Tag Archive | reduce stress

“Brain Strain: What We Can Unload to Upload”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

Stock photo credit of dreamstime.com

I’m on overload right now … although my son’s first year of preschool has come to an end, I am now shuffling him between summer camps, play dates, and various other community happenings. Since the latter part of this school year I have been coordinating the discernment, enrollment, and admission process for private preschool where my son will attend through 12th grade. Then there’s the organizing and packing for our summer travel and vacation plans…running our household…squeezing in a hair cut for myself…and on and on.

Something’s gotta give and soon – I simply need to unload! However, I have found this isn’t easily done. I can’t let go of any of these responsibilities, and I don’t have time to make any big changes in my life right now or incorporate “strategies” I read in magazines that are supposed to make things simpler and slow things down. So I need easy and fast ways to unload so I can upload with immediate results! How about you? It seems as though many of us speed along through our days with barely enough time to catch our breath. It is becoming more commonplace among my circle of friends for us to text each other to say – I’ll have to catch you later; I’m crazy-busy right now. Then, we don’t get back in touch for another week or two!

Rather than offer you suggestions for letting go of the things you do now that keep you so busy, I have something else in mind. Just check out the few simple ideas below that you can easily incorporate into your daily life and routine. They might just help you catch your breath – before going on to the next thing!

Battle That Brain Strain!

* Begin your day with a few simple stretches and a hot shower. Now, if I can do this with a busy 4 year old who is more than enthusiastic to start the day (and who seems to think he is my morning rooster), so can you. When I hear my son crawl out of bed and use the potty, I take that time to slowly awaken while he pads (okay – stomps) his way to my bedside. I have “trained” him to play next door in our master suite’s living area while I do a few simple, quick stretches – right from my bed! I concentrate on my upper and lower back so I can get mobile enough to find my way into the shower. There, I let the hot water and steam do its work with a few additional standing stretches so I don’t start off my day feeling stiff. It makes a big difference most days to be loosened up before jumping into all I have to accomplish!

* Stretch throughout the day. I call this “Stop, Drop, and Stretch!” As we go through our day, we tend to lose our posture and proper walking stance. We begin to hunch our shoulders forward and round our backs, and continue to stiffen up as the day goes on due to our often busy, stressed lives. Taking just a few moments to loosen your tightened muscles offers a quick break and is surprisingly refreshing after sitting at your computer too long or handling several tasks in a row.

* Take a break during the day to exercise if you can. My life has changed so much since having a child that I find I usually don’t have the time for an elaborate workout routine. However, research coming from the fitness world tells us that exercising in “spurts” can be just as effective at relieving stress; loosing weight; and keeping our bodies strong, minds sound, and emotions in check. And, any form of exercise counts, no matter how brief. Just 10 minutes 3 times a day can still make a difference. You don’t even need a structured or regimented exercise program. A simple stroll around your neighborhood or backyard, or a brief walk on your treadmill will do the trick!

* Eat well and drink plenty of water. I will spare a lecture on the health benefits of this one – especially since I find it difficult to do! However, it is so much better for our bodies and minds to eat nutritious foods and stay hydrated. And, a healthy body is a far happier and less stressed body!

* Set specific times to check email and return telephone calls. So many aspects of technology really can make things easier and us more productive when applied well to our lives. It is important to set boundaries for how you want to handle your technological devices before you begin using them for professional or personal use. Adhere to the times you set during the day to use those devices for checking email, voice or text messages, and returning telephone calls. It doesn’t take long for people to figure out that you are “glued” to your iphone, or to learn what times of day (or night!) you are likely “online.” Set precedence up front that your technological devices are turned off and put away during dinner, family time, and before bedtime. Keep them out of your bedroom or anywhere else that is designated for sleeping or resting. Many studies suggest that having electronics on continuously disrupts sleep patterns, and some experts recommend you dim lamps and avoid checking your e-mail or watching late-night TV at least an hour before bedtime.

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

Decide when you will plug-in and when you will unplug!

* Choose not to answer the telephone sometimes. The “I’m on my deathbed” call is likely not the one coming in.

* Say ‘no’ sometimes. The world will not come to an end if you decline to lead a project for your child’s scout troop, make your homemade chili for the church cook-off fundraiser, serve as president of your home association, or anything else. Change the thought pattern that says the project, event, or meeting will fall apart without you! This is not to say that you don’t make valuable and worthy contributions to your workplace, home life, church, and community. It’s just that the show will go on. Choose your activities carefully and don’t allow them to overwhelm your life.

* Avoid stressful situations and toxic people as much as possible. These two things can be a real drain on your life. Instead, embrace positive energy and uplifting people! Set your emotional boundaries and stick with them.

* Make excuses. Look for periods throughout the day when you can snatch a moment of quiet time for yourself. Even if it means telling your family you simply must go to the laundry room for awhile to catch up. There’s your solitude and an item crossed off your to-do list in one!

* Take “me time” any way you can claim it. Whether you splurge on a spa service or hide in your closet to finish the next chapter in your book, time for you is important! You can’t help your colleagues, family, or community if you don’t take care of yourself first.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and fresh potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

One summer I used the excuse that our deck could use a few pretty flowers and freshly potted plants to snatch some quiet gardening time to myself.

Do you have another idea to help us regain our sanity? Let us know what you do to unload!

“The Healing That Chronic Pain Brings Part 2 ~ Dealing and Healing: How to Cope”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We don’t value our health until we lose it.” That quote appears on a banner at the medical center where I receive treatment for back pain. In Part 1 of my 2-part series on chronic pain, I shared the story of my life before and during chronic pain, and the unexpected blessings it can bring.

Slow life down and count your blessings!

Slow life down and count your blessings!

Here are some helpful tips I have learned along the way in dealing with chronic pain or supporting someone you know experiencing it.

Dealing and Healing: How to Cope

*Rally your support system. Dealing with insurance companies, navigating our health care system, and being proactive about your care is difficult and often confusing. Doctors are typically narrowly focused, and sometimes there is little to no coordination between practices or sensible dissemination of information. You must research, and push your doctors to give you the care you deserve.

Identify family members or friends who can accompany you to your doctor appointments. Make sure you are comfortable with that person knowing your medical history and keeping it confidential. Ask them to listen extra hard and take good notes. It is very easy to miss something important when you are in pain, or when you have multiple practitioners to visit.

Surround yourself with family members you know will “go the distance” with you, and friends who lift you up. Spend less time with those who don’t “get it” or don’t seem to understand what you are going through. Those who dole out platitudes, or give you the “at least you don’t have cancer” talk – perhaps even judging your medication and treatment plans, are not people you need to invest in emotionally.

My childhood friends are my family!

My childhood friends are my family!

*Advocate for yourself – and find an empathetic, well-versed pain management doctor. This can be your primary physician or a specialist.

If one doctor doesn’t take care of you and your pain needs to your satisfaction, find one who does. Be sure you are comfortable discussing how you feel, and working with them to find a management program that is tailored to you. This is different for every person. As a stay-at-home mom and writer, with a husband who works a job and a half, my pain management plan might look far different from that of an older retired person with fewer daily responsibilities. It is not often during the course of a 12 hour + day on the go that I can simply fall onto the couch and ice down!

*Seek evaluations and counsel from many professionals. I am big on second (and third and fourth) opinions, and recommend working with a variety of people who specialize in certain areas.

Having more than one eye on a problem generates more than one solution. I call my group of doctors and other specialists “Team Jennifer!”

*Do everything you can to make your life easier. You have enough to deal with – your focus should be on your healing, not whether your coffee table is dusted!

Chronic pain affects many facets of a person’s life, and can mean significant adjustments. Since some daily life changes involve spending money, you have to decide what you can afford or accommodate. We hired a housecleaner, ordered groceries through a delivery service, and found wonderful babysitters to wear our busy little 3 year old out a couple of days a week when he wasn’t in preschool.

In the past, I played “super mom.” Now I am often exhausted – from battling daily pain, caring for my little boy when my husband is not home to help, and coordinating my healthcare. Even daily life routines can become overwhelming. Over time, though, I have seen that I can be a super mom just by being present. My son has become accustomed to the modifications I need to give myself a break and physical relief. He enjoys getting my ice pack for me, and reminds me to do my back exercises and take walks with him outside. He even asks me how my back is feeling! You will not meet a more empathetic 3 year old, and frankly I think we could use more people like that in this world.

My son feels good about helping me out!

My son feels good about helping me out!

In the long run, I found that there was actually a huge blessing to be found in my condition – I gained time with my son. We bonded over snuggle time and story time. I have no regrets!

*Reduce your stress level as much as possible. Contrary to popular belief, usually stress does not cause pain. However, stress often aggravates an existing condition.

Difficult as it may be, force yourself to take a hard look at your life – professional and personal, and cut out those things (or people!) that cause physical discomfort or emotional turmoil. Leaving my part-time job and making a few other adjustments helped my healing. For example, travel (even a short car ride) became too painful for me. So, we invited our family and friends to visit us, yet asked if they would stay at an area hotel so I wouldn’t have added hosting responsibilities. Trust me, those who really care won’t mind! Additionally, with the help of a wonderful chronic pain therapist (if you don’t have one, get one!), I identified and embraced those among my family and friends who could be supportive, and let go of stressful, toxic relationships.

Let your good friends take you away from it all!

Let your good friends take you away from it all!

*Remain connected and allow others to be there for you. This can be hard when you don’t feel well. Sometimes, it may seem easier to withdraw. However, isolation is not good for your healing in the long run. When I embraced life again, my vitality began to return.

Dance On!

Dance On!

As bad as you may feel – physically and emotionally, reaching out and plugging back into life as much as possible given your condition will help! Allow those emotionally healthy people in your life to be there for you and to help you when you need it. When you get better you can return the favor. Here’s to your health!

Are you or someone you know dealing with chronic pain? Please share how you are coping or your advice for handling the complications it can bring to your life – your insight may help someone who is looking for answers!