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According to the American Psychological Association, stress in America is on the rise. In 2010, 73% of parents surveyed reported family “responsibilities” to be the number one reason for stress in their lives.

Thirty-two percent of parents reported their individual stress to be extreme and rated their stress level an eight on a scale of one to ten. Yet, in spite of the all this self-awareness, only 32% of parents surveyed reported that they are actually doing a good job of managing their stress.

Your body is unable to recognize the difference between physical and psychological stress triggers. When you experience stress due to busy schedules and increased responsibilities, your body will react in the same way that it will if you experience stress because of a perceived threat.

A balanced amount of stress can help keep you going and keep you motivated, however, chronic stress can lead to many serious health problems. Long-term and chronic stress can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process (yikes!).

Long-term stress leaves you more vulnerable to experience clinical depression, chronic generalized anxiety, less patience, and increased irritability. Long- term stress will make your body ache in almost all areas, especially in your neck and back. Long-term stress can disrupt your sleeping patterns, leaving you fatigued and exhausted, which will eventually lead to increased levels of stress.

Chronic stress may also lead us to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as increased use of alcohol and improper use of prescription medication. Unhealthy behaviors such as these are dangerous and can cause serious health problems as well as damage our relationships with others.

Stress is experienced differently by every one of us. This means that what is perceived as stressful for one person may not necessarily lead to stress in another person. It is important that you understand your personal limits and triggers to stress so that you can master the art of managing your stress.

If you are able to understand your limits and recognize your triggers you may be more successful at managing your stress during periods of increased stress.

It is not uncommon to have increased stress when experiencing times of increased responsibilities, like during the holidays, when there’s a death or serious illness in the family, or when you’re under a deadline at work. In times of increased stress it is essential that people take some time out of their day to do something for themselves that will help reduce and manage their experienced stress.
 
I often hear my clients tell me “I don’t have time”. My response is simple: “Make the time”. When you stop taking care of yourself, you are putting yourself at risk for experiencing the above mentioned symptoms and personal suffering. Try to appreciate and value yourself enough to schedule one or two self-care behaviors into your daily routine.

Here are a few ideas that may help you decrease your stress. Consider incorporating them into your daily routine to help manage stress levels throughout the year. 

  1. Listen to a relaxation exercise or meditate. Not only will you feel relaxed while doing it, but most people also experience a sense of calm that lasts for hours afterwards.
  2. Exercise or yoga are great for reducing stress, even if it is only for 15 minutes a day.
  3. Take little breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries. Five or ten minutes every other hour is all it takes. 
  4. Remind yourself of what it is you are grateful for and refocus your mind on the positive.
  5. Identify what your boundaries are and keep them intact. This will help avoid taking on too much responsibility and experiencing burn out. 
  6. Listen to music.
  7. Utilize time management skills, such as writing a daily list of things to do and delegating tasks, in order to help manage your day.
  8. Live within your financial means. Money worries are one of the causes of stress.
  9. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. 
  10. Make healthy eating choices. While this may be hard during periods of increased stress (many people overeat as a reaction to stress), keeping a balanced diet helps maintain focus and energy.
  11. Read a book or make time to engage in any pleasurable activity or hobby. Do something you enjoy or try a new hobby.
  12. Cook or bake something and share it with others. Chocolate-chip cookies can have amazing healing powers!
  13. Watch a movie
  14. Relax. Take a long, hot shower or pour yourself a bubble bath and light some candles.
  15. Give to others. A little giving, even something as simple as holding the door open for someone or letting someone go in front of you in line, will go a long way.
  16. Give yourself a pat on the back and recognize your accomplishments for the day. All of us are so good at criticizing ourselves. Try giving yourself a compliment and see if your mood changes.

While these might be good suggestions for you, they will only work if you actually use them. Try one or two per day. My hope is that it will help you feel more at ease and less stressful.

Erika Krueger, M.A.,  is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an Anger Management 818 Facilitator who specializes in addictions and anger management.

Anger gets a bad rap. It always gets blamed for those explosive outbursts you hear about in the news, road rage, post office shootings, and domestic disturbances. I wouldn’t want to be blamed for all those things. Would you? Does anger really deserve such a bad reputation? Could it be possible that anger is actually a good thing but it just gets used in the wrong way? Could it be something healthy and productive if used or channeled in helpful ways? Many people let anger get the best of them; replacing their rational thinking and leading them to do irrational things that are often violent.

Anger is held responsible for so many bad things in our society that most people now think anger is completely wrong, not allowed, and a problem if you feel any of it. Anger Management 818 provides anger management classes that help people learn about how anger operates in their lives and we help people find ways to use it more productively. As an anger management facilitator, I had one man say that he had learned helpful tools in my class but he still was getting angry and wasn’t happy about it. I had to remind him that we all get angry and it will be that way for the rest of our lives. Anger is part of our basic emotional operating system, like our computers, meaning it is a core emotion, along with fear and love. These emotions are primal to us as humans, informing us about how to live our lives and how to survive. Anger can’t be surgically removed but it can be managed and channeled in ways that benefit us and don’t cause harm to others.

In an effort to reframe the bad reputation that anger has gained, let’s understand why anger is one of our core emotions. Anger is energy. It is also a signal that tells us much about who we are and what is important to us. When we get angry, there is a biological response. Our bodies prepare for fight or flight, with perhaps a raised heartbeat, clenched fists, and tightness in the chest, all gearing up to protect ourselves and continue surviving. This worked really well when we as humans were living in caves, surviving hand to mouth, and dealing with wild animals potentially attacking us. Now in our ever so domesticated society, we still have caveman aspects to our brains but don’t have those life threatening scenarios on a daily basis. When our bodies respond so strongly, it’s easy to let that build-up of energy (anger) come rushing out of us, by punching someone or verbally slaughtering another, only to have law enforcement get involved and potentially go to jail, get written up at work, and get court ordered to attend anger management classes. 

So, before anger gets the best of you, let’s look at ways to better handle it. Anger is best managed by being proactive. This is a very, very important concept in anger management. Being proactive includes having a higher self-awareness that puts you in touch with your own feelings and emotions on a minute by minute basis. Part of this includes beginning to recognize all the emotions that lie underneath your immediate anger response. Anger is a secondary reaction to primary emotions such as fear, sadness, and frustration.

Additionally, being proactive includes using four basic concepts– knowing how your anger works and your anger triggers, using assertive communication, exercising genuine empathy for others, and managing stress in your life. Noticing the small beginnings of internal anger allows you to diffuse it sooner, instead of letting it build up and eventually explode. It is much harder to manage and dissipate explosive anger than addressing the initial feelings of it early on.

It also helps to identify and recognize how anger has operated in your life, how it has affected yourself and others, and what building blocks are included in leading up to your own anger responses.

Looking at how you communicate with others helps in identifying how changes can be made. Four basic communication styles are commonly used – passive, aggressive, passive/aggressive, and assertive. Recognizing which you use most often can help you begin moving from unproductive ways of communicating to more productive, open, and healthy styles of communication. This is best accomplished by using assertive communication which includes clearly stating your needs, being respectful of the other person’s opinion, and using ‘I’ statements. Speaking from the position of ‘I’ keeps the perspective coming from your own experience instead of starting sentences with ‘you’, which can feel attacking to the other person and lead to defensiveness. Using assertive communication will lead to clearer expression, new solutions, and helpful compromises.

Empathy is another important part of anger management. Using empathy starts with recognizing that most of the time, none of us really know what’s going on with the other person and the dangers of assuming we know how, what or why someone has done or said something. By identifying how each of us would like to be treated in many scenarios, a different approach to understanding others emerges, leading to less reactionary responses. One approach to using more empathy includes taking a 5 to 10 second pause before reacting and responding to someone. This pause allows you to imagine what it might be like to be in the other person’s shoes and respond with that perspective in mind.

Lastly, recognizing how stress builds up in your life and how it affects your own feelings and behaviors helps in managing many of your reactive responses. Some of the ways for one person to manage stress might not be the best way for another person, so it’s ideal that you find specific approaches that work for you. When one of my clients was getting upset and could feel some aggression coming up, he got down on the floor and did as many push-ups as he could, until he was exhausted. Afterwards, his body felt different, less explosive, and his head was clearer, making it easier to focus on the situation at hand. He told his wife he would be doing this from time to time and she learned to support him doing it, even in the middle of an argument. By do so, their communication was more successful and both of them were less aggressive.

These are some of the basic ideas behind anger management. They are the building blocks to healthier ways to live with anger, rather than letting reactionary emotions get out of hand. Using these approaches can be very helpful and healing. By implementing these tools, we are finding people in the world who are more self-aware and less likely to have those angry explosions that we hear about in the news, on the road, and in the post office.     

Molly Lyda, MA, MFT Intern, is an Anger Management Facilitator with Anger Management 818. For more information on anger management, go to angermanagement818.com.