Archive for Stress and Anxiety

– By guest columnist, Ryan Rivera

There is no denying how powerful a role that anxiety can play in your life. Anxiety itself can be consuming. It can affect your mind, body, emotions and even spirit. It has the potential to put you in a negative mood that affects every aspect of your life. Anxiety:

  • Prevents you from taking risks.
  • Stops you from enjoying neutral events.
  • Makes it difficult to find happiness in your day.
  • Causes short and long term physical health issues.
  • Reduces your ability to cope with life events.

When you suffer from anxiety, your quality of life suffers. That is why it is important to fight the issues that create anxiety. Sometimes these are major life changes, such as ending a serious relationship or finding a new, better job. Yet other times the changes you need to make in your life are much smaller, and may be things that you never realized were creating anxiety at all.

How We Affect Our Own Anxiety

In life, you’ll find that you have a lot of different habits. While many of these habits may seem harmless, often times they only serve to fuel your anxiety and cause it to get progressively worse over time. Below are several examples of habits that may seem harmless but are actually causing your anxiety to get worse.

  • Staying Indoors

Have you ever felt a little sad and anxious, and decided that the best thing for you to do is spend some time alone? According to research, that is one of the worst things you can do for your anxiety. Being outdoors and spending time with others keeps you active, focuses your mind on productive tasks, and helps to stimulate pleasant feelings.

  • Coffee

Coffee may have some health benefits, but caffeine itself is a fuel for anxiety. It is not that coffee is causing the anxiety itself. Rather, it is increasing the effects of the physical symptoms, which cause you to experience your anxiety in a worse way, which increases your overall anxiety. Coffee may not be that bad for you, but when you have anxiety it can make it harder to recover. Cutting out coffee from your daily diet is an important first step in dealing with severe anxiety.

  • Shopping

Many people self-medicate their anxiety by buying something expensive that they believe will bring them happiness. Going shopping for clothes or electronics is a good way to dull any negative emotions, but shopping as a solution to anxiety will only make you temporarily happy. Once the joy of buying something new wears off, you will be exactly in the same place you were, and several hundred dollars poorer.

  • Music that Matches Your Mood

It’s well known that music can influence your mood. What is less well known, however, is that listening to music that matches your negative mood can actually cause your mood to be worse. Several studies have shown that listening to sad music because you’re sad will make you feel worse, not better. You should listen to music that represents the mood you wish to have, not the mood that you want to avoid.

  • Complaining

It’s important to talk about your problems, but it’s not a good idea to merely complain about your problems. If you do nothing more than complain, it only leads to feelings of regret and negativity. Your goal is to reduce your anxiety rather than fuel it, so rather than just complaining about what bothers you, talk about what bothers you while looking towards new ways to change it.

  • Skipping Meals

Breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day. It is also a tool to help you improve your anxiety. By skipping breakfast you are making your body work harder, which increases your anxiety and promotes greater physical symptoms. It is for this reason that crash diets, skipping meals, fad diets and anything that prevents you from getting a complete meal should be avoided. Making sure to eat every meal of every day (nutritionally balanced, of course) is important if you hope to fight anxiety symptoms.

  • Working in the Bedroom

Sleep is an important tool for combatting anxiety. Yet going to sleep at night is one of the most common times for men and women to experience severe anxiety. One of the primary reasons for this is that the bedroom is supposed to be a place that is only associated with sleep. Yet many people watch TV, do work, pay bills or play on their phones in their room and/or on their bed. All of these things create energy and stress, and those start to become associated with being in your room. Your room should be your sanctuary, nothing more, and anything that causes you stress should take place elsewhere in the house.

  • Internet and Social Media

These days many people practically live their lives online. Yet the Internet and computer do nothing to cure your stress or anxiety. Although they may be a slight distraction, they are not a substitute for activity and in person social experiences. Your computer also causes you to focus your eyes on light while remaining immobile – two things that keep your mind too activated, and can lead to anxiety later on in the night.

  • Letting The House Get Dirty

Dirt, clutter and allergens may seem fairly harmless, but the more disrepair and filth that builds up around you, the more you will find yourself unable to appreciate your home and its décor. A dirty house creates anxiety, and your own worries about how other people see your home can only serve to fuel it further.

Making the Little Changes

Anxiety is not only caused by serious life problems. Sometimes anxiety can be fueled by something as simple as a missed breakfast, or listening to music that puts you in a fouler mood. While an important aspect of reducing anxiety comes from making some major life changes, other times you may simply need to change some of your habits.

In addition to the above list, spend some time reflecting on your daily life and see if there is anything that contributes to your anxiety. You’ll find that you likely have many habits that seem harmless, but in the end make your anxiety worse.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an ex-anxiety sufferer and has more information about anxiety, symptoms and treatment at

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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Using Reminders to Help You Get Organized

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Here’s my last installment in my series on getting organized.  Previously I posted about:

Today, I’d like to add some tips about how you can use reminders to help you get organized.

High Tech Reminders

These days many people are using new technologies.  There are lots of electronic gadgets that you can use for reminders.

  1. Your smart phone, pad or computer include programs for calendars, to do lists, and organizers for contact information.  They can increase productivity, reduce stress, and help organize projects (like looking for a job).  I know that many people have phones that can do these things, but they simply don’t use these features.  I encourage you to try out the features on your phone, if you’re not doing so already.  As for a review of the latest gadgets, I’ll leave that to people who are more tech savvy, but suffice it to say that there are many options here that you could investigate.
  2. Digital recorders like the one on your phone can be used instead of note pads.

Paper Reminders

Many people still like the larger format and tangibility of the old fashioned paper options.  But many of these options can also be accomplished in digital versions.

  1. Use an appointment book or calendar to keep track of appointments, meetings, sports events and practices, birthdays, doctor’s appointments, social events, etc..  This can be a schedule book, a wall calendar, or a pocket calendar.
  2. Write a daily to-do list of what needs to be accomplished that day, and keep it with you at all times.  Also write a long-term to-do list of what you would like to do eventually, and check it every once in a while for items you can add to you daily to-do list.
  3. Leave note pads in strategic places to make it easier to jot down notes and reminders (by the phone, in the car, in your jacket pocket, in your purse, beside a bed).  Write things down instead of making mental notes, and make it a daily habit to add any notes you wrote into your calendar.  It may help to always put the notes you write in the same place (like in your wallet, or on a bulletin board).
  4. Put visible reminder signs on your door (to remind you to think about whether you have everything you need before leaving), or by your desk (to remind you to check your schedule), or in the kitchen (to remind you to do certain chores) etc.
  5. Use checklists or charts to plan your chores.  These can help you rotate your tasks so that you get to everything on a regular basis, and can help you divide up tasks evenly between members of your household.


Other Types of Reminders

  1. Set alarms to remind you of important events, or set timers to set limits so you know when to stop an activity.
  2. Keep your cell-phone handy, so that if you forget an event, the people waiting for you can contact you easily, and you might still be able to make it.
  3. Use a wristwatch (old fashioned as it may be!) to keep up with the time.  You can also set your watch’s timer or alarm.
  4. Ask the people in your life to remind you of things.  Your spouse, other family members, a friend, or an administrative assistant can be helpful in this.  Some people hire a personal coach that checks in with them regularly about their goals and progress.
  5. Having a routine makes it less likely that you will forget to do daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  A routine can serve as a reminder.  Plan ahead and develop a consistent pattern.  This applies to morning and bedtime routines, routines when you leave the house or come home, routines related to paperwork, finances, cleaning, and any other regular activities.  It’s important that you make up your own sequences, so they fit you. (But don’t foget to allow some flexibility to adjust to whatever may be a little different each day).


Tips to Make Your Reminders More Effective

  1. Break up large tasks into smaller steps to make them more manageable, and write down deadlines for these smaller tasks on your calendar.  If you miss a deadline, write down or enter another one for the same task.
  2. Separate the concrete from the gravel.  Appointments and events which cannot be changed, the concrete, should be entered in your planner first (work, classes).  Once the concrete is set, you can pour in the flexible things that have to be done, the gravel (errands, phone calls).
  3. Prioritize when writing to-do lists and deadlines.  Consider both how important something is, and how urgent it is.  For example, you can rate each item as A (high priority), B (medium priority) and C (low priority).  As are both urgent and important.  Bs are either urgent or important, and Cs are neither urgent nor important.
  4. Another way to prioritize is to number the items on your list, in the order that you want to do them.  Make sure the urgent things get done on time, and that the important things are scheduled at a time when you can do your best work.
  5. When overbooked, learn to say no to low priority demands.
  6. Keep your calendars and to-do lists in an easily accesible or place (e.g.: in your smart phone, in your bag), so you can check them often, especially before committing to new activities or appointments.

I hope that all these posts about getting organized came in handy for you, and that you found a few new tips to use.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Motivating Yourself to Stay Organized

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Here’s my third article in the series on getting organized.  The first was on organizing your stuff, and the second was on organizing your paperwork.  This article focuses on twelve ideas for motivating yourself to stay organized.

1. Set realistic goals and deadlines, and avoid perfectionism!

Your goals can be challenging, but they should also be achievable.  Recognize that you can’t do everything perfectly, and that doing your best or getting started on something is better than not doing anything at all because you’re overwhelmed.  Also, consider that you don’t have to do your best at everything, some things are good enough when they’re just good enough.  And not everything has to be done immediately!  Prioritize as best you can, divide your goals into small steps, and work your way through them one at a time.  Use deadlines for each small step to help motivate yourself.  This usually works better than having one big deadline at the end of the year.  If it helps, call them lifelines instead of deadlines.  If you miss a deadline, then make another one, this time with a higher priority, or problem solve about what went wrong, and adjust your plan as necessary.

2. Make your goals clear.

Instead of saying that you want to get your house organized, say that you want to (for example) get in the habit of hanging up clothes and putting away clean laundry.  The more specific you are, the more likely you are to do it.  Also, be specific about the circumstances in which you want to do specific tasks.  Think of it in terms of “if… then.”  For example, “If it’s Wednesday, and if I haven’t exercised yet that week, and if I don’t have to work late… then I will exercise before dinner.”  Setting up such formulas for yourself can help prevent you from talking yourself out of doing what you need to do.

3. Tackle one small thing at a time.

Decide what it is that most makes you feel disorganized, out of sorts, or unfocused.  Consider what would make the biggest difference, for example: the permanent pile of newspapers by the sofa or the crammed kitchen table?  Think about what you could organize in time chunks that are manageable for you.  If you only have the motivation for 15 minutes, then what can you get done in 15 minutes?  Letting the small successes encourage you can lead to larger successes.

4. Know when you work best.

Working on things during your peak times can make hard tasks easier.  If you are at your best in the morning, tackle the more challenging jobs then.  If you’re more productive and focused in the afternoon or evening, then schedule accordingly.

5. Make your tasks as interesting as possible.

Doing some tasks with other people can make them more fun.  You can also use music to set a fun or energizing atmosphere while working on something, or you can make a game of it, like when challenging yourself by racing against time, or adding humor to the experience.  Use bright colors to catch your attention, especially when organizing paperwork, or for kids’ storage.  Also, remember that organizing is part of decorating.  The storage furniture that you choose can add an interesting and unique style to your home or office.

6. Do what you’re good at as well as things that are challenging.

Share tasks at home and at work by trying to match each person up with the tasks that they’re best at, and dividing up unpleasant or challenging tasks evenly.  For example, have each house-member write down chores and responsibilities that they: 1) like to do, 2) don’t mind doing, 3) would rather not do, or 3) really don’t like.  Then negotiate a fair division, considering each person’s abilities, likes and dislikes, other contributions (like whether they work outside the home), and any other relevant factors.  Also, alternate doing something that you enjoy with tasks that you have to do.  That way, the things you enjoy are a break and a reward.  Also, find ways around your weaknesses so that you have more time to focus on your strengths.  For example, if you don’t like to cook, then get cupcakes from the grocery store for the potluck, rather than convincing yourself that you have to make them from scratch.

7. Reward yourself.

When you meet a goal or deadline, give yourself an appropriate reward for the effort.  You may want to make a list of your favorite activities, foods, TV shows, trinkets, and places to go, and then treat yourself to a reward after accomplishing something.

8. Take time to relax.

Schedule breaks into each day and week to rest, play, move around, and re-energize.  Pace yourself so you don’t get exhausted.

9. Be flexible.

Acknowledge and anticipate that some of your projects, deadlines, and obligations will not turn out how you planned.  Don’t beat yourself up over this, but adjust accordingly and learn from your mistakes.  When you realize you didn’t live up to your expectations, think about similar future situations and how you can approach them more effectively.  Life demands flexibility.

10. Humor and willingness.

Have a sense of humor about your disorganization or forgetfulness.  If you can be a little relaxed about it and laugh about your tendency to be messy, others will forgive you more easily and you will feel less defensive, making communication easier.  Also, the guilt that many people feel, in an attempt to motivate themselves, often backfires and paralyzes them.  So don’t take it too seriously, but allow some lightheartedness to make the task lighter.

11. Accept the ongoing process.

Because being organized is a process, there will never be a time when all the work is completely done.  Life changes, people change, and the way you organize will continue to evolve.  Notice and celebrate when you find a better way to organize something, instead of focusing only on what remains undone.  Learn to accept organizing as an ongoing and creative part of life, and perhaps even to enjoy it.

12. Remember that organization is a skill that can be learned.

The good news is that there are many tips and techniques that you can try out, to see which work best for you.  The bad news is that, as with any skill, it takes time and effort to learn to be organized.  But the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more it becomes automatic.  So don’t give up, even if you’ve slipped up for a while.  Just pick an area, and try again.  Each time will be a little easier and you’ll get better at it with practice.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Swimming in a sea random mail, magazines, photos, receipts, notes, bills, and other paperwork?  Try these tips.

1. Have a special place for special paperwork.

For example, have a box, envelope, file or folder where you put all the bills that still need to be paid.  Have another place where you put stubs of bills that have already been paid.  Have one place for coupons and advertisements, one place for memorable newspaper articles, one place for car records, one place for medical records, etc.  A file cabinet makes this easy and compact.

2. Use charts to help you keep track of bills and expenses.

Make copies of a blank chart that includes the following information:  Across the top list categories like: amount overdue from last month, amount due for this month, total amount due, amount paid, date when you paid it, check number, and the amount still overdue after this payment is made.  Down the side list all the different bills you have.  Across the bottom, write the totals of each column.  Fill in one chart each month or each time you get paid.  This helps put all your bill information in front of you at once, helps you stay mindful of how much money you have to spend, helps you make decisions about where your money needs to go, helps you not forget to pay a bill, and helps to catch billing errors.

3. Use color-coding to organize paperwork and to grab your attention.

Color makes things more memorable, and appealing, as well as easier to recognize, organize and navigate.

4. Use a checkbook register to keep track of money in your account.

And compare your register to your bank statement (preferably on the day the statement arrives, so you’re less likely to forget).  If it is difficult for you to write down each expense as you make it, then make it a routine to keep receipts in your wallet and write them down at the end of each day.

5. Use an address book

…or a rolodex, or a bulletin board, or a business card organizer; to help you keep track of contact information, instead of having countless pieces of paper floating around, with mysterious phone numbers that you don’t recognize any more.

6. Go digital

Use computer software to keep track of finances, addresses, phone numbers, appointments, etc..  For those who are computer savvy, getting their finances organized with financial software, and paying bills online may be easier, quicker, and more interesting than the conventional methods.  E-mailing instead of sending paper letters can also cut down on clutter, and it’s faster.

7. Throw out old newspapers and magazines

Newspapers and magazines are a common source of clutter, and are often found in a variety of places other than your magazine rack (if you have one).  The most important and effective way to manage these bulky materials is to get your trashcan out and use it!  If you find more than two unread back-issues of a particular subscription, or if you find yourself putting a week’s worth of unread newspapers in your recycle bin, don’t send in the renewal notice when it arrives, cancel your subscriptions, and only buy them when you really want to read them.

8. Use shelves and filing cabinets

If you want to keep a specific article for future reference, cut it out and file it in a filing cabinet.  Throw the rest of the magazines and newspapers away, with the possible exception of a few choice issues that you keep.  If you decide to keep a stack of old magazines, don’t just stack them up in the corner, but put them neatly on a shelf.  If you don’t have enough room on your shelves then you either need more shelving, or you have too many things that you are holding on to, and you need to prioritize and decide what you will get rid of.

9. Make a scrapbook of kids’ art.

If your refrigerator or walls are covered in kids’ pictures, then buy an inexpensive scrapbook (or two) and put the older pictures in there.  When you have a new picture to put on the fridge, then take an old one off and add it to the scrapbook.  That way family will have a wonderful scrapbook to look through when they visit, and you won’t have to drown in the chaos of too many pictures every time you’re in the kitchen.  You can also use scrap books for other random, but memorable pieces of paper.  Binders can also be used to create a scrapbook.

10. Use photo albums.

Some people have boxes full of old pictures, half of which are out of focus, with the heads cut off, or with a finger covering the lens.  If this has become clutter for you, then pick a weekend to sit down and pick out which pictures you want to put into a photo album.  Once you’ve decided how to organize them and have put them in the album(s), then the rest can be tossed, or can be used by the kids for art projects.  Another way to condense pictures is to make a collage, frame it, and hang it on the wall.
If these ideas aren’t enough, then ask your friends what they do to keep their paper clutter in check, or look for more ideas in a book on controlling clutter.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Organizing Your Stuff

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The environment you live in makes a huge difference in how you feel.  If your space feels chaotic and dirty, you might not feel as comfortable or calm as you wish.  If you’re often frustrated because you can’t find something, that’s added stress in your life.  So, here are some tips for taking control of your stuff.

1. Start Big, and then get more detailed if necessary.

Begin by deciding what goes in which room.  Put kitchen stuff in the kitchen, bathroom stuff in the bathroom, kids’ stuff in their room, etc.  Then categorize the things in each room.  For example, separate food from dishes, clothes from toys, and papers from trinkets.  Think about whether you want to move any of the areas from one room to another (like when combining all the family’s coats and shoes in one place instead of having them be separate).  Then arrange each area so that things are compact, accessible, and pleasing to the eye.  Do these before getting sucked into the tiny details of a drawer, cabinet, or filing system.

2. Use closet, desk and drawer organizers, storage boxes, dressers, shelves, hooks, containers…

Use anything that helps you to keep personal belongings organized and compact.  Label things clearly and make it a daily or weekly habit to put things in their designated spot.  When necessary, adjust your organizational system to make it work more smoothly (for example, making things you use often more easily accessible, and putting things you rarely use towards the back).

3. Create a desk-work space.

Do you find yourself going to five different places in your house to get a pen, paper, stamps, bill, and checkbook?  It helps to have one place set up especially for paper-work.  Also, having your papers in one place, keeps them from cluttering up the rest of your house.  Make sure your paper-work space is well lit, has room for storage (shelves, trays, drawers, file cabinets), and has the tools you need (pens, stapler, paper, trash can, etc.).  Also, having a phone or computer right there may help.  You don’t need a whole room for this, just a corner will do.  Set up your space to minimize distractions.  Use headphones, soft music, or white noise (like a fan) to shield other noise.  However, if music is a distraction, then avoid it.  Also, angle your table or desk away from anything distracting (TV, busy doorways, windows, people).  This will help you stay focused on your desk-work until you’re done with what you needed to do.

4. Miscellaneous stuff can be a challenge to organize.

Here are some ideas.  Hang a key rack with labeled hooks right by the door.  Purses and fannie-packs can be hung on similar (if larger) hooks, next to your coats and umbrellas.  Place a shelf or table near your door for items like sunglasses or other items you want to remember to take with you when you leave the house.  As for small items like rubber bands, puzzle pieces, toy parts, batteries, etc… designate a drawer or a box to be your miscellaneous place.

5. Get rid of excess stuff.

Ask yourself: “Is it useful?”  This means that you use it regularly rather than “well, someday it might come in handy.”  Also ask yourself, “is it beautiful?” and, “do I love it?” If you said yes to any of these questions then keep it, but if not, then what is the purpose of keeping it? Sometimes, even if it is useful, you might have too many of the same item, in which case you could get rid of a few.

6. Take it one step at a time.

If getting organized is a big change for you, be patient with yourself and develop one habit at a time (or focus on one area of the house at a time).  For example, decide what would make the biggest difference to you.  Washing the dishes?  Hanging your keys by the door?  Keeping the table cleared off?  Pick one task and work on it for a month.  Hopefully, by the end of the month, you will have made this a habit.  If not, then you might have to problem-solve about what went wrong.  Each month add another task while continuing the previous ones.  You may want to start with common areas, like the kitchen or living room.

7. Use routines to help you stay organized.

Doing chores more regularly and frequently makes them more manageable.  Do the tasks that need continuous attention (cleaning, organizing mail, doing dishes, picking up, writing down expenses, paying bills) regularly and in small increments.  Schedule them into your daily or weekly routines, so that you can prevent overwhelming pile-ups.

8. Use reminders to get yourself to clean regularly.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about using reminders to help you get organized.

9. Stay motivated.

You can also use rewards to motivate yourself, but you just may find that having a clean, comfortable home, and less tension with your house-mates, is a reward in itself.  If you need motivation help, stay tuned for an upcoming post on motivating yourself to stay organized.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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The Stress Response and Its Affects on Breathing

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The stress response was adaptive for physical survival

When prehistoric humans were in physical danger, they had to be prepared to fight or run away.  The stress response below helped them survive.

  1. Muscle tension:  Large skeletal muscles contract to prepare you for action (fight or flight) or to help you hold still and hide (the freeze response).  When chronic, this tension can cause pain and discomfort, especially in the shoulders, neck, back and head.
  2. Rapid breathing:  As the lungs attempt to provide the blood with more oxygen, hyperventilation (over-breathing) may occur.  Muscle tension and anxiety may also cause a person to hold their breath or to take quick shallow breaths.  Both can lead to faintness, dizziness and tingling.
  3. Dilated pupils:  The eyes allow in more light to help the person see the threat.
  4. Racing heart / palpitations / increased blood pressure:  More blood is pumped around the body carrying oxygen to produce energy.  Blood pressure may also increase due to constricted blood vessels.
  5. Blushing, sweating:  The body needs to get rid of the heat generated in the production of energy.
  6. Dry mouth and slowed digestion:  Digestions slows down or ceases because it is a non-vital function when facing a physical threat.  Saliva is part of the digestive process and is reduced when digestion slows.
  7. Restlessness:  Adrenaline causes a “rush” of energy.  Other stress hormones are also released that affect various organ systems.  Stress hormones take time to subside.
  8. Shaking or trembling:  Adrenaline may cause you to shake.  Also lactic acid buildup in the muscle tissues can cause shaking or trembling (often in anticipation of the threat or after the threat has passed).
  9. Intense Emotions: Fear motivates us to be cautious, to anticipate dangers, and to hide or run if necessary.  Anger can motivate us to defend ourselves or our loved ones… to fight.
  10. Effects on the mind:  Intense emotions, excess energy, and alarm may make it difficult to think clearly or focus.  Your mind may rapidly jump from one thought to another, you may have racing thoughts or worries, and you may have difficulty remembering things or making decisions.

The stress response is less adaptive in coping with modern stress

Although this stress response is useful in dealing with physical threats, it is much less useful in dealing with modern stressors like deadlines, finances, presentations, traffic jams or sensory overload.  It also doesn’t help much with positive stressors involved in growing, learning, pursuing your life dreams, and achieving goals.

Indeed, the stress response, especially when chronic, can create problems. Chronic stress can contribute to heart problems, digestion problems, decreased immunity, body aches and pains, headaches, and many other physical, emotional, mental, behavioral and social consequences.  Nonetheless, our bodies still react with the same old stress response.

That’s why it’s important to understand your natural responses to stress, and to learn how to manage stress effectively through a variety of strategies including: understanding your difficulties and triggers, problem-solving, self-care, communication skills, emotion management, cognitive strategies, time management, organization, mindfulness, and especially relaxation techniques (to calm the body).

Effects of stress on breathing

There is one part of the stress response that I’d like to discuss in more detail.  This is how our breathing responds to stress.  Breathing is important for two reasons.  First, breathing rapidly can create some frightening symptoms (e.g.: lightheadedness).  Second, breathing is something you can learn to control consciously, and therefore, something that you can use to trigger the relaxation response.

Hyperventilation or over-breathing (“fight or flight”)

Some people tend to hyperventilate (or over-breathe) when stressed.  In other words, they breathe faster and deeper than they need to.  This is part of the “fight or flight” response.  They’re actually breathing too much rather than not enough.  This may be more pronounced for some and subtle for others.

Hyperventilation can cause symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, headache and numbness or tingling in the hands, feet and lips.  Although someone who is hyperventilating feels that they can’t get enough air, they usually have normal levels of oxygen in their blood.

The problem is that hyperventilation causes you to breathe out more carbon dioxide than your body produces.  This reduces the carbon dioxide in the blood below its normal level.  This increases the pH level of your blood, which triggers the constriction of blood vessels, and thus reduces blood flow to your brain and other organs.  Because the blood is flowing through narrower blood vessels, it takes longer to bring oxygen to where it’s needed, making you feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, even though it’s abundant in your bloodstream.

The catch is that since you feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, you’re going to want to breathe even faster and deeper to supply more oxygen.  In so doing, you will be breathing out even more carbon dioxide, making your blood vessels constrict even more, and feeling even worse.

Tension and restricted breathing (“freeze or faint”)

Stress can also cause some people to tense up and take shallower breaths, and sometimes even to hold their breath.  This is part of the “freeze or faint” response which could help people to hide when in danger.

Such restricted breathing limits the amount of oxygen that you take in, and can reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood.  Therefore, your heart has to work harder to pump more blood to all your organs and tissues to supply them with oxygen.  The reduced amounts of oxygen in your blood can cause similar symptoms as caused by over-breathing:  lightheadedness, dizziness, headache and numbness or tingling in the hands, feet and lips.

A basic breathing technique

A basic technique you could use to counteract both of the above problems, and to trigger the relaxation response, includes the following three steps:

  • Focus your mind on your breath (and repeatedly re-focus when you get distracted again)
  • Slow down your breath by counting how long it takes to breathe in and out, and by extending your count every few breaths.  (you may start  with in-1, 2, 3, out-1, 2, 3, pause-1, 2… then add a count to each, breathe at this pace for a little while, until comfortable with this pace, then add another count, etc.
  • Continue for a few minutes of mindful, slow, deep, relaxed breathing.  Relax your muscles too while you’re at it.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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Stressed in America

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Boil down the findings from APA’s 2010 Stress in America survey, and the message is clear: Chronic stress — stress that interferes with your ability to function normally over an extended period — is becoming a public health crisis.

“America is at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and our health,” says APA Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

Part of APA’s Mind/Body Health campaign, the survey revealed the impact stress is having on Americans’ physical and emotional health. Harris Interactive conducted the online survey of adults and young people ages 8 to 17 in August.

Key findings include:

Stress is up. Most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Concerns about money… (click here to read the entire article about Stress in America in the Monitor on Psychology)

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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5 Excellent Ideas for Reducing Distractions

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Marc Lesser offers five excellent and insightful ideas for reducing distractions.  They might not be what you would expect.

Here are five practices that can be useful tools in reducing distraction or frenetic activity and cultivating focus and concentration. They are surprisingly easy to implement and, almost before you know it, can become positive addictions.

1: Appreciate Impermanence

I saw a cartoon in a recent New Yorker magazine in which two people were finishing their dinners at a Chinese restaurant and had just opened their fortune cookies. One fortune read, “You are going to die.”

If you let this fact sink in — that life is short, and we all die — it can actually act as a powerful motivating force to help maintain focus and priorities. Everything changes and is impermanent, so are we fully present and making the most of this fleeting moment? Are we fully aware of what we are doing? Appreciating impermanence clarifies priorities,

Read more:

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

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Causes of Sleepiness and Fatigue and How to Fight Them — Slideshow

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Great slide show on fatigue from WebMD:

Fatigue Cause No. 1: Not Enough SleepIt may seem obvious but you could be getting too little sleep. That can negatively affect your concentration and health. Adults should get seven to eight hours every night. Fix: Make sleep a priority and keep a regular schedule. Ban laptops, cell phones, and PDAs from your bedroom.

via Causes of Sleepiness and Fatigue and How to Fight Them — Slideshow.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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Three Videos on Anxiety

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I just found “The Answered Patient” which is a series of educational videos from AnswersTV.  I picked three videos on anxiety to share with you.

This first video is an overview of anxiety:

This next video is about how psychotherapy can help with anxiety:

The third video is about how anxiety affects the body:

I hope you found these videos helpful.

If the embedded videos in this post did not come through on your e-mail subscription, please click the title of the post to view the videos on my website blog.

Anda Jines MS LCPC offers mental health counseling services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, in Tinley Park, IL (60477); near Orland Park, Oak Forest, Orland Hills, Palos Heights, Mokena, and Frankfort. Click here for more about Anda Jines MS LCPC.

Categories : Stress and Anxiety
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