Sydney Counselling & Psychotherapy

Jennifer Perkins MFT Counselling & Psychotherapy

Stress Management 101

Jennifer Perkins
Sunset on the water-Jennifer-perkins-therapy-oakland.jpg

At times, life can be overwhelming, unexpected, and full of high stress.   We often refer to these times as crisis.  This can take the form a relationship breakup, the death of a loved one, unexpected unemployment, a fast approaching work deadline, or even something positive such as the birth of a child.  Below are some first steps for making it through tough stress.

Focus on your health:  During the early stages of stress, it’s easy to get derailed.  This happens as cortisol, a stress hormone, courses through our bodies signaling the flight or fight response. Our thinking becomes fuzzy, we have difficulty concentrating and performing daily activities.  Our appetites disappear, we become sleep deprived, our minds and reflexes become slowed or over stimulated. Being aware of how to care for our bodies during a crisis can help increase our overall management of the situation.

1-    Eat healthy meals.  We can’t think and make good decisions if we don’t have adequate nutrition.  Your job is to make sure that healthy foods get into your body. If this means you start eating food that taste like cardboard because all of your taste has mysteriously disappeared, then so be it.  Eat a healthy cardboard sandwich.  The same goes for adequate water intake.

2-    Get some sleep.  During high stress, our internal clocks forget our normal rhythms as our bodies get stuck in fight or flight.  During sleep is when our bodies eliminate the stress hormones.  If you find you are having sleep trouble you may have to do a little work.  The Sleep Foundation has some excellent tips on sleep hygiene HERE.

3-    You may also want to try some mindfulness breathing practices to fall asleep. The 4-7-8 pranayama method will help.  While you are in your bed waiting to fall asleep, consciously relax your body and breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.  Repeat a few times.  The studied combination of numbers has a chemical-like effect on our brains and slows the heart rate to soothe you to sleep.  This 4-7-8 breathing technique is great to use during the day to calm yourself as well.  Watch a video about the technique HERE:

4-    Exercise. Implement a recovery based exercise, such as walking, yoga, Pilates and stretching as these exercises help to regulate optimal cortisol output.

  • Do a walking meditation, preferably outside in the sunlight. Sunshine has the added effect of balancing your natural circadian rhythms to help you sleep. Put your ear buds on with your most soothing and inspiring music.  Pandora is free and has some awesome stations for this. May I suggest this HERE. You may need to earnestly and often re-direct your perseverating or negative thoughts.
  • Yoga is a perfect exercise for stress reduction. There are many community yoga classes that are donation based as well as on-line yoga HERE: 

Focus on your employment. Be proactive in your place of employment.  Now is not the time to get laid off or fired:

1-    Get out of bed and be on time.  Nothing says Reduction In Force like the person who wanders in 15-30 minutes late every day with teary eyes or worse, reeking of alcohol from last nights cry fest.

2-    Recognize you’re attention to detail is a little fragile right now: Be conscious of your daily work activities, and be aware that your autopilot isn’t at peak performance.

3-    Be discreet with your story:  Be delicate in sharing details with your place of employment. There are times when it’s a good idea to share with your boss what’s really happening; health issues, as well as family deaths are appropriate crisis sharing with your boss as your employment may have company resources in the form of bereavement leave, and EAP.   Breakup stories, your DUI or your brother’s jail time are generally not appropriate boss sharing material.

4-    Crying during work hours is strictly a private activity:  It’s happened to all of us.  Just keep it contained to your car, or the private bathroom.  If you have a close friend at work, ask them to help cover for you. 

Form a plan:  Don’t be fooled into thinking you are paralyzed.  You have the strength and wherewithal to get a plan together, you just don’t know it yet.

1- Fight the urge to isolate, instead enlist your friends and family for support. The more you reach out appropriately, the sooner you will be able to get back to normal.  Let them know what is going on, and seek not only their support, but their advice on next steps.

2- Start a plan of Next Steps.  This can be a simple task list of pivotal things that must get accomplished. It’s a plan of action for the coming week(s).  Make sure your Next Steps are actions that are measurable and can be accomplished. 

Give yourself a break:  You can’t expect your peak performance right now. You’re going to forget things.  You’re going to make mistakes.  You might even lose your temper and have a fight with your beloved. Solve it, and let it go.  There are more important ways to use your energy.  Remind your relationships to give you a break as well. When you are feeling better about the immediate crisis, you may want to consider THIS: Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.

If you find yourself too overwhelmed and making unhealthy decisions, or being bogged down with negative thoughts, you may want to ask for professional help.  Make an appointment with a therapist.  Sometimes an objective, non-judgmental sounding board can help bring things back into perspective.  Remember, it’s not about living life perfect, it’s about living life better.