Just in time for the Holidays, I thought I'd share my Handout on Adapting to Stress without using Substances. Feel free to reach out here with questions or comments!
A. The “Stress Crisis”
1. Stress is an emotional/mental/physical reaction to a situation, NOT the situation itself. In other words, it’s our reaction to something that happened/is happening, that causes the “stress response”.
2. The stress response is physical (release of cortisol and adrenaline, increase in heart rate and blood pressure, slowing down of digestive system etc.).
3. The stress response is emotional – we feel fear, hurt, anger, sadness, maybe even joy. We reach for “substances”, like sugar, cigarettes, alcohol to numb or comfort the feelings.
4. The Stress Response is mental – We tell ourselves stories around what is happening, such as “I won’t be able to cope with this” or “this will never get better”.
5. If we can learn to Respond to a situation(take a breath, be aware of our thoughts and feelings, have compassion for ourselves, take a “time out”) rather than React to the situation (have a tantrum, reach for sugar or other numbing substances, freeze in panic etc.) we will feel better and be taking better care of our bodies.
Can you name one or two situations that are happening, or did happen, that caused a stress response?
How Would I have liked to handle this situation (instead of using substances)?
B. Some Tools for better responding to “Stress”
1. Use Mindfulness to stay in the present moment, noticing all of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations with Curiosity, Compassion and No-Judgement. Let go of judging your thoughts and feelings and work on Self-Compassion instead. The best way to build this practice is to MEDITATE EVERY DAY! Even 5 minutes every morning will help calm your mind and body and help you tap into your inner Wisdom.
2. Instead of beating yourself up about certain thoughts and feelings (“what is wrong with me that this person always makes me mad”) be curious about them. When you notice certain thoughts or patterns of thoughts around “stressful” situations (such as “this person is driving me crazy”), try to reframe the thought (“this person has some behaviors that I find difficult for some reason and I’m curious about why. I will meditate on that and see what comes up and meanwhile I will set some boundaries around spending time with this person”).
3. Use the Serenity Prayer to tap into your own Wisdom…this prayer is great for everyone, not just people in recovery. “God, grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to Change the things I can and the Wisdom to Know the difference”. Some things just cannot be changed and letting go of those things brings real peace. Seek out readings, quotes and slogans from any source that speaks to you (Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, other religions, 12-Step program, Peanuts cartoons, authors and poets that you like and so on). Sometimes having a slogan in your head (“this too shall pass”) can be enough to shift perspective.
4. Find ways to express your thoughts and feelings, such as journaling, talking with a trusted friend, seeking a professional coach/counselor, talking with a clergy person, singing about your feelings, having a good cry, punching a pillow if you are feeling frustrated or angry.
5. Take care of your Health!! Eating nutritious food, getting physical activity, prioritizing sleep and rest are all important factors in our ability to Respond rather than React to stressful situations. Moderate exercise (brisk walk, gardening, gentle yoga etc.) is proven to reduce the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline. Too much sugar (which includes white flour products), caffeine, alcohol and processed foods increase our stress hormones.
6. If your reactions to stressful situations are causing you to have symptoms of depression or anxiety, please consider professional help to better manage your mental health. Help and relief are available!!!