Friday, February 23, 2018

Back to Stress?

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by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner

It doesn’t have to be! As the pace picks up, grab these ideas and go with the (albeit increased) pre-fall flow.

Right now, there are people worried about Halloween costumes already.  It’s true. Take a moment and recognize the silliness of it. The end of summer often signals a rush of upcoming responsibilities, tasks, and obligatory events culminating in the year-end holidays. Stop the madness, friends.

Stress usually has negative connotations—excessive responsibilities, crazy deadlines, and traffic jams. However, there is a positive side to stress. It releases flight-or-fight brain chemicals that can motivate us to action. Used effectively, it can increase mental and physical functioning. Release stress on the Exercise Floor, and you’ll likely power up your workout while soothing your mind. In turn, this outlet will keep daily stress levels moderate. You’ll have just enough to be sharp, yet remain healthy.

On your mark, Get set. Go--with the flow.
On your mark, Get set. Go–with the flow.

Other times, stress gets the best of us. Suffering ongoing stress keeps the body in a constant state of alert, with heightened senses and levels of stress hormones like cortisol. This leaves your body susceptible to everyday viruses, such as colds and flu, as well as more serious chronic conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. These are stress-inducers in their own right, for which you surely don’t have time.

A change in seasons can trigger biological shifts, which include everything from barometric pressure that affects our physical selves to a change in circadian rhythm that affects our inner clock. Autumn has the added stressor of  signaling an end to the ease of summer. For many, schedules become more rigid, school resumes, and priorities change as we begin a busier time of year. The bell rings and we do not seem to sit still again until the playing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

How to Respond

Aside from taking a vacation (been there, just did that– which is part of our lamenting), face the future with stress-busters at the ready. Be prepared. Keep your schedule under control with built-in time to do the daily necessities. Rushing adds to an already stressful schedule and introduces opportunities to get injured. (More stress!)

Amid the chaos, take care of yourself. Stamina improves through small indulgences. Take time for a massage, a book, or your favorite Group Fitness class. Hire a personal trainer during this hectic time to keep on track with your fitness goals. Reporting to someone increases compliance, especially during a time-crunched period.

Princeton,  John Burns, PT OTM, pic
Short on time? Get a trainer involved.

Your efforts will be commended by your body and your ability to better cope with tensions. They will also be admired by others who might possibly gain from this infectious way of living. Children emulate a parent’s response to stress. With the start of school, and all its academic and social pressures, be an example of how to combat stress.

Life’s pressures are unavoidable at any age; however, we always can improve our coping mechanisms. Make time for yourself with a robust workout or calming meditation. Life is about what you make of it, not what it makes of you.

Stress at the Unconscious Level

One bad day sometimes leads to a string of others until negative emotions become overwhelming. This type of chronic stress brews under the surface of consciousness, discoloring everything we experience. Often, it causes us to wake feeling unrested and unwilling to face the day’s challenges. Ignored, it can lead to the more debilitating states of anxiety or depression.

Before stress snowballs into this monstrosity, cultivate better bedtime and morning routines. At the end of the day, we cannot change what transpired. It is our history. Learn from it and release it into the night. Sounds a little hokey and impossible. But, try this: Reflect on the day’s positives. (There must be at least one.) Some days, you only may dig up the incidental moment when a passerby stopped to help you pick up a mess of dropped paperwork. Find that moment and be grateful.

Expand to broader reasons for gratitude. It doesn’t need to be time consuming; start thinking as you brush your teeth! Advance to your tomorrow and pick something to positively anticipate. Nothing good scheduled? Add something now, even the promise of a 15-minute phone visit with a friend.

Drift to sleep with these in mind for easy recall upon awakening. Place a happy photo or image on your bedside table, ready to greet you in the morning light. Practicing gratitude may feel awkward at first. As you habitually perform this, it will come naturally. You will become more conscious of things worthy of gratitude throughout your day. This bedtime and morning ritual of thankfulness will evolve into a way of life, one that helps transcend stress in wake and sleep.

Make a Plan

To-do list, picIt’s hard to start off on the right– or wrong– foot when you don’t have a plan. Start your day with a list of goals. Prioritize them. Give your brain a break. Once listed, you may find a quick drop in anxiety level. Simply removing tasks from your personal radar is helpful, freeing space to remember the important things, like dinner.

As for dinner, and all other meals, plan them, too. The time up-front is paid back in heaps during your busy week. It also avoids unhealthy fast, processed food temptations when lack of time and ingredients leaves you vulnerable in the kitchen.

When stress becomes a state-of-mind, sometimes it is difficult to decipher its origin. Setting goals, and working to reach them, keeps us in control. You exchange feeling overwhelmed for feeling busy with a mission, a more gratifying state. A plan of action, with specific steps to accomplishment, distracts from fixating on negative thoughts and situations.

Balance every day’s plan with a slice of enjoyment. Despite best efforts to “live in the moment,” we often can’t help looking to the future for an upcoming treat. Although wishing away time is not recommended, sometimes positive anticipation is as good as the treat itself. It can carry us through a rough afternoon with the knowledge that a better time lies ahead. A daily piece of happiness is a joy that brightens the hours surrounding it.

Vary your daily stress-relievers to avoid a phenomenon known as “habituation.” Habituation accounts for the reason we receive our biggest pleasure from the first forkful. After the initial sensation, we slowly become desensitized to the pleasure. Also, indulge in pleasures that acknowledge all aspects of self– mind, body, and spirit.

Crunch Abs, Not Time

smartly stressed, picExercise provides you with energy and stamina to make the most of your hours. Spaced correctly, you can reap the appropriate effects from specific workouts throughout your day. This is also a solution when upcoming days are packed like a football stadium at kick-off.

Burn the stress out!
Burn the stress out!

Consider starting your day with a trip to the Center for morning yoga or an aquatic workout. These are refreshing ways to ease into a new day. At lunchtime, relieve the kinks with a quick power walk or some gentle stretches. If time allows, try a lunchtime Group Fitness class at the Center. These are better options than venting on your boss or downing antacids.

Before heading home, hit the Center for a higher intensity workout. These tame the irritated mind, and allow you to accomplish more in less time. You may arrive home later, but you’ll probably be more pleasant company. A release of the day’s frustrations with an invigorating workout makes for a smoother segue into evening responsibilities.

Keep Perspective

energy ball, picWill today’s stresses mean anything in a year? A month? A week? Many of a day’s worries are irrelevant in a short time. In a lifetime, daily hassles and stresses mean nothing. Whether a missed soccer game or deadline, it is not monumental. School begins, even if your child is without a new schoolbag on the first day. The sun sets, even if you ran out of hours. Tomorrow arrives, regardless of your stress level. Take a Zen approach: Greet tomorrow with a stress-free cleansing breath.

There are struggles in life beyond our comprehension. Although cliché, it always could be worse. Give yourself a break, and don’t let stress break you. Onward …


“Pleasures in Life that Help Relieve Stress,” by Elizabeth Scott at

“Waking Up Stressed? How to Cure a Stress Hangover,” by Elizabeth Scott at

Image Credits

Work stress (introductory photo):

Start line:

To-do list:

Smartly stressed:

Energy ball: http://www.; created by Jim Niehues



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