Reduce Stress and Increase Resilience
Entrepreneur in Residence and Psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri tells us how.
Millennials and Gen-Xers report more stress than other generations, according to a recent study from the American Psychological Association. Women, in particular, report higher stress levels than men. We also engage in unhealthy and sedentary behaviors to manage our stress. Parents report higher stress levels than our counterparts, and we go one step further, claiming that stress has a significant effect on our health and wellbeing. It’s important to note: Stress is not always the result of something negative. Stress can result from positive things, too—a wedding, buying a home, a promotion, a new baby. We encounter amazing, life-changing experiences everyday. In addition, we are constantly pressed for time, playing so many roles in so many lives that it can be hard to meet our personal and professional goals without feeling like something or someone is suffering.
As women, we are socialized to take responsibility for ourselves and for many others—our partners, children, parents, co-workers and friends. We are conditioned to believe that’s what ‘good girls’ do. In time, denying ourselves can become natural and we may decrease our resilience to normal life stressors, as is illustrated in the following case composite.
Meet ElenaElena casually waltzed into our third session a few minutes late but apparently in no rush. She was wearing bootcut jeans and a light brown sweater that perfectly matched her extra-large Dunkin Donuts beverage (the obvious reason for her tardiness). Seeming spent, she sat down, looked at me apologetically, and explained that she hadn’t had time to complete the ‘homework’ from our previous session. Her assignment was to eat healthfully, sleep 7-8 hours a night, and exercise—to break a sweat four times that week. In light of her promotion at work, her dad being sick, her best friend having a difficult pregnancy and her son joining a travel baseball league, her therapy homework hadn’t crossed her mind. Pointing to her DD drink (I’m assuming, breakfast), she explained that she’d had to eat on the go all week, pausing for fast food, and the like. She hardly slept while talking her friend through sleepless nights and worrying about a presentation for work, where she felt in over her head with something to prove. She had no energy
for exercise, citing headaches, fatigue, and a good dose of self consciousness as the most significant gym deterrents. Elena was frustrated with herself and with life. She admitted, “No one in my life can survive without me. I can’t focus or muster the energy to read the newspaper!” She explained that whenever she did manage to get a free moment, she zoned out in front of the television or played Candy Crush on her iPad. Finally, Elena’s eyes filled with tears, and she said, “I just can’t do this anymore, and there’s nothing I can identify that I don’t have to do—so I don’t know what to do.” I asked, “What are you willing to do?” She desperately stated, “I’ll do anything and everything!” I said, “You already do that. Now, you need to learn how to do you.”
Food is energy! Eat six small meals per day—fish, two or more times/week; red meat, two or less times/week; and fill in the rest with poultry. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with grains and a quarter with protein. Go vegetarian one day a week—make it a meatless Monday!
Get moving! Small changes in lifestyle patterns can make a big difference. Take the stairs. Park in the last space in the parking lot, rather than directly in front of the door. Get moving for 10-minute increments, three times a day to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of exercise with little inconvenience.
Snooze or lose! Research suggests a good night’s sleep is linked with lower body fat. Pre-sleep rituals like a light snack (milk, banana), a bath, relaxation techniques and deep-breathing exercises promote falling and staying asleep. Turn your screens off, don’t work an hour before bedtime, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, heavy or spicy foods 4-6 hours before you turn in for the night.
Become familiar with your thoughts
Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behavior. Each of us has many thoughts, up to 70,000 per day! The goal is to get so familiar with your thoughts that you can instantly recognize the irrational thoughts—those making you feel down, scared or worried. Once you know which thought patterns cause the unwanted feelings, you can change them! If you change how you think, you can change how you feel and how you behave.
Reflect on your Core Beliefs
At times, the old, negative, irrational way of thinking can be stubborn. Some thought patterns can be resistant to change because of what we believe about ourselves, other people, life in general and the future. Fortunately, you can choose what you believe. Change your Core Belief from “I’m flawed,” to “I’m brilliant.” Believe in yourself!
Explore your personal beliefs
Each individual’s path to spiritual wellness may look different—meditation, prayer, daily affirmations, yoga, etc.—but the goal is the same for all of us. We each need to find meaning and purpose in our human existence. Strive toward balancing your inner needs with others and the world around you.
Live in the here and now
Many of us regret the past or dread the future, making our present moment a struggle. In order to focus, maximize your strengths and get the most out of the moment, you must be living in it. Using your senses—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—is an easy way to get present. Feel the fabric of your office chair, stand up and smell the coffee permeating from the staff lounge. You get the idea!
Make a gratitude list
In order to be truly grateful, you have to get out of your own way. The “ME” must be put aside and replaced with humility. And so, gratitude is a great spiritual practice that allows us to be open enough to give and receive grace and love. Write down the things you’re thankful for every night before bed. In light of your blessings, it will be hard to end the day on a negative note.
It’s important to remain open to new ideas and think critically about things that are not necessarily work-related. Keep your mind and brain fresh! Indulge in novels, magazines and the newspaper. Knowledge is power!
Seek new challenges
Make your brain work for you. Challenge your mind with everything from old-school trivia to the Rubik’s Cube! Stay on top of your game one crossword at a time.
Yes, we are women, and we work. We are mothers, daughters, sisters and best friends. But, underneath it all, we are human. We have value, and we require our own attention. In order to boost resiliency and function at our best, we must attend to the four aspects of self: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual and Intellectual. When we’re healthy, we can handle life on life’s terms with grace, as is evidenced in Elena’s case.
Elena: Two Months LaterElena strided into our session wearing a beige blouse tucked into skinny jeans with a coral blazer, espadrilles and a jewel bib necklace that matched the earrings sparkling beneath her smart new haircut. She reported adjusting well to her new position at work, stating, “I’m not in over my head! I was just telling myself that. And, the salary increase makes eating organic much easier on the family budget.” She attributes sleeping well to her new exercise regimen—walking the circumference of the baseball field during her son’s games, while talking with her best friend, and going to the gym on the weekends with her husband. It turns out, nobody looks at her in the judgmental way she feared. In turn, she added “ability to manage negative thoughts” to her gratitude list, which has become part of her bedtime routine, along with deep breathing, relaxation, prayer and reading a chapter in her book. Now that she’s rested, it’s easy for her to be the first one downstairs in the morning, where she enjoys a quiet breakfast and reading
the newspaper before the morning routine begins. At the end of our session, Elena committed to adding the Sunday Times’ crossword puzzle to her Sunday routine, which also includes the gym, church, the grocery store and family time. I cautioned Elena, “Don’t overdo it!” Her response? “I’m not doing anything and everything. I’m just doing me!” Elena’s story reminds us that we can take life in stride, and make our lives work for us when our personal health is our priority. We can do this. Taking Elena’s cue, repeat after me: You don’t have to do anything and everything. You just need to do you. You’re worth it!