5 Powerful Stress Management Tools

There are many stress management techniques. Everyone who has spent time attempting to find the best stress management technique has found that there are many ways to reduce stress. The block to success has been that it requires time and patience to develop the awareness and the skills to allow these techniques to have their maximum benefit. I want to list 5 of my favorite techniques and would encourage you to consider trying one or more of these until you find the ones that work best for you. If you have suffered from: lack of focus, high blood pressure, anxiety/panic, headaches, or sleeping problems, seriously consider learning one or more of the following techniques to minimize stress in your body and to get back in control of your life.

Many people have tried forms of Eastern Meditation to relax. These techniques have been around for thousand of years. The “Western mind” may struggle with the discipline it requires to focus your attention and to then “still” your mind. When coaching busy individuals, I do not start with these techniques, except for some of the basic breathing techniques.

What I do start with, and is #1 on my stress management list, is Autogenic Training phrases. I learned these in 1977 as part of some of my original training in stress management and biofeedback. This is the technique that I use regularly for myself. This style of stress management uses 6 basic phrases that I repeat to myself, each 3 times, and then with practice get to the level of stress management that I desire. First there is a “mood” phrase- “I am at peace with myself and fully relaxed” to get me in the mood to begin relaxation. The text for the entire exercise is available in my books with a chapter dedicated to Autogenic training in “Guide to Stress Reduction.” The six basic phrases include: “My right arm is heavy,” repeated 3 times, (then left arm, right leg, left leg, and neck and shouldes are heavy) (which is used to begin to relax skeletal muscles,) then “My right arm is warm,” slowly repeated 3 times, (then left arm, right leg, left leg, and neck and shoulders are warm) (which is used to improve blood flow and circulation into the extremities,) then “My heart beat is calm and regular,” then “My breathing is calm and regular,” then “My stomach region is warm and calm,” and finally, “My forehead is cool and calm (or smooth.” Amazing results after daily use for 8-12 weeks especially with sympathetic nervous system symptoms like: migraine headaches, high blood pressure, panic/anxiety, distress related digestive challenges, etc

My #2 relaxation favorite is progressive relaxation. There is a whole chapter about this technique in “Guide to Stress Reduction” and many other sources. There two major versions of Progressive Relaxation including an “active version” where you tighten and then release muscle groups and the second form which is the “passive version” of attending to muscles and releasing tension without tightening the muscle groups. This is great for sleeping problems, headaches, neck/shoulder pain, and back pain.

#3 is using Visualization or Imagery for stress management. This is often combined with one of my first 2 choices to deepen a relaxation practice. This involves using your imagination to see or feel or hear or even smell mentally constructed relaxation triggers. As an example, picture yourself on a mental vacation in beautiful place outdoors on a warm and peaceful day. Settle back into what ever you might imagine yourself lying on such a lounge chair or a blanket in the warm sand (or grass.) Imagine that you can feel the warmth of the sunshine or the warm breezes as the tension melts away. Perhaps you can imagine the sounds that might surround you like the sound of waves or running water or the sounds of the birds or the warm breezes. Perhaps you can imagine the smell of salt air, or of the flowers or grasses or of the woods. Imagine that you can soak up the warmth and let the tension melt away. This is fun mental relaxation that can help you to control anxiety and start the process of encouraging healing o begin.

#4 Using special breathing techniques to slow yourself down and distract yourself from stressful experiences. Start with taking 3 slow deep breaths to begin to trigger some relaxation. Then you may want to take 4 breaths by slow counting 1-4 as you inhale, then hold your breath for a count of 1-4, and then slowly exhale as you count 1-8. The counting will occupy your mind and help you to relax. A great counting relaxation at bedtime involves counting backward from 50 down to 1 but do it this way. 50,1,2,3, 49,1,2,3 48,1,2,3, 47,12,3 etc. Your mind can get bored with keeping these numbers in line and gradually drift off into a restful sleep. (key: do not rush through this counting and breathe slowly.)

#5 is using a form of biofeedback to monitor your body’s level of stress and then monitor your learning of relaxation as you “let go” of your stress. There are several forms of biofeedback which are used. EMG biofeedback measures levels of electrical activity, or muscle tension, and teaches you to relax specific muscle groups. A more inexpensive form is temperature biofeedback where you begin by taping a simple thermometer to the side of your index finger and allow yourself to relax until you feel your hands warm above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 93-95 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal and usually symbolizes relaxation of this system. The reason this works for many people is that when we are under the effects of stress we often constrict blood flow into our hands and feet as a survival response. When you can “let go” and have a vaso-dialation which increases blow flow into your extremities you are better able to “let go” of emotional stress and function at a more ideal level.

Most of these simple, but powerful, stress management techniques are described in “Guide to Stress Reduction” and at the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com. Audios are available for download as stress management products and are at the core of the 5 session online stress management course. Contact us with any questions or for stress management coaching/training.

More information and detailed stress management techniques are listed at the Stress Education Center’s webpage. Please visit and read the “articles” which may assist you.

Sleep Better Now !

18% of American adults complain to their doctors that they are tired and can not get enough “quality” sleep. Over 50% of the population has occasional problems: getting to sleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested upon awakening. Sleep medication is a best selling product. Tired workers make mistakes, get injured, and have accidents. We have a tired, maybe “sleepy” population. There are some simple but powerful things that you can do to minimize insomnia in your life.

Here is a great technique which is very relaxing. Especially useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep or you awaken during the night.

50 to 1 Countdown

As the name implies you count backward from 50 down to 1. The difference is that you count “1,2,3” between every number. So the counting goes: 50, 1,2,3, 49, 1,2,3, 48, 1,2,3, 47, 1,2,3, 46, 1,2,3,…… etc.
Your mind will be busy with these numbers and then get bored with the counting so that it will go to sleep (or back to sleep.) With an even pace this takes about 3 minutes to get down to 1, if you get that far. Some people can get to 1, but the second time through this counting they usually drift off.

This breathing/counting technique can be combined with a few simple changes that will compliment to effectiveness of this exercise.

• 1. Reduce, or better still, eliminate caffeine, even that one cup in the mourning. Many people are sensitive to caffeine, even a small amount. De-caf is an alternative.
• 2. Regular exercise will help, but not just before bedtime. Give it at least an hour, better 2, before bed.
• 3. Do not eat a big meal with 2 hours of bedtime, because this can get in the way of good sleep.
• 4. If all else fails, consider getting, and using, a guided relaxation on CD to help you to relax and to fall asleep. You will also benefit from a better quality of sleep.Try this. It can really work well for you.Please take good care of yourself.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training. www.dstress.com

Please visit the Stress Education Center’s website for articles, free ezine signup, and learn about the new telecourses that are available. If you would like information or a targeted proposal for training or coaching, please contact us at (360) 593-3833.

Caffeine Cause Anxiety Attacks

Since the dawning of the “Information Age” in the early 1980’s the pace of change has accelerated in our society. To keep pace with the explosion of new information and this rapid rate of change, many people have adopted a new coping strategy of increasing their consumption of caffeine. Caffeine is a drug. It is a stimulant which increases many of same physiological responses as the survival response known as the “Flight-Fight” response. It is this reaction by the body to the stimulation from caffeine that can trigger an anxiety-type physical reaction. Many people are unsuspecting and naïve regarding the full extent of this response to which often includes a common, and even, celebrated “rush” of energy. Knowing about this response can keep you from being a victim to caffeine related anxiety attacks.

As a stimulant, the effect of caffeine can be different from one person to the next. The amount of caffeine consumed, and then the amount actually absorbed by the body, can contribute to the range of reactions. It is not uncommon for caffeine to cause an increase in brain wave activity that can arouse a tired mind. This is the most desired response for many sleep deprived people. This can backfire on many people who may have a day long response to their morning coffee (or other caffeine source) because many people can not sleep well at bedtime as a response to this early caffeine consumption. This “vicious cycle” will then cause poor quality sleep/rest which requires more caffeine to get “up” for the next day’s activities.

The stimulation caused by caffeine can also increase heart rate and for some people increase their blood pressure as it simulates the release of excitatory hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine.) This rapid heart rate, when severe, can scare people, triggering the hormonal release which can cause a greater anxiety reaction. The frightening response to the physical associations of an anxiety attack can cause fear and can even drive people to the emergency rooms with the concern that the patient believes that they going to die from a heart attack. We have enough anxiety in our society without pushing ourselves over the edge with the stimulation of caffeine.

Caffeine can cause an increase in skeletal muscle tension as it triggers the classic flight response. This muscle tension can be distracting (loss of focus), cause fatigue, and in many cases increase the likelihood of increased muscle spasms and so, muscle contraction pain. In this way, caffeine can contribute to muscle tension headaches from the tightness of muscles in the jaw, neck, and shoulders. For people suffering from chronic muscular tension pain, this can contribute to their tension and pain. It will often cause an increased anxiety driven response to their pain which can intensify their chronic pain complaints. This is especially true for lower back pain and neck/shoulder pain, as well as the peripheral pains in the arms and legs that can be associated with back pain.

For those of you who use caffeine regularly, you should also know that there are plenty of cases of physical and psychological addiction to this drug. Many people feel withdrawal symptoms that are not comfortable when they try to discontinue their caffeine habit. If you want to discontinue, the best way to do this would be gradually over time. Substituting ½ de-caf into your morning coffee and minimizing other caffeine laden products will be helpful. Be patient and drink extra water!

In its defense, caffeine can be helpful for some types of headaches such as migraine headaches which can be reduced by caffeine or associated cafergot. (Cafergot is a brand name of the combination of ergotamine and caffeine.) With its stimulating effects on the digestive system, caffeine may also work as a laxative to minimize problems with constipation. Historically, European coffee “salons” were places where intellectuals could meet and have lively discussions while drinking brewed coffee which was more healthful than the untreated available water which was often contaminated with deadly diseases of the Middle Ages. The other alternative beverage for most Middle Age Europeans was to drink beer or alcoholic drinks which did not encourage good discussion, thinking, or productivity.

Since the 1980’s, our society has seen an explosion of coffee houses and Espresso stands. You can not get through any American city without being confronted by easily accessible purveyors of liquid coffee refreshments. Both young and old are caught in this “glamorous” habit with expanding zeal. A gift of choice is the insidious gift certificate for the expensive coffee houses. This has gotten to be big business.

Besides coffee or espresso drinks, caffeine is found in many products. Black teas, green tea, soft drinks, chocolate candy, and as an additive in many other products are but a few of these additional sources for caffeine. There are even a few products with commercial names like: Jolt, Red Bull, and RockStar that cater to the young caffeine crazed generation that seem to require higher concentrations of caffeine. I do not want to deprive people from indulging in these products, but people must be aware of what the effects of these products can do to their body’s and to people who interact with caffeine saturated folks. Many cases of “road rage” may be traced to the negative effects of over-caffeinated, stressed drivers.

Let’s have some common sense. Moderation is a great rule to follow, especially if you are one the people who are most sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Coffee businesses are not bad or the enemy, we just need to learn how use their products in the most appropriate ways.

If you are looking for wellness coaching, please investigate the Professional Stress Management Coaching Program (train the trainer) at http://www.dstress.com

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the country’s leading stress management expert and the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Success & Executive Coaching and Training.

Please visit the Stress Education Center’s website at Stress, Stress Management, Coaching, and Training (at http://www.dstress.com) for articles, free ezine (newsletter) signup, and learn about the new telecourses that are available. If you would like information or a targeted proposal for training or coaching, please contact us at (360) 593-3833.