Handling your stress? Or is it handling you? Part I

By Dr GaryCA Latest Activity November 3, 2010 at 7:46 am Views 4,608 Replies 15 Likes 4

Dr Gary

Hi!

I had the privilege this week of talking with a neurologist who has a large number of MS patients in his practice. When I asked him how I could reach out to the MS community, he said to me: “Tell them how important it is to manage their stress levels, and give them some ideas of how to do it.”

As you probably know, constant stress can affect us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Who needs that? So… what are you doing about your stress?

Have you tried using relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation?

You’re probably asking: “Don’t we have to get out of our minds, or at least the jumble of thoughts and feelings that we all carry with us, if we are going to have any peace? I can’t sneak away and pretzel-ize myself into a lotus position!” Actually, the benefit of meditation is to learn to be with – and not avoid – what goes on inside our minds as well as what goes on around us, and to be more aware of what’s important.

Meditation actually helps you to calm the inner clutter in your mind – fear, anger, jealousy – so that you can participate more fully in life, with compassion and understanding. With meditation, you train the mind to stop reacting. That can make all the difference in a moment of stress.

Start with a Body Scan. When you find yourself about to become overwhelmed do a mental scan to see what parts of your body you are clenching, like your fists or your jaw. Relax those muscles. This will send a message to your brain that you aren’t mobilizing for a battle and, chances are, you’ll feel some relief. If you can, try to step away for a moment.

Watch Your Breath. Literally. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, start out by simply watching your breath. Soon, you’ll notice yourself breathing more slowly, calmly, and deeply. Count your breaths from one to ten. Then backwards. Then start again.

Don’t Fight Your Noisy Mind. Our minds never stop their activity. Don’t fight yourself! Let’s say you have a memory of something that happened during the day. Don’t push it away, but instead say something like: “Yeah, that guy really got in my way. One (breath in, breath out on each count). Two. Yep, I’m annoyed. Three. Four. I can’t control anyone else’s behavior. Five. Six. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Life is good.”

Your mind may still be bang-banging for action. If you have to return to the source of the stress, remind yourself that you can be in the chaos but you still don’t have to be part of it. Tell your mind to quiet down. After all, meditation is a discipline.

Try the Three Minute Smile. Even in the middle of a crazy day, you can take a minute or so to take a mental vacation. Mentally leave the moment to hit the beach to feel the warm sun and smile at the friends you brought with you. And then hold that smile when you return to the real world.

Wake Up! Learn to relax when that urge to control takes over, and you’ll find that there is more to you, and the world, than you ever imagined. You may even feel as if you’ve been sleepwalking.

How are you handling your stress? Any ideas to share? Any questions or frustrations that we can help you with? Feel free to chime in!

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Replies (15 replies)

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  • oldbuttercup
    oldbuttercup May 20, 2011 at 6:58 am   

    I feel better about myself when I feel I have been helpful to others in even in a small way.
    I've been more nervous lately about my doctors appointments and results so far.
    Only a few more days until the MS clinic, then maybe I will sleep better.
    If I don't find something else to worry about.
    I have difficulty turning the world off.
    I feel if I take too much time to relax I will not do something I should have done, and that I will anger my wife, more than I already do. I already don't do enough.
    I do find it easy to tell others to relax, just not easy to folow my own advice.

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA May 16, 2012 at 11:31 am   

    HI,

    I know you posted this awhile back. It is always great to hear from you.

    How are you doing? How is everything in your life?

    It would be great to be back in touch.

    Gary

  • oldbuttercup
    oldbuttercup May 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm   

    I took time to read my previous post and thought about what has changed since then. Well how much time do you have to read lol? Since then I have found new troubles to stress about. My wife and I have been fighting with our home insurance company since our fire in late April. Thank God no one was hurt, only my pride because I needed help getting down the steps of our house, and that certainly did not help my confidence level. i still feel I am a big burden to my family.
    In other news my wife and are even more stressed over our daughter's up comming Wedding in June.
    All that aside enough about me how have you been?
    P.S. doctors appointments on the horizon and more fights with the health insurance company lol

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA May 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm   

    Hi oldbuttercup,

    So GREAT to hear from you. It has been way too long!

    I am really sorry to hear about your fire. That is stress that you didn't need.

    I do a little lecture on stress that I sometimes give to groups. I use the example of going to a wedding. Basically I say that when you are a friend of the family and all you have to do is show up, smile, and eat, a wedding is a very fun and low stress event. But, try being the parents of the bride, and see how stressful a wedding can be. I guess you are on the stress side this time around. It must be taking a toll.

    I am sorry that your feeling of being a burden continues. I really am. You are such a great guy. You must be a joy to your family.

    I am glad to be back in touch with you. I hope that we can stay in touch better. I certainly want to be a support for you, even from afar, as you face the next few months.

    I hope you have a nice weekend!

    Gary

  • oldbuttercup
    oldbuttercup May 21, 2012 at 11:20 am   

    I don't know if people tell you often enough that you are truely a wonderful person. thank you for your wonderful and supportive reply. i hope the week ahead is great for you also. I'll keep in touch over the next few weeks to tell you how the wedding turns out.

  • aclover2010
    aclover2010 May 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm   

    HI GARY…I USE GOING TO CHURCH AND BEING THERE AS MY MEDITATION…WHEN I AM THERE I DONT THINK ABOUT MY MS AND SOMEHOW MOST OF THE TIME I DONT HURT AS MUCH. I USED TO DO THINGS
    TO GET MY MIND OFF THE PAIN BUT NOW I CANNOT ..SO I HAVE BEGUN TO READ AGAIN AND THIS IS HELPING ME. ..AND SOMETIMES THE ONLY THING I CAN DO IS REACH OUT TO SOMEONE AND CALL A GOOD FRIEND. I KNOW THEY WILL GIVE ME THE PIECE OF ENCOURAGEMENT I NEED. THANKS DR. GARY. I ALSO USE SMILING EVEN WHEN I DONT FEEL LIKE IT..IT REALLY WORKS…THANKS, ANNA

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA May 16, 2012 at 11:30 am   

    Hi!

    I obviously missed this reply. So sorry.

    Having a spiritual practice that you can be a part of can add a lot of meaning to your life, and help you to look beyond the day to day experiences, and the day to day challenges. It's like looking upward instead of downward.

    And support is so important.

    Thank you. Hope you are having a good week,

    Gary

  • CaliKo
    CaliKo February 8, 2011 at 11:35 am   

    I'm one of those lucky people that fall asleep in under 5 minutes most nights. But when my mind is keeping me awake, I try some of these suggestions and it helps me fall asleep. Thanks Dr. Gary

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA February 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm   

    Wow, you are very fortunate! I am just the opposite. Quieting my noisy mind is a constant challenge.

  • Happily Blessed
    Happily Blessed December 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm   

    I am really gonna have to try this. I keep telling myself I need to do some meditation because I hear people say it works. My boss has MS and she says it works too as well as her yoga classes. I have a really hard time staying focused at work and tend to don't really do my work until around 3pm like now it's 2:46pm here in WA. I get my job done but it just takes me forever. I start work at 7am and end at 5:30pm.

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA December 2, 2010 at 10:14 pm   

    HI!

    I'm always looking forward to hearing from people on Multiple Sclerosis Connect. I'm really hoping that my stress reduction techniques might be helpful.

    Wow, you do start work early and work a long day. I am not a morning person, so I am in total awe! But I am sure it takes it's toll on your energy.

    Yoga and meditation are both great tools for keeping stress under control. can you take a short five minute break during the day to meditate, maybe during lunch, or a short break in the afternoon? It can actually help to get focused, not just put you to sleep.

    You might want to meditate with your eyes open. That's what I do. I come from a long line of people who like to doze off from time to time. I have my eyes slightly open, like half way, and look down. That helps me to keep from dozing. I use meditation to help me cope with my world as it exists, not to go into dreamland. So this might help you.

    Please let me posted on your progress! And thanks for checking in!

  • jefff
    jefff November 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm   

    I can't believe it, but it works! Meditation was always one of those words that had too many interpretations, so I felt a little confused, but by applying what you've broken out in your discussion header, it works. The most impressive aspect to your body scanning technique is that it's applicable at work, school, watching tv, sitting in church or anywhere…Thanks again Dr Gary!

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA November 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm   

    Hi Jeff,

    Great to hear that this is working for you! Fantastic. Even just a few minutes a day can make such a difference. What I found personally helpful was finally learning that this was meant to help me to relax, but also to sit with my life as it is, and that I didn't have to reach some kind of altered state of awareness (which often leads to dozing off). Meditation is about sitting with your life and not fighting it, relaxing through acceptance. When you accept, then the pathway toward what you can do to help yourself also becomes clearer.

    Thank again! I hope you have had a good week!

  • Jeanette Terry
    Jeanette Terry November 5, 2010 at 12:58 pm   
    Edited November 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm by Jeanette Terry

    I love the body scan! I really do feel some relief when I focus on which part of my body feels the most tension and then consciously relax those muscles. It's not a cure all that is for sure, but it often stops those muscles before they get too tight.

  • Dr Gary
    Dr GaryCA November 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm   

    Hey! Thanks for following up. It really does work to intentionally relax a part of your body. I agree, not a cure, but it can be a way of proactively preventing clutching and tightening and the overall emotional and physical experience of stress. But it does require some planning and discipline to take a break and use a preventive measure. We humans get caught up in what we are doing at the moment, and taking a few minutes to calm ourselves down gets pushed aside and postponed for later.