Early in my career as a clinical psychologist, a local high school invited me to present a seminar on reducing stress to a group of 150 teachers. After racing to the seminar location through a horrific traffic jam, shortly after hospitalizing a suicidal client in the middle of a 13 -hour work day, amidst grieving the death of a family member, I wreaked of stress. In fact, my level of stress appeared so obvious that several participants coldly advised me to manage my stress before offering advice to others on the topic. Quite humbled, I told myself, “Psychologist, de-stress thyself.”
After 20 years of practicing as a clinical psychologist, I still struggle with managing my stress at times. However, in observing my own life and lives of many clients I serve, I have identified seven major factors that affect stress: Body, Emotions, Space, Money, Attitude, Relationships, Time (BE SMART). Here is what I tell myself when I start feeling stressed or depressed.
Seven Tips to BE SMART about Easing Stress
- Soothe stress by taking care of my BODY. Although those tantalizing brownies and gooey pizzas offer the illusion of easing stress, they merely provide a temporary distraction and the additional stress of extra pounds. We all know what we are supposed to eat. (lean protein, plant-based fats, fruits and veggies) but, kale is simply not as alluring as a hot fudge sundae. So, I strive to eat 80% good stuff and 20% fun stuff. That keeps me reasonably healthy and happy. No question, I feel better physically and emotionally when I exercise, but like most busy adults, I have little spare time and energy. So, I find mini exercises to do at home (like marching in place for five minutes) and I go to the local gym which has a heated pool and whirlpool – like heaven.
- Honor my EMOTIONS because they serve a purpose. Feel them fully and understand what they mean. Often, they are telling me that something is awry in our life. When we can address those underlying issues, we can let the emotions go.
- Declutter my SPACE and create a special place to relax. Use space efficiently with creative organization. Remember tip #7 for cleaning up that clutter.
- Manage MONEY Ask myself, “Do I love it? Do I absolutely need it?” If the answer is “no”, then don’t buy it. All the rest is junk that clutters my space. Shopping is a quick fix for lifting my mood but spending a little time in nature or watching a good movie can do the trick just as well.
- Develop a better ATTITUDE by focusing more on what is in my control and what is going well in my life. When I find myself ruminating about my problems, I ask myself, “What can I do to solve the problem?” After I make my best efforts to solve the problem, I focus on letting it go by redirecting my attention to things that make me laugh or smile, like my blog, Pet Ways to Ease Stress.
- Nurture RELATIONSHIPS that make me feel good. Limit or avoid the ones that don’t. This is a tough one because I see myself as a nice person. However, there are times when relationships are too toxic to sustain. No matter what, I always rely on my pets to be loyal and unconditionally loving.
- Use TIME well by avoiding procrastination. When I have a dreaded task, like mountains of clinical paper work, I pursue the task for five minutes. If I can’t stand it any longer, I stop and try again the next day. Eventually, I get into my zone to get the task done.
None of this new; none of this is magic. As I often say to myself, Psychologist, de-stress thyself, I know it takes practice, patience and discipline to follow these strategies. This is where support groups, therapy, good friends, journaling and reading can be a huge help. When life deals me blows that throw me off balance (and life has a way of doing just that), it’s not unusual for me to sink back into old bad habits. When this happens, I nurture myself, figure out what I most need, and slowly move back on track to taking better care of myself.
This website, Easy Ways to Ease Stress.com is devoted to providing inspiration, resources and ideas for easing stress. Follow our blog, Pet Ways to Ease Stress, in which prominent members of the pet community offer their insights on easing stress.