Polly Campbell

Polly Campbell

Imperfect Spirituality

Managing Everyday Stressors Is Key to Health and Longevity

Three ways to ease stress in the middle of the moment

Posted Sep 22, 2014

One of the third grade girls doesn’t want to play with my daughter at recess. I’m not sure what to cook for dinner tonight – right now peanut butter sandwiches are a real possibility because it’s about all I have in the house – but then does this make me a bad mother? I need to wash the reds so that my daughter’s soccer uniform is ready for the weekend game, my husband has a late, will-miss-dinner meeting and the check engine light just went on. Oh, and I see I’ve just been summoned for jury duty.

Any one of these hassles – so common to the daily routine -- can ratchet up the stress. And, how we react and cope with that has a big-time impact on how happy and healthy we feel and how long we live.

Research Shows Daily Stress is the Worst

Stress morphs into many forms and consistently high stress levels just plain wear our out our brains and bodies priming us for a host of health risks. But it isn’t necessarily the big stuff like job loss, divorce, or death that places the greatest demand. It’s the little daily hassles like job pressures, relationship conflicts, commuting issues, and other common and routine burdens that may have the biggest impact on our longevity, according to new research out of Oregon State University.

Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, and her team, looked at the stressful life events and everyday hassles for nearly 1,300 older men.

Those who identified few everyday hassles had the lowest mortality rate. Nearly half of the men who said they had a mid-range number of hassles had died by the end of the study. But of the men who reported a high number of everyday stressors, 64-percent died.

The study seems to indicate, that while some stress is unavoidable, how you react to those stressors has a big impact on how well and long you live.

“It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them begin a big deal that causes problems,” Aldwin said. “Taking things in stride may protect you.”

Perception of Stress

On my best days, I see the kind of routine annoyances like the jury duty, and the third-grade meanie, and a family subsisting on peanut butter, not as stressful, but as part of a grander, life experience. I’ll laugh or shake my head and move on. On my best days. Sometimes, though, any little thing gets under my skin and stresses me out.

On those days, perspective is everything and I rely on three primary stress-busting strategies to keep me grounded and sane.

Three of My Stress-Busting Favorites

Why are these my faves? Because I can do them in the middle of an 8-year-old’s meltdown over hair bands, while stuck in traffic, or when facing a work deadline. They work anywhere. They are free, easy-peasy and immediately help you move from the stressful mindset of what-isn’t-working to the focused mindset of what is.

Acting stressed is time consuming. It’s energy depleting. And sometimes leaves me feeling mentally muddled and overwhelmed. I just don’t have time for that. So, I’m a fan of anything that promotes calm and clarity. Here are four things that do.

1. Breathe. Simple, but effective. Take at least five deep slow breaths from your diaphragm. See your belly moving in and out and you are doing this right. This simple act changes your physiology and also your focus. It takes intention and attention to breathe this way and when you do it, you slip out of the cycle of rumination and worry.

2. Accept. Much of our stress comes from worrying about what might happen, or wishing away what has happened. I wish I was thinner. I wish I my hair wasn’t turning gray. What if the car conks out on the freeway? What if I run out of peanut butter? Then we move on to bigger and better worries – what if I have cancer? What if I lose the job? When we do this, we are stuck in a worried imagination instead of dealing with reality. Wishing and what-iffing do not change what is, but they do keep us stuck in the ick.

Acceptance is the antidote. It roots us in the moment and takes the drama out of the situation. Simply notice the moment, without judgment. “I’ve been summoned to jury duty” feels easier to cope with than, “what if jury duty means I’m late picking up my daughter after school?”  When you can find acceptance in the moment, you also have greater clarity and insight as to how to deal with the situation in the next moment. Before you stress out, then, you’ve got a solution to the trouble you might still be what-iffing over. This is a healthier, more empowering, less stressful way to live.

3. Reframe. Take a different view of the world. Sometimes this is as simple as sitting in a different chair in the room. You see the room from a whole new perspective and it changes how you think.

Often, when we are under fire or stressed out we take a narrow view of the stressful circumstance. Instead, take a broader perspective. View the situation from all sides and pick the one with the best scenery. Things are rarely black and white. There are many true and accurate ways to look at any one situation. Choose the one that helps you cope better with the situation. For example, a job loss can be awful, stressful, devastating or it can give you the extra time you need to pursue your passion or find your dream job.

Life is filled with stressful moments to be sure, but how you react to them will determine how well you live and maybe even how long.

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