by Michael Corsilles~In my family medicine practice, I often talk about stress, especially with anxiety and depression being the most common psychological conditions seen in general practice.
This shouldn’t be too surprising though, based on the rising amount of marital problems, family stress, and financial issues we face every day. Unfortunately, we can eventually get stuck in a damaging, repetitive cycle of worry and fear that continually worsen our ability to deal with stress.
To break this negative cycle, focus on positivity and self improvement. Sounds a little hokey, but think about it for a second. Our society thrives on the negatives.
When your kids bring a report card, your eyes immediately focus on the low grade and ask, “Why didn’t you get an A?” At work, when was the last time your boss gave you a compliment? Conversely, how often do they criticize you? Or, when you’re driving and see a beautiful sunset, how often do you slow down to enjoy it? But if there’s a car accident, we all slow down to check out the wreckage, right? We usually don’t even notice the good things even though it’s all around us everyday.
So focus on the positives. We’re going to fill our minds with something – might as well fill it with positive thoughts. Consider this: you probably know a few TV show or commercial jingles. How is it we know most if not all of the lyrics? When we repetitively watch a TV show, we subconsciously absorb the information.
When you’re catching up on news, reading celebrity gossip, or watching reality TV, the media knows that violence and negativity sell, so it’s filled with simply that. My point is we are constantly bombarded with negativity, so we end up absorbing this negativity subconsciously, which contributes to stress, anxiety and depression.
Positivity helps, but usually isn’t enough. In addition to seeking care from a professional with counseling or even medication, consider putting these basic tips into your life to help de-stress:
- Laugh: When’s the last time you had a good belly laugh? Laughter actually activates your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. But eventually you reach a nice, relaxed feeling which envelops your body and boosts your mood. Laughter is the best medicine, and it’s free!
- Exercise: It’s a great non-pharmacological way to relieve stress. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms of depression and anxiety. An important tip on exercise therapy is to exercise before a stressor. If you have a big meeting or stressful event coming up, go for a quick run or a bike ride. It’s prophylactic exercise! Conversely, lack of physical activity is associated with the development of psychological disorders. Just 10 minutes a day of additional walking can make a big difference.
- Breathe. There are right and wrong ways to breathe. During a panic attack, you tend to hyperventilate. This is shallow breathing, and actually can throw off your acid/base balance in the body leading to more health issues. To de-stress, focus on slow, focused deep breathing. A great tactile breathing exercise is to sit in a quiet room, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a slow, deep inhalation through your nose. The hand on your stomach should move while the one on your chest stays still. This way you breathe with your diaphragm and not your accessory muscles like the ones around your chest and shoulders, which we tend to tense up under stress. Now exhale slowly through pursed lips. Do this exercise for at least a minute. When breathing slows down, your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease as well, and your mind will be more calm.
It’s amazing how big of an impact stress will have on our physical and mental health. If you’re concerned about your health and want to boost your mood, it’s important to focus on the positives. It’s dangerous to bond through negativity so avoid the “Negative Nellies” and Debbie Downers” in your life. Stop watching the news.
Rather, focus on improving yourself. Read an inspirational book. Learn a new language with an audio CD on your commute. Perhaps learn about other stress reduction techniques because there are many great methods available in addition to positivity, laughter and exercise. Who knows, by helping yourself, you might get motivated to help others!