Control the Controllable to Feel Less Stress
Are you feeling stressed and anxious? As I write this (December 2021), the news is filled with reports of disasterous events including the spread of the omicron variant of the coronovirus.
That has many people thinking about all the things they they CAN'T do this holiday season....which then leads to more stress and anxiety.
When I’m leading a Stress Management program, I remind audience members that even in the most dire situations, there are always things we can do to help us to feel more in control and calm. Here are seven to get you started:
1. Remember the Serenity Prayer
When things got difficult, my mom would always comfort us with, "It wouldn't hurt to say a prayer." I'm not sure what prayer she was thinking of, but for me, it was the Serenity Prayer (in the image above).
The Serenity Prayer is a good reminder that, no matter how bad the situation, there's always something you can do. Always.
While there's much about the situation you have NO control over, dwelling on those things, will only make the situation worse. Instead, search for those things you CAN control, and focus on those things.
For example, with the virus, there's much we can't control. Like the virus itself and other people's behavior. And, perhaps the fact that we're stuck indoors more because of the colder weather. But, because we can't control any of these factors, dwelling on these things won't help the situation - and it won't help to reduce your stress.
Instead, think about all the things you can do...like the next six things on this list.
2. Slow Down Your Breathing
It sounds so simple (and it is) but just the act of taking a few deep breaths can help you immensely in stressful times.
That's because when we’re feeling out of control in any situation, our stress hormones set off a series of effects including increased heart rate and increased breathing. That's referred to as the "stress response."
What you want to practice right now, during the pandemic, is the exact opposite - or the “relaxation response.”
And, it takes just a minute to learn. Check out my one-minute video showing a simple movement to help you slow down your breathing.
One audience member said she taught it to her overly anxious five-year old with great results. I taught it to my (then) three-year old granddaughter - and she still practices it now. More than a year later.
Give it a try. My guess is that you’ll find yourself feeling better after just a few deep breaths.
3. Limit the News
My dad liked to read and listen to the news...a lot. And, then he wanted to gripe about all the bad stuff.
Once, when he was visiting, to change the mood, I responded that I'd rather talk about something else. Then he accused me of "sticking my head in the sand."
Ok, that's one way to look at the fact that I limit how much news I read.
But as I responded to him, "How will complaining about these things help the situation?"
I think it's important to know what's going on in the world around us. But the more time we spend reading, listening, and thinking about the negative events, the less time we have to spend on the things that really matter in our lives. The people and things that give us joy.
And, BTW if the people in your household listen to the news more than you'd rather, think about gifting them some headphones so you don't have to listen, too. Just search for "wireless TV headphones."
4. Practice Positivity During the Pandemic
Early in the pandemic, I called a friend of mine, Neily (NeilyOnNutrition). She answered with such a cheery “good morning.” And I was thinking…with all this bad news…how can she possibly be so chipper? So, I asked her.
That’s when she told me about her morning routine. Afterwards I interviewed her on my podcast for all the details. Take a listen here. What a great way to start the day! (way better than how I had been starting my day…with the news).
5. Move It, Move It
Exercise is not just for strengthening your muscles and heart. Physical movement is important to increase your energy, decrease stress, and help you get a good night’s sleep. It doesn't have to be rigorous. Even a simple walk can also improve your mood.
And now, during the darker days of winter, consider getting outside. Sunlight can be helpful to those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or the Winter Blues.
Can't get outside? No worries. It’s easy to get a great full-body, high intensity workout even if you just have a six-foot square spot in your house.
I developed my Dr. Jo’s One-Minute Workout more than twenty years ago – and still practice it on a regular basis. It involves doing one-minute of an aerobic activity (like jumping rope – or making believe you’re jumping rope) followed by one-minute of a resistance activity (like lunges, squats, and planks)…and then repeated as many times as you want. Watch my instructions HERE.
6. Get More Sleep
People ask me all the time about how to boost their immune system. They're often looking for a quick fix like a supplement.
But you know what is far more powerful than any food or supplement? Getting adequate quality sleep.
Adults are, on average, 30 minutes short on sleep. Sleep loss is linked to increased blood pressure, blood glucose, and even weight gain. It increases our stress and our risk for accidents and errors.
And you can't make up for lost sleep. Yup, even sleeping in on days off won't make up for the effects of sleep deprivation.
Having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Here are some strategies that can help.
7. Rediscover a Hobby or Interest
Sometimes we just want to escape our day-to-day stress. And what better way to do that, but with a hobby or special interest.
Don't have a hobby? Then listen to my podcast interview with Dr. Brian Wansink. You'll love his inspirational story about the ritual he started last year, during the pandemic.
During these past two years I did things I never thought I'd do. I built a cabinet, refinished a few pieces of furniture, added baseboard molding, and even remodeled the master shower using 12" X 24" tiles (quite the challenge, but so rewarding).
What can YOU do? Could you practice a musical instrument, take tap dance lessons on YouTube, sew a quilt, or catch up on gardening? Many companies have been offering some of their online courses for free…here’s a list of some.
I hope one of those strategies help you feel better during these difficult times. I try to remember that “This Too Shall Pass.”
Things will get better, easier. I can’t tell you when, but it will. And, it helps to remember that.
If you keep focusing on how bad things are, you’ll feel more sad and apathetic.
Instead, keep focusing on what you can do now…and keep remembering that someday this pandemic will be in the rear-view mirror.
I’d love to hear how YOU are getting through this covid-19 pandemic. How do YOU stay in control of what you can control? Send me an email and let me know.
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