Times are tough now. Probably tougher than ever before in most of our lifetimes. Some of us have lost our businesses. Some have lost their jobs. Some of us have lost our homes. Some of us are having a hard time being on food stamps for the first time. All of us are worried for our kids and the future. Doesn’t really matter who we blame because it is what it is.
They say that when you get lemons, make lemonade and when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Those are great sayings, but sometimes hard to put into action. I am a Psychologist and it is in my nature to try to help people get past tough things and to move on in their lives. Although I cannot tell you everything will be ok and I cannot ease your pain completely, I can give you some things to do that can clear your head a bit and maybe help you to lower the stress level.
I was surprised when a post from a 12 year old girl on Facebook made my day a little easier when I found out some very bad news last week. She wrote: "Worrying all the time is like carrying an umbrella waiting for it to rain." I had been worrying all day and the last few days before it, and her post snapped me into thinking about how wasteful it actually was. My worrying wasn’t going to change anything and it certainly wasn’t going to make me more productive. It actually made me less productive. Although these things may not fix the problem completely, they can make you feel a little better in the process:
GET OFF THE NEWS FOR A BIT AND HUG YOUR KIDS: Many of us are attached to the news, the tv and the computer to keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on in the country. Scary times require some of that, but like it was during and right after 911, for many of us, it can be overdone. Unfortunately many things in that arena can take stress and amplify it, especially during election time. Shutting it off for a while and sitting down and playing with and hugging your kids can really bring the blood pressure down.
GET GREAT SLEEP: During normal times, getting too little sleep can really throw off your perceptions, mood, productivity, and stress level. Worse yet, it can really alter your physical health. Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D says that lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don't get a good night's sleep or who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. According to the Mayo Clinic, lack of good sleep can cause, weight gain, depression, decreased immunity, disease, forgetfulness, increased risk of accidents or injury, and stress. Stress can impede your sleep. Certainly if it feels like everything is going wrong, that is usually a by product. Timothy Morganthaler, M.D. recommends the following amounts of sleep for each age group: infants: 14 to 15 hours, toddlers: 12 to 14 hours, school-age children: 10 to 11 hours, and adults: 7 to 9 hours.
Try to clear your mind at night before bed. Watch a funny show. I personally love to go back to my past and watch "That 70’s Show". I swear those were my friends! Feels good to laugh at the end of the night, even if things are tough. Some other sleep suggestions: try not to eat a lot of sugar or caffeine right before bed as those can stimulate your nervous system and prevent sleep. Another hint that helped me sleep much better is wearing comfy, lightweight socks to bed. For some this might make things too warm, but for me, it took mild insomnia and made it go completely away. You can do some research on your own with your Doc and on the Internet about things like Omega 3 fish oils and how they effect sleep as well.
LAUGH A LOT: Sometimes the best time to laugh is exactly when you don't feel like it. I love to laugh and absolutely love belly laughing so hard that you can’t catch your breath. Laughing causes you to deep breathe which produces stress relief. It also makes it virtually impossible to think about the awful thoughts you might have been thinking before you were laughing. So the best thing to do is to find ways to laugh often. Yes, you might be losing important things in your life which isn’t funny and it might look to others like you are losing your mind in the process, but you can laugh or cry. I choose laugh!
EAT RIGHT: Since I am not a nutritionist, I will not go into too much detail here except for the no brainers- sugar and caffeine will stimulate your nervous system and make you feel more agitated and annoyed, further aggravating stress. You do the math! It is worth it to learn what is best for you to eat to reduce stress. Talk to your Doc or a nutritionist to be sure.
EXERCISE: This is of course, if you are healthy enough and have the go ahead from your Doc to do so. I always find it amazing how great I feel after getting into a stressful place, and saying, "the heck with it", and making a beeline for my elliptical. I roll the problems away! Exercise produces endorphins and enkephalins-happy hormones if you will. It also helps to turn on your growth hormone. All good things to reduce stress and the bad hormones that come along with it.
DRIVING AND MUSIC: Yesterday I was feeling a lot of stress. I had a meeting that was making me very nervous and I felt really tight and uncomfortable while driving there. I put on the cd player and one of my favorite KISS songs, "Dr. Love" came on. I cranked it up loud-like in the old days when I was 20. I started to sing with Gene and was actually feeling exhilarated by the end of the song. I replayed it again because I wanted more! KISS may not float your boat but whatever does, playing it can help your mood. It can create the right kind of interruption that you need to drop the stress. Of course, you see that I did NOT say drive fast! Be safe when you drive and pay attention!
FIGURE OUT HOW TO ADAPT AND TALK ABOUT IT: Our world is changing and we must change with it. We must adapt to what is needed in this new world. I know that isn’t comfortable for many, but it is the reality. While I cannot tell you exactly how to adapt yourself, I believe, that sometimes we are uncomfortable because we are supposed to be doing something else. Sometimes the something else can be better than what you were doing before. Brainstorming it out with someone can help you to be creative and find a way to fit what you do into the formula.
These suggestions are not meant to cure all of your ills or make life the way it was before, although I wish I could do that for you! I reiterate, I know these are hard times, but we need to keep our stress level low, our perception and outlook as positive as we can, and fill our lives up with the things that make us happy so we aren’t sulking in a corner when the opportunity comes. My heart and thoughts go out to all of you who are fighting the good fight to stay up!
Dr. Sherri is a Child and Family Processing and Motivation expert seeing people via webcam. For more info click here.