Early in my career as a clinical psychologist, I received an invitation to present a stress management seminar to 150 teachers at a local high school. After racing to the seminar location through a horrific traffic jam, shortly after hospitalizing a suicidal client in the middle of a 13-hour workday while grieving the death of a close family member, I reeked of stress. In fact, my stress level appeared so evident that several participants coldly advised me to manage my stress before offering advice to others on the topic. Quite humbled, I affirmed, “Psychologist, De-stress thyself.”
After 20 years of practicing as a clinical psychologist, I still struggle with managing my stress at times. However, in observing my own life and the lives of many clients I serve, I have identified seven major factors that affect stress: Body, Emotions, Space, Money, Attitude, Relationships, Time (BE SMART).
Seven Tips to BE SMART about Easing Stress
1. Care for your BODY. Although those tantalizing brownies and gooey pizzas offer the illusion of easing stress, they merely provide a temporary distraction and the additional stress of extra pounds. Strive to eat 80% good stuff and 20% fun stuff. This guideline will minimize feelings of deprivation and keep you reasonably healthy. When pressed for time, find mini exercises like dancing to a favorite song until you can get to the gym for a workout followed by a rest in a heavenly whirlpool.
2. Honor your EMOTIONS because they serve a purpose. Feel them fully and understand what they mean. Often, they indicate that something is awry in your life. Addressing these underlying issues will allow for easier release of unsettling emotions.
3. Declutter your SPACE and create a special place to relax. When possible, use space efficiently with the creative use of bins, boxes, and wall shelves. Remember tip #7 for cleaning up that clutter.
4. Manage MONEY. When tempted to buy something new, ask yourself, “Do I truly love it? Do I absolutely need it?” If the answer to either question is “no”, then don’t buy it. All the rest is junk that clutters your space. Shopping is a quick fix for lifting mood, but spending a little time in nature or watching a good movie will do the trick just as well.
5. Develop a better ATTITUDE by focusing on what is in your control and what is going well in your life. When you find yourself ruminating about problems, ask, “What can I do to solve the problem?” After making a sincere effort to find solutions to problems, focus on letting it go by redirecting your attention to things that make me laugh or smile.
6. Nurture RELATIONSHIPS that make boost your mood and confidence. Limit or avoid the ones that don’t. This suggestion is challenging because most of us aim to be nice. However, there are times when relationships are too toxic to sustain. No matter what other people do, count on pets to be loyal and unconditionally loving.
7. Use TIME well by avoiding procrastination. When you have a dreaded task, like mountains of clinical paperwork, pursue the task for five minutes. If you can’t stand it any longer, stop and try again. Eventually, you will get into my zone to get the task done.
None of this is new; none of this is magic. As I often say to myself, Psychologist, de-stress thyself. I know it takes practice, patience, and discipline to follow these strategies. Support groups, therapy, good friends, journaling, and reading can be a huge help. When life deals blows that throw things off balance, it’s easy to sink back into old bad habits. When this happens, nurture yourself, figure out what you most need, and slowly move back on track to taking better care of yourself.
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