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535: Stepping out of the Stress Cycle

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April is stress awareness month, in this episode we're talking about the choices and changes we can make to protect ourselves from stress.

 

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Notes from this week’s episode:

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 to increase awareness about the causes and solutions of modern-day stress.

Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns. Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems including anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health problems like heart disease, problems with our immune system, insomnia and digestive problems. Individually we need to understand what is causing us personal stress and learn what steps we can take to reduce it for ourselves and those around us. - Stress Management Society

 

Stress is affecting more people than ever

The expectation to be always available

The development of mobile phones and social media means we are reachable anywhere and anytime. With that increased connectivity comes increased expectations to be always available.

Whether its work related, or social, there is an increased expectation that once contacted we should respond immediately. And often it’s us applying the pressure!

Communication Boundaries

Scheduling downtime where we are not available.

Setting a Contact Curfew Switching phones and devices to not disturb as between a set time every day is one way to ensure our minds get a period of rest from the expectation to be available.

Questions that help us filter our interactions “Will this matter in a year's time?" “Is this worthy of response, or is it depleting me?”

 

The mind gets exhausted by stress

The importance of resting the mind

Breathing breaks

Schedule breaking breaks throughout the day to check in with yourself and discharge stress.

Counting Breaths Practice Counting Breaths is a simple technique that occupies your mind by keeping it focused on counting every time you exhale. As you place your full attention on your outgoing breath you can take a moment to relax and rest your mind and body.

  • Take a few deep breaths and let tension drain away from your shoulders and concentrate on breathing steadily, slowly and quietly.
  • Count "one" to yourself as you exhale, and the next time you exhale, count "two", on the next exhalation count "three" and onwards until you reach the number five.
  • Begin a new cycle, starting again with "one" on your next exhalation. Watch your breath and try to breathe deeply and steadily until you have counted up to five and then begin again.
  • Repeat this cycle five times.

Nature gazing

Taking just 15-20 minutes a day to walk or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.

When we make this a regular priority for self-care we will find it helps our stress, anxiety, sleep, and digestion. To take care of resting and digesting we need breaks from stress that allow the body to switch over to the relaxation response and getting outside is one of the easiest ways to do it.

 

Shifting Focus: Making Choices in Where You Spend Your Energy

In his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the power of developing proactive focus and introduces us to the idea of the circles of influence and concern.

The circle of influence represents the things we can do something about for example: our lifestyle choices, diet, and attitudes; things that are within our control.

The circle of concern, represents external factors over which we have no control such as the weather, the news, other peoples behavior, these are the things which concern us, but we usually can’t do much about them.

This is where the mind gets hooked. And this is where we have an opportunity to watch ourselves and see what we’re drawn to watching, reading, chewing over, talking about.

Covey invites us to look at where we are putting our focus, and the effect that our focus has on our life. If we are focusing on our circle of concern it becomes bigger, and we can feel it pushing in on our circle of influence constricting and reducing it. But if we focus on our circle of influence, and put our energy behind the things we can do something about, then our circle of influence grows. As we work more with what we can change we re-empower ourselves by making better decisions and lifestyle choices.

If we give our energy to external concerns they will restrict and oppress us and instead of growing we will be stunted.

By focusing on the circle of influence we become more effective in everything that we do.

 

Our focus affects how much we experience stress

When we focus on external factors that we can't control we become stressed, and we waste time and energy either railing against that which we don't like, or being blown about by that which we can't change. We become exhausted and increasingly anxious.

Shifting focus to the area where we can do something — even if it's a small something — is both energy saving and empowering.

Here's a quick exercise that can help you find out where you're putting your focus and spending your energy:

Exercise: Discover Your Focus

Get a piece of paper and a pencil and draw a vertical line done the middle of the page from top to bottom. Label the left column "outside" and the right column "inside".

Put some relaxing music - something about 3-5 minutes long. And for the duration of that music just sit with your pen and paper and list down your concerns dividing them into the left and right columns as you go.

If you're not sure what goes where, ask yourself: “is this something I can do something about?” If you can, it's internal. If you can’t, it’s external. You can get more into the details later, but for now, it's a simple process of what goes in the left column and what goes in the right.

When your time's up, sit with your list and start looking for areas that you can work with to make a positive change in your life.

We have the power to choose where we are putting our energy and attention, and we have the right to change it at any time.

 

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