The holiday season is a stressful time for many of my clients. Living in the modern world, we all have many stressors in our day-to-day lives. That’s why adding the extra stress of the holiday season can cause us to lose our balance and put us in the overwhelmed zone.
In my therapy offices in Torrance and Hermosa Beach, I work with many successful women who juggle several different roles each day. They sometimes share with me that they feel their schedule is so stretched so tight that even minor changes feel unmanageable.
Yesterday, one client, a mother of two young children and a successful attorney, shared with me how much she is struggling. She added that all the previous week the only thing she thought about during work hours was how much she wanted to go to her car, start up the engine, and never come back to her job or family. Another client felt so overwhelmed after a day full of business meetings that she forgot about picking her daughter up from school for an hour. Although the child was fine, my client was paralyzed by shame when was called by the school.
I work with women like this every day. I can testify to their caring natures. Unfortunately, the situations in which they live are the byproducts of having too much stress in their lives. Though our bodies are able to adjust to short-term stress, long-term exposure to stress hormones can have devastating consequences for our health. Several studies have found that being exposed to chronic stress increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive system disorders, and heart issues.
Here are few tips I share with my clients in order to help them manage their stress more effectively:
Labeling Your Emotions
When they attempt to manage their stress, many people tend to suppress or ignore their emotions. These people fear that if they pay attention to them, they might intensify or become unmanageable. A study conducted by scientists at UCLA showed that labeling his or her emotions lowered an individual’s physiological reactivity to a stressor more than the use of distracting techniques or reappraisal of the situation.
If you are like many of my clients, identifying and labeling emotions might appear challenging at first. When I ask my clients to describe how are they feeling, they often tell me “Good,” “Fine,” or “OK.”
To take advantage of the psychological and physiological benefits of identifying and labeling emotions, you must practice these skills often. You can set an alarm on your phone to go off 2 to 5 times each day for you to practice. During these times, close your eyes and ask yourself, ”What am I feeling right now?” We often have several emotions at any given moment. Choose as many as apply from the list below. For a bonus effect, journal where you feel each emotion in your body and rate the intensity of each one in the moment from 0 to 1.
Take Breathing Breaks
We have all heard someone telling someone else to take a deep breath when that person is becoming shaky and angry. You should know, though, that breathing exercises work best if you practice them regularly. If a person is deep into the fight or flight response, breathing exercises might be ineffective for him or her. To maximize the benefit of breathing, you need to practice it regularly.
Study after study has demonstrated the numerous physiological and psychological benefits of practicing breathing exercises. If you are thinking that you need to change your entire life or commit several hours during the week in order to experience the benefits, you are wrong! Some people perceive meaningful changes after as little as five minutes. I highly recommend that you to choose a breathing exercise that you are willing to make a commitment to for at least next two weeks. Here are few of my favorites short exercises.
Breathing Exercises Under Five Minutes:
- Diaphragmatic breathing technique: Check out this tutorial to learn how to practice it correctly
- 4-7-8 breathing technique: This is another short breathing exercise that you can do on your desk at home or while your children are taking a nap
Prioritize Your Day and Adjust Accordingly
One reason we feel overwhelmed is that we tend to overcommit to things. You probably know many people (or you might be one of them) who claim to have mastered the art of multitasking. Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the authors of the New York Times bestseller The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results explain that this is a myth. They describe how multitasking reduces the quality of each task performed, creates a lack of focus, and in the long term compromises our productivity.
I invite you to assess your stress level twice each day, once in the morning and once during lunch. Examine where you are from 0 to 10 (0 being in a Zen mode and 10 being you losing it). Anytime you notice that you are above 7, pause and reassess your schedule. Delegate those tasks that you don’t need to do yourself on that day. Only leave those items on the list that absolutely need to get done and need to get done by you. Although it is rewarding to check things off your to-do list, being exposed long term to stress hormones such as cortisol can damage cells in your brain’s hippocampus and lead to premature aging and memory problems.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a licensed psychologist who offers effective stress-management counseling in her Hermosa Beach and Torrance offices. Dr. Moali has an extensive background in providing brief evidenced-based therapy, including mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression. Call Dr. Moali today for a free consultation.