Stress is . . . oh, wait, I don’t remember

For years I was caught in the trap of overdoing everything. I took on more and more work because I felt I had to prove myself. I couldn’t let go of my responsibilities because I felt I would no longer be of value. I made myself feel more important than others because I did more than they did. I was not only creating an unhappy life; truth is I was also hurting my brain.

According to recent research based on The Framingham Heart Study, high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, leads to reductions in brain volume, memory, and visual perception. This agrees with that I have found in my life. When I am too busy, when I am overextending myself, when I have intense stress, I don’t think, remember, or see well.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

During my recent visit to the States, I had to prepare a property for a new renter. The last renter left a lot of surprises. Almost every day we found something new to repair, a utility bill that was not paid, or some other twist that now needed untwisting. I was stressed. I was under a deadline. Much of what had to be done was outside of my abilities which made me feel powerless. Plus, I was trying to do this while still working and attempting to visit with people I had not seen in a year.  Every day I was at the rental house, I felt distracted. I was unclear as to what to do or what I intended to do next. I didn’t see things the first time I looked at them. Basically, I was not working on all cylinders.

Stuff happens and we need to deal with it. This is part of life. But there are a few ways we can minimize the effects of stress on our lives and our brains.

Stick to Your Routine

This is my current challenge. I know, believe, and see proof that when we keep healthy daily practices, we are better able to deal with the challenges of life. However when life becomes too stressful or busy, I find myself more times than not saying I don’t have time for all of my practices or I am not doing them thoroughly. Our daily practices are our foundation of our sanity and serenity. Hold true to your practices as much as possible even when things go sideways.

Phone a Friend

Whether you ask a friend for help or just have a kind, compassionate ear to share with, making connections with others can lower our cortisol level. We go from stress and victimhood, to feeling heard and supported. This can make a difference in our physiological response, our ability to handle situations, and our experience of the challenges. Remember to reach out to the right person for the support you need. Brené Brown has some good advice about this; she talks about sharing shame but it applies to sharing our challenges as well.

Don’t Make More

Life is terrific at taking a left turn. Part of life is dealing with challenges. And there can be a lot of them. That is why it is important to not create more. Are you making mountains out of molehills? Are you currently in a good spot and therefore feel a need to create an issue to deal with? Do you feel naked and exposed without something to complain about? Life is better the less we have to be stressed about. Be aware of when you are adding on instead of removing stress from your life.

Be kind to your brain. Reduce your stress.

Ideal Work Life

Overwhelmed By Your Life? Perhaps It Is Time to Simplify.

If you had millions of dollars, what would you do? Buy an expensive house and car? How about a used van and park it by the ocean? That is exactly what Major League pitcher Daniel Norris did. Instead of spending his multimillion dollar contract to live up to the appearance of a celebrity ball player, this 21-year-old pitcher chose a simpler life. In a segment on the Today Show Daniel Norris said, “When I can simplify outside of the fair and foul lines, that’s so much less to think about off the field and all my focus is put onto the baseball field.”

Ideal Work LifeAs you go through your day, what is causing your stress, worry, and distraction? Is it a desire for a new car? Is it ensuring your dinner party is as good as your neighbor’s was? Are you concerned about people stealing what you own? Are you having difficulty paying your mortgage but worry you have failed if you downsize? Are you stressed because you can’t seem to achieve the American dream? Perhaps your unique dream life is different from the one society has dictated for us all.

Are the issues causing stress in your life providing you with any value? Start cataloging everything in your life. What brings you joy? What makes you feel whole? What helps to make you your best? Now, what is causing you to feel overwhelmed? What is a distraction? What is more hassle than it is worth? Next explore what is keeping you from removing things from your life that are affecting you negatively. Do you keep them around for your values or someone else’s? Are you living your unique Type Me life or are you unhappily living someone else’s life? Your ideal life might not to be living in a van, but is it the way you are living now?

Look around you. Did you create your life or are you living the life your parents, society, or your peers instilled in you? Are you trying to win at a game you don’t want to play? If you had the courage and the means, what life would you create? What would be included? What would you remove?

Henry David Thoreau wrote in the book Walden, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Simplifying your life is not just about downsizing your house or selling your possessions. At its heart, simplifying means living by your values. What do you personally value? When you choose to add something in your life, do you first gauge it against what you values? If you lived by your values, what would you experience? Make a list of all of the adjectives that would describe your life if you lived by your values. Perhaps it would be calm, peaceful, and content. Perhaps it would be exciting, adventurous, and joyful. What makes your heart sing? What truly makes you happy? Are you actively bringing into your life those things that make you happy?

Can you be as brave as Daniel Norris and remove yourself from the expectations of your role and status to remain true to your Type Me? Are you willing to stand up to ridicule and live the life that brings you joy? Are you ready to choose your version of living no matter what society expects? It is time to simplify your life by removing everything that is not you?

stuck

5 Simple Techniques to Get Unstuck

It happens to each one of us at one time or another. We become stuck. We enter a state of lethargy. Whether it involves our work or our home life, there are just days (and unfortunately sometimes weeks and months) where we feel stuck. We don’t seem to have the energy to move forward. We feel the need to get things done but can’t find a grain of momentum to make it happen. After a while we know we have to do something, yet we sit on the couch like an immobile brick. Stuck.

stuckWhen this happens, remember that feeling like a brick is your key to becoming unstuck. When you can use the BRICK techniques – Breathe, Recognize, Initiate, Connect, and Kinesthetics – this BRICK will release you from your milieu and move you forward. Used in combination, they are a powerful source of movement while incorporating even one BRICK element will help you reduce the feeling of being stuck.

Breathe

When we are stuck, so is our breathing. Stop and notice your breathing. Is it coming from deep in your abdomen or is it in your chest? Is it deep and slow or short and quick? By actively controlling our breath, we can loosen up the grip of lethargy and begin to feel more ourselves.

Try this exercise: Expand your abdomen slowly allowing the breath to fill the expanding cavity. Hold the breath for two counts. Then release the breath out slowly, if possible twice as slowly as your inhale. Breathe in, hold, and release five times in a row at least once a day. In time as your breath becomes more natural, and so will your momentum.

Recognize

Focusing on what we do not have, the mountain of work before us, or previous disappointments can keep us stuck. By recognizing the good we have in our lives, we can detach ourselves from our negative stories and worries providing us with the strength to move forward.

To begin reframing your viewpoint and recognize the good, try to either think of five (5) things to be grateful for before you step foot out of bed every morning or at the end of your day write a list of the good things that happened. When we can shake loose from our fear and negativity, we find the courage to step ahead.

Initiate

Especially when we have large daunting projects in front of us, we can be so overwhelmed and full of fear that we are immobilized. As the saying goes, what is the best way to eat an elephant? One step at a time. Look at your own tasks and projects. What is the smallest, easiest step you can take which will move you forward? You don’t have to make significant progress. The goal is simply to make some movement.

If you are looking for a new job, maybe the smallest step you are able to make is to look for websites which may post relevant positions. You don’t need to find or apply for any jobs. All you need to do is find the sites. Then set your next goal to find at least one job for which you can apply. Again you don’t need to apply, just find an opening. Every day take just one little baby step and soon you will find yourself moving ahead.

Connect

When we are curled up on our couch hiding from the tasks which overwhelm us, we tend to isolate. This isolation keeps us trapped. At times like this, reach out to others. Is there a friend you can call you haven’t talked to in a while? Can you join your co-workers for lunch instead of eating at your desk? Can you go to a coffee shop to work instead of hiding in your house? Reconnect with the human race to begin feeling like yourself again.

Kinesthetics

Get your body moving! Do you like yoga? Do you like to walk? Can you do a few jumping jacks? Move your muscles, increase your heart rate, and just do something to take your body out of a static position. Moving your body can shake the cobwebs out of your mind. Don’t think you have to commit to a major exercise program. Touch your toes a few times a day. Do a few stretches. Park further away adding a bit more to your walk. Remember that your body is designed to move. As you allow your body to do what it does naturally, it can help you to renew your desire to act in the rest of your life.

checklist

Safety Checklist

Recently a client admitted to falling back into an old undesirable habit. Ashley had once again become a tyrant at home. She was obsessed with the cleanliness of her house. She worried about getting things done on time. She stopped interacting with her family. The only time she spoke to them was when she was barking out an order or reprimanding when something was not done correctly or on time. Ashley was obsessed with her to-do list. She was frantic to complete each item. She was becoming very stressed by all she wanted to complete.

checklistThe first thing I told her was, “Congratulations.” The fact that she caught herself falling into this behavior was wonderful progress in her development. In the past, she would have acted this way and not consciously realized she was bringing the stress on herself and her family. Becoming aware of our behavior is the powerful first step to changing the undesirable behavior.

Then we dove into the “why.” Why did she take this behavior back on? Why did she think she had to act this way?

We talked about what was happening in her life. Unexpected expenses were affecting their finances. An accident made her question her ability as a mother, and therefore her self-worth. As we explored the stressors in her life, we discovered that focusing on her to-do list made her feel in control and safe. She wanted control over her life. She didn’t have control over the unexpected expenses or accident, so she sought control over tasks. Ashley wanted to protect herself from pain, uncertainty, and lack. She thought she could use “doing” to protect herself and gain control.

As we talked, Ashley realized that her attempts to control through “doing” did not make her feel safe. Instead, she felt more stressed through the overwhelming list of to-do’s.  With this realization, she was then able to let go of the pressure of her list. She was able to rejoin her family by focusing on the experience of life instead of tasks. As Ashley released her “doing,” she also bravely allowed herself to feel the fear, pain, and anxiety of her current issues. Instead of blocking these feelings through tasks, she faced them. And in facing them, she felt a sense of calm security.

When do you reach for your to-do list? What are you trying to hide from? What are you trying to protect yourself from? Is it really working? Are you ready to be brave enough to face your fears?

Katy Warner Stress Relief

Have Your Become a Type A Personality?

The concept of a Type A personality has not been around for long. It was actually identified in the 1950s by two cardiologists, Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who were studying coronary heart disease. They found a link between personality types and heart disease. According to their research, they identified three types of behaviors:

• Type A, which they labeled as competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, and fast-talking;
• Type B, which is more relaxed and non-competitive, and
• Type C, which is hardworking, but becomes apathetic when faced with stress.

Katy Warner Stress ReliefThose considered Type A were more prone to having high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and stress-related illnesses.

According to the Friedman and Rosenman study, Type A’s are defined as:
• Involved in multiple stressful activities tied to deadlines.
• Showing a tendency to rush to finish activities.
• Practicing perfectionism.
• Taking everything too seriously.
• Having an intense sustained determination to achieve one’s personal goals.
• Competing constantly against others and themselves in all situations.
• Having a persistent desire for recognition and advancement.
• Exhibiting mental and physical alertness over a long period of time.
• Unable to easily and clearly express their feelings.

According to Dava Money of the Creative Healing Institute, 50 percent of the United States population is now considered a Type A personality. This is because the Type A personality is a learned, rather than an innate behavior. Our Western society rewards competition, success, a focus on work, and being constructive. Added to this, modern technology provides new ways and new reasons to multitask and always be connected. The result is the desire and belief one must be a superhuman handling everything thrown his or her way. Because of this, most of us, at one time or another, experience Type-A tendencies.

In this technologically fast-paced world, have you become a Type A personality?

Are you experiencing some of the negative tendencies and results of being a Type A person, like:
• Anxiety when you have to wait.
• Stress when your to-do list no longer calms you down, but becomes your tyrannical master.
• Being frantic, overwhelmed, and inexact due to a sense of heightened urgency.
• Being crazed due to clutter in the house or office.
• Feeling powerless to say no to responsibilities even when you become buried in them.
• Insomnia due to uncompleted to-do lists and unread email.
• Exhaustion from unrealistic multitasking.
• Devaluation as your focus on work means you are underpaid for the long hours you work and for what you deliver.
• Work-life imbalance keeps you away from the joy of family and friends, as well as our own needs and self-care.
• Martyrdom from an extreme desire to serve and give to others.
• Frustration by not being able to affect the emotions, actions, and results of others for which you feel responsible.

How many of these tendencies do you now experience? Were you always this way or have these tendencies increased over time?

Living your life

Working for a Living

Recently whenever I talk to a client or friend about their job I hear:

I have lost the passion for my work.

My co-worker undermined my project.

It seems we only shuffle paper and no longer provide anything of true value.

My boss took credit for my work.

I have to work overtime again, without pay.

There is too much work to do. I am completely overwhelmed.

Once again, I had a nervous breakdown in my office.

There are many reasons we feel this way. The economy tanked out in 2008 and led to layoffs but the same amount of work to be done, so those still employed are doing the work that used to be split between many others.

A primary focus on quarterly goals has created an atmosphere of short-term thinking. The best choices for the company, customer, and worker are secondary to trying to increase the appearance of quarterly profits for Wall Street.

Individuals are afraid of losing their job, feel their pocketbook tightening, and have increased pressures. Because of this, tempers are shorter, people share less, care less. Civility and compassion at work are diminishing.

How Can You Make Your Job Better?

Living your lifeThere may be a few very slow moving changes we can make to the state of our business and the economy overall. In the meantime, what we can affect to make a less than desirable circumstance better is our own perspective, thoughts, beliefs, actions, and reactions.

Often when there are issues or conflicts, we want the other to change. We want our boss to be fair. We want our co-worker to do their share. We want the economy to improve. However, these are not things we can truly affect. We are not in control of them. We may be able to state our case to our boss, but we can not control her response. We can bring the workload situation up to our co-worker but we can’t change his level of execution.

To truly change our experience, we need to change ourselves. You may be in a negative circumstance, but you are still in control of how you experience that circumstance.

We need to become Aware of our actions and reactions. Are our actions and reactions helping or hurting us? Are we making situations even worse by how we react and feel about them? Are we allowing a poor work environment to affect our sense of self worth?

We need to learn Acceptance of the situation and others. This does not mean we rollover and take abuse. Acceptance means ending our desire for things to be different than they truly are. Much of our pain can be the pain from expecting and desiring things to be different than reality.

We need to look for Alternatives. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. What are things you can change in your own beliefs, actions, and reactions which could improve your experience of your current job?

We need to take Action. Complaining about our work but then approaching it the same way is not action. Blaming others and waiting for them to change is not action. Every day what are the small steps you can take to make your experience just a little bit better? That is action.

For more concrete ideas to make your current job better, download the 10 Ways to Survive a Less Than Ideal Job. To learn how I used Awareness, Acceptance, Alternatives, and Action to change my experience download the first chapter of From Type-A to Type-ME: A Framework for Stress Reduction. Both are available gratis. Learn how you can help share Melissa’s story, reduce the amount of stress in the world, and reserve your copy of From Type-A to Type-ME.

What do you see as the answer to this problem for you? What are the small steps you can take today to make a difference in your own experience?