“The day she let go of the things that were weighing her down, was the day she began to shine the brightest.” –Katrina Mayer
Stress means different things to people, but we all know that dreaded feeling when your heart starts to pound and you begin to sweat. Maybe you get a headache or an ache in the pit of your stomach? As we discussed in Learn to Recognize Stress, https://mswellnessproject.com/learn-to-recognize-stress/ , chronic stress is insidious and destructive to your body and your mental health. We can’t always avoid stressful situations. We can practice stress management strategies to help keep our stress levels down, our emotions under control and give ourselves the feeling that we can handle life’s curveballs.
KEEP A STRESS JOURNAL-
If you can figure out what causes you to have negative physical or emotional reactions to adverse situations, then you can control how you respond to it. Sometimes it’s not easy to figure out what causes distress. Keep a stress journal. When you have a stressful event or day, write down how you feel. Eventually you will see a pattern and you can figure out how to handle situations better next time.
Stress often results from poor organization and planning. The perception of having some control over our lives can diminish the impact of the stress response. The body feels safe and our relaxation response kicks in.
Start with your home environment. Is it organized and tidy or is it cluttered and chaotic? If it’s unorganized, get rid of things you no longer need. It’s overwhelming to open a closet or a drawer that’s overflowing with junk. Donate clothes that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn in at least a year. Organize your office or work space by cleaning out unnecessary files or paperwork. Getting rid of the clutter isn’t about the stuff you get rid of, it’s about the feeling of calm and contentment that comes along with taking charge of your personal space and accomplishing tasks. Plus, you’ll be more productive because you’re not wasting time and energy trying to find things. More ideas: Update your phone book and emergency contacts. Make an extra set of keys and keep them in an obvious spot.
Have a specific place for everything and put things away when not in use. This is extremely helpful when you are having cognitive issues or struggling with fatigue. Routine is important; you will automatically know where to look. In the kitchen, keep the heavy things on the counter and the items you use daily within easy reach. Make a master list of your regular food and grocery items and make copies; then simply add something or cross out what you don’t need. Most grocery stores have their own apps where you can keep a master list and even shop online with the option for pickup or delivery. Keep a good supply of staples in the freezer and your dry goods in the pantry so that you have them on hand for when you need them.
Remember to utilize kitchen timers or cell phone alarms to keep track of time when doing tasks or to remind you to take medication.
Delegate tasks. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Be specific, don’t expect people to know what you need.
Prep at night so the mornings are less stressful. Lay out your clothes, decide what you’re having for breakfast, make and pack your lunch and gather ingredients for dinner. Pack anything you may need to go to work or to an appointment. Throw some healthy snacks in your purse/bag for a day on the go. Fill up your water bottle with fresh water to take with you. Make sure your phone is charged and keep an extra charger with you. Also, keep a car charger in the car. Make sure your transportation is arranged or that the gas tank is filled in your car. Make sure to always confirm appointment dates and times before setting out.
Break tasks down into small segments. It’ll keep you from getting overwhelmed, helps you avoid decision fatigue and keeps your goals on track. Write your appointments and errands on a calendar, or use a mobile app. That way you won’t start the day worrying if you forgot something. Stick to your schedule, you already made your decisions, follow your plan.
Make two lists. One for priority tasks and one for things that can wait until you get to it. Sometimes seeing your to-do list written out makes you realize that you’re trying to fit too much into your schedule. Do one thing at a time. Be realistic as to what you can handle. Keep things simple. Schedule in breaks in case you need them. Cross off tasks once accomplished. Daily victories can restore your sense of control and give you the feeling of satisfaction, boosting your feel- good hormones.
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS-
Troubleshoot potential problems. Think of complications that could occur in your schedule and find solutions. Don’t be caught by surprise and be unprepared. Remove anticipation and lessen potential anxiety. Often our brains come up with scenarios that are out of proportion to the actual situation. Plan! Find out as much as you can in advance. For example; you are going to a summer party at a new friend’s house and heat is an issue for you, causing fatigue. You don’t know if the party is inside or outside. You don’t know if the house has air-conditioning or shade. You worry if there are a lot of stairs. What do you do? Just ask! If you think there might be a problem, have a word with the host beforehand. Most people are very willing to accommodate their guests.
TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH-
Make a list of all health conditions, treating doctors and contact information, medications, supplements and emergency contact information and put it in your wallet. At home or on your computer, keep a separate folder for each of your health conditions. Have each folder include all doctor summary reports, lab work and test results. When you think of a question for your doctor, put it on a list in the folder for your next appointment. Keep a symptom journal. This will help you and your doctor pinpoint problems and possible triggers and is very beneficial if you forget things in between appointments. This can be a crucial record if you ever need to file for disability.
Learn to say, “No,” without guilt. Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Nobody wants to disappoint anyone but at some point, we need to put ourselves first. There is a saying, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’ Remember that. Learn to say “no” without apology. Do what you can do and be okay with that.
BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM-
Social interaction and the feeling of belonging cause the brain to release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that can help fight against the negative effects of stress.
Join online support groups or your local MS support group. Join a church social group or attend events at your local community center. The object is to not allow yourself to become isolated and alone with your fears. Social isolation is one of the top risk factors for poor health. Talk to people. Learn from their experiences or perspectives. Let them learn from yours. Research has shown that the more people connect, the more their cortisol levels decrease, the happier they are, and the longer they live.
Surround yourself with people you can count on. Having people that you know will love and support you during difficult times can make all the difference in whether or not you will have a positive outcome.
According to, Gary Small, MD., director of the UCLA Longevity Center, “Meditation not only lowers stress levels and improves mood, it strengthens neural circuits and increases mental focus.”1 A recent MRI study indicated that an eight-week program consisting of only two hours of weekly meditation protected the brain’s hippocampal center from atrophy and improved neural connections between different memory areas that are susceptible to Alzheimer’s-like neurodegeneration.2
FIND AN OUTLET FOR YOUR EMOTIONS:
- Exercise– Improves mental health, relieves stress, boosts overall mood.
- Find a hobby– They provide physical and mental health benefits, giving alternate ways to spend time and mental energy.
- Volunteer– Being socially connected wards off loneliness and depression.
- Journal- Your thoughts and feelings on paper will help you understand yourself.
- Color– Concentration is supposed to promote calm.
- Get a massage– It releases endorphins and calms the nervous system.
- Practice yoga or tai chi– Releases energetic blockages and helps balance emotions.
- Spend time in nature -research shows it improves mood and lowers inflammation.
- Spend time with animals– Petting a dog or cat or even looking at them can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels.3
- Do something that makes you happy!
We all have obligations and busy lives and sometimes it can feel like it’s all too much. When you have a chronic illness there are a lot of things that you have no control over, but you can organize your life so that the day to day things are as simplified and stress free as possible. Make sure to designate a quiet, relaxing place to go in your home to recharge.
Remember to make time for fun!
What do you do to lower stress? Please share in the comments.
Thanks Sofia Ljunggren Veale and Kenzo for the photo!
1 Small, Gary M.D., Vorgan, Gigi, “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain, An Innovative Program for a Better Memory and a Sharper Mind.” Humanix, 2016, Cut stress to sharpen your mind, Chap 3, p. 53. 2 www.thebrainmadesimple.com/amygdala.html 3 https://www.southbostonanimalhospital.com/blog/8-ways-pets-relieve-stress