Posts Tagged ‘life stresses’

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.

Finding Your Center

April 16, 2010

“The most important part of this exercise is to make sure that your core is tight and strengthened. This technique will assist you in keeping your body balanced as you complete this plank exercise.” This is a familiar message that one of my past physical trainers would frequently tell me. The plank exercise consists of holding your body flat to the ground as you rest the pressure of your body on your forearms and tippy toes. Take a look at the following picture:

The trick to this exercise is to divert your attention from your extremities to your core, because keeping your core tight will assist you in balancing your body. For me, focusing on keeping my core tight can be very difficult due to the pressure that is exerted on my tippy toes and forearms—I have fallen often. However, it is very encouraging to learn that after continuous effort your core muscles get stronger, and it is easier to hold your body up for prolonged periods of time.
Interestingly, I think that the plank exercise is very similar to the exercises that we experience in life—especially when it comes to dealing with stress and leading a balanced life—a couple of constant challenges for a graduate student, or rather for us all regardless of a particular work/student status. Oftentimes, it is extremely easy to focus on those pressure points/stressful issues, and I have come to realize that we all have a natural tendency to focus on areas that may seem to demand our most immediate attention to stay afloat in the midst of many pressures. But once again, what I have found to be extremely encouraging is that focusing on strengthening my center helps me to remain joyful and at ease. For me, strengthening my core consists of strengthening my spiritual life and relationships with family and friends. For you, it could be a plethora of different things that help keep you grounded in life. Interestingly, there was a documentary on individuals who were 100 or older, and they shared many important nuggets of wisdom. A common thread of information that they all provided was that they led easygoing lives and avoided getting overly stressed about life occurrences. Also, researchers have found that doing simple things such as finding a quiet space for 15 minutes a day can help to reduce stress levels. So what would you consider to be your core/center? And what are some exercises that you could use to strengthen the aspects that are central to your life? After continuous effort, you may find that you will have a rock solid core that helps you stay afloat in the midst of anything. So, whenever you may feel unbalanced, it may be a good idea to ask yourself if your core is strengthened. All in all, I say cheers to a strengthened core, a balanced life, and meaningful living!
Cassandra Kirkland

Money Management & The Holiday Season

December 26, 2009

The holiday season brings forth so many wonderful things: good food, family gatherings, presents, and the list just goes on and on. Personally, the holidays,especially Christmas, is just a magical time for me and I look forward to it every year. One of my family’s traditions is to draw names for Christmas at Thanksgiving dinner. The goal of this tradition is to ensure that every person receives a gift and that everyone is able to save some money. This was especially important this year considering the economic state our country is in. So this year like every other year everyone agreed that we would stick to buying a present for the person whose name we pulled. However, this year like every other year for as long as I can remember, the rule was thrown out the window, and my mother and I spent hours and hours in shopping centers and department stores and hundreds and hundreds of dollars buying Christmas gifts for everyone in our family. After the shopping was over and our retail therapy “high” began to fade, the realization of how much money we had spent began to sink in as it does year after year.

I am sure that my family is not the first and definitely not the last to go a little overboard with the Christmas shopping and for those people who are nodding their heads in agreement you know all too well the consequences of overspending during the holidays and the stress that it can bring, especially with your spouse or signficant other. Although it is too late at this point to give you any money-saving shopping tips or advice for the holidays use this time and opportunity to discuss money management with your spouse or significant other. The Alabama Marriage Handbook provides us with several tips to help you effectively manage your money with your partner.

  1. Set aside a regular time each month to discuss money issues (i.e. your budget, planned expenses, debt-reduction plan).
  2. Talk regularly about ways to better manage your money.
  3. Use a team approach (respect each other’s differences, and work toward decisions both of you agree with).
  4. Keep each other up to date on all personal assets and debts.
  5. Discuss and come to agreements about how to use any extra money.
  6. Write short and long-range financial goals together.
  7. As you get financial goals, remember to be realistic, specific, and flexible.
  8. Remember to use positive communication skills when discussing money.

I hope that these tips help you start or improve on you and your partner’s money management skills and who knows maybe when next years’ holiday season rolls around you will be able to apply some of those tips and advice to your holiday shopping.  Happy Holidays!

Jaleesa Albadani

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

“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