3 Signs of Toxic Stress and 3 Ways to Snap Yourself (or your child) Out of it!
It's the storm before the calm... of summer...
End of the school year can become overwhelming and cramp your style; whether it's finals you're studying for or if you're the parent, all the paperwork for summer camps, grooming for parties, 'fun', graduations and oh so many wonderful recitals, some of which are going on at the same time! You CAN split yourself in two? Right?
It's all awesome and we're so grateful, but at the same time, it's a lot to handle!
The right kind of stress can be good for us! It spurs us on to meet all these deadlines and make celebrations on time. However, we all too often know that there are times when we feel completely overwhelmed. Just look at the surge in google searches on stress and trouble sleeping!
Look out for these 3 signs of toxic stress in your (or your child's) life:
1) Sleep disturbances: this can be anything out of the ordinary; sleeping too much, sleeping too little, falling asleep during the day, waking up during the night, trouble getting to sleep, sleepwalking, teethgrinding.
2) Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. Does this sounds familiar? Immediate relief that snowballs into a great big pain!
3) Inability to make decisions or making decisions, then second guessing them to death. You know the drill. Wear the white shirt? or the blue one? Sign up for computer camp or music camp? Soccer? or LAX? or both?? Throw out the three bean salad or keep it for another day? White paint or Off White paint? iPhone? or Android? Start a new career or resuscitate your old one?
Take these three steps to snap out of it!
1) Come to understand that you're exhibiting signs of toxic stress.
- The brunt of that is you're keeping yourself from doing what you want to do; i.e. to perform well on a test, to get things done, and to make the right choices.
- That the underlying mechanism of mind-overwhelm is the continuous thought streams that make it impossible to think straight or to let your executive decision brain come online to say no to tempting procrastinations and yes to making thoughtful decisions. This thought overwhelm may be happening even as you sleep, keeping you from getting deep, restful sleep.
2) Manage the thought stream with:
- Action meditation outside! It's no mystery; in our modern world, we simply don't move often enough or get outside enough! Regular exercise has been shown to be as effective or better than medications for mild to moderate depression.
The key is to GET OUTSIDE and GET INSIDE YOUR BODY. It doesn't matter if it's raining or cold, we have the technology for that - it's called rain boots and an umbrella!
Get out even if it's just for 5 min. If you can, RUN, JOG, WALK, LIMP AS FAST AS YOU CAN for 30 sec, then WALK 30 sec, and REPEAT for as long as you're outside.
Bring your attention to your body by breathing in rhythm with your movements. When thoughts, emotions, opinions arise, gently bring yourself back to the breath to movement rhythm and too many thoughts is your sign that you need to move faster! Fast enough that you are fully focused on getting enough air! EXERCISE is a proven way to IMPROVE your mood, cognition and sleep!
- Stillness meditation
Find a relatively QUIET place or put in earphones that fit snugly in your ears and sit for 5, 10, up to 15 min.
Let your body be still. If you MUST move, by all means, do it, but know that staying still will deepen the experience.
Bring your attention to the cool air entering your nostrils and the warm air leaving or notice the rise and fall of your chest, arms, back, body with each breath.
Every time you find your thoughts wandering, gently, kindly, with compassion, bring your focus back to the breath. Notice judgements, opinions, feelings, sensations, name them, then come back to your breath.
Remember, there's no right or wrong way to do this. There's no good or bad meditation. Meditation will help train your brain to watch thoughts and choose which thoughts serve you.
3) Use a timer to BEAT PROCRASTINATION: Maximum focus is about 20 min in older kids, teens and adults. It can be longer if you have curiosity and fascination with what you're doing or if you can remind yourself of the deep down goals you're aiming for. Even if it's something you're dreading, like cleaning your composter, knowing that it's a limited, super short period of time will keep you motivated and you can even have fun by making it a GAME! RACE THE CLOCK!
- Start with the hardest thing for you but set the timer to only 5, 10, or 20 minutes max! Learning a math formula, cleaning out the junk drawer, making that difficult phone call... filling out your umpteenth form, or that boring application which requires accuracy. Take short 2-5 min breaks.
- Studying or deep into a task? Go for 20-75 minutes max and do an Action Meditation/Stillness Meditation (described above), eat whole food or talk to a friend!
- Remember that during work time, you're not laser focused the entire time, rather, you'll be pulling your attention back from many distractions to what you're supposed to be doing. If you find yourself struggling to bring your attention back, take a break! This will definitively increase your productivity!
- Get a reward at the end of a difficult task! This has been shown over and over again to be an awesome behavioral change catalyst! Don't break the bank with the reward. Absolutely do not reward with junk food, drugs, or alcohol! If you're going to eat junk or drink alcohol, do it as just another thing you do because if you make the neuronal connection that these items are rewards, it will become a habit that's even harder to break. Try to go for healthy experiences, like going for a bike ride or talking to a friend.
IF YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PRODUCTIVITY / TIME APP, PLEASE POST IT BELOW IN THE COMMENTS!
Two of MY FAVORITES: Time - Focus Timer & Goal Tracker and 30/30 by Binary Hammer
Wishing you wellness,
"I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." Hippocratic Oath