You’re at the office with deadlines to meet and deals to close. Or you’re at home with long to-do lists and loved ones to care for. No matter where you go, it seems you’re stressed or anxious about something.
What to do? Robert Rhode, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson offers these practical recommendations for coping with difficult times.
• Learn from the innocent:
Live for the moment. “As adult human beings, we are capable of having thoughts about the future. Animals and very young children live in the present. There is some value in trying to emulate that simplicity,” says Dr. Rhode.
• Understand that anxiety is not reality; it’s your mind’s worst-case scenario.
“When we’re anxious, what we’re doing is imagining a future and behaving as if it is here. But we don’t, in fact, know what happens next in life. When we go to a movie, we know what type of ending it will have by the type of movie it is: In an old Western, for example, John Wayne will ride off into the sunset at the end.
“When we’re anxious, we’re writing the ending to a movie before we experience it, and we don’t really know what will happen in life.”
Becoming aware of our thoughts as “script,” not reality, can help put some distance between us and our fears.
• Live happily ever after: Develop a storybook ending.
Once you understand that anxiety is the result of your imagination working overtime, use that knowledge.
“Instead of trying to stop thoughts about the future, make up alternate endings. No matter how bad one ending is, you can develop one that is worse – and you can also imagine endings that are better.”
Developing improbable conclusions – some happy, some tragic – serves as an entertaining distraction and reminds you that none of the scenarios are real.
• Add more texture to your life.
Dr. Rhode emphasizes that comforting textures can be an effective antidote to anxiety and stress: Wear soft clothes, put flannel sheets on your bed, sleep with a corner of a blanket in your hand.
“Psychologists believe this works because it goes back to childhood. Before we had words, we had blankets and soft toys. We were comforted by texture, and accessing this thoughts.”
• The heartbeat of America: Take your pulse.
“Put your hand on your neck or wrist and literally feel your heart beating. Focus in a meditative manner and tell yourself, ‘This is my heart beating.’ Then put your hand on your belly and feel the rise and fall of your diaphragm, and say, ‘This is my body breathing.’ These phrases are calming touchstones that you can access anywhere – in meetings or crowded places. These are comforting, stabilizing thoughts.”
• Nurture other living things.
While washing dishes, grocery shopping and other routine tasks may provide welcome and convenient distractions, forging connections with living things has proven health benefits.
“It is important to attend to something that is alive and growing: Care for your children in special ways, spend extra time with your dog or cat or the flowers in your garden.”
• Trouble sleeping? Displace your inner dialogue.
“When you can’t get to sleep at night, you are listening to a conversation in your head. If you listen to someone else talk, you interfere with that conversation.”
Dr. Rhode’s solution? Storytellers on tape provide, quite literally, another voice, telling a story that’s organized and compelling. He recommends Garrison Keillor, Robert Fulghum and Tom Bodett – readers whose deep, soothing voices offer mellow messages with uplifting humor. Simply slip on a pair of headphones to displace your inner dialogue.
“You get a comforting experience and an effective, reusable form of anxiety management for less money than you’d pay a counselor.”
Your life – your terms
Adjusting the way you see the world is the ultimate in stress and anxiety relief. Life may try to keep you continuously running on stress, but you have the power to opt out and get off that treadmill.
The key is to recognize when you are falling into the old pattern of stress and anxiety, then to try one or more of the seven steps to combat the issue. Before long, work and home will be relaxing places you love to be.