Monday, June 6, 2016

One Thing: The Key to Dealing with Stress

Whether it's feeling as if you have no say-so in your job or being at the beck-and-call of a newborn, shuttling kids from one sports practice to the next or caring for a dependent parent, most everyone can relate to the sense of helplessness that comes with having to be on someone else's schedule. This type of stress can become overwhelming when you operate in the reactive mode that accompanies the belief that you have no control over any aspect of your own life.

I can relate.

There was that blurry six-year period of time back in the late '80s and early '90s when I was either carrying a baby inside or outside my body - sometimes simultaneously. I had three kids in three and a half years and my youngest didn't walk until he was 18-months old. Life was a whirlwind of sciatica, strollers, diapers, nursing, and sleep-deprivation (and then we got a puppy?!?!?!).

During the baby and preschool years, my husband's job required him to work overtime Monday through Thursday nights and half-days on Saturdays. His schedule was often at the mercy of regulatory deadlines and indecisive lawmakers. He doesn't even remember many of our children's early milestones...

Fast-forward to the high school years when I had a freshman, a junior, and a senior. 'Nuff said (except we got to know a few area cops and the magistrate, and our youngest began answering "why" when asked if he was the sibling of so-and-so Haddad…).

Various stages in life facilitate that sense of being out of control. Everyone else's demands often override your own, and we most likely give up our own needs as a means to maintain peace and harmony. You suppress your desires/questions/conflicts/needs and everyone is happy.


In the National Geographic documentary, "Stress: Portrait of a Killer," Stanford-based researcher Dr. Robert Sapolsky highlights the chemical reactions triggered by stress throughout the human body. Its effects are wide-spread. He has studied this topic since the 1970s. Being "stuck" in a never-ending cycle of demands creates the biggest impact. Sapolsky's determined the lower someone is in the pecking order at work for instance, the greater the likelihood of them suffering the health damaging effects of stress. Primary caregivers of severely handicapped children age more quickly than the rest of the general population (as evidenced in degeneration of telomeres). Having no say-so on a regular basis in a given situation can be very dangerous to physical health. Weakened immune systems, compromised digestion, insomnia, and irregular hormone production are other symptoms of heightened stress.

The documentary is a fascinating journal of his work and reveals one of his conclusions that at once seems so simple, yet so profound: Find one area of life to have a sense of control over and you will lessen your chances of suffering from stress-related maladies.

This area doesn't have to even be related to the things that are causing you stress.

In the case of the caregivers of severely handicapped children, they watched comedy movies and then spent time talking with each other once per week over a particular period of time and researchers discovered their telomeres began to regrow.

During my kids' high school years, the only time I could carve out for myself was at the ungodly hour of 5:00am. At first, it was excruciating to get out of bed at that time, but before too long it became my lifeline to sanity. I would write in my journal and read, slowly savoring a warm mug of coffee while watching the street outside my large living room window come alive for the day. Having a "coffee view" has become mandatory in the homes I've lived in since then.

One of my daughters - a mother to two young kids - heads out to a 6:00am yoga class most mornings during the week before caring for her own two kids, plus my other daughter's almost-two-year-old. My second daughter is a full time college student, returning to school at age 25 to study nursing, in addition to being a solo parent. She manages to fit in a workout at the gym three mornings each week at 6:00am before breakfast, school, and studying (she lives with me, so the baby isn't left alone!).

I've just started reading "The 5 A.M. Miracle: Dominate Your Day Before Breakfast," by Jeff Sanders. His contention is that people are more productive when they've gotten up with an agenda in mind. The actual time isn't the point, the idea of an agenda is.

If you are feeling as if your life is out of control, as if you have no say-so in what you do, look for one thing you can do just for you. If you've got young kids and a co-parent, try alternating mornings at the gym or yoga studio. Maybe it's a weekly (or monthly) standing date with a friend for a cup of coffee, dessert, or even a meal. Perhaps it's skipping the talking heads on TV at night to read books on topics that really interest you. It could be that you've been dreaming of learning a new craft or developing a new skill, so watch how-to videos, gather your materials and make it happen - even if it's in baby steps. If you are drawing a complete blank, consider hand writing a letter to a different person you've been wanting to reconnect with once each week. You can find the time, you just need to decide to do it (You argue you have no time? BS! The average American spends nearly 5 hours per day watching TV and more than 50 hours per month on social media - how many of us plan THAT into our day??? You really CAN find the time). Make an appointment with yourself on your calendar, complete with a pop-up reminder. Make it non-negotiable, barring some dramatic emergency.

By bringing a plan to do something for yourself into your regular routine, you may find those deadlines and demands don't get your stomach in knots like they used to. You might not snap at your SO for failing to read your mind. Sleep might begin to come more easily to you than it has in years.

What one thing can you do for YOU? I'd like to know!

Elly Haddad is a Healthy Life-Style Coordinator, combining her certifications as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and yoga instructor. She's the owner of Elemental Fit and founder of The NashWell Group, both based in Nashville, TN. She teaches at Hot Yoga Plus, Sanctuary for Yoga, The YMCA of Middle TN, and coordinates wellness programs for various private corporate clients and individuals on Music Row and throughout Nashville. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Elly is also a freelance writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the midwest and southeastern US. She can be contacted directly via email here

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