A Healthy Mind/Body Response to Stress
By Xander Abrams, PhD
The recent proliferation of research on wellness, prevention, and healing demonstrates that by using your mind in a positive manner you can manage stress and compliment medical treatment. A positive, optimistic attitude maximizes your mind/body connection.
Many current principles and practices of stress management are effective tools after the heat of burnout has already begun. We learn to calm ourselves with progressive relaxation, biofeedback, cognitive therapy and drug therapy, all of which are excellent approaches, yet they work after the chemicals resulting from the stress induced fight/flight response has already entered the blood stream and effected our bodies’ functioning.
The key to stress prevention is to focus your attention on your reaction instead of the actual stressor. It is your reaction to stress that determines the effect (whether you go into fight/flight or relaxed mode) stress has on your mind and body. If your response (your self- thoughts and feelings to the stressor) is based on fear, the result will be a surge of glucose and adrenalin, a fight/flight response, resulting in burnout. If your response to the stressor is one of relaxation, calmness, a sense of being in control, a positive commitment to resolve the problem and planning your next step, stress and burnout is kept to a minimum.
Recommended Reaction to Uncomfortable Feelings
The approaches below take the most successful approaches of stress management and integrate them into a comprehensive strategy, and are presented as a compliment, not an alternative, to the successful stress reduction approaches currently being used.
The 6 Step Approach to
Practicing Healthy Self-Talk
What To Do When I Do Not Get My Way
This 6-step approach is inspired by the work of Victor Frankl
and his theory of loci therapy
- Receive the feeling as if it was a little child telling and showing you that (s)he is scarred and or angry. Of course you feel that way, anyone would. Thank them for sharing the feeling. Extending a touch or hug. The principle here is that any feeling is valid because feelings don’t have to be obeyed. Feelings are just feelings, not orders to take action. The usual tendency here is to avoid the feeling and push it away – this action increases the chances of acting on that feeling, while accepting the feeling increases the changes of resolution and not acting on that feeling.
- Listening with unconditional positive acceptance. Repeat back what they told you. Don’t share what you think about the feeling or situation. Be curious, not judgmental. Put yourself in your shoes with grace and compassion. Blend with your emotions…Don’t tell yourself that you are stupid to “feel that way.”
- Present data as objectively as possible, as if you were a reporter watching and listening to the situation, not being caught up in all the hoopla and emotions. When the first 2 steps above have been taken this third step seems natural.
- Plan for action by focusing your attention on your actions. Asking the right question is vital. The right question concerns your actions not theirs. Stress distracts us to the event causing us to neglect ourselves. If we neglect ourselves we can easily forget to focus on a positive plan. As an Aikido student I am learning to get off the line of attack and then make a decision on how I need to best react. My reaction is first internal, then external. I only act externally after I am emotionally centered internally.
- Metrics enable us to know what we are doing is working. Feelings can be measured according to their intensity and frequency. Measuring your progress helps you to feel in charge of the situation and gain perspective.
- Recognize and reward your hard work. This works best if the recognition is internal and the reward is a token external reminder recognizing you did the best you could. State the words of recognition out loud. Allow and encourage yourself to believe them.
What To Do When I Do Not Get My Way
We all want to get our way. We want our relationships with ourselves and with the world to be happy and conflict free. We want things to always go in our favor.
My clients have taught me common yet un-productive interventions in case things don’t go our way. These reactions turn on the flight/fight stress response. The most common are:
- STOP the feeling at all costs
- BLAME someone else, myself, an external event, an internal feeling for the original uncomfortable feeling.
- DISTANCE myself from the feeling. Have the feeling magically fade away.
- DISTRACT myself with sex, drugs, food, depression, fear and isolation.
My clients have also taught me less common, yet highly productive interventions, in case things don’t go our way. These actions turn off the flight/fight stress response or prevent it from starting. The most common are:
- FOCUS YOUR CONTROLon what you have the most influence over – yourself.
- Minimize PROCASTINATION, take small steps.
- EXERCISE on a regular and consistent basis.
- As one of my clients said, “Doing what I want to do is good for me.”
- Develop a passionate hobby…LIVE LIFE WITH PASSION
- GIVE to others. Good deeds benefit everyone
- LAUGHTER is the best medicine.
- STAY SOCIALLY CONNECTED.
- BOREDOM PROMOTES STRESS. A busy active mind promotes a productive body.
- EAT WELL. A healthy body promotes a productive mind.
It is not surprising that these client wisdoms are
well supported by the current research on stress and longevity.
Proactive Wellness Beliefs to Follow
GRACE, COMPASSION, COURAGE, FORGIVENESS
Remember to say these messages below to yourself every day so that you are resilient
- I am doing the best I can.
- I include me on my giving list.
- I accept who I am.
- I validate myself.
- I focus on what I can control .
- I do not necessarily obey any one feeling or thought.
It is well worth the effort to re-learn how to focus your control and energy on your response, instead of ‘their’ action. The cost is a focused commitment on your part. The benefits are clearly measurable in physical health and more productive relationships.
Xander Abrams, Ph.D. provides programs that help people resolve personal and professional problems by focusing on what they can control successfully. He provides unique solutions for each individual using a mind / body approach to life transitions and wellness. Dr Abrams has a private practice in Santa Cruz, California as a licensed California Marriage and Family Therapist.
Xander offers services to organizations as a certified Life Transition Coach; and a licensed Sailing Captain from the United States Coast Guard with industry programs which include Dynamic Teambuilding by Doing, Making Healthy Habits, Being in Charge of Your Stress, Being in Charge of Your Mental, Spiritual and Physical Health Program, Thriving in Times of Change, The Qualities of Long Term Committed Relationships, and Anger Management: Responsibility not Blame.
More information is available at www.wellsprg.com.