Whitney decided to meet with a life coach to help her assess the way she handles stress. Her life is busy and full of constant change. Change is stressful, even when it is positive. Whitney knows that stress can wreak havoc on a person’s mental, spiritual and physical health if he or she has not developed healthy ways to cope. Here are four lifestyle questions the coach asked in order to assess the physical dimension of Whitney’s ability to cope with change and stress:
- Does she have effective ways of relaxing? Relaxation isn’t something a person does once a year on a cruise to the Bahamas (although this can’t hurt). Relaxation should be a regular, practiced part of life. Even God rested on the seventh day! We all need down time, especially in the middle of change. Therefore, it is important to identify ways to relax and rejuvenate the body and mind. Relaxation keeps stress from building up and provides an avenue for releasing physical tension. In Whitney’s case, she was asked to generate several ways to relax and then practice them when she began to feel overwhelmed by changes related to stress. For example, Whitney would put on her ear buds and listen to worship music, play piano, take a warm soothing bath, light a fragrant candle, read a book, etc. She would pay special attention to tension in her physical body and practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
- Does she regularly exercise? The benefits of exercise are enormous yet many of us fail to make it a priority. Exercise not only reduces muscle tension and frustration, but also provides a host of physical improvements. Exercise helps control weight, health conditions and diseases, improves mood, boosts energy, improves sleep and positively impacts a person’s sex life.
- Does she eat sensibly? Under stress, people tend to forego good nutrition, grab what is convenient and eat poorly. Whitney was no exception. She was skipping meals, eating fast food, eating while doing other things, drinking too much caffeine, and eating mostly processed foods. Poor nutrition and eating habits made her feel tired and irritable. Her goal was to improve her eating habits by adding fresh fruits and vegetables, reduce processed food, decrease caffeine intake (can trigger anxiety) and reduce salt intake in order to improve her energy, nutrition and staying power. She also committed to eating only at her table and taking time to enjoy her meal. The difference in her mood was noticeable after a week.
- Does she get enough sleep? So many people have terrible sleep habits, leaving them tired during the day and unable to sleep soundly at night. Whitney needed to go to bed at a regular time and establish a regular sleep and waking pattern. This led to discussions of how to wind down a few hours before bed and sleep hygiene. She was advised to use the sleep hygiene guidelines provided by the National Sleep Foundation. These guidelines cover the person’s personal habits, the sleep environment and ways he or she readies for bed. The person can then problem-solve ways to improve sleep hygiene like not exercising before bed, changing uncomfortable pillows, darkening the room, etc.
If you want to set the stage for healthy stress coping, begin with a quick assessment of your physical lifestyle. Making changes in these four areas can improve your coping immediately. When we are relaxed, exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep, it is amazing how much better the every day stress of life is handled.