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Beyond Blue

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In November I shared with you 10 of my stress busters. But lately I’ve needed 20. So here are 10 more.

1. Avoid stimulants and sugar.

Here’s the catch-22: the more stressed you get, the more you crave coffee and doughnuts, pizza and Coke. But the more coffee, Coke, doughnuts, and pizza in your system, the more stressed you get. It’s not your imagination. When you are stressed and have low levels of serotonin, your brain produces cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates, which primes the beta-endorphin system to want more and more. The same with caffeine. It’s a powerful drug that affects a number of neurochemicals in your brain, which means it produces withdrawal symptoms that can make you very very very very irritable.

2. Compare and despair.

The last thing you should do when you’re stressed–which I always do when I’m stressed–is start looking around at other people’s package (job, family support, balanced brain) and pine for some of that. I grow especially jealous of non-addict friends who can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or those with moms nearby that offer to take the kids for sleepovers. But I don’t have all the information. The mom who takes the kids for the night might also have an opinion for every piece of furniture in your house and her own spare key to your home so she can pop in whenever. So comparing my insides to someone else’s outsides is a fruitless and dangerous game to play, especially when I’m stressed.

3. Get grateful.

Along those lines, it’s time for me to tell you to think happy thoughts. Can gratitude really combat the cortisol in your bloodstream? Yes. Dan Baker writes in “What Happy People Know”: “Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus, appreciation is the antidote to fear.”

4. Avoid negative people.

Of course, staying grateful is a lot easier if you are hanging with the right crowd. Because once the negativity is out there, it’s up to you to tell your brain not to dwell on it. And, well, if you’re like me, that cognitive exchange demands a lot of energy. Best to choose your friends carefully and avoid the toxic conversations as much as you can.

5. Clean and de-clutter.

Cleaning is a therapeutic activity that distracts your stressed-out brain while delivering it something it desperately wants: order. As an architect, Eric is always telling me how my mess contributes to my anxiety–that the endless piles of paper on my desk can very definitely sabotage my mood. Every time I take his advice–and spend a day purging and organizing–I realize how right he is.

6. Sleep.

Everything breaks down when you don’t sleep well. Any sleep disturbance will diminish mental performance. Stress affects sleep and vice versa. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine compared patients with insomnia to those without sleep disruptions and found that the insomniacs with the most severe sleep disturbances secreted the highest amount of cortisol.

7. Categorize your problems.

If you lump your problems into categories, you will feel like you have less obstacles. I spend some time doing this in therapy every other week. Because to solve each and every hiccup is too overwhelming. But if they are organized into neat and tidy themes–such as “my boundaries issues”–then a few tweaks here or there can be applied to a variety of situations.

8. Lower your standards.

Who do think is crippled by more stress: the guy who esteems to flip burgers at McDonald’s or a woman set on becoming the first woman president of the United States? My point is less about what you want to be when you grow up and more about firing the perfectionist in your head who won’t accept anything less from you than a five-star performance. She could single-handedly cause a lot of stress.

9. Just say no.

If you haven’t yet learned how to politely decline offers to head the next school fundraiser, it’s time you stand in front of a mirror and practice. Repeat after me: “Mr. X, I am so flattered by the invitation to serve on your committee. Really I am. But I just simply can’t do it at this time.” Man, I feel better just writing that.

10. Learn how to recharge.

Many folks know how to have fun and recharge their batteries. Mentally-ill addicts like myself have to learn this from scratch. After some experimentation I know that spending quiet time by the water (kayaking, running, biking in warmer months), reading spiritual literature, and watching a movie with a friend are all ways that will nurture me so that I can better tolerate stress. Know your rechargers and do them routinely.

To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.

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