Is there a recipe for a stress-free life?

Stress is a part of life. Some stress is beneficial, but prolonged chronic stress is harmful. Take a holistic approach to changing the basis of your stress, not its symptoms. Rather than “managing” stress, you can identify its causes and reframe your thinking. Your thought patterns may be winding you up and stressing you out. Your internal reactions – not external circumstances – often generate most of your stress. This is good news, because it means you can learn to “unwind” and take charge of your reaction to stress.

Short-term stress helps by serving as a motivator and alerting you when something is wrong. Stress keeps you alive in hazardous situations by increasing your heart and breathing rates, the blood flow to your muscles, and your sensory awareness. These physiological mechanisms make up the fight-or-flight response to stress. Your body responds to a perceived threat, takes 30 to 90 seconds to consider whether to flee or fight, and then returns to a natural state of homeostasis.

Your body can’t function well in a chronic state of stress. “But it includes an additional description that communicates this deeper emphasis on the real cause of stress: ‘to loose from a coiled condition.’ Essentially, your chronic habitual thoughts and emotions…have to be unwound, changed, and replaced in order to prevent stress from happening.”

To see if you suffer chronic stress, complete this assessment. Sit and relax a while, then find your pulse. Calculate your resting heart rate by counting the number of beats for one minute. Next, sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and the other one on your stomach. Note how you’re breathing by identifying which hand moves more. Write down your heart rate and breathing patterns. A relaxed healthy person generally has a resting heart rate of 55 to 70 beats per minute and an average of 12 to 16 breaths per minute, falling to four to ten breaths per minute when relaxed. Write down your stress symptoms, like headaches, fatigue, anxiety, anger or boredom.

“Stress Paradigms”

If you constantly replay negative thoughts, press the “Stop” button in your mind. Tune into your senses. Try not to be judgmental. Shift from negative “self-talk” to a more positive frame of mind by eliminating such negative words as “no, can’t, won’t, maybe, never…I should, I need to” and the like, and replacing them with positive words, such as “I am, I can, I will” and “I do.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Peter Johnston runs the University of Chicago’s student mental health clinic. A student once called him to cancel his counselling session because his father had died. The student was also facing a major exam. Johnston suggested that he reschedule the exam and take time to grieve. Agreeing, the student said, “I need time to grieve, but it’s not right now.” He used a critical stress control mechanism: You can decide how to cope after a stressor occurs but before your body reacts physically, during the “gap” between the “stimulus” and your “response.” The paradigm of hassle is that life is a battle, and in every battle there’s a winner and a loser…But for a person with a paradigm of harmony, life is not a competition. Everyone can win.

Choosing your response allows you to take control of your stress. To select a process for responding to a stressful event, try the following “Stressbuster.” Take a deep breath before acting, visualize the consequences of your actions and follow the “golden rule” to treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. Learn to analyze your body’s stress signals. Physically, your body should react only to actual, physical danger. However, your brain interprets many emotional situations as threatening and triggers the stress response.

People fill the gap between a stimulus and their response by reacting to the stimulus in their own way – their paradigm. Your paradigm is how you perceive and interpret the world. If your “lens” is distorted, it will warp your views. A man who feared dogs would change his walking route if he saw one. If an unleashed dog ran toward him, he’d scream at the owner. But his daughter begged for a dog, so he finally got her a small English Spaniel. When it became affectionate toward him, he saw that his paradigm, his reaction to dogs, was the problem, not dogs themselves.

In the proactive paradigm, your life is dictated by you. You, and no one else, control your life.

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