Thought Management vs Stress Management

The typical approach to combating stress is through various kinds of stress management. This can include activities that range from vigorous exercise to quietly working in the garden. And such activities can certainly work to provide islands of relaxation in an otherwise tense life. The problem with these approaches is not that they can’t reduce stress. The problem is that they acknowledge the reality of stress in the first place.

Stress is an internal state, not an external one. There is no stress “out there” in the world. Rather, stress is in our *thoughts about* the world out there. Thus, if we ever hope to actually reduce our experience of stress in a lasting way, it can only be by changing how we think about our world.

Stress management is thought management, and stress is a decision we make each moment we continue to feel it. It’s the decision – either conscious or unconscious – to continue the thought that’s causing stress in that moment. This is an uncomfortable truth, and in fact many people simply can’t accept it. “…but my job *is* stressful,” “…but my finances *make* me worry,” and on and on the list goes. As long as we believe that stress is something that happens *to* us, rather than something caused *by* us, we’ve relinquished control over it.

Changing how we think about our world is a much more daunting task than, say, going to the gym. Changing how we think is not a decision we can make first thing in the morning: “Today I’m not going to let myself get angry at my boss.” Such a one-time vow is guaranteed to be broken, and is sure to leave you feeling even worse about yourself at the end of the day for having failed at your goal.

Breaking a stressful pattern of thinking is a decision that has to be made constantly, throughout the day, even several times *each minute*. We each have to interrupt that crazy fictional story that is playing in our head, stopping it over and over. Each time we interrupt it and bring our awareness back to what we’re actually doing in that moment (“I’m standing on the floor, I can hear people talking, I can feel the pen behind my ear, etc.), we create some emotional distance between ourselves and that stressful story.

Over time and after *hundreds* or even thousands of intentional interruptions of that story, we are able to see it as just a story. It seems like a lot of practice before seeing results, but what is your option? Going through life stressed by some internal story you can’t get to stop?

In doing this practice we also find that we’re spending much more of our time and awareness in the present moment of our lives as we’re living it, rather than spending it lost in that stressful story while our lives pass us by.

 

Photo courtesy of Patty Davis

Breaking the Stress Habit

Well, summer is finally here. That means everyone is feeling healthy, happy and very relaxed, right? The sun is certainly nice to see.

However, if you’re like most people you still have your stressful life happening, there’s just no rain to blame for your state of mind. In fact, stress isn’t just a sideline health issue.

Estimates vary, but stress-related absenteeism from work costs employers billions of dollars annually. And while the societal cost is enormous, the toll it takes on each individual is, in many ways, beyond measure.Stress degrades our physical health, our emotional wellbeing, our relationships, and our ability to concentrate and recall information.

The typical approach to combating stress is through various kinds of stress management. This can include activities that range from vigorous exercise to quietly working in the garden. And such activities can certainly work to provide islands of relaxation in an otherwise tense life.

The problem with these approaches is not that they can’t reduce stress. The problem is that they acknowledge the reality of stress in the first place. Stress is an internal state, not an external one. There is no stress “out there” in the world. Rather, stress is in our *thoughts about* the world out there.

Thus, if we ever hope to actually reduce our experience of
stress in a lasting way, it can only be by changing how we think about our world. Stress management is thought management, and stress is a decision we make each moment we continue to feel it. It’s the decision – either conscious or unconscious – to continue the thought that’s causing stress in that moment. This is an uncomfortable truth, and in fact many people simply can’t accept it. “…but my job *is* stressful,” “…but my finances *make* me worry,” and on and on the list goes.

As long as we believe that stress is something that happens *to* us, rather than something caused *by* us, we’ve relinquished control over it. Changing how we think about our world is a much more daunting task than, say, going to the gym.

Changing how we think is not a decision we can make first thing in the morning: “Today I’m not going to let myself get angry at my boss.” Such a one-time vow is guaranteed to be broken, and is sure to leave you feeling even worse about yourself at the end of the day for having failed at your goal.

Breaking a stressful pattern of thinking is a decision that has to be made constantly, throughout the day, even several times *each minute*. We each have to interrupt that crazy fictional story that is playing in our head, stopping it over and over. Each time we interrupt it and bring our awareness back to what we’re actually doing in that moment (“I’m standing on the floor, I can hear people talking, I can feel the pen behind my ear, etc.), we create some emotional distance between ourselves and that stressful story.

Over time and after *hundreds* or even thousands of intentional interruptions of that story, we are able to see it as just a story. It seems like a lot of practice before seeing results, but what is your option? Going through life stressed by some internal story you can’t get to stop?

In doing this practice we also find that we’re spending much more of our time and awareness in the present moment of our lives as we’re living it, rather than spending it lost in that stressful story while our lives pass us by. Here is a simplified version of a practice that I have many patients do to help create that emotional distance from their anxious, depressing or stressful thoughts.

Thought control in 3 easy steps: 1) As often as you can remind yourself to do it, STOP what you’re thinking about. Literally, just stop. To assist you, set up a timer on your phone to “remind” you with a buzz every 20 minutes or so. As soon as it buzzes, interrupt whatever train of thought you were in at that moment. 2) CLASSIFY that thought, using very broad categories: “That was about me feeling incompetent.” “That was about me arguing with someone.” “That was about me thinking I’m stupid for some reason.” Etc. Whatever categories work for you.

The point of this step is to bring your awareness back to the present. Simply start narrating (to yourself, of course) what your immediate experience is, “I’m sitting at my desk, I can hear the cars outside, I feel a slight breeze on my arms, etc.” Keep the narration going as long as you can.

Remember, this moment is your reality, the life you’re actually living. If you are like everyone else, you’ll stick with that present-moment narration for maybe 20 seconds, then you’ll get lost in your stressful story again. That’s just fine. In 20 minutes, your buzzer will remind you to do it all over again. Repeat that exercise, every 20 minutes you are awake, for the rest of your life.  

Image courtesy Lululemonathletica

7 Tips for Happy, Healthy Holidays

It’s that time of year again for family gatherings, festivities and feasting beyond measure!  These days can bring joy or trepidation, depending on how well you prepare.  For many who suffer from food allergies, addictions or are prone to stress, this time of year can be especially trying.  Read on to learn our top 7 ideas for navigating through holiday pitfalls and temptations!

1.Visualize success. Stressed out about the family reunion? The temptation of Aunt Louise’s caramel-apple pie?  The idea of 4 days of football?  Relax – make a plan – rehearse!  Coaches and athletes commonly use visualization techniques and rehearsal to improve performance, and so can you.  Try to picture the scenario that creates the most stress for you while facing the holidays.  You might even take out a notebook and write out – in detail – your expectations of the event.  Describe the location; the people who will be present, the antagonist (can be a person, a food or even a potential situation).

Now practice.  Visualize your responses and be honest with yourself on your weakness.  Acknowledge the various outcomes and choose the one that you want to see happen.  Keep practicing in your mind how you can contribute to the best possible outcome for your own happiness and enjoyment.  Practice, practice, practice.

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2.Choose an indulgence – just one – and stick to it! Then really enjoy yourself.  If it’s a piece of pie then savor every morsel.  If it’s the creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes you crave – dig in.  Just make sure that you decide there will be no guilt attached.  The caveat to this is not indulge in anything that is harmful to you in the sense of a food allergy or an addiction.

3.Keep moving! The holidays do not have to mean a holiday from your normal routine.  Even if you’re traveling you can often find a way to get some exercise into your day.  Check out the local gym – most will allow you a guest pass, or go for a run – all you need are the shoes! Take a walk in the autumn air, do a morning dance… whatever feels right.  Just move it.

4.Prepare for the evening out. On your way to a party eat an apple to stave off hunger and the possibility of grazing too long at the buffet table.  Drink plenty of water – hydration not only keeps us from getting too tipsy but it helps us not to overeat as well!

5.Simplify. Preparing the family meal?  This is a great opportunity to take control of the over-indulgence by simplifying the menu.  Rather than knocking yourself out making a dozen different side dishes – which then contribute to over-eating – choose three favorites and make enough to go around.  This may be the year to let go of the candied yams and green bean bake, not to mention the jello tower!

6.Consider substitutions. Whipped sweet potatoes instead of russets, creamy pasture butter instead of margarine, light buckwheat flour or quinoa flour for your pie crust rather than white or wheat flour…  There are so many easy and tasty ways to make your meals healthier without compromising your taste buds!

7.Have a treatment. Try to remember – you are not alone.  The holidays can be tough on everyone with all the pressures of traveling, preparing, socializing and just plain dealing with it all.  Be kind to yourself and listen to your body.  If you need a break – take it.  Don’t forget to breathe.  And, if you’re feeling overwhelmed – call us and come on in for an acupuncture treatment or massage to ease the stress.

 

Image courtesy: CarbonNYC

Stress & the CEO: Dr. Greg Eckel on Blogtalk Radio

Listen as Tom Cox, a Blogtalk Radio host and leadership training expert, interviews Dr. Greg Eckel about stress management for CEO’s and other leaders.

Stress, Anxiety and the CEO: Listen to the podcast

Stress, Anxiety and the CEO: Read the blog post

Naturopathic Approach to Fatigue

Listen to Fatigue Podcast

Listen as Portland naturopathic doctors, Dr. Greg Eckel and Dr. Greg Nigh discuss fatigue and the issues that surround it.  They talk about how a conventional doctor might treat fatigue, which includes blood tests to rule out thyroid or anemia issues.  But if the blood tests don’t come back with anything abnormal, then the patient will often just get sent home with a prescription, usually an antidepressant.  They explain what their naturopathic approach would be, which usually involves an adrenal stress test, food allergy testing, stress evaluations and chronic infection testing.  Depending upon the results of those tests, patients will be put on a comprehensive treatment plan to address the imbalances and restore vitality to their bodies.

The Naturopathic Approach to Stress

Listen to Stress Podcast

In this podcast, Nature Cures Clinic founder, Dr. Greg Eckel and colleagues discuss stress and the specific physiological damage that it can do to your body.  They’ll discuss why our body produces stress, as well as the difference between what can be good stress and what is bad stress.  They talk about stress triggers and what we can do to address these triggers and therefore minimize the stress in your life.

Naturopathic Approach to Inflammation

Listen to Inflammation Podcast

In this podcast, Nature Cures Clinic founder, Dr. Greg Eckel and colleagues discuss inflammation, a condition that has now been shown to be linked to almost every chronic disease. and the effects that it has on the body.  They discuss what causes inflammation in the body, such as foods and various environmental causes.  They will share with you the naturopathic approach to bringing your body into an anti-inflammatory state.  This is accomplished through a change of diet, lifestyle factors and exposure to environmental causes.

Sitting in Traffic Raises Heart Attack Risk

A new study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine identifies another way in which modern life is hazardous to our health. After speaking to nearly 700 heart attack survivors, it was found that the longer an individual spends sitting in traffic, the greater the risk of a heart attack.

Surprisingly, the risk applied not only to individuals riding in cars, but also those who sat in traffic while riding bicycles or buses. The highest risk was found in women and in all individuals over 60 years old.Sitting in traffic increases two very important risk factors for experiencing a heart attack or many other diseases: elevated stress and exposure to air pollution. Both traffic congestion and pollution levels are highest during the morning rush hour, so this is the time of greatest exposure to both of these risks.

While it may not be possible to eliminate your commute to and from work, there are certainly things you can do to minimize the toll that it takes on your health. Continue reading “Sitting in Traffic Raises Heart Attack Risk”