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FEBRUARY: THE MONTH OF LOVE

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
~Sylvia Plath

Many people who struggle with anger often want to know how to deal with this powerful emotion, especially in moments when their anger is at its worst. They want the “magic pill” that will decrease their anger from a 10 to a 1 in 0.5 seconds. Unfortunately, that pill simply does not exist!

What does exist, however, is a simple yet powerful tool which can help greatly reduce your anger: prevention. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true! Prevention is the best medicine, and one of the best ways to prevent your anger from spiraling out of control is learning how to practice stress management.

Why stress management, you may ask? Stress is one of the biggest factors that can negatively impact your anger. Therefore, the more you learn to control your stress, the better chance you have to control your anger. In other words, when you feel calm and relaxed in the moment, it takes a lot to make you angry; on the other hand, when you feel stressed out and frazzled, it doesn’t take much at all to get you riled up!

What’s the key to managing stress, then? Catch it early!! The sooner you notice yourself feeling stressed and the sooner you take action, the more quickly you can reduce your stress and, in turn, your potential for feeling anger. In addition, the stress management techniques you utilize can be on any or all levels, including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. Choose what’s right for you, and remember….take action as soon as possible.

Call to Action!

This week, choose 2-3 stress reduction techniques that you enjoy. For example, you could try getting a massage, exercising regularly, journaling your feelings, walking in nature, getting rest, and/or breathing slowly. No matter what activities you choose, see if you can do them as soon as you notice the first sign of stress. Take action, and watch your stress melt away….

Imagine yourself hiking along a meandering dirt path with a friend on a breezy day, enjoying casual conversation as well as the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the wind upon your skin. In the midst of your serenity, your eyes briefly dart upward and ahead, and (gulp) that’s when you see it: a huge monolith, standing tall and proud, casting a giant shadow across the ground. You feel a chill run down the back of your neck, all the way down your spine, because you realize, “This is the rock I’m going to climb.”

Now, most of you reading this post are most likely not rock climbers, but I’m sure you can imagine how attempting to climb a seemingly insurmountable rock is a lot like attempting to accomplish anything in your life that seems overwhelming, stressful, and even impossible at times. As a climber of some scary rocks myself, I assure you—just about anything in life is possible, even conquerable. The trick is learning how to manage your fears and stress, which are nothing short of illusions.

Since I started rock climbing, I’ve learned 3 major lessons about how to move through stress and fear, lessons which I believe apply to every day life situations, such as: writing an essay, completing a work project, planning a vacation, or decorating your living space.

Lesson #1: Take it one step at a time. I know you’ve heard that before, and it’s become quite cliche, but seriously—literally take your goal and focus on one little itty bitty step at a time. If I kept staring at the top of the rock I was climbing, lamenting how far away I was from the end goal, I would most likely not reach the top very quickly, or not even at all. However, if I decide to only focus on the handholds and footholds right in front of me, no more than 5 feet above my head, then I’m sure to stay present with the task at hand. It is here, in the NOW, that I feel centered, focused, and relaxed, as opposed to fearful and stressed out.

Lesson #2: You can do more than you think you can. Yes, another cliche, but oh so true! When I began climbing at the gym, I would only climb pink and yellow colored routes. Why? Pinks and yellows were considered to be the easy routes, and I believe I could only climb at the easy level. Luckily, fellow climbers would often encourage me to climb a green route, a blue route, and sometimes (dare I say) even an orange! Well, guess what? I was able to climb an orange route, simply because I tried. This victory helped me realize that the seemingly unconquerable tasks are sometimes more conquerable than we think—we just have to be willing to try, even if it means making a fool of ourselves.

Lesson #3: Your biggest falls are your greatest triumphs. How can that be so? Your falls provide the greatest opportunity for learning and growth. In addition, they free you from your fear of falling (and failing). Once you experience falling, you no longer fear it, because you know what it’s like. In my own experience, I attempted to climb a route outside that was slightly beyond my capability at the time. I was scared to climb it, but I did it anyway. I climbed the first three quarters of the rock gracefully, but by the last quarter, I was feeling tired and shaky. I tried to hang on for dear life, but I couldn’t fight the inevitable, so I finally let myself fall (a good 20 feet, mind you). Surprisingly, all I could feel was a sense of exhilaration—I fell, and I didn’t die!! Not only that, but it was actually kind of fun, and I realized that falling wasn’t so bad after all. SO, when you are working toward a goal, and feel the terror of falling creeping in…remind yourself that falling itself can be its own success, as it has the potential to free your from your fear of it.

Stress and fear can be an everyday part of our lives. But, I assure you—when we take these lessons and apply them to the goals we create for ourselves, we can learn to manage our stress and our fears, and become the most empowered, strong, and centered versions of ourselves.

The holidays can be fun, yet very stressful. For many, spending time with the family is a joyous occasion. However, for some it can be very stressful and conflicting.

There are many contributing factors to stress during the holidays. These include: financial stressors, choosing the right gift, familial stressors, increases in alcohol and drug use, being reminded of lost loved ones, overeating and weight gain, being single, overcrowded shopping spaces, and preparation of end of year taxes.

Holidays can be stressful due to these many contributing factors.

Financial Stressors
Money can be tight during the holidays. Parents buy their children gifts even when they cannot afford them so that their children don’t feel left out among friends. Then there’s buying gifts for co-workers, friends, and other family members. Some people even travel to be with family, which adds to the financial stress. As you can imagine, financial stressors can become overwhelming, especially when one does not have the means.

Tip #1: Create a budget ahead of time, and try to follow it!
Tip #2: Suggest to your co-workers to have a White Elephant gift exchange.
-Suggest items from home, so you don’t have to purchase anything (e.g. books, CDs, paintings, etc).
-Suggest a spending limit that is affordable.

Stress Behind Choosing A Gift
Some people worry that the person receiving their gift will not like it. Some may even fear being judged for their choice of gift.

Tip #1: If you are worried that they may not like the gift, get something returnable.
Tip #2: If you are worried about being judged, remember that a good friendship isn’t dependant upon gifts.

Stressful Times With The Family
Though it can be a great experience reconnecting with family members and close friends, sometimes we enter situations where we see people whom we prefer to avoid. The internal conflict we may experience as to how to handle the interaction may be very stressful.

Tip: Know what is helpful for you in those circumstances. For example, you can call the person you prefer to avoid and have a conversation prior to running into them at an event.

Grief
When holidays approach, we think of our loved ones that have passed and notice feelings of discomfort that they are no longer here.
Tip #1: Talk to someone you trust about your feelings.
Tip #2: Do some journal writing to process your feelings.

Alcohol and Drug Use
It is very common to drink during gatherings. When under stress, we tend to drink and use substances. There is a high correlation with drinking and aggressive behavior which can negatively impact your relationships resulting in further stress.

Tip: Limit your drinking during the holidays. You know your limit, so abide by it.

Holiday Meals and Overeating
Being invited to one holiday meal after another can contribute to weight gain resulting in more stress. And if it is not a holiday party, it can be eating unhealthy snacks at home for comfort instead of hunger.

Tip #1: Limiting your food intake per meal can decrease the likelihood of weight gain. Even avoiding the dessert may be helpful.
Tip #2: When at home, eat mindfully. Meaning, don’t eat with distractions such as television.

Single During the Holidays
When thinking about the holidays, we not only imagine going to gatherings with loved ones, but also with a significant other. As a single person, one may dwell on the thought of not having a date for the holidays, and anxious about how to respond when asked about their love life.

Tip #1: Have a prepared response that is respectful.
Tip #2: Remember that people are asking as a way of connecting and not as a means to judge.
Tip #3: The most important relationship is the one with yourself.

Crowded Shopping Areas
It can be overwhelming to be bumped into while walking and/or waiting in long lines.

Tip #1: Go shopping at a less busier time such as opening hours.
Tip #2: Do some deep breathing or distracting techniques (such as taking reading material with you) while waiting in line.

End of Year Tax Preparation
For business owners, preparing end of year taxes can be stressful.

Tip: Put aside an hour per weekday for data entry and organizing your tax preparation.

Author: Anita Avedian, MFT
Director of Anger Management 818

For the holiday season, here are some helpful tips to manage your stress:

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, and hopefully you will feel more at ease.

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