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Coping with Stress

The foundation of all stress relief is taking care of one's physical needs. Plenty of sleep, a proper diet and exercise does a lot to keep stress under control. However, these are often the first things neglected when someone is under stressed, which leads to physical problems that interfere with these very needs. Breathing properly also goes a long way in helping the body release the chemicals needed for efficient coping. For anxiety sufferers especially, breathing can make the difference between a clear mind and a confused one. Hyperventilation is a common problem during moments of stress and anxiety. Proper deep breathing requires one to stand or sit up straight, take a deep breath, hold it and then slowly release it. Usually a few deep breaths are enough to do the job. Something a few anxiety sufferers do to help their breathing is to blow soap bubbles. It gives them a rhythm for breathing, a visual indication of how they are actually breathing, and the relaxing experience of watching a bubble float through the air.

The clear expression of needs and expectations to one's self and other also reduces the opportunity for stressful situations. A problem not clearly defined, cannot be correctly solved. Many times people create more stress for themselves because of a distortion of needs and expectations. It is also essential that a person develops an accurate understanding of themselves and the situation around them through introspection. Then they need to come to a consensus with the perceptions of others to gain cooperation and hopefully a better understanding of the problem.

However, even when someone works to reduce the likelihood of stress in their life, it is going to happen. Playing and engaging in creative activities helps the mind and the soul, giving them more physical, mental and spiritual energy to invest towards the cause of the stress. Meditation, reading, drawing and other introspective pursuits allows a person to learn, supplement and process information which can lead to better ways of coping. Just being able to clear the mind can help one deal with some of the rough spots of life. It allows us to think out our actions and become responders and not reactors.

When one is experiencing anxiety or panic, it is sometimes necessary to physical ground one's self. This can be done with touch anchors. Many people will touch their fingertips together or lightly pinch the web between their thumb and forefinger. Others will carry around something that makes them feel secure when they touch it, like their purse or wallet, a favorite jacket or piece of jewelry, or even a “worry” stone. Touch anchors can be created if there is not something the person is already grounded to. This is done through behavioral conditioning. Once or twice a day, a person will go through a relaxation ritual using the physical touch anchor they have chosen. After this has been done for several days, touching the anchor will start to trigger a relaxation response in the individual. Done for several months or years and touching the anchor will produce even a stronger sense of peace and relaxation.

Another means of reducing anxiety is for the person to make themselves familiar with their surroundings. People taking a test in an unfamiliar setting perform much better if they get to the testing site early and study the room and its contents. When visiting a girlfriend's or boyfriend's family for a long visit, it is a good idea to ask to use the bathroom and then memorize how it looks. This will make the room feel familiar and give a safe spot to retreat to when the anxiety becomes too much. If the visit is over several days, then the room the person is going to sleep in is usually a better choice for a location anchor.

Listening to music helps because of its rhythms and ability to distract the mind from too much information and confusion, though depending on preference it can also cause an increase in stress and confusion. Tapping does the same thing, but can be annoying to those around the tapper. Many nervous habits occur because they reduce stress within the person doing them. The trick is to develop grounding habits that do not cause more problems. Sometimes it is only necessary to modify a nervous habit to make it socially acceptable, such as making sure to tap on soft surfaces or wearing soft sole shoes if one taps with their foot. Chewing gum can occasionally replace cigarette smoking and hair chewing in some settings.

Mediation exercises often combine proper breathing with relaxation and visualization techniques. Meditation can be either done by itself or in conjunction with writing or artwork to help some access their deeper consciousness and retrieve the inner wisdom found there. Sometimes the answers to a person's stresses are already inside them, but they are too busy to see those answers. There is a reason why most wise people are depicted as sitting somewhere quiet and being still. The mind cannot give up its deeper reasonings when one is being frantic.

Crafts are good for reducing stress because they engage the hands as well as the mind. Dancing and other physical activities have the extra benefit of increasing endorphins through exercise. Writing can help to organize thoughts and give insight. Most artwork has similar benefits to crafts, with the added benefits of writing because the use of imagery in art is closer to the mental processing of creative writing. The quickest way to reduce stress using art is to draw a mandala. Mandalas are nothing more than images done in a circle. The circular boundary of mandala brings to mind wholeness or the intention to be whole. It allows a person to focus on themselves mentally, releases tension and gives a holistic way to examine inner conflicts using Jungian principles, if a person is so inclined. Even without in-depth interpretation, just drawing a mandala will quickly bring a sense of peace. However, it is a good idea to look at the mandala from different angles and decide where its true top is and mark that. After a person does that, it can further help to give the mandala a title or name, even if it is only writing down the first word or phrase that comes to mind.

When extreme stress occurs, it is a good idea to go in for a medical check-up. Physical problems will compound the stress felt in any given situation. Also stress can kill a person, so it is important not to neglect the physical component of stress. High blood pressure, indigestion, hives, ulcers, strained muscles, heart palpitations, intestinal problems and headaches are only a few of the physical symptoms of stress. Insomnia is another frequent symptom. If not dealt with early enough, these physical problems will interfere with the body's ability to get the basic needs for coping with stress, placing the person experiencing the stress in an even more stressful situation.

Some signs of extreme anxiety levels are an inappropriate increase in volume and pitch of the voice, talking fast, disjointed sentences and thoughts, hyperventilation, rapid movements, chest pains and tingling in the extremities. It is important when these signs appear to treat them properly and not try to suppress them. Suppression can cause other symptoms to appear or increase the intensity of other signs. By this time, the body is often full of adrenaline that needs to be used in a way that will not create more or counteracted with medication.

It is good to bring these signs to the attention to someone experiencing them, but a very bad idea to expect them to just stop the symptoms. When helping a person through an episode of anxiety or panic, remember that most people realize on some level that their worry or fear does not make much sense and that is part of the stress they are feeling - the fear that they are losing their sanity. Telling them not to think that way or that they are being illogical is not going to accomplish much good. The key is to get them to breathe slowly and deeply and center themselves. Once this occurs, most of the illogical fears and thoughts will correct themselves. Any illogical thoughts that do not go away after the person has calmed down are better handled by a professional counselor, possibly with the help of a medical doctor.

Having social support from a group of people is essential for coping with stress, but one must be careful when choosing the members of this group. They should be educated on any specific problem that they may need to help the person with. This does not have to be an exhaustive formal education of the problem, as much as them knowing what to do and not to do in an emergency. It is a good idea for a person to share with close friends and family anything that could help them help the person in a time of crisis, be it medical or anxiety related. These people also need to have a realistic view of stress and its causes. It is perfectly normal for someone to be “freaked out” after just rescuing a child or frazzled after finding out the pipes have burst, flooding the house and causing them to spend the afternoon sweeping out water. Anyone who makes fun of the person's mental state when they have obviously reacted in a responsible and proper manner to a crisis is not a good source of support and probably not much of a friend. A social support system needs to operate on the principles of acceptance and reality to be effective. Possibly the best relief one can get from stress is a sign of affection from someone who truly cares.

Two other methods of stress reduction not yet mentioned are owning a pet and keeping a person journal. Pets provide not only another focus from the chaos of life, but often a source of unconditional love. In the short term, journal writing helps to organize thoughts and to let the mind release some nagging thoughts, by assuring the person that they will not be lost, thus freeing up part of the consciousness for clearer reasoning. In the long term, rereading a journal every so often gives a person valuable data to help them recognize useful and harmful patterns in their lives, as well as let them see how they have grown and changed. One does not have to write in a journal daily, just regularly. And in this day and age, people can often achieve the same thing by archiving the emails they send friends and family about the events of their lives. True, journal writing is more effective when there is more personal thoughts being recorded, but even a record of normal events can give insights to help reduce stress or at the very least, the comfort of knowing that there is documentation if something is brought to court.

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Amanda D.

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