How often have you gone to the doctor with a health issue (heartburn, gastrointestinal issues, bowel problems, headaches, insomnia, diabetes…the list goes on and on), and have them ask what external stressors you may be dealing with at that time?

In July 22, 2013, Huff Post released an article by Joe Robinson, in which he quoted from Peter Scnall’s ‘Unhealthy Work‘ that “…stress has exploded into a $1 trillion health epidemic.”  Why is that?  Have our daily pressures escalated that much over the last few generations or have our coping mechanisms diminished for some reason?

One of the most common phrases from my grandmother’s era was, “don’t cry over spilled milk.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it.”  We seem to have lost that ability to see things for what they are, put them into perspective and deal with them.

Today we have many diversionary ways to relieve our stress, with everything ranging from meditating, walking, breathing exercises, or sleeping to vigorous workout routines, trips away or even ‘stay-cations’.  Although these are wonderful temporary band-aid fixes they don’t give us the tools needed to change our stress-reaction mindset.  They are distractions that allow us short-term reprieve but not long-term resolution.

Your first thought might very well be, I can’t control the stress that my boss, my family, my finances, all those outside influences in my life, put on me.  This is true.  The fact that we can’t personally control these external elements is a stress in itself.  So what do we do?  We automatically go into either a ‘ fight or flight’ reaction or as I’ve seen over the past decade, a ‘struggle and endure’ mode. 

If we had a way and means of regaining our sense of personal control that was applicable to any situation, we would be able to take ourselves to a calmer, healthier, decision-making way of thinking regardless of what life throws at us.  These decisions would trigger an action/reaction effect and cause resolution in some form.  Even if that resolution was concluding to ourselves that a particular situation was actually quite tolerable, that choice alone would diminish much of the associated stress factor.

The following steps outline five basic ways to help curb this immediate stress-reaction. Although they may not resolve all of your life’s issues, they’ll replace that over-stressed sense of futility with a healthier feeling of control and positivity.

1) When you first notice that you’ve been triggered, take a second to acknowledge the stress and put each problem or cause of the stress into proper perspective.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed we tend to magnify our problems into one giant stress monster, but if looked at each element individually instead of collectively, each problem won’t seem as large and looming.  Almost like peeling the layers of an onion, as we remove layer after layer, our onion gets smaller and smaller until only the core is left. Some of these layers are easier to peel off than others, some leave a little bit of that filmy skin stuck to the next, but eventually you make it to the middle.

2)  Objectively assess what options you have to resolve the source of each stress.

Make a list of options that will help you avoid future stress from a certain situation. For example, if you’re struggling with your manager at work, what might be some of your options to regain control and reduce your stress?  You could have a conversation with that manager to address your concerns, actively start looking for a new job….you get the idea? As you make this list, visualize what each option looks like in your mind (if they all resulted in a positive outcome).

Many years ago one of my first jobs was working as a receptionist for an large and busy firm.  The CEO of this company was an absolute bear to work for who took great pleasure in demeaning and demoralizing his staff, particularly in front of his business associates.

One evening when I was ranting to my mother about this man she offered this suggestion, which to this day brings a smile to my face. She asked me to visualize this arrogant head of the company, with his perfectly coiffed duck-tail hairstyle, sitting naked on the toilet.  She reminded me that he was just a man who sh*ts like the rest of us, and who has to put his pants on one leg at a time…just like the rest of us.

It was quite a comical visual!  The downside of constantly envisioning him sitting there was that I couldn’t look at him without chuckling to myself.  He even snapped at me one day, demanded to know what I was smiling about, and told me to stop it because he found it unsettling.

I moved to a much better organization a month later.  That was the option on my calmly created list that I decided was best for me, but that visual brought me much comic relief in the meantime.

3)  Calmly select and implement the option that you resonate with the most.

As I did.  Remember, no matter what your situation is, you always have options.  Sometimes we have so many responsibilities, especially for others, that we ‘tunnel vision’, inadvertently use these responsibilities as excuses, and remain trapped in our self-made sandbox.  There are always choices open to us if we opt to explore them.  Once you’ve made your list, pick your top 3 options, list the pros and cons to weigh the feasibility of each path and then from there, choose your top option and proceed. Bottom line and the most important thing to remember, is to make a calm, objective decision and then put it into action.

4) Own your decision.

Whether you decide to make a radical change or hold the present course and deal with things differently, own your decision.  Be proud of the choice you’ve made, because it was yours and you controlled it. You will constantly be presented with stressors no matter which way you turn, so try turning your obstacles into a game of challenges and define different ways to positively ‘beat’ each obstacle.

5)  Smile (even if it’s forced).

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  – Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh

Ronald Riggio, PH.D.’s articly in Psychology Today, Riggio explains that, “the act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness…the feel-good neurotransmitters – dopamine, endorphins and serotonin – are all released when a smile flashes across your face…this not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.  The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever…the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter.”

Perhaps we should all take number 5) and move it to number 1), which would in turn automatically boost your mood in order to tackle steps 1-4.

Practice these steps with every obstacle and issue in your life and watch the benefits of your choices and decisions unfold before you.

Smile for the “health” of it…it makes others (like my disgruntled ex-boss) wonder what you’re up to and gives you that cheeky edge – an inside joke with yourself!


Deborah Johnson
Clairvoyant, Medium, Author, Speaker
‘Connecting and understanding spirit, both living and passed’

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