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  • Dr. Sharon Livingston

Stress and the New Year


Did you know that January is considered to be one of the most stressful months of the year?

I’m personally not surprised because in my practice I’ve observed so many people wanting to make critical changes in their lives. They tell me that they gear up their courage to make potent New Year’s resolutions – each year. And each year, they give up after a few days or a few weeks.

This “failure” adds stress to an already stressful issue, and we can all find ways to torture ourselves about being less than perfect. When people fail once, they tend to give up. This makes keeping resolutions an exercise in perfectionism and futility.

Of course, living healthier, having better relationships and enjoying your career are desirable and worthwhile and achievable goals. My clients come to me to work on job changes, family issues, personal development, and dealing with various life transitions. But in this article I’d like to invite you to resolve to create strategies for less stress this new year, this new decade. And, often the result of lessening stress is paving the way to achieving more as you give up bad habits that are usually stress induced, anyway. Reducing stress is a win-win.

Here are some ways to ease stress whether it’s your garden variety everyday stress or the more difficult forms caused by life changes.

REST:

When we’re stressed it’s hard to sleep and then the resulting sleep deprivation adds to your stress level. So, you feel more emotional, less focused, less productive and down on yourself. But, how to get more sleep? Create a routine. Choose a good time to go to bed with 20 – 45 minutes for unwinding while in bed.

Avoid eating sugar or drinking caffeinated beverages after 3pm.

Bring a book to bed and read it to help you get tired.

Use your phone to play soft relaxing music or put on white or pink noise in the background. It works for babies and can help lull you too.

Find a guided sleep meditation online and listen to it to help you calm and begin to relax into sleep.

Find natural supplements to help you relax. Your local health food store can make suggestions. I like asking someone who’s had experience with different formulas.

Exercise

Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help to stabilize your mood and decompress the mind. To be safe, it’s best completed a couple of hours before bed time. In contrast, those who exercise right before bed are often stimulated and find it hard to wind down.

Lower the room temperature

Your body temperature changes as you fall asleep. Core temperature decreases, while the temperature of your hands and feet increases. If your room is too warm, you might have a hard time falling asleep. Setting your thermostat to a cool temperature between 60–75°F helps. That’s a broad range to account for Individual preferences. So, experiment and find the temperature that works best for you.

Taking a warm bath or shower could also help speed up the body's temperature changes. As your body cools down afterwards, this can help send a signal to your brain to go to sleep.

MUSIC:

Play music in your car during your commute to feel less stressed as you drive, or put music on as you exercise to infuse some additional energy into your workout. Play music in the background as you go about your day, bringing a more soothing feel to all of your activities. Adding more music to your life is an effective and attainable goal for the coming year.

CUT OUT CLUTTER:

Clutter makes us feel like we’re living in chaos. Chaos creates stress. We experience a sense of chaos from mess in our environments, chaotic schedules and overload of emotions. This kind of disorder can make us feel scattered and lacking in resources. Cluttered environments in themselves deprive us of time as we search for things that should be right there in front of us. What did I do with my keys?!

We lack a sense of peace of mind that we get from organized time and spaces. Consider giving away things you don’t need and maintaining your home as a haven. You don’t have to be perfect. Small changes make a difference in how you think more clearly and feel calmer.

KEEP SOME INSTANT STRESS RELIEVERS ON-HAND

You can always practice breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation.

Or, consider a guided imagery exercise where you close your eyes and take yourself to a calm relaxed place that you’ve enjoyed in the past. See yourself in that space. Use all your senses to bring it to life. Breathe into it and enjoy the pleasure of being there.

CULTIVATE OPTIMISIM:

When you realize you’re dipping into a negative place, remind yourself of positives. Pessimism and putting yourself down adds to the stress. Reframe your thoughts. That negative might be seen as an opportunity. Instead of being frightening, reconsider and think of it as exciting. You can change your perspective with just a little practice. You’ll feel more self-satisfied when you do. Reframing self-defeating patterns is exhilarating! You can’t feel down when you’re excited.

In the next series of articles, we’ll be discussing the major stressors that cause anxiety and depression and you’ll come away with strategies for coping with each of them.

In the meantime, . . . It’s a new year, a new decade. Give yourself a gift of positive expectations without having to identify exactly what they will be. Life is an adventure. Let’s enjoy the surprises.


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