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Tell Me-How to Take the Stress Out of Resolutions
By Debbie Tudor, LPC-Supervisor
Rockwall Counseling, PA/Remote Counseling for YOU!
We now enter the coldest, darkest time of year.
When we have just finished overspending, overeating, and generally over-exhausting ourselves.
The time when we have just sent the family on their way and may still be reeling from the tart comments or out-and- out family feuds.
And what do we do? Do we rest? Relax? Clean up the mess? Congratulate ourselves on surviving?
Let’s explore some questions asked by my clients about this topic.
Can I Wait to Do This?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact, you may be wise to do so, particularly if you struggle with winter’s short days and lack of sunshine. A mental health condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder causes some people to notice an increased tendency during the winter months to oversleep and overeat, as well as feel lethargic and depressed. S.A.D. generally requires treatment by a professional. If you suffer from these symptoms, postpone the pressure of resolution setting until spring, when the days lengthen and you feel more energy. This may not be the time to attempt new endeavors!
I Set Resolutions Anyway, But I Keep Failing…
As a counselor, if I see a client repeatedly fail to reach their goals, I know that those goals are too high. This is confirmed by Pauline Gidney, a personal trainer who tells me that people tend to set weight loss goals that are unrealistic in scope and attainability and then wonder why they fail. The idea here is to make your goals SMALL (“journal 1 more time than I did last week”), CONTROLLABLE (I CAN control whether I work out; I CAN’T control whether I lose weight this week), and POSITIVE.
The Mind Ignores the Negative…
Many people understand that it is useful to write a goal down and reread it on a regular basis, called Affirmation Writing. Fewer are aware of the importance of wording that goal in a positive framework, as the subconscious does not process negatives. Therefore, the resolution worded “I will be less shy” becomes “I will be-shy.” Try framing your resolution in the positive, such as “I will smile at one new person today.” My favorite one to give clients who are trying to become healthier by weight management is “I love and accept my body.”
“Love (your neighbor as) YOURSELF…”
Finally, the attitude you take toward yourself as far as patience and forgiveness in the area of change helps determine whether you will succeed or not. A negative, punishing, severe resolution (“I will never eat carbs again”) is destined for failure, because ultimately the body will not thrive on self-hatred. If you wouldn’t call your friend “stupid” or “lazy” for not working out, why is it somehow OK to say that to the mirror? Negativity breeds giving up, and giving up is the only true “failure” in life. If this seems foreign to you, get counseling for low self esteem, depression or anxiety.
So as you set small, positive, and affirming resolutions, remember the PURPOSE of a resolution-to make your life better. Not to punish yourself. Not to focus on your perceived flaws. But to gently, patiently love yourself into a better life.
Focusing on our ACCOMPLISHMENTS instead of our failings will get us further in life!
Gaslighting refers to a person’s attempt to deny reality long enough to wear you down until you believe them.
Debbie Tudor, WIEBGE Certified Therapist
Untreated Depression Is Indeed Dangerous
Depression wreaks havoc on the entire body by throwing the stress response system out of whack. The risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer are all raised as normal immune function is disturbed by anxiety, stress and /or depression. Difficult relationships, parenting and work issues all contribute to this situation.
This post contains my “prescription” for becoming (and staying) healthy. Basically, here’s what we should all be doing for a healthy, happy lifestyle:
- Get a yearly physical exam. Depression and anxiety can be related to thyroid and other issues
- Exercise: it relieves stress, raises endorphin levels. It’s even better if you get outside in natural light to exercise!
- Journaling: research shows it increases hopefulness, releases stress, and calms the brain.
- Regular Sleep: essential to mood stability and a healthy immune system.
- A good social or family support system increases longevity and raises immune system function
- Professional Therapy: coming for a session BEFORE symptoms are out of hand with regular checkups
Now maybe you are thinking, well, if I could MAKE myself do all of these things, I’d be fine! What you may not realize is that a mental health provider is trained, licensed and qualified to be a resource to help you do these things. A therapist can be your encourager, your supporter, and your guide in prioritizing and planning your best, healthiest life.
Therapy helps uncover the roadblocks to your success that exist outside of your awareness. These roadblocks include childhood messages, both told to you and modeled by your parents, and negative experiences that impact your habits to this day. Together we can gently uncover and examine these self-defeating beliefs without shame or judgment. When “the truth sets you free,” you are then able to move forward and possibly see new levels of well being.
It contributes to illness. It’s the major factor in back pain. In fact, it makes ANY pain worse. And it’s not always caused by bad things-it can be related to celebrations, new jobs, holidays, new babies, and many other things we would never wish away.
Yes, I’m talking about stress, or as defined by Webster’s, “a strain or pressure on the body or mind.” It’s almost always presented as a reason people finally get professional help for life issues, and I diagnose and treat it daily.
The body and mind perceive any change as potential danger, and they react with heightened awareness, muscle tension, and increased cortisol production (cortisol is that nasty hormone that can increase blood pressure and blood sugar, and suppress immune response). It is essential to our overall health to learn to reduce stress responses in our body and mind. The following are some ways to do so:
Breathing To Relieve Stress
Under constant stress, our breathing becomes shallow and strained. A simple exercise is to sit back in your chair for a minute or two, close your eyes, and just focus on your breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of four, using the ticking of a clock if you have one. Hold your breath for four counts, and then SLOWLY let the air out for six beats. This deliberate focus and attention will both calm and distract your mind temporarily.
Guided Imagery To Relieve Stress
This is an article all by itself, but basically guided imagery involves taking time to mentally “visit” your favorite relaxing memory-be it the beach, the woods, whatever brings a smile to your face- and mentally placing yourself there using all five senses. This also works with visualizing a beloved child’s face or your pet. A few minutes of visualization a day can actually increase immune response and is simple to do.
Tense/Relax (Progressive Muscle Relaxation)
Starting at the top of your head, tense and relax the muscles of your face, neck, hands, shoulders, etc, all the way to your toes. Hold the tension to a count of four, and then let it go, moving on to the next muscle group. This puts a focus on muscles that may have been tight without your awareness.
The benefit of scribbling down thoughts and feelings is well researched. You don’t need to watch spelling, grammar or anything else, as no one will see it. You don’t even have to “keep” a journal-just the act of writing in itself is beneficial, even if you shred it immediately after! Try completing these sentences to start:
It really bugged me today when….
If I could wave a magic wand I would change…
Then just keep writing without thought or censure.
A totally foreign concept to our goal oriented society, isn’t it? But sitting completely still in silence for a few minutes a day is a wonderful way to de-stress. As we let the mind daydream, rest and wander, we often find new solutions to our stressors. This concept is summarized by the beautiful quote: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” (Zen saying).
If these simple measures don’t ease your stress symptoms, the next step is to seek help from a licensed therapist who can help you resolve underlying issues contributing to the problem. Best of all, these simple steps to de-stress can’t hurt!