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Anti-Stress Tips

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:16pm

Anti-Stress Tips
Friday, December 19, 2008
By: Elisabeth Deffner

FMOnline vol. 8, no. 12

Work responsibilities. Family friction. Healthcare challenges. Economic tumult. We all know there are plenty of reasons to feel stressed out—and we all know that too much stress can impact our health: increasing blood pressure, disturbing sleep, even paving the way for a fibro-flare.

We also know the best ways to stave off stress: stay as healthy as possible by maintaining a good diet and getting enough sleep, exercising the body, and taking time to relax. But what to do when stress hits anyway? That’s the question we asked FM patients. Here we share their top suggestions.

Eyes and Ears
You may benefit from carefully considering what you watch and what you listen to. Karen Call relaxes every day with “Reduce Stress and Anxiety,” a DVD by Dr. David Illig, or Dr. Andrew Weil’s Mindbody Toolkit, which includes breathwork, meditation, guided imagery, and sound therapy. It’s not difficult to find soothing CDs of ocean sounds or bird calls; perhaps classical music is key to calm for you.

“When I am having a flare-up. I sip warm tea, curl up with my heating pad, cuddly throw and just close my eyes and listen to the ocean, the rain, and beautiful music,” says Suzanne Blaquiere.

Daily affirmations may be helpful for you as well. There are many books available, as well as page-a-day affirmation calendars. You may also want to search online for a website that can emailyou a daily affirmation.

Four-Legged Assistance
Study after study has shown that animal interaction benefits people physiologically—and Arlene LaBarre Kempf of Amity, Ore., has experienced this firsthand. “With everything I've been through, my love of my horses, my complete involvement in their care and training—as well as the high level of fitness and the amount of exercise I was getting—always so completely occupied my mind that it allowed me to de-stress, unwind, let-down, relax,” she says.

While maintaining a stable may be out of economic reach for many people, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to interact with animals—from renting a horse to go riding, to owning a small pet such as a guinea pig, to pet-sitting for friends and neighbors, to volunteering at an animal shelter or veterinary clinic.

“Relieving stress for me meant totally occupying my mind with the one thing that I loved more than anything else in the world,” says LaBarre Kempf. “Occupying my mind with something I felt passionate about … causes me to forget about the pain and the stress for those periods of time when I am on a horse's back.”

“I raise Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats and Chihuahuas,” says Claudia Mitchell of the southwestern Missouri Hoof Print Farm. “When I get that feeling of stress, I go to the barn and hug goats or just watch them. I feel so good when I go back up to the house.”

“I have a cat. She purrs and when I need some loving, I pick her up and she purrs and all things don't seem as bad,” adds Sandy Crary.

When Anne Kennedy feels stressed, she takes time out to sit comfortably somewhere and “center” herself. Then she begins to consciously relax her body, a little bit at a time, taking deep breaths as she does it, and focusing on the areas where she is experiencing a lot of pain. “Sometimes it'll work after one try; other times I keep at it until I relax,” she says.

Change Your Mindset
Family squabble got you stressed? Is your boss in a bad mood? Break your favorite piece of china? Take a deep breath and remind yourself that these are small bumps in the road. Few things are worth the pain of a fibro-flare, so don’t let small annoyances stress you out and put you in one.

“When I get up in the morning I actually do make a conscious decision to be happy and not let things get to me,” explainsAngie Phillips of Burlington, Iowa. “When things do get to me I ask myself one question: ‘In the big scheme of my life, does this really matter that much?’ A lot of times I discover that it doesn't and I'm able to deal more effectively with whatever is bothering me.

“I really think that the best first step to controlling stress in anyone's life is to recognize that the control is ours! We can make all the difference in the amount of stress that we have in our lives each day simply by paying attention to our attitudes.”

“I learned that when the stress gets out of control, I need to change the things I can, and it helps me to deal with the things I can't,” says Michele Stobbe Schenck.

You don’t need to do aerobics to experience the de-stressing benefits of exercise. A leisurely walk outside may offer you a new perspective on the issues that are causing you stres and release some endorphins, raising your mood and even decreasing your pain levels.

“Exercise definitely helps,” says Gina S. “At first I didn't believe it. Exercise in the last thing you think you need when you are curled up in bed, especially on these lately cold mornings. But when I leave the gym and take a shower I feel so much more energized and happy. It has become a healthy addiction for me. I only hope I can keep it up!”

Get a Hobby
Studies have shown that different kinds of handwork—such as knitting and sewing—provides a “relaxation effect” that can sooth your stressed mind. Other hobbies you enjoy, such as painting, gardening, writing, or scrapbooking may provide a distraction from the issues that are bothering you, staving off stress. Christine Margaret Knox, who lives in North Yorkshire in England, makes cards and knits scarves—activities she enjoys, which result in products she can sell for funds to donate to her support group. 

Eliminate the Stress Source
Many of the tips above focus on managing stress, which is an important skill to develop. But big, constant stressors might be better dealt with if they were eradicated. Angie Phillips of Burlington, Iowa, only realized how intensely stress impacted her fibromyalgia symptoms after her divorce became final and she moved to a new community. “I was amazed, and still am, that within a few weeks of the finalization of my divorce and arriving in my new life, I literally felt like a whole new woman,” she says. “It was amazing how much better my pain levels were, how much clearer I could think, how much better my balance was, and I didn't feel like dying anymore!”

“The first thing I had to do was to distant myself from people that stressed me out (you could call them ‘high-maintanance’),” says Dionne White. “Then I would have to learn to say ‘no.’ I had to stop committing to things that I could not do. Believe me, it keeps stress at bay. You don't end up disappointing someone else or even yourself.”

“One of the hardest yet most important things I needed (and finally did learn) to help manage my stress levels was to give myself unconditional permission to step back, or even withdraw both emotionally and physically from stressful situations,” says one patient in Bend, Ore. “I give myself to permission to remove myself from a ‘toxic’ situation for whatever time I may need to get back in the saddle again.”

Laugh it Up
“Laughter is a great stress relief,” says Dionne White, who often watches funny movies to reduce her stress. “You feel better when you laugh and I'm convinced it fights depression.”

“Anytime I start to feel stressed I either pop in a funny movie (Blazing Saddles works every time) or I call a friend or one of my sisters. We always end up laughing, and I always feel better!” says Cynthia Mittel.

Consider Alternatives
Valerie Blake loves to cook big holiday meals—but she knows the toll that takes on her, so she has re-consideredher methods. She buys frozen mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes. Her daughters bake the holiday pies, and her grocery store cooks the turkey.  “It's a hard change to make,” she admits, “but time with my family is far more important to me than the food preparation.  I am thankful I have learned this lesson before I spent one more year suffering through it."

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