A big change in Tiffany’s life was about to happen. Her husband was considering a job change and she was feeling anxious. If her husband took the new position, so much would change in her life. She would lose her job, have to move out of the area and search for new employment. After a great deal of prayer, the couple decided to go ahead with the move. However the pressure to find a new job and deal with all the changes taxed Whitney’s coping abilities. She found herself overeating, irritable and not sleeping well.

In these difficult times you may be considering job transitions and recognizing the need to make other changes in your life. Change is stressful, even when it is positive. Stress can wreak havoc on a person’s mental, spiritual and physical health – especially if we do not develop healthy ways to cope. Problem-solving skills are also needed. While we may attend to the mental, emotional and spiritual issues involved in coping, it is easy to ignore the physical aspects that may contribute to stress. Attending to your physical life will definitely improve your ability to manage stress during times of change.

Here are four lifestyle questions to assess the physical dimension of your ability to cope with change and stress:

  1. Do you  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 life changes. 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 Tiffany’s case, she was asked to generate several ways to relax and then practice them when she began to feel overwhelmed by the impending move. For example, Tiffany would put on her ear buds and listen to worship music, play the piano, take a warm soothing bath, light a fragrant candle or read a book, etc. She would pay special attention to tension in her physical body and practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
  2. Do you exercise regularly? 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. Tiffany, like so many of us, had plenty of “good” reasons for not exercising. She didn’t enjoy exercise or think she had time for it. Both of these reasons were fixable. Her challenge was to find enjoyable exercise that she could work into her current routine. At first she tried running because she could do it after work, but running was not something she enjoyed. It took a little coaching for her to generate a list of other possibilities because Tiffany’s idea of exercise was very narrow–go to the gym. With a little prodding, she was able to generate a list of more than 20 ideas. Her new goal was to pick one or two things from the list each week. Her list included activities like roller blading, biking, walking, dancing, skating, basketball, tennis, skiing, ping-pong, taking the neighbor’s dog to the park and working out to a pilates app. With a smorgasbord of fun activities to choose from each day, she was willing to incorporate exercise into her routine. And because she listed a variety of activities, she didn’t become bored with any single choice. Eventually she even engaged a few other women in a walking club.
  3. Do you eat sensibly? Under stress people tend to forego good nutrition, they grab what is convenient and eat poorly. Tiffany 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. Our 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 took time to enjoy her meal. Again, the difference in her mood was noticeable after a week.
  4. Do you get enough sleep? Many people have terrible sleep habits that leave them tired during the day and unable to sleep soundly at night. Tiffany needed to go to bed at a set time and establish a regular sleep and waking pattern. This led to discussions of how to wind down a few hours before bed and an evaluation of her sleep hygiene. I often 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. Once you know the guidelines, you can then problem-solve ways to improve sleep hygiene like not exercising before bed, change uncomfortable pillows, darken the room, etc.

For most of us, change brings on added stress. But attending to the physical body while dealing with the mental, emotional and spiritual challenges related to change can make all the difference.

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