Knowing how to manage stress should be right up there with knowing how to floss your teeth. Many of the stress management strategies in circulation are body based. They are intended to relieve tension held within the body. I would be willing to bet that you already know most of the common ones:
1. Eat healthy
2. Get plenty of sleep
3. Maintain a regular exercise routine
4. Practice deep breathing
6. Use guided imagery and visualization techniques
7. Practice yoga
8. Get a massage
9. Do progressive muscle relaxation
10. Listen to uplifting music
Having a massage once a month is one of my strategies. I would move heaven and earth to get to these appointments.
It is also important to give attention to our mind, and in particular, our thoughts. This is because our bodies respond to what we hold in our minds. Our thoughts can be the source of our stress. Some people would go so far as to say thoughts are THE source of stress. What we believe becomes truth for us.
One of the problems is that we are more used to connecting with how stress feels. We say “I feel stressed”. Byron Kate brilliantly refers to stressful feelings as a compassionate alarm clock that is telling us it is time to look at what we are thinking.
So, what are stressful caregiving thoughts? In essence, they can be put into 2 categories:
- Self-limiting thoughts
- Thoughts which resist reality/what is happening
The bottom line is that our thoughts about ourselves and the situation create as much stress as the situation itself. We can try to change the situation. We can do things to relieve stress felt in the body. We can also work with our thoughts.
Explore your ‘stress thoughts’
Think of a recent situation when you felt stressed. Now, really try to re-create this situation or experience in your mind. Turn your attention to what you were saying (either to yourself or out loud to someone). In particular, notice any “can’t” or “should” or “should not” and “if only” thoughts. Here are some examples:
- “I have to do everything.”
- “It’s not fair.”
- “It’s not right that my siblings don’t step up.”
- “Dad should take better care of himself.”
- “Mom should do what the doctor says.”
- “They should downsize.”
- “I can’t possibly take time out for myself.”
- “I can’t handle this.”
- “I couldn’t possibly do that.”
Now, notice how you feel in your body when you believe these thoughts. You may feel tightness or clenching. Also, notice how you are feeling emotionally. You may feel defeated, frustrated, angry, etc.
Now, as best you can, take the same situation and imagine some different thoughts. Try thinking thoughts like:
- “Well, it is what it is.”
- “We are all doing the best we can.”
- “Well, that is just how ________ is.”
- “What my siblings do or don’t do is really none of my business.”
- “This is hard but I can handle it.”
- “I am in control of my choices.”
Notice how you feel in your body with these thoughts.
Notice how you feel emotionally?
Do you notice the difference?
Arguing with reality
Here’s the thing. Whether you accept it or not, the situation is still happening. Whether you think you can handle it or not, it is happening. It is what it is. This is so important to notice. Our resistance to what is happening becomes the actual source of our stress. Bryon Katie calls this arguing with reality. She wisely also tells us that when we argue with reality, we lose every time!
Let’s go back to the 10 stress management strategies listed above. While most of us already know them (know what relieves stress in the body), it can be a struggle to incorporate them into our daily lives.
If it is a struggle for you, I encourage you to explore your thoughts. You will likely find the underlying source/reason why it is actually a struggle.
Is exploring your thoughts part of your stress management repertoire? Today would be great day to start!