Manage Stress to Manage Your Mood
Welcome to today’s lesson. As always, how’s your mood? Are you up or down?
Take a minute and tune into your thoughts. Are they positive or negative? Are you feeling stressed? That may be the culprit, especially if you are going through change because uncertainty and stress go together.
Anything that places demands on you physically, mentally, or emotionally can lead to stress. It’s normal to feel a certain amount of stress; in fact, it’s good for you. It can be a strong motivator. However, too much stress, especially prolonged stress, can lead to physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Good Stress, Bad Stress
Not all stress is bad. Good stress is called eustress. It’s the kind of stress you feel before a competitive game or life-changing event like having a baby or getting married. It pumps you up and enhances focus and performance. Your thoughts about it are more often positive than negative. While you may feel nervous or even scared, a positive attitude and mood predominate.
The other kind of stress is distress. There are no positive emotions or moods associated with it. It drags you down, immerses you in uncertainty and fear, and floods your body with fight-or-flight neurochemicals. Distress can create a downward spiral that feeds on negative thoughts and emotions until you hit the bottom of the mood elevator.
Stress Management Tools
According to the Mayo Clinic: “Becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions can help you recognize patterns and areas where you can improve. Plus, it allows you to acknowledge what you’re already doing well. The next time you feel stressed, simply pause and notice your reaction. You might ask yourself, ‘Where is this coming from?’ Once you’ve done that, you can choose another response or way of thinking.”
What’s happening in your body when you are stressed? Do you notice tension, feelings of constriction, or aches and pains?
• Consciously relax each area of your body that is holding tension. Just focus on it and imagine the muscles loosening up.
• Do some stretches or yoga poses, if possible.
• Focus on breathing deeply and exhaling fully until you feel the tension lessening—don’t get dizzy!
What are you thinking about? Write down your thoughts.
• Play devil’s advocate and challenge each statement for its accuracy and truthfulness.
• Step back and gain perspective and objectivity.
• Is the situation really that bad, or are your thoughts making it worse than it is?
• What’s the worst that can happen? Assess the likelihood of that happening and decide how you can cope if that happens.
In previous lessons, you learned that your thoughts about something trigger corresponding emotions and moods. To handle stress, you must start by identifying your thoughts and then shift into a more resourceful state of mind. The easiest way to do this is to make a list of everything you need to do, or that is stressing you.
According to Carrie Barron, M.D., Director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas, lists are a way of working through confusion. They help you prioritize, separate what’s important from what’s not important, and reveal the steps you need to take. They relieve the pressure, and you will feel better just by getting everything out of your head and onto paper. Sometimes just seeing things in black and white mitigates their impact and helps you become more resourceful. Let your analytical brain take over and create a strategy for handling the items on your list.
As soon as you begin to feel more in control and more resourceful, your mood will improve.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” —Marcus Aurelius
1. Start with making a list.
2. Stop ruminating—those endless thoughts about how helpless you are and how hopeless the situation is keeping you in an unresourceful state.
3. Focus on what you can do in the present moment to feel more positive.
4. Move to curiosity and research possible solutions for the situation causing you to feel stressed.
Tomorrow, you will discover how stress and your mood can be managed through meditation and mindfulness. Until then, have a good-mood day.
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