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Healthy Aging

Five Ways to Sideline Stress

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 04/13/2010
Last Updated: 03/27/2019

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Do you hate stress as much as I do? I mean, it just  feels just so...bad. And it has a LOT of side effects. It makes me lose my appetite, eat too much, sleep too little, oversleep, lose my memory, my patience, my motivation, my mind. When it comes down to it, stress scares me. I know it can impact your health in a big way.

Come to think of it, stress has a big effect on just about everything, doesn't it? 

I used to blame PMS. That was prime time for stress, good for at least 1 week out of each month. Then, of course, stress was all about raising young kids and dealing with things like peer pressure and making the team. Stress really hit its stride with the bigger problems of having bigger kids, aka teenagers. After that, I could blame stress on  - what else? The peri-the pre- and then the real thing: Menopause. 

Having passed through many of the mega stress-inducers, what's my excuse now?
Life. Just life. 

But one thing I'm convinced of is this: When we're born, along with the color of our eyes and the texture of our hair comes this other gene, which pre-determines how stress affects us;  for the purposes of this post, let's just call it the SCG - stress-coping gene.  My theory - not the scientific community's - but perhaps one day I'll do my own research.

So, because I'm light in the SCG department and stress can easily sideline me (unlike the other people I admire who let it seemingly roll right off their shoulders), I’ve made a mission out of trying to control it. Notice I didn’t say "eliminate" it because, well, that’s just about impossible, unless you’re that kind of person who can all but tune out the world, and I'm most certainly not.

In my quest, I've tried to tap into some simple things we do everyday – and find ways to make them work while reducing stress.

Become a laundry queen.  When I'm folding clothes, I usually am doing it in a rush, while muttering to myself something like, "I hate folding laundry; why do I always have so much laundry to fold; it’s hopeless because tomorrow I’ll just be doing it all over again." Instead, something as mundane as yes, folding laundry, can be relaxing, if you let it. The trick? I try to focus my attention on what I'm doing instead of letting in all the distractions. It's when I really focus on making that perfect crease that my mind is able to relax a little.

Nix bad odors. I like to cook. And many times, cooking involves garlic, onions or other foods that taste so good but whose smell lingers and then usually turns kind of sour. I don't smell it while I'm in the house, but when I leave and come back in, I do. And I never realized that it stressed me out so much until the other day when I came into the house and scrunched up my nose and felt annoyed by the smell. I lit a lavender-scented candle. The house smelled so lovely and before I realized it I was relaxed and feeling like my house was the most wonderful place in the world to be. (Using a scented hand lotion creates the same sort of sense of well-being, especially when I take my time to massage it deeply into my hands.)

Clean up work spaces. Now this is a tough one, as I tend to a). print out everything I read off the computer 2). have a LOT of papers and projects around at any one time c). have no room for all my papers and projects. So, I call it having "neat piles" of papers but really, I'm fooling myself because the piles actually intrude upon my space and make me feel - you guessed it - stressed out. One day, when I got really ambitious, I managed to find a spot for everything and for about 2 days, my office looked absolutely calm and actually like a place I wanted to be. And I was calmer than I'd been in a long time, too. (Okay, so I didn't keep my promise to myself to not let it get that way ever again. But at least I know what I need to do to feel less stressed.)

Sit and do nothing. Do you ever do this? I remember doing  it as a kid; just staring into space. I don't know about you, but I've forgotten the fine art of staring into space without  a single, solitary thought intruding (doesn't that sound fabulous?) I came close the other day when I attempted to sit outside on my porch and enjoy the solitude...until my neighbor's dog (who was left outside while the family was away for the day) started barking. And barking. A lot of time passed and it didn't stop, not even to take a breath. So I had to give up my favorite thing in the world, which is sitting out on the porch that we added onto the house so we could enjoy sitting out on our porch. But I did the next best thing - it was time to...

Take control. Well, this has a happy ending - and a lesson to be learned. Annoyed because I was denied the pleasure of sitting out on my porch, I came inside and left a message for my neighbor. In the most pleasant way I could muster, I explained that I was not able to sit outside because her dog was barking incessantly. And I kindly said that I'm sure we could work things out. My voice hovered between being apologetic (for complaining) and being in control (for taking the initiative to complain). 

And guess what? I was not able to go back outside (at least, not on that day), but my stress disappeared as soon as I hung up the phone. I'm convinced that by taking control, I got a glimpse into how it feels - and how simple it can sometimes be -  to be stress-free. 

This Matters> If we can take control  and figure out some ways to turn around everyday situations, we can control our stress. Knowing that makes me feel calmer, already.

Everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress - I'd love to know yours. My hope is that together, we can turn this list into a much longer one.

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Thanks for this post. I am in the midst of some major stress right now. I find that exercise helps me. Breathing is also helpful. And I try to focus on each moment and enjoying something in it - it's hard to do, but when it is successful it has great rewards

Ah, yes, breathing. Stress can really fool with that - and it's not until you start to become aware of it do you notice that it really helps to take long cleansing breaths to relax your body. Thanks for the reminder mandme!

I find a walk, even a quick one works wonders. I have the benefit of living a 5 minute walk from the beach and working from home so at any time of day I'm able to leave my desk and go visit the waves and seagulls.

Melanie, How wonderful for you. If I could be at the beach in 5 minutes, I'm convinced I'd never, ever feel stressed. It's my idea of perfect.

Comedy is the thing that makes my stress go away! I must watch something funny every single day. I make sure I watch The Daily Show, I try to watch Seinfeld reruns (I still laugh at them), and I try to stay away from anything too serious on television. Music also helps.. I listen to my ipod when I workout and that relaxes me. Life is too short to be stressed all the time.

Great that you have found so many ways to beat your stress. I agree that comedies can really help - it's all that laughing that is so good for us!

I'm constantly stressed out, and I'm just now noticing it. It makes me wonder if there was ever a time I *wasn't* stressed, but I can't remember when. Have I always been this way? I hope not.

Cleaning the desk is a big one for me, as is taking time to do things I like. A friend of mine said she made a list of the things she loves: reading books, playing with puppies, cooking, etc. When she realized that she never actually does any of these things, it was a big eye opener for her.

Maybe an idea for another post: what are the things you love to do, that make you feel calm and at one with yourself? And how often do you actually do them?

You have a wise friend. That's a good exercise - not only to see what you really love to do, but to see what it is you are NOT doing that you love. And yes, an idea for a blog post- stay tuned (and thanks!)

You have a wise friend. That's a good exercise - not only to see what you really love to do, but to see what it is you are NOT doing that you love. And yes, an idea for a blog post- stay tuned (and thanks!)

Yoga -- which I highly recommend. I think I'd look 10 years older if I didn't do it.

A reminder that I think I need to return to the mat!

When my children were small, I got stressed very often and for everything. Now I'm gettin old and calm... I take my time to think, to laugh, to enjoy the little things that life offer me and I don't care about bad things... If I can't solve a problem, I forget about it.. That keep me Stress free.

Rosalba, That's one nice thing about getting old; it brings a sense of calm. Can you please bottle it? You'd be a very rich woman. :-)

Hiking, dancing, a day in nature, a day by the sea, yoga, friends, food, laughter, tears, movies, novels, sex;)...all great stress busters in my book.

But never underestimate the therapeutic effect of a clean desk (once big deadlines are met) or a clean house (especially when you're sick, lying on the floor with a heating pad & can see the dust bunnies for days on end!)

And consider this: My friend says in her annual health insurance survey one page is devoted to diet, one to exercise, and one to stress -- that's how significant that pesky little problem is to our well-being.

I'm with you on a clean desk. That's my big stressor...and it seems to always be. When something is clean it just feels so calm and right.

I like this list Sheryl. I find that as I've gotten older I've sped up--eating, laundry, other daily tasks. I'm trying to slow down now. Just because you're moving faster doesn't necessarily mean you get more done, I've discovered. Just trying to consciously slow down (insert: "stop and smell the roses" here), helps me tackle stress.

Ah, yes. A whirling dervish...that's what I feel like most days. Definitely stress-inducing.

Nature. I also live close to the beach. There's nothing like the ocean to leave you stress-free. I also like Sherry's suggestion of comedy. I think we are supposed to laugh more to reduce stress. Another idea would be massage. All my cares dissipate after a good massage .... or maybe they just don't seem to matter so much any more?

How about walking on the beach while listening to a comedy podcast? And then, on the way home, stopping for a massage?
Now there's a perfect day.

Great tips, Sheryl. My biggest stressor is me. I bring the stress into my life by trying to do too much. I need to practice your art of sitting and doing nothing. With today's connected world, I find that an increasingly hard task but I'm going to start practicing.


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