start of a blog mini-series of things we should all know to improve the quality of our lives and mental health. We live in a fast paced, instant gratification world which often leads to stress in our work and personal lives; so, our first topic will be on a helpful tool to de-stress and bring focus to our lives: mindfulness.
Meditation, or mindfulness, have vast benefits for mental health. While we may not have time to become yoga masters or visit the idyllic mountains of Nepal to meditate, we all have time to practice simple mindfulness techniques. Jeffrey Brantley, the author of Five Good Minutes, reminds us that we do have time because meditation can be done within a few minutes. When used regularly, meditation can be beneficial to our mental health and physical health and can bring the following results:
Improved attention span
Help with self-awareness
Stable emotional health through regulation
Better stress management
Promoted brain growth
There are various ways to meditate, and you will want to try a few to find what works for you. One method that works well for me is from Brantley’s book Five Good Minutes and is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the process by which you can modify behavior through negative or positive reinforcement.
Let me share one of my favorite examples of operant conditioning: During one of the early episodes of the hit television show “The Office,” Jim continually restarts his computer. Every time it reboots, it plays the classic Windows jingle, and each and every time this jingle plays, Jim gives his co-worker Dwight a mint. After a while, Jim restarts his computer and Dwight holds his hand out instantly for a mint and states, “Hmm… I now have a horrible taste in my mouth.” The technique that I am going to discuss avoids sounds and mints, but it does condition your brain to have a positive response when you need it most. This specific technique uses positive reinforcement to train your brain to have a positive emotional response to happy healthy memories through touch. This technique can be done when you are calm or when you are having a stressful time to regain control of your thoughts and relax.
Here’s how to do it:
First, choose on object to use for this technique. You can also use your fingers, because you always have them with you! As you practice this technique, you will be thinking of pleasant memories. Try to capture the feeling and essence of the memory as you practice, rather than simply running through the memories themselves.
To begin, touch the object you have chosen. If using your hand, you can touch your index finger to your thumb. While doing this, remembering a time you felt a healthy sense of satisfied exhaustion, such as from physical exercise or work. For me, one memory in particular stands out: After completing a mountain race in which we summitted a tall mountain peak before returning back to the finish line, I was mentally and physically drained. I remember feeling exhausted, but at the same time feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment. When I think back to that sensation, I can almost feel the same as I did that day.
Second, touch your middle finger to your thumb and remember a time when you felt truly connected with someone important to you. This can be when you felt trust, love, or empathy with that individual. During a difficult time in my life, I connected with a friend. That trust and friendship is something I value to this day as I look back on that experience that helped me to feel connected to him.
Third, you will touch your ring finger to your thumb. While doing this, think back to a memory when you received a special gift or a kind gesture. For me, there is nothing better than the comfort and feeling of a well-loved pillow case (which, I might add, drives my wife crazy because I won’t let her buy new pillow cases). At one point, my favorite pillow case was torn, and I thought it was done for. While my mom came to visit, she had snuck it away, fixed it, and returned it to me as a gift. This was a kind gesture that I still cherish to this day.
Last, while touching your thumb to you pinky, recall a time when you witnessed the most beautiful place you have seen or pictured. Remember how breathtaking it was. When I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, I was in awe. Its majesty and grandeur is not something you can imagine until you see it in person.
You do not have to perform these steps in order, or do every step. To begin, start with one memory.
As you regularly practice this mindfulness technique your body and mind will become conditioned to relax during this meditation. Doing it consistently can help improve your mental health and help you control your thoughts through meditation.
When this or other meditation is not enough, please come and see me. We can define and work towards goals that you want to accomplish. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
Nathan Watkins, AMFT
Brantley, J. (2011). Five good minutes: 100 morning practices to help you stay calm and focused all day long. Readhowyouwant.com.
Seppala, E. (n.d.). 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today
Do you watch or listen to Ted Talks? I do, and I love them. There’s something satisfying about listening for ten to twenty minutes while I clean my house. I recently listened to one that is fantastic and really taught me a lot.
Dr. Guy Winch is a psychologist who writes and speaks about the discrepancy between physical first aid and emotional first aid. His thesis is that we are very quick to take care of our physical health, but we often put off taking care of our emotional health. This discrepancy becomes difficult because we often experience more emotional problems than physical ones. One of the most consistent conversations I have with people in my practice is about the importance of taking care of ourselves emotionally. For some reason, we don’t see it as weakness when we break our leg and need a doctor. However, when we are struggling emotionally, we may find it difficult to see a therapist. We brush our teeth daily to maintain dental hygiene, but what do we do to maintain our emotional health?
I invite you to listen to this talk and take some notes on how to administer some emotional first aid to you, your spouse, and children.
The second Ted Talk I love is by Brene Brown. Watching this talk is a common homework assignment I give people I work with. Vulnerability is such an important, and difficult thing. As you watch this talk, I hope you think about ways you can be more comfortable being vulnerable with yourself, and especially your spouse.
Many people that struggle with depression have tried a myriad of ways to manage it:
Some have tried the frequently suggested “boot strap” approach. You know, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and forge ahead. As if willing your way to work or school will cause the depression to just go away.
Now I am not suggesting that moving forward in a determined fashion isn’t a good idea. In fact, I believe that it can help and am a huge proponent of putting your best effort on the table. What I am suggesting is that there might be an overall better way. A way that you may not have not have considered as viable for you (0r your spouse or family member that struggles with depression). What is it?
It involves Healing Outdoors.
It involves making a concerted effort to be outside in Utah’s wondrous outdoors. It involves actually enjoying it.
Understanding that depression is difficult to manage or treat, I provide these 5 hopeful ways to beat depression outdoors.
With our recent snowstorm, my ability to pretend winter isn’t a thing, has quickly evaporated.On sunny days I get through the winter by making sure I spend plenty of time standing in front of my south facing windows soaking up the warmth that shines through.On overcast days it can be more of a challenge.Add in the stress of holiday shopping and parties and expectations, and winter can be a bit of a downer (to say the least).Here are a few suggestions to help cope with winter blues:
Q: I’m pretty sure I have depression, I mean I have most of the symptoms. But I have nobody to talk to me and my mum aren’t close. I cant see a doctor without my mum finding out. So I think I should go to one of my teachers but I don’t know how to start the conversation and what to say. I think I really need help because I’ve been self harming for over 2-3 months now. Please help. (13 year old girl)
A: Thank you so much for writing in for help. You are wise to recognize that you need to talk with someone about your pain and reach out for help. If you have a trusted teacher at school, or a school counselor, they may able to help you find a way to talk to your mom about your struggle with depression and self-harm.
If it seems a little easier to talk to your mother about physical health concerns you may want to try asking your mom to take you to your physician by saying something like, “I haven’t been feeling well for a while. Will you take me to the doctor?” Your doctor will be able to do a depression screening, rule out any physical illness, and give you some recommendations for therapists in your area.
I would recommend individual therapy to address your depression and self-harm, and family therapy to help you and your mom communicate better.
If you can’t talk to your mom, please talk to someone soon. Depression is treatable. You don’t have to continue to suffer.
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