Stress and staying positive in trying times

By: Amy Heydlauff

The elections of 2016 distressed many people in ways we never imagined a political decision could distress us. But then “real life” comes roaring back, adding the routine stress of life – finances, worries about our children, trouble with the neighbors, job pressure, health concerns, traffic jams – you know the stuff. Trying times bring along with them levels of unhappy stress for many and even distress for others.

The physical and psychological effects of stress are very real. They can be tracked by CT scans, echocardiograms, blood pressure cuffs, gastro-intestinal symptoms and the answers to interview questions. Many people deny their stress. Suck it up, as they say. Others allow their stress to run their lives. Both camps may have trouble looking around with joy.

Although stress isn’t the only cause of physical and emotional symptoms, it plays a larger role in our health than our stoic American attitudes allow us to admit. Leaders are under tremendous stress. But, if your stress is in the normal range and you don’t want to admit you have stress, you don’t have to–the first-line treatment for stress is the first-line treatment for a lot of things. So you have a built in excuse for getting started on fixing whatever you want to call it.

Here are six prescriptions for staying positive in trying times:

  1. Get some rest. Leave your devices in the other room (try an old fashioned alarm clock to wake up on time). Experts recommend you turn off electronics 30 minutes before sleep. Read something boring, instead.
  2. Get some exercise. My family says that’s my prescription for everything and indeed, it works for almost everything. Walk at least 2 miles or as far as you can. Almost every day. You don’t have to go fast. It’s a bonus if you walk outside. Nature does amazing things for our physical and mental health and there is science to prove it. Yoga and group exercise classes work too. Remember it’s not about burning calories. It’s about burning tension. Burning calories is the bonus. So are the stronger muscles and joints you’ll develop. Exercise also improves sleep.
  3. Take 10 deep breaths. Count slowly to six with each inhale and seven for the exhale. You might be dizzy at first so practice the first few times, sitting down. You should see your belly expand and shrink if you are doing it right. Ideally we should all breath like this, almost all the time.
  4. Close your eyes. Let your mind go blank. Pray or chant if you want. It takes practice to learn how to let your mind go blank so don’t fret if it doesn’t work. Once you figure it out you’ll love it. As a stop-gap measure to a blank mind, imagine yourself somewhere you like to be – playing with your children or taking a nap on the porch swing, perhaps.
  5. A therapist once told me denial is an underused coping technique for handling stressful situations. Let’s say you are driving over a bridge and bridges scare you. Pretend you are driving down your own street, along a wooded drive or to your favorite beach spot.
  6. Find time with a friend. Even if you don’t talk about your stress, you’ll enjoy some fellowship and it will lighten your load. Better still if you’re able to talk through a problem or two with someone you trust.

Editor’s note: This set of prescriptions for handling the stress of trying times first appeared in local Ann Arbor news outlets. The original piece has been revised and reprinted with the author’s permission.

Guest contributor Amy Heydlauff is the executive director for the Chelsea-Area Wellness Foundation. She has served on the Chelsea Education Foundation and is a current member of the Silver Maples Board of Directors.