Posts Tagged ‘balance’

Just Breathe…

September 8, 2010

WHY is this concept so difficult for me?!  Just 2 weeks ago I re-entered the student world, beginning a PhD at Auburn.  Somehow, in the last 5 years of working fulltime, I had forgotten how chaotic and busy life can feel as a student!  My husband has watched me change from a relatively calm wife, cooking dinners and cleaning house regularly, drinking sweet tea on the porch and relaxing in the evenings, to a frantic, crazed woman in just a few short weeks. 

As a counselor, I am well-aware of our critical need to manage anxiety.  In fact, anxiety and a fast pace of life are related to health problems and certainly to relationship difficulties.  According to WebMD, prolonged stress can affect:

  • Muscles (soreness, arthritis)
  • Heart (blood pressure, hardening of arteries and even heart attacks)
  • Immune System (reduced ability to fight off minor sicknesses and even some diseases)
  • Stomach (stomach aches, IBS, ulcers)
  • Reproductive system (even some infertility issues are related to stress)
  • Skin (acne, psoriasis)

Research also relates anxiety to higher levels of depression, stress in intimate relationships, and impatience in parenting.  So since we all know that anxiety affects our bodies and our relationships, why do we resist slowing ourselves down?!

Do you want to know a secret?!  The simplest and most profound lesson I have learned in the last several years as a counselor, wife, researcher and now student is to STOP and BREATHE.  There it is.  Seriously this is where it starts.  It is truly amazing what happens to your body and mind when you allow yourself to pause for even 1 minute to breathe.  Breathing is proven to be one of the first and foremost tools in calming anxiety.

Here’s a scene: I wake up at 5:15am in order to finish dishes from last night’s supper, begin laundry, make my grocery list, read those 2 articles that I have to report on in class at 8am…my mind and heart begin to race; I’m already panicking that I don’t have enough time; I give a curt, irritated goodbye to my husband as he leaves for work…and THEN I remember to just stop and sit on the couch for one minute.  I close my eyes, place my hands in my lap, and allow my breaths to begin to slow down.  I notice how my lungs feel as they expand and contract; I allow my mind to wander but don’t cling to any specific thoughts;  I feel the tension in my back slowly releasing.  When I open my eyes just seconds later, I already feel a clarity and calm that certainly were not present before.  My day has already taken a turn, in that one simple moment! (Note: It may also be a good idea to apologize to your husband at this moment!)

What simple anxiety-reducing technique works for you?  Is it difficult for you to allow yourself a break in the day to be calm and breathe?

Kim Gregson, LMFT, M.S.

“Is It Really THAT Serious???”

October 20, 2009

I just started graduate school (if 2 months classifies as “just”) and I’m thrilled. I find myself surrounded by intelligent people but when I sit back and look around (like I often do), I get worried. Some of my peers are so stressed out just watching them gets my heart thumping. Then I ask myself, “is it just me or are things just not that serious???”

Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of things seriously. For examples: my next meal, my future, and my shoes. However, I don’t take some things like school so seriously that when it comes time to worry about life’s necessities, I have no energy left. Listen, I understand that graduate school is really important and can be  REALLY stressful and I know the immense pleasure doing well at work can give a person. Call me crazy but I think having great relationships (family, friends, and “more than friends” included) and being healthy are things that could trump those any day of the week.

I’m not crazy. Research has shown that increased and sustained levels of stress can deteriorate your health (I don’t know about you but I want to live for a while… like to see my grandchildren). People who experience more stress or anxiety tend to be more susceptible to infections and may have an increased risk of coronary heart disease. For us normies, this means stressing out or getting worked up over too many things could have us getting sick more often and spending more time/money on hospitals and pharmacies. It’s a recession people. This also means that fussing could help our heart go kaput. I’m exaggerating… but I wouldn’t risk it.

Now to the main event: relationships. What does stressing out about school and work have to do with the people at home? Research has been very intuitive about this. I mean, think about it — if you are feeling stressed, overworked, or stretched to your limit, what kind of energy would you be giving off to others? Our poor loved ones get us at the end of our busy days and have to hear us snipe about this and that. What about those days when you displace your emotions? Meaning, you’re angry about all the work your boss gave you to do, then you come home and yell at your partner/children/mom for nothing at all! All this can not be helping your relationships. In fact, you are probably pushing the ones you care about away!

Now, I wouldn’t say all this without giving you a way to get some stress relief. Here are a couple of links to a great site run by my alma mater, UT Austin (Hook ‘Em!):

The first has great tips on stress management and more resources on this topic. This site is a little specific to the Austin area, so find resources near you! The second allows you to listen to audio relaxation tracks. This way you can relax anywhere then give off positive energy to your oh-so-important relationships!

So, the take-home message: the next time you find your shoulders by your ears and your heart racing or you feel panicky and weighed-down by school or work ask yourself: “is it really that serious???” Chances are it’s not serious enough to risk your health or having healthy relationships.

Christiana Datubo-Brown, Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

February 16, 2009

Last week I went to pick my daughter up from her afterschool program and as usual, I was in a hurry to get home. All I could think about was how much I needed to get done and how I wished I hadn’t let things pile up and how I wanted to go to bed at a decent hour. Once my daughter was in the car, she told me that for the third time that week she hadn’t earned her behavior tickets because she had been talking to her friends. This would cause her to miss the good behavior party at school and according to her, she didn’t really care. Needless to say, hearing that didn’t improve my mood. As if things couldn’t get any worse, as I was ready to pull off from the school, I found that I was parked behind a school bus that was sitting there with its lights flashing, indicating that I could not go around. So I am ready to get home, I am not too happy about my daughter’s nonchalant attitude regarding her behavior, and I am stuck behind a school bus! After about 10 minutes of waiting, I just couldn’t stand it anymore and wondered out loud, “Why is this bus taking so long?!” My child’s response will forever be imbedded in my mind. With the tiniest voice she said, “Its Mikayla’s bus and she’s a wheelchair person and maybe it’s just taking them a long time to strap her in.” A sense of shame and guilt immediately came over me and I was literally brought to tears. Here I was focusing on myself and all that was going on in my world, not stopping to think that someone else was having a difficult time, possibly due to circumstances beyond their control. And to top it all off, I realized that a 9 year old had more patience and compassion than I did.

How often do we become so consumed by what is going on in our own little worlds that we don’t stop to think about what someone else might be going through? How often do we fail to realize that even those closest to us are just as busy as we are, yet they don’t take their frustration out on the rest of the world? In order to be a better spouse, parent, friend, significant other, etc., you have to first learn to be patient. Being patient with someone shows respect for them which goes a long way in relationships. Having patience helps you to be more relaxed around the people you care about, enabling you to have more positive interactions. After my experience last week, I have made a conscious effort at trying to be more patient and not so consumed by every little thing that comes my way. It has been a struggle but I keep reminding myself not to sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff. So if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed and impatience begins to rear its ugly little head, remember: expect the unexpected, focus on what is most important, and if you can’t do anything about what is causing you to be impatient, let it go!

Eugenia Parrett

Doctoral Student

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Finding balance: Tip the Scales in Your Favor

October 30, 2008

As a new graduate student, I find that although I still have the same 24 hours in each day I’ve always had, time seems to run out much faster than it ever did before. By the time I meet the basic daily requirements of class, studying, writing papers, and work, it seems like the day is over. Things like relaxation time, hobbies, relationships, even eating and sleeping (ok, sometimes showering) tend to fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

While we all live very different lives and our daily routines might look nothing alike, the universal search for balance unites us all. From the college student to the stay-at-home mom, we have to prioritize and sacrifice in order to meet all the demands on our time. We live in a fast-paced society that can easily trap us into neglecting our emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or other needs that can too easily fall through the cracks. Perhaps we are even deceived into thinking such needs are unimportant; we might feel guilty for wanting to devote our time to those things when we could be working more hours, studying more hours, keeping the house clean, balancing the checkbook, etc. However, a life in balance gives a peace of mind that allows us to achieve authentic happiness.

When there is an imbalance in the body, illness and disease occurs. Likewise, a lack of balance in our lives can be like a cancer that erodes our happiness and quality of life. This can often manifest itself in our families and relationships, because when we neglect ourselves we are doing our loved ones a disservice. We are unable to give them the best of ourselves. There are a few easy concepts we can use to start achieving a more balanced life, today.

First, learn when to say no. There will always be an endless supply of demands on your time, and many of them good and worthy causes. However, the point of finding balance is to give all the areas of your life the attention they need, and that means not being able to accept every request you may receive. Second, allow yourself to ask for help and rely on your network of support when needed.Third, cut out or limit things that are taking up your time but not significantly contributing to your needs or allowing you to more efficiently complete tasks. Do you really need to spend a full hour on facebook/ myspace/ your sister’s blog? Fourth, start small. Setting aside small chunks of time is better than no time at all for something that’s important to you. When beginning a task, be mindful and stay in the present, giving it your all rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by other tasks. It might seem like watching t.v. and writing a paper at the same time is a good way to mix business and pleasure, but you likely aren’t devoting enough attention to either activity to be worth the time you’re putting into it. The same goes for relationships– when you’re spending time with your significant other, remember to make it quality time and specifically focus on giving them your full attention whenever possible. Everyone wants to feel important to their loved ones.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Let us remember as we are constantly moving through life to strive to find harmony and balance in ourselves and in turn, discover we are able to devote our best selves to our significant others, families, and friends for healthier, more satisfying relationships.

Kristy Malone, Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative