Self-Help: De-Stressing Daily Life

In the past few years I have noticed that more people who consult me as a psychologist are experiencing panic attacks and anxiety that shows up in a variety of ways. In the area of sexual dysfunctions, the fastest growing problem is called hypoactive sexual desire, the lack of sexual desire, which is often blamed on the over scheduling of life that prevents a person from slowing down enough to feel sexual.

The vast majority of people who go to the emergency room for a heart attack are actually experiencing a panic attack, a type of anxiety disorder where the person has heart palpitations, sweating, problems breathing, chest discomfort, and other frightening symptoms. If the hospital is unable to detect a problem with the heart, often counseling is recommended.
People who come to my office for depression often have signs of anxiety: excessive worry, feeling keyed up or on edge, fatigue, irritability, tension, sleep problems, and having their mind go blank in the middle of a sentence. One of the common problems people with anxiety and depression often have is something I call "gerbil thoughts," thoughts that go round and round without resolving, like a gerbil on an exercise wheel.

Sometimes they wake up in the middle of the night with these thoughts or feeling frightened. This is one cause of sleep disturbances.

At least part of the problem is our lifestyles and how we use our time. Much of the recent influence of Eastern thought, Mindfulness and meditation is a response to our overly scheduled lives.

There is good stress and bad stress but both can be harmful to your health. Even wonderful things in our lives can be stressful—the birth of a child, a job promotion where there are new and greater responsibilities to handle, the visit of parents or adult children. I often have someone who is experiencing panic attacks who says that their life is going great-they have just achieved long held goals. They feel guilty for feeling anxious.

Other stress is easily recognized as bad stress—loss of job, death of a friend or parent, an illness.

When people are under stress there are physical changes that occur in the body. When the body believes it is in danger, it produces hormones that affect all parts of the body, including the immune system—the part of the body that protects us from illness. After adrenaline is released in the body as a reaction to stress, there are chemical by-products that are not good for our health. These toxins are normally released from the body through urine, sweat, and tears.

However, modern life is such that many people feel they can't cry, don't have time to exercise and forget to go to the bathroom during the work day. When stress continues, a person can begin to develop an anxiety disorder where they become overwhelmed by fears and negative thoughts.
Stress can increase asthma attacks, colds, fever blisters, stomach acid, blood pressure and other common health problems. There is even good research that shows that cancer survivors live longer if they practice good stress reduction exercises.

A Few Ways to Cut Down on Stress

  • Prioritize. What do you want written on your tombstone? This person worked many hours of overtime? This person was a wonderful mother? This person left the world a more beautiful place? Is the way you live your life a reflection of these values?
  • Practice good communication skills. One of the great stresses is when we are having difficulties with the people we care about the most. If you find you are often fighting, feeling misunderstood, or are irritated, get help. Why is it that so many people treat the folks at work better than the people they love?
  • Learn to say "no". Protect an hour a day for relaxing, meditating, reading, or listening to music. Protect another block of quality time for your children and for your partner. Don't let the television, soccer games, or extra work interfere. Treat this time with the respect that you would give a doctor's appointment that took you a month to get!  Don't let your child's T-ball coach dictate your schedule and the quality of your family life.
  • Exercise to a sweat, for at least 30 minutes. Build up to this if you aren't in shape. Make a contract with a friend or partner to do it together daily.
  • Learn breathing and progressive relaxation exercises. Practice them for five minutes at least once a day. Try them while sitting at a stop light or standing in line at the bank.
  • Schedule your life so that you leave for your destination ten minutes before you need to leave. Remember that crazy driving (driving too fast, swearing, swerving from lane to lane) is likely to save you only a few seconds but increase your (and other's) stress greatly.
  • Have an extra key and a $10 bill hidden for emergencies.
  • Have a phone list of important numbers that is easy to find. In an emergency, the baby sitter, a friend, a child can find the needed number quickly.
  • Schedule down time on your calendar and give it the same respect as an appointment with your doctor.