Rx for Stress

5 steps toward a healthier, happier you

Life can be stressful enough without adding the care of a sick loved one into the mix. Then your stress level goes off the charts, leaving you rundown and wrung out.

So what can you do when you don’t have the time or energy to give yourself a little care? Try taking five steps toward lessening your stress and increasing the joy in your life.

These suggestions are from Thomas Morledge, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine within Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. The creator of Stress Free Now, an eight-week online program that offers tips and techniques to help you gain control of stressful emotions, he is conducting a clinical research trial to determine the benefits of the program. Volunteers will receive the online program and be compensated for answering research questions.

The following are examples of the stress-reducing advice that Dr. Morledge includes in the program.

Step 1 – Examine Your Thoughts. One of the first things you need to do is to become aware of your thoughts, he says. Thoughts arise spontaneously, one after the other, and we often have little awareness of the content of them. If you are having recurrent negative thoughts about past events or having imaginary conflicts in the future, it’s probably a pretty good indicator that you are stressed or feeling overwhelmed. First, learn to become consciously aware of the thought that you are having. Then identify the feeling behind the thought. When the next thought arises, instead of ruminating on it, you can let it go. “Learning to identify and eventually let go of stressful thoughts gives you a new tool that will change the quality of your day and your life,” Dr. Morledge says.

Step 2 – Take Deep Breaths. Deep breathing can have a calming effect. Try this short breathing meditation, which is intended to calm the autonomic nervous system, he says. “To begin, slowly place both hands, one on top of the other, over the center of your chest, your ‘heart center.’ Close your eyes and become aware of each in-breath and each out-breath. Once you feel relaxed, you’re ready for the next step.”

Step 3 – Create an Image. Bring an image to mind that is emotionally endearing to you. (Dr. Morledge says he pictures rocking his infant son to sleep.) Stay with this image and the feeling that accompanies it for a minute, while maintaining an awareness of each in-breath and each out-breath. “Acknowledge what a gift it is to have the opportunity to experience this precious moment in your life. Imagine all the events that came together to make this possible. Then slowly open your eyes and move thoughtfully into your day.”

Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice. It’s best to practice this relaxation technique several times a day. By practicing, you are creating new pathways in your brain so that it can more effectively produce a relaxation response. “You want to get good at this, so that when you’re stressed, you can create the image and the feeling and move into this relaxed state more effectively.”

Step 5 – Practice Gratitude. “Take a moment each day to bring someone to mind who has enriched your life. Picture their face, and thank them for having been there, and then wish them well.”

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