Holiday Stress Killing You?

The time tested MAF Stress List can help you organize stress factors in a way that allows you to begin eliminating some, reducing others, thereby allowing your body a better ability to adapt to those that remain. It’s not just for the holidays, when stress may be more obvious than ever, but works anytime you feel overwhelmed.

Among the main key factors associated with a happy and healthy life is the capability of managing the many stresses we encounter. Easier said than done. While that may be true, there is a relatively simple approach proven successful throughout my career (and one I rely on personally).

Reducing or eliminating individual stresses is easier if you see them written down somewhere. This can be on your iPhone, computer screen or even a piece of paper. Here’s an example:

Make three headings, one each for physical, chemical, and mental-emotional stresses.

In each category, write down what you think are your stresses. This may take several days to complete since you probably won’t think of all your different stresses right away. Consider these examples:

  • Physical stress: muscle and joint problems, dental neglect, neck pain, foot problems, excess sitting, poor posture or gait.
  • Biochemical stress: hormone imbalance, digestive problems, poor diet and drug problems (excess alcohol or caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, etc.), prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Mental-emotional stress: This can be seen in poor relationships personally or professionally. It’s possibly due to physical pain, brain injury, addictions, and confusion or lack of understanding about personal health, such as what best to eat or how best to work out.

When you’re done, prioritize by placing the biggest stress of each category on top.

Next work on reducing or eliminating one main stress at a time. Or, if you can handle it, work on one stress from each category. Give yourself reminders as necessary — that you’re dealing with this particular stress — throughout the day and first thing in the morning.

Reducing or eliminating unnecessary stress from your life will give your body a better chance to cope with other stresses you may not be able to change right now.

As you make your list, put a check mark by the stresses over which you have some control. This may include unhealthy eating habits such as rushing or skipping your meals, drinking too much coffee, or not taking time to warm-up or cool-down properly during exercise.

Simply draw a line through those stresses that you can’t control. If there’s nothing you can do about them anyway, don’t worry about them for now. Many people expend lots of energy on stresses they can’t — or in most cases won’t — do anything about. This may include job stress or the weather, though in reality almost any stress can be modified or eliminated — it’s just a question of how far you’re willing to go for optimal health and fitness. As time goes on, you may want to reconsider some of the items you’ve crossed off. You’ll realize, for example, that changing jobs is a must, or moving to a more compatible climate will significantly improve your health.

Say No to Stress

In addition to self-managing your stress list, here’s some other strategies for dealing with stress:

  • Learn to say ‘no’ when asked to do something you really don’t want to do.
  • Decide not to waste your time worrying about the past or the future. That’s not to say you should ignore the past or not plan for the future, but live in the present.
  • Perform the 5-Minute Power Break regularly.
  • Listen to music (especially replacing radio or TV).
  • When you’re concerned about something, talk it over with someone you trust.
  • Simplify your life. Start by eliminating trivia. Ask yourself: “Is this really important?”
  • Prioritize your busy schedule: Do the most important things first, but don’t neglect the enjoyable things. Before getting out of bed in the morning, ask yourself: “What fun things do I have planned for today?”
  • Know your passion and pursue it.

Stress Recovery

What’s most important about stress is that too much of it interferes with rest. Or more accurately, recovering from excess stress requires more down time. If you don’t get enough rest, usually in the form of sleep, the effects of stress will continue to accumulate. One of the questions to ask yourself is whether you’re getting enough sleep, considering the amount of stress you have. As you will see, one of the symptoms of excess stress is insomnia. In fact, too much of the stress hormone cortisol can interfere with sleep, waking you in the middle of the night and causing difficulty returning to sleep. A disturbed night’s sleep is not only an additional stress but also reduces recovery for everyday activities.

Many people view stress as just an unavoidable fact of life. While it is true that few people live completely stress-free, to a great degree you are in control of how much you let stress affect you. By taking personal control of your stress — starting with making a list — you really can make a difference in how much stress impacts your life.

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