Raising Your Resilience

Using Short-Term Solutions in the Power Quadrant

In the last article, I introduced the Four Quadrant Approach to reduce your Stress Gap©.
I defined the Stress Gap© as the GAP between the Demand placed on you and your ability to handle the demand, which I refer to as your Coping Score©. The bigger the gap, the more stress you will feel. So the idea is to either lower the demands placed upon you in your life or raise your Coping Score©.

Four Quadrant Approach to Reduce your Stress Gap© 

Is it Important to you?
Yes No
Is it under Your Control?
      Yes… 4. Prioritize Your Choices 2. Say “No”
     No… 3. Practice Acceptance 1. Ignore

 

Sometimes you will experience a lot of stress because of circumstances beyond your control.
As we saw in the last article, you can practice ignoring unimportant issues out of your control (e.g., gossip) or saying “no’ to challenges where you have some control (e.g., answering the phone when you are in the middle of creating something important).

In addition, we saw that practicing acceptance to important situations beyond your control, like your past, can help mitigate stress.

In this article I focus mainly on raising your Coping Score© by looking at what you can do in the short-term when you feel stressed.

Conscious Awareness

Become aware of your feelings, both physically and emotionally. Take a few moments during the day to check in with how you are feeling.  Don’t just keep pushing yourself to the next thing or cover up your feelings with food, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol. Feelings are just that – feelings. You don’t have to be afraid of them or even yield to them yet it is good to know how you feel because then you can do something about it.

Change Your Vocabulary

Use different vocabulary to describe your frustration – e.g., instead of “I am very angry”, say, “I am a tad peeved”. It may seem like semantics but it works.

When you say that you are very angry or “boiling mad” you are in effect reinforcing the initial feeling. That makes you think of all the other things that make you angry and that in turn makes you angrier. You have entered a vicious cycle.

However when you change your words you are subconsciously calming yourself down and preparing for a better response. Use positive affirmations to keep your thoughts focused on your best self. Declarations like, “I can handle this – I’ve handled bigger challenges before” or “This too shall pass.”

Breathe! 

As an emergency physician I find it amazing as to how many people I put my stethoscope on who don’t breathe properly. I listen to the breathing of thousands of patients a year and am struck by the number of people – who are not suffering from chronic lung diseases – yet who don’t move a lot of air when they take a deep breath. They often shrug their shoulders or just life their head up or they will take a short breath in and then blow it out strongly!

When we perceive a demand placed on us as stressful, our fear triggers out stress response. We often hold our breath and the carbon dioxide increases in our blood which is picked up by the receptors in our brain and the stress response exaggerates.
In addition, we have linked breath-holding with stress reactions, so holding your breath will only lead to more stress.

Just breathing properly will do a lot to decrease your daily stress. Place your hand on your stomach and take a deep breath in through your nose. You should feel your hand rising up.
Then take both hands and place them on the sides of your lower ribs.
When you inhale, you should feel your hands pushed out.
Keep your head and shoulders quiet.
Take a few slow deep breaths.
Do not go too fast or else you will hyperventilate and get dizzy.

Practice this breathing technique whenever you notice tension or stress.

Hold the inhaled air for a few seconds and then release the breath through your mouth.
Do this a few times and you will find your stress diminishing right away.

Practice breathing properly when you are relaxed so you will do it correctly under stressful conditions.

Yes, this is a simple technique but do not underestimate the power of the breath.

Laugh

Have a humourous book or calendar close by. Keep a file of funny things you’ve read about. Laughing is good for you. It is similar to deep breathing in that it empties your lungs of more air than it takes in, which has a cleansing effects on your respiration. It is like inner jogging…

  • It gives your diaphragm muscle an aerobic workout, which relaxes the other muscles in your body.
  • It releases endorphins, your body’s own pain killer and decreases the stress hormone levels in your body which decreases your blood pressure.
  • It raises your immune response and helps pump lymph around your lymphatic system, which helps fight infection.
  • Best of all, It is one of the best medicines because it has many benefits and no side effects.

Practice These Relaxation Techniques

You can find many sources for different kinds of relaxation techniques. One of the simplest is a 3-minute practice where you close your eyes and tighten and then relax each part of your body, beginning with your toes and moving your way up to your head and neck.

MOVE Your Body.

Motion creates emotion. Change your position. Many people find themselves sitting in front of their computers hours on end. If your job requires it, at least once an hour, take a 5-minute break. Get up and stretch. Move your neck and shoulders, two places where many people hold their stress. Taking a short walk will move your lower back and reactivate fatigued muscles in your spine.

Watch What You EAT.

Avoid foods high in caffeine (coffee, tea – unless they are decaffeinated, chocolate, cola soft drinks).
Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

In the short-term they may calm you down but when you drink or smoke in order to relieve stress you are conditioning yourself to believe that you actually need these substances whenever you are stressed.

In effect, you are creating and reinforcing a bad habit.
Then, the next time you are stressed your body will remember this link and crave these same substances. At that point you are out of control and have just gone from the fourth Power Quadrant© to the first quadrant.

Drink Lots of WATER.

Over 70% of our body is made up of water and all of the metabolic processes take place in a fluid environment. Eat raw fruits and vegetables and get enough fiber in your diet to produce at least one large bowel movement a day. Like nature, our bodies work best when it is in flow. That applies to the air we breathe, the fluids in our body as well as our digestive system.

Get Enough SLEEP.

You could have many useful tools to use in your Power Quadrant©, but if you are not rested you will likely not use them. When you are tired you normally slip back into old unproductive habits.

Our bodies need to replenish at night. Most North Americans do not get enough sleep. Everyone is different. Not everyone requires eight hours of sleep a night. Some may need 9 hours while others may need 6 or seven. Begin to get to know what your body needs. Pay attention.

Use Positive DISTRACTIONS to Your Advantage.

Listen to your favourite music, play a game of tennis, meditate, practice yoga, read a good book (not work related), talk to supportive friends. Volunteer your time to help people in your community. Make a spiritual connection, be it religious, Nature or some Universal Energy force greater than yourself

Focus on the PRESENT. 

(The reason they call it the “present” is because it is a gift.) We usually get stressed whenever we look at the past in regret or worry about the future. So if you are stressed bring your attention back to the present.

Look around you and notice something specific about your surroundings. For example, you can see how many things around you are coloured purple or become aware of your exact posture at that instant.

When you do this you will have to focus on the Now. (You cannot focus on two things at the exact same time.) That alone will change your mood.

To further enhance this effect, ask yourself what you are grateful for? Again instead of regretting what you lost or anxiously look forward to what you want, you are paying attention to everything you have. This could include people you love, material things, your senses and your character strengths. The list is endless yet it is often overlooked in our busy paced life.

Start putting these Power Quadrant© strategies into place and see how your stress diminishes.

 

To You Getting Yourself Back In Balance,

Samuel Gerstein, M.D.

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