Have you ever asked yourself “ why can’t I deal with stress, ” and then answered “because I am too stressed to deal with it?” Spot a vicious cycle here? When we don’t pay attention to our stress, we can get caught up in our own personal whirlwind. And when we look for answers, we create myths about stress, which actually make it worse.
Myth #1. “I can’t let go of my stress or the world will fall apart.” Do you consistently carry everyone’s problems? Many of us believe that is our assigned role in life. And if we harbor resentment over our enormous burdens, we simply add anger, frustration, and self pity to our load.
Deep down we all know the truth. The earth does not need us to keep spinning. Yes, some of our priorities are vitally important, but most of what we stress about is just day to day life. If you believe you need lots of commitments to feel valued, you won’t help anyone by taking on more than you can actually do. Instead, review your overstuffed agenda, give your time and energy to what really matters to you, and eliminate the rest.
Myth #2. “I don’t have time to deal with my stress.” Do you have 30 seconds? That’s about how long it takes for 2 or 3 slow, deep breaths. You can breathe deeply at stop lights or before you answer the phone. Although you may not notice your heart rate slowing down, even short bouts of conscious deep breathing throughout the day have a cumulative effect of lowering your stress.
If you tend to veg out in front of the TV at night, try muting the commercials, closing your eyes and imagining yourself floating through space. Count 15 or 20 slow breaths, and let your face relax into a smile.
Practice little bits of deep breathing throughout your day, extending the length when you have a chance. Soon you’ll realize how good it feels, and you’ll be more receptive to longer meditations.
Myth #3. “I need a drink, a pill, or a food binge to unwind.” After a hard day, it can be nice to kick off your shoes and relax with a little alcohol. But if a fine vintage enjoyed with friends or family turns into an automatic trip to the fridge as soon as you get home, it will cause you more stress in the long run.
Alcohol at night may make you feel drowsy, but the effects are brief, and will wake you up again. Too much food makes you feel bloated and dyspeptic. And pills? Well they are just dangerous.
A short Yoga routine after work helps release stress, and also curbs the desire to over indulge. When your body feels light and refreshed, it does just fine on its own.
Myth #4. “I’m too stressed to sleep…but sleep is overrated.” Dark circles from lack of sleep don’t get you a merit badge, even if you pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline. Yes, sometimes there are emergencies, traumas, and disasters, which stretch us to the limits of our endurance. But without adequate sleep on a regular basis, your body can’t cope with the smallest of tasks.
Establish a pre-bedtime pattern of relaxation exercises and meditations to let go. Plan ahead for the next day, and set your schedule aside. Reinforce to yourself how good you will feel when you are refreshed the next day, and how more productive you will be.
Myth #5. “I have to be perfect to be loved.” Especially for women, the desire for perfection feeds stress we may have felt from our earliest memories, even if we never admit it. No toddler fails to notice which kids get more attention. And words like “pretty” and “adorable” precede extra hugs and kisses.
This stress to be perfect moved over 13 million people to visit plastic surgeons in 2010, and the numbers continue to rise. But looks are not the only area where we are faced with perfection anxiety. Academic credentials, careers, a better home and manicured lawn, the right car, and the title of Super Mom…something is always out of reach.
If you wonder why you can’t deal with the stress in your life, know you can make better choices. You can choose to let go of problems that are beyond your control. You can choose to take more moments of conscious relaxation, and you can choose healthier habits. How you spend your time in life is up to you. You can choose to let stress go. You are in control.
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