Healthy Pittsfield: Mastering stress, anxiety

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According to the majority of Americans, the major causes of stress are the worry about money and work. As with most stressors, they represent the tip of a deeper iceberg of hidden reasons.

What hundreds of people in my workshops have revealed to me is they feel stressed trying to keep others happy. Mothers try to keep their families happy even when sick or rundown. Teachers try to keep their administrators happy even if they don't agree with the ways schools are run. Employees try to keep their bosses happy even if they are overburdened and disrespected. Children try to keep their parents happy even if it means they become anxious, sad or depressed.

Why is trying to keep others happy so stressful?

The answer lies in trying to live up to others' expectations. When trying to live up to other people's expectations you can forget to take care of yourself. You start to lose touch with your deeper needs, feelings and even gifts. Your gifts are what you are born with and those qualities that attract others to you. When you express your gifts you feel happy for no reason and others see you as natural and authentic. The more you express your gifts your needs start to fall away and your self-esteem grows.

However when you always try to keep others happy, you can start to feel uncomfortable and doubt yourself because you become dependent on what others think about you in order to feel good about yourself. This means you give control of your self-worth over to others and makes you susceptible to negative thoughts about yourself. Giving control of your self-worth over to others creates tremendous tension and anxiety.

So how do you manage negative thoughts and stress when it arises? Many turn to substance or habit abuse. Drugs, alcohol, over eating, smoking, gambling and gaming to name a few. These habits can give tremendous relief from stress at first, but over time they take a terrible toll on your health and happiness.

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Many diseases are rooted in these kind of abusive habits, such as diabetes, heart attack, cancer and mental illness. Unfortunately these habits are not easy to manage or hide from loved ones. In the end, they take their toll on families, friends and the community.

The three steps in managing stress are: Discern, Learn, Master.

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Discern: Figure out what causes your negative thoughts and stress. Then decide what you can and cannot control. The most powerful thing in your control is where you put your attention. Where you put your attention will determine your levels of stress and happiness.

Learn: Teach yourself about the dangers of stress. Find out what stress is doing to your body, mind and relationships. Without managing high levels of stress over long periods of time it generates toxic chemicals into your blood stream. These chemicals increase heart-rate, raise blood pressure, disrupt the mind's ability to think clearly and cause chronic diseases. Stress is arguably the biggest cause of mental illness, lost sick days at work and poor productivity. Prolonged stress has been linked to PTSD, ADD and ADHD.

Master: Managing stress is an exercise of mastery over your mind. Stressful situations arise all the time and there is nothing you can do about it. However, stress only becomes dangerous when you keep thinking about negative things that happened in the past or may happen in the future.

Meditation is arguably the most effective way to manage your thoughts. Meditation is the practice of letting all thoughts be equal so you can put your attention on other things, such as breathing, sounds, feelings, etc.

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Other actions you can take include walking, getting outside, listening to calming music, exercise, eating good food, being in nature, spending time around people who make you feel good about yourself. The more choices you give yourself the more ways you can nourish yourself and find your way home.

If you are interested in walking with others on a regular basis, contact Healthy Pittsfield for a schedule of local walking groups or for assistance starting a walking group.

Lawrence Carroll is the Educational Consultant and Peak Performance Life Coach, Healthy Pittsfield Partner.

This column appears in the Lifestyles section the second Sunday of each month. The Healthy Pittsfield Partnership is coordinated by the Pittsfield Health Department and Board of Health. Partners include community residents, business leaders, health and human service professionals, city officials and health advocates. The partnership is committed to community based initiatives that will improve the health and quality of life of Pittsfield's residents and workforce.

For more information, visit inspections/healthypittsfield.


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