Lessons Learned in Mexico about What Actually Decreases Stress and Anxiety

Di Philippi - Stress Management in MexicoA couple years ago I went on an amazing vacation in Mexico. What a blessing!  It was an R&R trip, practicing what I preach about the importance of self-care, downtime, and balance in life.  I ultimately spent a lot of time BEING rather than DOING.

But what surprised me were all the things I learned on that trip about ways to reduce stress and anxiety…ways that have little or nothing to do with going on a trip to Mexico….

Lesson #1: Learn how to relax – force yourself if necessary 

So many people tell me they just can’t relax.  Even if they can find the time, they can’t seem to really relax.  They’ve forgotten how to relax.  In our super busy world, I think we all have forgotten this to some degree. 

Imagine a couple days in Mexico with nothing to do other than take a walk or sit in a lounge chair.  Sounds like a dream come true, right?  Well, I bet you would find (like I did) that it’s not that easy.

It’s hard to unwind from the supersonic speed with which we fly through our daily lives.  There’s a lot of adrenaline flowing constantly as we are so busy DOING all the time.  The body and the mind find it hard to slow down suddenly… so you can “BE” rather than “DO.” 

I had to force myself to sit and BE. I went through a phase where I got restless, antsy, bored, and wanted to DO more.  So my mind got busy analyzing everything and everyone around me. 

And I was easily Di Philippi - Stress Management in Mexicoirritated by little things.  I thought to myself “Get a grip, Di!  You’re on a beautiful beach in Mexico.  How can you be irritable or bored?!?”  

What I learned is to force myself to just sit there, to force myself past the discomfort of the adrenaline withdrawal.  It would have been easier to use alcohol or food or nonstop sightseeing to keep distracted and busy.  

To just sit and be with yourself and your thoughts is not as easy as it sounds. 

Just do it.  Force yourself if necessary to just sit for a few minutes.  I challenge you to try it and let me know how it goes.

Lesson #2: Appreciate What You’ve Got

mexico_kittenA couple of stray cats wandered around our hotel complex.  When I encountered this kitten, I felt so sad for this poor, scrawny, underfed, homeless (and oh so cute) little creature. 

My next thought was how easy my own cat has it!  A warm and loving home, food and water provided, a soft place to sleep. The same is true for you and me! 

Whether you think you’ve got an easy life or a hard life, how can find a way to appreciate the good things you do have?  Focus on those things and stress and anxiety automatically decrease.  (Scientific research on gratitude supports this by the way.)

Lesson #3: Nurture Relationships

Relationships with those in our lives can sometimes  be stressful. But our relationships can also decrease stress if we choose the right ones and we nurture them.  All humans are wired to crave connection.  If we don’t feel connection in a relationship, it causes stress.  Feeling connected decreases stress.

It was so great to have time with my husband where we could just talk, laugh, and be with each other.  We talked about silly things, about important things going on in our life, and talked about our dreams for the future.   We both felt the connection.

I saw some research recently showing that the average married couple spends an average of 5 minutes a day in meaningful conversation.

That’s not enough to create connection.  Whether it’s with your partner or friend or family member, how can you find a way to nurture your relationship?

Lesson #4: Make Peace with Your Body

I noticed how walking around all day in a swimsuit made me acutely aware of my body and other people’s bodies.  You can’t help but notice.  I had to work hard sometimes to bring my thoughts back to loving and accepting myself exactly the way I am.  And not over-focusing on body size, type and shape.

mexico_modelOn top of that, one day a camera crew showed up with professional models doing a photo shoot directly in front of my lounge chair!   REALLY?!?  A gorgeous professional model right in front of me?!?  An added challenge.

For most of us (especially women) it can be quite a process to make peace with our body.   But loving and accepting your body is one sure way to move toward peace, contentment and less stress.

Lesson #5: Take a Break from Decisions and Responsibilities

They are a great contributor to stress and anxiety.  Of course, we all have responsibilities and we make dozens of decisions each day.  But I took a break from those for awhile.  The biggest decisions were whether to sit by the beach or the pool, and which restaurant to go to.  Not deciding what to make for dinner, going to the grocery store to get it, and then making it.  What a luxury!

How can you find little ways to give yourself a break from having to make a decision?  Or give yourself a little break from the usual responsibilities (like get a babysitter and go to Starbucks to read a book for an hour)?  Small breaks from these day-to-day pressures will make a difference!

Creative Holiday De-Stressing

How about a little more freedom and fun this holiday season?

Thanksgiving and Christmas being so close together can create an intense holiday season for many of us. Holiday Stress!

I hear from a lot of people who find holiday traditions turning into expectations, pressure, obligations, and increased stress. Family gatherings can amplify “dysfunctional” family patterns. Financial worries may grow in the face of this big spending season.

Remembering the “reason for the season” may help. Using all of the stress and anxiety-reduction tools you’ve found here and other places can help you manage through challenging holiday moments.

But I’m not going to talk about that because those things are fairly obvious.

I’m looking at more creative ways to transform holiday stress so you can experience the holidays differently…so you can think and feel differently about holiday stressors.

To feel different you have to think different.

Thoughts create feelings. Your feelings are not random, even though it seems that way sometimes. They arise from your thoughts.

So here’s some creative ways you can change your thinking about the holidays if you want to feel more fun and lightness in the season:

    • Create an “Old Year Resolution.” Give yourself a focus between now and the end of this year. Why wait until January to focus on something positive? Finish out the old year with a focus or an accomplishment other than “just making it through the holidays.” Your Old Year Resolution should be something that distracts you a bit from the holidays themselves, putting a positive focus elsewhere. Paying less attention to a holiday can help reduce the stress of it. Dwelling on it increases stress.

      Resolve to enjoy a cup of tea before bedtime each night. Focus on extra cuddling with your pet. Resolve to take short walks on your lunch-hour — or maybe resolve to simply TAKE a lunch hour instead of working through it. Decide to read an enjoyable book by the end of the year. Resolve to lose 2 pounds by the end of the year. Decide to finish something that you haven’t been able to get to (careful on this one, the project needs feel mainly like fun rather than work).

      Think about what New Year Resolutions you might find inspiring, and break that down into something you could start doing over these next 6 weeks.

    • Please Yourself. Holidays often include many things that feel like “have-to’s” and that contributes to stress. I challenge you to examine your thinking about the “have-to’s” in your holiday season.

      I was going to have my whole family over for Thanksgiving dinner because I am on vacation that whole week so I thought I really “should” since I had some extra time. As I imagined how that would be, it didn’t feel good. I discovered I didn’t really want to do it. So I’m not doing it. I decided to please myself instead of trying to please anyone else. We’re doing something entirely different. And everyone will survive! And I’ll be pleased!

      Pleasing yourself means CHOOSING what you want to do rather than doing things out of obligation (have-to) or fear of what others will think, say, or do. Even if you choose to do something stressful because Aunt Mary will really appreciate it, you are still CHOOSING it. There is freedom and lightness in the choosing. Choosing sure beats feeling like a victim of a bunch of have-do’s. You have more choice in most things than you think. And other people will get over things more than you think they will.

      To help you make a choice, try this:

      CHOOSE what you want to do this holiday season

    • Build your Attitude of Gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal throughout the season and make sure you write in it at least once a day. Make a bullet list of things you are grateful for. Include every little thing you can think of, especially those things that are NOT related to the holidays. Maybe you’re even grateful that this kind of holiday season comes only once a year! Put it in there. Thankful for 8 hours of sleep last night. Put it in there. Grateful that a meeting was cancelled. Grateful to get a manicure. Put in in there. Grateful for a warm home. Grateful for a moment of quiet. Grateful for your pet. Put it all in there.

      Looking for the things in your life that you’re glad about helps ease the stress of the season. It helps change the focus of your thinking.

Anxiety is Hazardous to Your Health

If you have anxiety, it’s very likely that you also experience one or more physical health issues. 
 
Did you know that quite a growing number of illnesses and chronic disease conditions are correlated with anxiety disorders?
 
Despite scientific research connecting the dots between anxiety and a growing list of anxiety-related illnesses,anxiety often goes unidentified and is frequently overlooked as a source of other physiological health issues.
 
Physical Illnesses Linked to Anxiety
 
Anxiety has now been implicated in many chronic physical conditions including:
  • gastrointestinal conditions including IBS and Acid Reflux
  • insomnia
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • thyroid problems
  • arthritis
  • migraine headaches
  • chronic respiratory disorders including COPD
Research also shows the impact of anxiety on specific groups of people:
  • People who have panic attacks are more likely to have mitral valve prolapse, hypertension, peptic ulcer, diabetes, chest pain (angina) or thyroid disease.
  • Men with anxiety disorders are at greater risk for cardiac disorders, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory illness, asthma, and back pain. 
  • Women with anxiety disorders are more likely to have a history of cardiac problems, hypertension, metabolic, gastrointestinal, dermatological, respiratory disorders and arthritis.  
These conditions have also been recently correlated with anxiety:
  • fibromyalgia
  • female hormonal imbalance (including PCOS)
  • sexual dysfunction
  • insulin resistance
  • blood sugar issues
  • weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes
Serious Stuff
 
Six of the leading causes of death have been also linked with anxiety and stress: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and even suicide.
 
When people with any anxiety-related disease also have untreated anxiety, the disease itself can be more difficult to treat.  Physical symptoms often become worse.
 
The problem is becoming so big that the World Health Organization reports that anxiety and depression (which are often interlinked) could be the second leading causes of disability worldwide by 2020.  That’s just 5 years away!
 
The Missing Connection
 
Anxiety often goes unidentified and is frequently overlooked as a source of other physical health issues.
 
Part of the problem is that although anxiety itself starts in the mind, it does create very real physical symptoms.  Those symptoms can look very much like symptoms of other chronic conditions, such as digestive, thyroid and respiratory disorders.  So it can be confusing for you and your health care practitioners too.
 
Typical anxiety symptoms that can also look like other physical illnesses include:
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Numbing & tingling (especially arms and legs)
  • Sweating
  • Chills or flush (hot flash)
  • Trembling
  • Choking
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
It’s NOT All in Your Head!
 
img_4128Many people with anxiety disorders go through life living needlessly with physical health problems that could be eliminated or improved through anxiety treatment.  Unfortunately, they never make the connection that anxiety could be the source of the problem (or be exacerbating the problem).  
 
If you think you might fall into this category — or if you have IBS, asthma, COPD, or heart disease — you may want to come in to see me to be evaluated for anxiety.  The same is true if you have pain, dizziness, insomnia, or other symptoms that persist after physical causes have been ruled out.
 
Please know that all symptoms are real — and treatable! — whether they originate in the body or the mind.  
 
Holistic, Long-Term Solutions for Anxiety
 

I use the 2 most effective long-term solutions for anxiety (and therefore, for any physical problems linked with anxiety):

These are holistic, healthy, non-medication solutions so you can learn new skills and tools to manage and prevent anxiety.  I help people identify and shift thoughts that generate anxiety, as well as learn new skills to react differently to anxiety-provoking situations.
 
Anxiety medications alone are less effective than CBT and Anxiety Counseling/Psychotherapy over the long term; they may also have unpleasant side effects and interact with other medications. Most of my clients work toward eliminating the medication altogether… 
 
Skills not pills can help you reduce anxiety and improve anxiety-related illnesses at the same time.
 

Sources:

  • Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports
  • National Institutes of Health / World Health Organization 
  • The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy
  • WebMD
  • American Medical Association (AMA), Archives of Internal Medicine

De-Stressing Relationships: The Art of Asking for What You Want

relationshipstress-stencilRelationships…can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

That’s how people sometimes feel about their partners. Relationships and partnerships can be wonderfully energizing and supportive, yet the truth is that they can also be stressful.

In my work with people, I find that relationships are particularly distressing when people don’t know how to ask for what they want in a caring and assertive way.

So they tend to do one of two things: 1) they don’t ask and ultimately end up feeling resentful and unfulfilled, or 2) they communicate in an aggressive way that leads to conflict.

Assertive vs. Aggressive

The word “assertive” has varied definitions. The definition I like means direct, confident, positive, and self-assured. This is very different than “aggressive” which tends to be more forceful, demanding, competitive or even pushy.

Asking for what you want (and setting boundaries around what you don’t want) in an assertive way is a key life skill, and a key to less stressful relationships.

 

Here are four tips for developing your assertiveness in a way that can actually strengthen, deepen and enrich your relationship:

  • Get Clear

Being assertive starts with knowing what you are (and are not) willing to be, do, or have. For many of us, coming to this knowledge is a real task unto itself. Here, it may be useful to ask:

“In an ideal world, what would I like to happen?”

Focusing on an ideal outcome opens your mind, prevents you from falling into passivity or “victim-thinking.” It helps you get really clear on what you want and don’t want…NOT what you think others want of you, but what you really, really want.

  • Set Boundaries

Once you know what outcome you need (or want), share it with your partner. Pay attention to the way stating your boundary feels in your body. With practice, it can feel really pleasurable, even exhilarating, to express your needs or desires out loud. Initially it may feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to doing it.

Be willing to state calmly and clearly what isn’t working for you, while maintaining a desire to stay connected with your partner while you jointly create a solution that will work for both of you. Be ready to clearly state what would work better you, and then be willing to discuss options and negotiate something that would work for each of you.

  • Make a Regular Habit of Stating Your Needs and Desires

You can build your assertiveness the same way you build any muscle: exercise. Practice speaking up about your needs, big or small, on a daily basis.

When you speak up about things that are less controversial (such as where to go to dinner, requesting help unloading the dishwasher or what TV program to watch) both you and your partner get used to your assertiveness. It becomes easier for you to practice and for your partner to hear.

Also, when bigger issues come along, you and your partner will have a healthy process in place for dealing with differences in needs and wants. You’ll also have greater confidence in the resilience of your partnership.

  • Give Respect

Assertiveness is a two-way street. If you want your boundaries to be respected, you must return the courtesy to your partner. If she doesn’t want you to use the bathroom when she’s in the shower, don’t. If he asks you to give him a half an hour after work before you talk and connect, respect that.

When it comes to following through on a partner’s reasonable request, actions really do speak louder than words. Be willing to lead by example.

couplehappy-stencilOf course, there is no single (or simple!) answer to de-stressing relationships. Being clear on your own boundaries and communicating them in a caring and assertive way is a valuable way to start down that path.

Tapping Your Troubles Away With EFT

     Q:  What is the biggest thing that blocks our flow of energy and
          causes all sorts of distressing emotions and dis-ease?

     A:  How emotional issues are held in the body.

How Can EFT Help?

 
EFT is a natural healing technique: a three-minute process that’s easy to learn and can bring immediate and satisfying emotional release. It helps the body let go of old patterns that have been keeping you stuck in any sort of distress or dis-ease.
Tapping the brow point

Also referred to as “tapping,” EFT helps release release distressing emotions, leaving you with increased calm and confidence.

I use EFT with my clients because it is especially helpful in reducing anxiety, stress, worry and fears of all kinds.

With EFT, you can:

  • Avoid getting stuck in distressing emotional states
  • Increase positive thinking and focus on positive solutions
  • Reduce fatigue and have more energy
  • Get better sleep
  • Have more satisfying relationships
  • Feel better about yourself!

How Does EFT Work?

Tapping the collar bone point

It’s like an emotional version of acupuncture – without needles! By tapping on various energy points on your body you can release negative energy, distressing emotions and thoughts, as well as physical issues.

Just like Reiki and other forms of energy healing, EFT is based on the idea that there is a “life force energy” flowing through all living things. This vital energy of life is called “ki” or “chi” or “prana” in various Eastern traditions.

When this vital life energy is balanced and flowing freely through you, you can achieve a happy, healthy state of well-being. However, blockages or imbalance in your body’s energy system can lead to pain or dis-ease.

EFT works on your Energy Meridians

Energy “Meridians”
 
Thousands of years ago, the Chinese mapped out the energy pathways of the body into a system of energy “meridians.”These meridians are central to Eastern wellness practices, acupuncture, acupressure, and a wide array of other healing techniques…including EFT.

EFT works by stimulating your energy meridians, allowing emotional and energetic releases.

When our energies are allow to flow freely, the body has amazing abilities to heal itself.

The Critical Connection:

EFT is based on the premise that there is an emotional contributor to all dis-ease and distress.

It just makes sense that if you spend a long time carrying around anger, fears, grief, traumas, blame, guilt, resentments or other emotional pain, the body becomes stressed.

Stress can eventually show up physically in the form of pain and dis-ease. The medical community is increasingly telling us that in order to improve conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux and more (!), that we need to reduce stress.

EFT is a tool to help you get to the root cause of whatever is bothering you. EFT works at 2 levels:

  1. EFT provides immediate relief so you can feel better in minutes
  2. More importantly, EFT also works deeper to help release and heal the root cause of the problem

Learning EFT

There are plenty of resources on the web (including my website   www.wellnesscounselingmilwaukee.com/eft) where you can learn more about EFT and the basic EFT tapping technique. Even the most “basic recipe” for EFT is helpful! Additionally, I can recommend any of Gary Craig’s books. He’s the creator and founder of EFT. (Check out the selection at Small Stones in Brookfield.) You can also see lots of tapping on YouTube, or come to one of my EFT workshops.

Tapping the karate chop point
But EFT is more of an “art” than a science.

To learn the art of applying EFT for yourself, it’s best to work with an EFT practitioner (like me) one-on-one. You’ll not only learn the nuts and bolts of the tapping process (the “science of EFT”), but more importantly you’ll learn how to most powerfully customize EFT to help you resolve your particular issues (the “art of EFT”). After working together for a few sessions, you’ll have what it takes to continue clearing issues on your own.

EFT: Try it on everything!

 

Here’s Exactly What You ‘Should’ Do

You really should pay attention to what I’m going to tell you next.

You should be able to understand it easily, and you should start practicing it immediately.

You really should…. Shouldn’t you???

My message to you: You really should stop “should-ing” on yourself!

Imposing “should statements” on yourself is stress-inducing and guaranteed to keep you anxious, tense, and feeling bad about yourself. Should statements lower self-esteem and self-confidence. By shoulding on yourself, you constantly remind yourself of all the ways that you are falling short…

  • I should be totally self-reliant.
  • I should be able to do it right.
  • I should have done a better job.
  • I should make more money.

Black and White Thinking

Shoulblackwhite-stencild statements are rigidly focused on how you think things ought to be, rather than focused on the reality of how things are.

Shoulds are often laced with extreme “all-or-nothing thinking,” which makes success difficult, if not impossible, leaving you with the extreme opposite: failure.

Therefore, shoulding on yourself is often a setup for feeling guilty, wrong or not good enough… 

  • I should exercise every day and always eat right.
  • I should never get tired or sick.
  • I should never make mistakes.
  • I should always know the right thing to do.

Shoulding on Others

When you direct should statements at other people, you are guaranteed to feel angry and frustrated since others will invariably do things you don’t think they “should” do… 
  • They should act their age.
  • He should stop making me so angry.
  • She should wear nicer clothes.

Shoulds Represent Rigid Thinking

When you rely on “should statements,” you tend to have rigid rules or standards (mostly set by yourself), that always need to be followed. It’s difficult to see flexibility in various circumstances, and trying to live up to these self-imposed expectations adds considerable stress to life. Each time you have a should thought, you add a small weight to your shoulders.
 

Shoulds are Perfectionistic

Shoulding on yourself is an example of perfectionist thinking. Perfectionism is an irrational belief that everything must be perfect. Why is this irrational? Can anything in life really be perfect? Do we all agree on the definition of perfect anyway? Perfectionistic thinking is a setup for disappointment. It can also lead you to the belief that “life is difficult.” After all, with the weight of all kinds of “shoulds” on your shoulders, life would be difficult!
 

How to Shift Your Shoulds  should-dreamstime_xs_45710292

1. Catch Yourself In the Act. First, notice how often you (and others) use should statements. You have to really listen for it. 

2. Write Down Your “Shoulds.” As you become aware of times you should on yourself, write them down. Review each one and write down how it feels when you think each of those should thoughts. Restrictive or Expansive? Closed or Open? Negative or Positive? When you think that thought, how do you feel: Mad, Sad, Glad or Scared?

3. Question: What am I really telling myself when I should on myself? Do I really want to do this to myself? Do I really want to stay upset?

4. Switch your language. Try substituting COULD. This demonstrates that you and others have choices and options, which is more empowering and less judgemental. [I could make more money. She could wear nicer clothes. I could exercise every day.] This will work for some of your shoulds.

5. Turn it around. Write down alternative counterstatements to the should thoughts. Find something more rational, positive, flexible, or self-supportive. [I could be totally self-reliant but that’s not really necessary because there are plenty of people who would help me out. I did my best in that situation and I learned a few things as well. It’s OK to make mistakes because I’m human like everyone else.]

6. It’s OK to accept who you are. What if you let go of what you “should do” and how you “should be” and simply allowed yourself to be who you are today? You’re OK. In fact, you’re magnificent. You just have to allow yourself to see it that way.

Need a little more clarity?  Check this out…

 

For Couples Only: Tantric Intimacy

Do you want to feel closer to your partner? Want to rediscover and expand the magic and romance? How about more of that special, snuggly, affectionate connection? Most couples I know would answer “YES!” However, many couples are challenged with finding time to reconnect intimately. We can get caught up in all the day-to-day “busy-ness.” And we somehow forget that deepening the intimacy in our relationship can be a continual evolution and expansion.

Intimacy implies having a close, familiar, affectionate or loving personal relationship. We sometimes confuse intimacy with sexual connection by using the phrase “being intimate with” to refer to sexual activity. True intimacy means so much more.

In-To-Me-See
I prefer to see Intimacy as “In-to-me-see.” Looking at the concept this way implies a closeness that comes from such deep caring and trust that we could allow ourselves to be truly seen by our partners as who we really are…all beauty and all warts, all strengths and all vulnerabilities. And what a delight and celebration for our partners to honor us by allowing us “In” to see who they really are. This is a real heart-to-heart connection, with respect, love, trust, and a sense of understanding and being understood. Intimacy.

Tantra
There are many paths to greater intimacy. One of these is Tantra. Many have heard of “tantric sex” which can be one aspect of Tantra, but the practice of Tantra is so much more. Tantra is an age old Eastern spiritual practice requiring no belief or faith, but rather an openness to our embodied experiences (i.e. our experience as human beings in human bodies in the present moment). It is a personalized path which allows for the duality of being human, and at the same time, being part of a Divine energy.

Tantric intimacy is not the same as tantric sex. Western views of sexuality typically focus solely on the physical body experience. Tantra adds much more by including emotion, sensuality and “spirit,” all as part of intimate relationships. Truth and authenticity are central to Tantra. By inviting us to be completely authentic with our partners, Tantra can open the door to improved communication, understanding and compassion in our relationship. All of this increases intimacy and can add a deeper dimension to your relationship.

Energy and Our Senseschakras
To apply some of the tantric wisdom to our Western relationships, we need to be somewhat open to the experience of subtle energies within our human bodies. We all have energy flowing within and around us, and there are also energies flowing between two people in relationship. Tantra invites us to realize our own divinity by attuning to our natural energies. Such energies are usually brought into our conscious awareness through our human senses: Breath, Movement, Sound, Visualization and Touch.

Thus, practicing “sensate focus” (deliberate and conscious focus on your physical body senses; being “sensual”) is one way of connecting more intimately with your partner. Sensate focus requires taking time to notice what you sense when you hear your partner, see your partner, touch your partner.

Try This…

Just sit silently with your partner for 10 minutes, holding hands, noticing what you sense and feel. If you feel uncomfortable or silly after some time, just notice your discomfort and then breathe and keep sitting with your partcouplehappy-stencilner. We’re not used to slowing down and sensing like that. Just BE with your partner. Notice how your hands feel. Notice how your partner’s hands feel. Notice what else you sense in your body. Notice your breath. Silently send loving thoughts and energy from your heart to your partner’s heart. Recall a fond memory of a loving time you and your partner shared. Take turns touching and exploring each other’s hand, noticing what your partner’s hand feels like…the skin, the fingernails, the knuckles, the curves, the lines on the palm of the hand. Notice how it feels when your partner touches your hand. Remember what it’s like to look deeply into your partner’s eyes. What do you feel and sense? This is tapping into tantric wisdom on the way to creating greater intimacy and “In-to-me-see.”