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February 9, 2012

Do you like this?

OK, it’s 2012. And regardless of what you’ve already set as your intentions for a better life this year, I encourage you to add one more:  “Less Stress, More Peace.”

I think everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time and it’s likely you’re familiar with that heart-racing, shallow-breathing anxiety that accompanies a full plate of personal and professional obligations, duties, to-do lists, etc. Sometimes it’s just too much, and it doesn’t feel good. Maybe these anxiety-laden moments cause you to longingly gaze out the window, wishing you could just take off for a while … go on a scenic country drive, or cash in the kids’ college fund for a few weeks of white, sandy beaches and mai-tais.

What you are feeling is overwhelmed and stressed out. Yep, join the human race.

These days, especially in this economy, it can be all too common to feel anxiety about things that normally wouldn’t bother you, or at least wouldn’t bother you to such a degree. Many folks find themselves working harder for less income, or are worried about keeping their jobs. And even if the economy isn’t the cause of trouble for you, perhaps you have a long-term familiarity with feeling anxious or nervous. Maybe you go along just fine with the day-to-day stuff, but if something unexpected gets thrown into the picture, it’s enough to tip the anxiety scales sending you into that out-of-control spiral.

In fact, one of the characteristics of heightened anxiety is a tendency for the feelings to spiral out of control. Unrealistic expectations for yourself, difficulty saying “no,” a history of anxiety, too few tools in your Big Bag O’ Coping Tools, are all major contributors to psychological and physical stress-related problems.

In a newsletter I received recently from my chiropractor, Dr. Stephen Swann, he reports, “So why is it some people deal with these stress situations better than others? The answer is complex and includes many factors from genetics to weather conditions, but an interesting study in The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics revealed that nearly one in three patients viewed their lives as moderately to severely stressful, and more than 50 percent felt that stress had a moderate to severe impact on their health problems.”  

Anxiety is often best helped with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Your mental health professional or physician can help you decide that. But right now, let’s look at helpful ways to rein stress in, and you can forever add these to your Big Bag O’ Tools. Because with or without medication, it’s very empowering to feel that you have the tools you need to regain some control.

1. First, breathe. At the first signs of anxiety taking hold, your breathing will tend to be shallow, but it’s important to take slow, gentle deep breaths. This helps quiet not only your mind, but also helps the systems in your body stay calm and function normally, and helps you return to center—mind, body and spirit.

2. Second, realize that what’s happening is likely about perspective. You’re seeing the issue all at once, it’s too big, and so of course it’s going to seem unmanageable. Perhaps it’s about work, home, school or relationships. Whatever it is, start looking at it differently, from different angles ... and preferably in smaller, manageable morsels.

 3. And here’s how to do that: Take the big picture and break it down. Allow yourself to think in terms of “one step at a time.” Make the pieces as small as you need to, even if it feels silly at first, and focus only on one piece at a time. You can’t eat a whole plateful of food at once, you take it a bite at a time. This is the same way to keep your anxiety from spiraling. And keep breathing.

4. Create for yourself a calming mantra, such as: Stay present. Just focus. Keep it simple.  I can do this. Whatever catch phrase helps you stay with yourself, and not abandon yourself, will serve to bring you back to the present moment.

And one last thought: If you’ve got a perfectionist streak to your personality, I encourage you to work on this. There’s no “perfection” in life anyway.  And no one is pressuring you to make an “A” in everything you do … except yourself.

Until next time:  “You owe it to everyone (including yourself) to find pockets of tranquility in your busy world.”  

—Georges Bernanos

Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, minister, and educator, in private practice in Chattanooga, and the author of “Empowering the Tribe” and “The Power of a Partner.” Visit his website at www.DrRPH.com.

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February 9, 2012

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