BLOG SLEEP, MOOD, LIFESTYLE
September 19, 2016
Part 3: Strong Against Stress: Stop and Smell the Flowers
In Parts 1 and 2 we discussed sleep in relation to stress resilience. In Part 3 we are going to head down a completely different direction. Today, we are going to stop and smell the flowers.
Here is a story about perspective I experienced:
This past summer, I moved to Augusta, Georgia so that my husband could go back to school for a two year Endodontic residency. This meant moving roughly 2,800 miles away from friends, family, a job I loved with my husband and our dog. Being a creature of habit, and someone who thrives on consistency and routine, moving to a new part of the country with a new marriage and a rambunctious puppy was not part of my life plan. Maintaining a “broad life perspective” during this period of life wasn’t something I felt able to do.
This is exactly what Dr. Preston says that stress resilient people do well. Amidst chaos and stress, resilient people can step back and rapidly gain a broad perspective on their life.
Perspective, according to Dictionary.com,is the interrelationship between the facts and knowledge you possess, and the ideas, feelings and values you have. Ideally, a broad perspective involves ample knowledge, and encompasses a wide range of feelings and emotions. Imagine perspective as living in a large bubble of emotional and intellectual knowledge.
So why does perspective matter? Well, it is really a lack of perspective that is the real issue. Pain or stress is amplified by self-focused negative feelings. Basically, without perspective, our focus becomes mentally and emotionally directed inward. Our perspective bubble begins to get smaller. Our bad feelings get bottled up, magnified, and we can suffocate ourselves. Thus, we lose our ability to be resilient against incoming stress.
Back to those happy people and their “broad life perspective.” What are they actively doing to maintain perspective that I can do too?
Step 1. Mindfulness
Dr. Preston describes this as the opposite of life on autopilot. A broad life perspective is mindfulness, an awareness of what is going on in your life and the lives of others around you. This includes the simple things, like stopping and smelling the roses. Savoring my cup of coffee in the morning versus dribbling it down my front as I run out the door heading to work. He says that resilient people take deliberate action in their life to slow down, stop rushing, and take in the moment.
He recommends creating physical reminders to do this. Here are some examples. All it needs to be is something meaningful to you that helps you stop and appreciate the moment.
-Post a favorite family photo on your desk at work.
-Put a post it note on a car window that says: Stop on the way home and look at the scenery for five minutes
-Put a nice note or quote on your computer screen that says: Go on a walk for lunch with a coworker or Laugh about something
Here is a necessary tip. Change your reminder regularly! If you have a post it note on your desk to look outside and admire your view each day, after six months this will get old.Change your reminder every three weeks.Dr. Preston calls this the “problem of habituation.” Items like rotating digital photo frames, or taking a different walking or driving route can help keep things new in your mind and keep things fresh.
If you are a visual person, Dr. Preston recommends that people can get in the habit of “re-circulating joyful states.” This is the habit of reliving and recapturing positive memories associated with old photos and positive memories. Keep old photos, scrapbooks, or videos close by and reminisce with family and friends. This also can tie in to the random digital photo frame idea above. It is a great way to remind you of memories and it changes regularly so the problem of habituation won’t happen. Give it a try!
Step 2: Express Emotions
When I think of a resilient person, I think of someone with a very stern face, like a soldier ready for battle. Right? Wrong. The last thing stress resilient people do well is they express their emotions! They express empathy, gratitude, and compassion. These are powerful emotions and to fight off stress we need to learn to appreciate and express these strong emotions as well.
When we express gratitude, it immediately helps us expand our perspective bubble. It is an easy way to analyze our lives and circumstances and see what we are thankful for and what we appreciate. This gears us towards a less stress-focused brain and a more positive focused one. When we express sympathy and compassion, we are looking outside of ourselves and escaping from the self-centered stress bubble we discussed earlier.
A good nighttime exercise: What are three things that went well today? This is a great exercise to broaden your perspective on your day, express positive emotions, including gratitude, and switch your focus from negative to positive. Dr. Preston states that this practice has shown to help decrease depressive symptoms in some individuals. Can you try this on tonight?
In conclusion, here is an exercise in perspective:
If I broaden my perspective, I can see the move to Georgia as a way for my husband and me to embark on something new together and strengthen our marriage. The idea of an ‘adventure’ makes my type-A personality completely frazzled, but Dr. Preston also explains that stress resilient people face their fears! I can experience a new culture and my husband can further his career. I was able to keep my job and I will be travelling regularly to see family and friends and I am so grateful! I can keep an open mind and approach this move as a way to gain new experiences, meet new people, and grow as a person.
Compare this paragraph to first one above about my move and transition. This is my same life, just enjoyed from a different viewpoint. What would your life and your surroundings look life from a different perspective? What are you grateful for today? Let’s all take some time each day to appreciate the moment, and express gratitude in our continued battle to be strong against stress.
Preston, J. D. (2016, April). The Habits of Stress-Resilient People. Paper presented at Institute for Brain Potential: The Habits of Stress-Resilient People, Lynnwood, WA.
To read more of our Strong Against Stress series follow to: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.