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how to deal with stress positively

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Every so often everyone at my office receives a colorful little pamphlet from our health care provider filled with helpful tips on how to eat better and how to find exciting new ways to exercise. Usually I am quite excited when I see one of these pamphlets in my mail slot as it typically guarantees me at least ten whole minutes of un-bored time at the office. This time I was especially excited by the pamphlet when I saw on the cover that an article titled "Stress: Learning to Cope" would be featured. In my life, and in the lives of so many around me, stress plays a huge factor in pulling me towards negativity. When I am stressed, I eat worse, sleep worse, act worse, and feel worse. Unfortunately, no matter who you are or what you do, stress is an inevitable part of life. Rather than dwell on that negative fact, I decided to dive into the article and learn how I could better cope with the stress in my life.

According to the article, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey recently and found that 1/3 of Americans are living with extreme stress and 48% believe their stress has increased in the past five years. Since it seems like we have a lot of stress on our hands (and, most likely, a lot of the negativity that comes along with it), let's see what the article suggests we do to relieve the stress in our lives. Below are the seven steps listed in the article along with my personal interpretation of them:

 

  1. Understand that your stressors are highly personalized. It's important to realize that your stress situation is unique. What may stress you out may not stress others out. It's important to think about what personally makes you stressed and also to realize what makes your loved ones stressed. Assessing this is a very important first step in the stress-reduction process.
  2. Recognize how stress feels to you. This ties in with the concept of mindfulness that I have posted about before. It is really essential to think about how you feel when you are stressed. Ask yourself the following questions: How does my body feel? What is my breathing like? Where do I feel tense? What thoughts are running through my mind? Also, it may be helpful to recognize how you feel when you are not stressed so you can compare the two states of being.
  3. Discover your own stress signals. Once you have figured out how stress feels to you, you can figure out what your "stress signals" are. These signals may be mental (inability to concentrate, feelings of anger or frustration, etc.) or physical (stomach aches, headaches, lack of energy, etc.). If you can recognize the signals of stress, you can then begin to think of ways to minimize or cope with the stress. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in being stressed that we don't recognize it until after a situation, when we look back and say, "I guess I must have reacted that way because I was stressed." Recognizing the stress signals can really help lessen or diminish stressful situations and stress-related reactions before they get out of hand.
  4. Identify how you deal with stress. Take some time to think about how you deal with the stress in your life. Many (okay, probably most) people use unhealthy behaviors like drinking, smoking, overeating, etc. to cope with stress. Do you use unhealthy behaviors? If so, recognizing how these behaviors are related to stress could really help you manage them. No matter how good an unhealthy behavior makes you feel at the time, it definitely does not help you feel better (or melt your stress away) in the long run. Think about that the next time you want to light up a smoke or stick your face in a box of donuts.
  5. Think of healthy ways you could manage stress. Lucky for us stressed-out people, there are lots of great ways to deal with stress positively. Since we can't avoid it, we have to deal with it. Here are some of my healthy suggestions for dealing with stress:
    1.  
      • Try yoga or meditation. Clearing your mind and being mindful for a bit can really reduce stress.
      • Spend time with friends or family (if you get along). Being with others can be a great distraction.
      • Take a walk, especially if it's nice outside. There is something universally positive about sunshine.
      • Exercise, but make sure not to over do it; overexercising is an unhealthy behavior.
      • Read books on how to deal with stress. You never know what types of tactics you'll discover.
      • Laughout loud. Call up your funniest friend or check out a local comedy show to get the guffaws going.
      • Do something good for someone else. Volunteering or helping a pal can actually help you.
      • Get a pet. Plenty of dogs and cats need adopting and studies have show that they can reduce stress.
      • Practice deep, relaxed breathing. You can do this anywhere (in traffic, in a meeting) and it's very calming.
      • Write about how you feel. Sometimes just getting it out on paper (or a computer screen) helps a lot.
      • Vacatewhatever situation is causing you stress. Take a break. Take a trip. Do whatever you need to to get away.
      • Smile at everyone you see. Smile at yourself in the mirror and your coworkers in the hall. It really does work.
      • Learn something new. Trying new things will take your mind off of whatever it is that's bothering you.
  6. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. You've heard it all before -- eat right, drink lots of water, get 7-8 hours of sleep, exercise. Cliche as all of this advice sounds, it really does help to do all of these things, especially when you're stressed. As you might have noticed when you thought about your stress signals, stress can really take a toll on your body. Doing what you can to keep it working right will definitely improve the way you feel mentally and physically when faced with a stressful situation (or life, as the case may be).
  7. Accept help from others if you need it. This can be a hard one for a lot of people, especially if they aren't taking the time to realize they are stressed. Once you realize you are stressed and figure out what it is that's causing the stress, give some thought to whether or not someone else can help you out and lessen your stress load. Whether you talk to a friend about your stress or reach out to a coworker and ask for help on a project, seeking assistance is usually a small step that might make a big difference in terms of minimizing the stress in your life.

 

Though it may seem like a lot of the points made here are obvious ones, it never hurts to re-evaluate not only what causes stress in your life, but what you are doing to cope with that stress. Some stress is completely unavoidable; some stress can be removed from your life. Consider this carefully. Can you rid yourself of unnecessary stress? If so, do it! There's no time like the present to get rid of stress you don't need.

For the stress you can't get rid of, try to think about it positively. This is very hard sometimes, but try asking yourself this: What can I learn from this? You can learn from almost anything, and if you're going to be faced with the stress anyway, why not turn it into a positive experience?

Overall, I'd offer this advice: Think about what's causing you stress, how you are reacting to the stress, what you can do to minimize or remove the stress, and if there is any way you can get help with the stressful situation. Doing all of these things won't completely erase stress from your life, but it will definitely help you understand and manage the situation, which will ultimately make your life, even the stressful parts, a lot more positive.


predicting positivity

 

predicting positivity

 

As always, The Happiness Project has posted something that really got me thinking this morning. After reading Secrets to Happiness, Gretchen posed an interesting question about whether or not we can predict the happiness of others in the future. Check out the link to the post before reading my response below by clicking here.

Wow, I thought to myself after reading the post, This is a very interesting concept. Can we really guess at the future happiness of those around us? Can we really predict how happy we will be? Of course we want to be happy and we want the people in our lives to be happy, but it is hard to really know for what will (or won't) make someone happy in the future. Maybe the character mentioned in the post, Betsy, would be happier if she were married or maybe she wouldn't be happier or maybe she would be unhappier. As we all know, it's pretty hard to predict the future, and predicting the future of our emotional states may be no different.

However, in my experience, external things are not what make us happy. It is not situations or people or things that make us happy though they can help, for a time. We are what makes us happy. For this reason, I wonder, Would Betsy really be happier if she were married? Maybe she thinks she will, maybe she really believes it with her whole heart, but if she is looking for something outside of herself to make her happy, she is probably not happy on the inside. Likewise, if Alan, the other character mentioned in this post, is looking for a happy person to spend his life with to make him happier, is he really all that happy with himself?

Because I am not and have not ever been married, I cannot comment on that aspect personally. But from an objective single person point of view, it seems like there is a lot of pressure put on finding happiness within a marriage. While, yes, some couples are definitely happy, I don't think it is healthy to rely on a situation (marriage) or a person (your spouse) for your happiness. The expectations people put on finding happiness elsewhere -- whether it be in a marriage, in a new job, in a new place -- often only lead to disappointment (and, when other people are involved, resentment). People often spend their entire lives seeking something that, if access properly, has been in them all along. Though I have not looked to marriage for happiness, I have searched for it in people, places, things, and experiences and, while I have had fleeting moments of joy with these external sources, I believe there is a greater, deeper happiness that lies within me.

I believe that happiness comes from within and because of that I think, generally speaking, you can predict whether or not someone will be happy in the future. Someone who is genuinely happy now, on the inside, is very likely to be happy in the future, regardless of his or her situation. For example, my mother is a very happy, upbeat person. Like most people, she's had good things happen to her and she's had bad things happen to her, but for as long as I've known her she has maintained a positive attitude. I, on the other hand, have spent the majority of my life avoiding positivity like the plague. As a child, a friend's mother nicknamed me Eeyore because I was always in a constant state of gloom and irritation. My mother always saw the glass half full -- maybe even more than half full -- while I spent time whining about how the glass was half empty. People have varying degrees of happiness and, unless they make a conscious effort to change their own happiness, they are likely to stay at the same level, regardless of what happens to them or around them.

I am working on changing my own happiness level and, though I think it's rare to drastically become happy if you are generally unhappy and vice versa, I think it is possible. There is no way to be 100% of our happiness, or the happiness of others, in the future, but I fully believe that we are in control of our happiness. Though it may be very hard to change, it is possible. You have to really, really want to change though -- and you have to want to do it for yourself. Which is why I think Alan's point, "it's hard to make an unhappy woman happy," is a very good one to recognize. We can't make other people happy if they want to be unhappy. We can't even make ourselves happy if we want to be unhappy. Do you see what the key ingredient is here? Want. You have to want to be happy. For so many years, I didn't want to be happy. I wanted to sulk and pout and be bratty and sit in my room and cry. I got used to being the sad, gloomy Eeyore.

But now I want to change. I want to be a happy person. But, importantly, I realize that this happiness has to come from within. I cannot look to people or things or situations to make me happy. I have to make me happy. The future is a big, wide, open space and I have decided that I want to be happy there. One way to do this, as Alan points out, is to surround myself with happy, positive people who will embrace the present moment with me and who will not be concerned with seeking happiness outside of themselves.

One of the difficulties I have found in relationships with others is the fact that they are often looking to you to make them happy. It is not my responsibility to make others happy. It is my responsibility to make myself happy. Thinking about the future of happiness, be it in myself or in others, has made me realize just how important it is to be responsible for my own happiness. It is easy to blame unhappy feelings on other, outside factors, but, in all honesty, my own happiness comes down to me.

Now the real question becomes: In the future, how happy will I be?  

 


do you inspire you?

 

find a positive balance

 

As I was enjoying my lazy Sunday morning, flipping through the latest issue of Nylon magazine, I came across the name of an album that got me thinking. The band Chairlift's latest album is titled Does You Inspire You. I've never heard of the band or a single song by them, so I can't comment on that at all, but I find the name of their album extremely interesting (in spite of the grammar which actually drives me slightly nuts). I spend a lot of time looking for inspiration -- in things, people, films, books, experiences -- but I don't often look to myself. A question we could all benefit from asking is, "Do you inspire you?" 

I've certainly thought about being inspiring to others. I would like to think that something about me -- my words or actions or even just my presence -- might inspire others at one time or another. But I haven't really given much thought to inspiring myself. And what could be a more positive thought than finding and creating your own inspiration? After some thought, I realized that it's harder to figure out whether or not I inspire myself. Do I inspire me? 

I honestly don't know if I have an answer to this question. I might be proud of myself at times. I might make myself happy. But I'm not really sure if I inspire myself. However, I am sure that I want to inspire myself and I am going to start looking to me, rather than external resources, for inspiration. 


the importance of everything

  positivity and dogs
 

It's easy to forget the importance of everything. But there is nothing like being in an emergency room filled with sad, scared faces to put life in perspective. Today, a gloomy, rain-filled day, was spent fretting about the state of my dog and waiting for her as she received treatment for an allergic reaction in the emergency vet clinic. In the waiting room, I was surrounded by people who were apparently facing much more serious situations with their pets. One woman was sitting in a corner, box of tissues on her lap, tears running down her face as her husband patted her hand gently. It was a terribly sad moment and I felt awkward sitting there across the room, knowing my dog only needed a quick shot and a medicated bath and she would be back to her old self. As forlorn as the mood was in that waiting room, with the rain running down the window panes like over-sized tears, I felt a surge of gratitude. I was grateful for the health of my dog. I was grateful for the 24-hour clinic that was open late in the day on Saturday to help her. Though I felt terribly sad for the couple sitting across from me, I had hope that maybe their pet would be okay, and, if not, maybe they would have the great fortune that I have had to lose a much loved pet and then, months later, fall in love again with a new one. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I was grateful for all of the wonderful times I'd had with my pets and was awed by the idea that someday I could be sitting in that couple's place, stricken with the potential of loss.

Today was a difficult day for me to focus on the positive. The weather alone was enough to send even the most upbeat person into a downward spiral of depressive thoughts. But I had the emergency room to remind me: life is precious. Life is uncertain. You never know what may happen and, even though it only happens once in your lifetime, this day could be your last day. These words are often said, but even more often ignored or passed off as cliched nonsense. I, myself, have been just the type of person that would say, "Sure, today could be my last, but it's probably not going to be so whatever." In the past, I would have heard those words -- "today could be your last" or "today could be the last day of someone you love" -- and I would have let them blow right by me. I wouldn't have stopped and thought that maybe there is a deeper meaning that. Maybe I need to think about how I act every single day and make those actions the kind that would leave the lasting impression that I would like to leave on the world, considering this very well could be my last day.

I am starting to accept this more, this idea that life is short. Perhaps it is because I am getting older; perhaps it is because I'm getting wiser. For whatever reason, I feel like I can't seem to remind myself enough just how precious life is. There are so many things we all take for granted -- small things, big things, happy things, sad things. Like I said before, it's easy to forget the importance of everything. Every single moment matters and it is up to us make it count. When you are feeling angry or bitter or unhappy, think about a waiting room moment. Think about waiting for the outcome of results for someone you love. Think about who would be sitting there with you, holding your hand. Morbid as it might sound, moments like these really put life into perspective, and, difficult as it is to experience them, if we did it more often we might find that we have more perspective, more positivity, and more of a sense of presence in our lives. Use these thoughts to remind you just how important everything truly is. Put yourself in an imaginary waiting room and you will most certainly find you have a new perspective on whatever unpleasant situation you are in.


a happy list, a happy you

 

Happylist
 

"Happiness is wanting what you get" is a quote I'm sure you've heard many times before. Even though we've heard it and we understand it, these words are easily forgotten when there are so many reasons to think about what we don't have. We live in a society driven by want. We're supposed to want to have the newest fashions, to live in the nicest house, to have a loving relationship, to be surrounded by fun and friends. Advertising and media encourage us to keep wanting, to be forever unsatisfied by what we have now. But if we focus on the future, on what we want to have, we are missing out on thinking about and enjoying what we already have. The constant state of desire so many of us are in only leads to unhappiness; it only perpetuates a feeling of never having enough.

In response to the constant wanting I was feeling, about a year ago, I started a happiness list. In a beautiful, bound journal, I keep a list of all the things that make me happy. Right now I have about 500 things on that list and it's constantly growing. You might think 500 is a lot of things, but if you sit down and think about the things that make you happy, you would be surprised how many you could list!

Every so often I sit down with the journal and write down new things that make me happy. It could be anything from "the color orange" to "the praise-filled email I received at work" -- if it makes me happy, it makes the list. Whether I list small things or big things, specific or general, writing out a list of things that make me happy makes me even happier (I should at that to the list!). Thinking about all of the things I am grateful for also puts my life, and whatever may be bothering me or bringing me down, in perspective. It's easy to get caught up in thinking about and listing all of the things we don't have or hope to have some day, but taking the time to create a list of all of the things that make you truly happy can be very inspiring. It also reminds us to stay focused on the present and to celebrate the life we have right now.

As an example, here are a few things that are making me happy right now:

 

  1. Sunshine spilling all over the grass outside my window 
  2. Only 7 hours left until the work week is over
  3. Knowing that it's officially spring
  4. The Happiness Project email I read this morning
  5. Chatting with my friends online about the weekend
  6. Feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep
  7. Thoughts of seeing my dog later today
  8. Writing about positivity on my blog
  9. Warm air coming from the heater under my desk
  10. Recalling lyrics from new songs I heard on the way to work

 

These are only a few examples of things that are making me happy right now, but I strongly urge you to create your own happiness list and add to it periodically. Even just looking back over the things I've written can bring a smile to my face and remind me just how much positivity I really do have in my life. You might be surprised just how much a simple list can impact you!