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Put yourself on a “stress diet”

Are you feeling stressed these days? I know I am. So many different things contribute to whether we feel more or less stressed. What I call “external factors” are those things around us that are just part of the world. As I write this, there are Santa Ana winds and fires all around, which always make us Californians feel nervous. The economy is tight, many people are worried about businesses failing or jobs being lost, and the general feeling seems to be one of anxiety and depression. Everywhere I go, every conversation I overhear seems to turn to economic worries, large and small. So there is certainly a lot of “external” stress out there.

Then we all have worries that are closer to home as well. If you have children, I can rest my case pretty quickly. We all worry about our children at one time or another and, as my mother used to delight in telling me, “it doesn’t stop once they’re grown”. I didn’t think so then, but I agree now. I still worry if they’re sick, or if things aren’t going well in their lives, and I think that’s true for all parents, from the time children are first born.

Our own lives can feel stressful day to day, as well. Is it just me, or does it seem that we are busier every year? We try to fit so much into every day, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem realistic. So many articles I’ve read say that with the advent of “the information age” of computers and continuous connectivity came a real feeling of information overload. We have news 24/7, we work from home after hours more often than not, and we have the ability now to find out anything, about anyone, anywhere, anytime. Somehow, at least for me, that can translate to being on the computer looking something up that seems really vital and interesting, instead of just … relaxing.

Which brings me to my point. We really have to take responsibility for how much stress we let into our lives. Some things we can’t control and some things we can. One of my favorite things used to be driving around, running my errands, listening to talk radio. That seemed liked a great thing when things were going well; not so much these days when all the news seems to be bad. So, time to turn it off! And I do the same with the news. It isn’t helpful to watch minute by minute coverage of fires, or other disasters, or war, or the economy, or …. you name it.

Now I’m not saying we should be uninformed. I think it’s very important to have a good grasp of the issues, get news from varied sources to form intelligent opinions, and in general stay connected. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily healthy to do that constantly, all day long. A good experiment to try, if you’re feeling stressed by the “externals”, is to limit yourself to certain time periods to get your news as a general rule, and then go on about your business. You may find that your day feels much more manageable and peaceful.

Another to watch out for is the late night news. For myself, and for many clients who have a little trouble winding down at night, watching the news right before bed isn’t a great idea. Too many times I’ve done that, only to be caught by surprise by a story that was very upsetting for one reason or another, especially if it involved children. I’ve found it works better for me to find out what’s gone on during the day earlier in the evening, and to reserve the later hours for winding down and relaxing … there’s that word again!

I realize that to some people it may seem that I’m advocating putting one’s head in the sand and just ignoring current events. That’s not my intent. What I’m suggesting is that constant immersion in things we really can’t control, and especially things that are negative that we can’t control, is likely to cause us to feel quite stressed. Many years ago, I recall reading a study in psychology class about monkeys who were subjected to some sort of stress. If they could control it by turning it on and off, they handled it rather well. If they had no control at all, they seemed to handle it quite poorly. Try turning off the stress, and see how you feel. My guess is the world will go on, and that your world will function a bit better.

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