Tag Archives: Perfectionism

10 Practical Ways To Handle Stress

Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.

1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.

Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodgeball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.

Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?

By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.

2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.

While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.

The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.

Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.

Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.

3. Do what you love.

It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Manage your time well.

One of the biggest stressors for many people is the lack of time. Their to-do list expands while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.

5. Create a toolbox of techniques.

One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.

Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.

6. Pick off the negotiable tasks from your plate.

Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”

Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”

Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.

7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?

Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”

So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.

8. Preserve good boundaries.

If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn.

9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.

Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushroom into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.

Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, whereas caring is taking action. When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.

LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”

Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.

Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, try this activity where you can list responses for each one. For example:

Worrying about your health involves…

Caring about your health involves…

Worrying about your career involves…

Caring about your career involves…

10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.

Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.

As the researcher, Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth and it’s not self-improvement.”

Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”

Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.

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ANXIOUS ADDICTS: The Relationship Between Anxiety and Addiction.

Almost everyone at some point in their lives struggles with a form of anxiety. Feelings produced from anxiety can be misleading and are perpetuated by reinforcing thoughts. Most people do not recognize that they are anxious until they feel the physical symptoms of anxiety. Substance abuse is a quick remedy for uncomfortable feelings produced by anxiety. An addict who suffers from anxiety will often be reluctant to enter substance abuse treatment, fearful that his or her anxiety issue will not be addressed.

Anxiety Characteristics, Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors:

Anxiety consists of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thoughts will perpetuate feelings which create a behavioral response in an individual. Anxiety is rooted in fear and not wanting to feel fearful creates an intense distressed behavioral response. An addict who suffers from anxiety will use substances to escape from feeling anxious. Addicts who also struggle with anxiety will appear irritable, pre-occupied and apprehensive. Four common characteristics of anxiety found in an individual are:

1. The excessive need for control.
2. Ignoring psychological and physical signs of stress.
3. The excessive need for approval.
4. Perfectionism.

These characteristics are an individual’s belief system which perpetuates anxiety. Thoughts that are identified as should, would or could statements reinforce the belief system of the addict. These statements reflect thinking in the past and desire to change the chain of events. Example statements are:

  • I could have set an alarm last night, before I started drinking, to wake me up for school. I’m so stupid.
  • It would have been better if I didn’t spend the holidays with my parents. They drive me to use drugs.

Other anxiety related thoughts are based on future events and create frequent worrying or obsessing. For example “If I get this job then I will stop using drugs.” Focusing on events that we cannot change (past) or that are not in our control (future) increases anxiety symptoms. This disturbance of mood contributes to the addict’s desire to escape through substance abuse.

Anxiety Symptoms and Addiction:

Anxiety produces strong intense reactions within the body and mind. Anxiety responses are not always recognizable and may go untreated. Anxiety will manifest in two ways, physical and psychological. 

The physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety are similar to withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol. An addict will automatically look for substances to calm an anxious state. The avoidance of uncomfortable physical agitation and painful emotions are some of the components that maintain addiction and anxiety. Both anxiety and addiction will become stronger the more the addict continues using drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction enables the addict to avoid confronting and challenging anxious thoughts and feelings.

Exercises for Decreasing Anxiety:
Self-help techniques for mild anxiety management are:

  • Stay in the present. Don’t get stuck thinking about the past or future.
  • Recognize what you can control verses what you cannot.
  • Learn to be aware of your stress and incorporate relaxation exercises.
  • Don’t be so critical of yourself. Mistakes are not failures and nobody is perfect.
  • While these exercises are helpful, anxiety is made worse with drug and alcohol abuse. An addict that suffers from addiction and anxiety may not be able to resolve anxiety issues alone.

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Four Common Ways Parents Discourage Their Children.

Parents should never discourage their Children.

Four Common Ways Parents Discourage their Children :

• Focusing on Mistakes.

It’s easy to look at a piece of homework and ignore the thoughtful ideas and amount of effort a child put into it–noticing instead the three misspelled words. Often the first thing we do is point out the errors. If we’re not also careful to comment on the things that were done well, a child soon comes to think she does more wrong than right. Such discouragement leads to more mistakes, which produce more criticism from the parent, and so on. Children need to be corrected when they make mistakes; correction helps them know what to do differently next time. But they probably need to hear four to five times as much about what they do right to balance the effect our criticism may have on their courage and self-esteem.

• Personality Attacks and Perfectionism.

When we call our children names, such as “lazy,” “careless,” or “stupid,” “immature”, we’re attacking their self-confidence and courage at their core. Not only that: such tactics usually backfire. After all, if you tell a child he’s lazy, then what should you expect in the future but lazy behavior? Instead, focus your comments on the problem behavior. Don’t say “Why are you so lazy?”; say instead, “You haven’t done your homework.”

A more subtle form of personality attack is perfectionism. This is the tendency always to require more from the child than she’s giving. The message of perfectionism is that no matter how well you do, you should have done better. When children come to believe that they are never quite good enough, they lose motivation: “I never did it well enough anyway, so why try?” Even when these children seem to keep trying, they never feel secure in their achievements. They may get all, but rather than enjoy the accomplishment, they’re already worrying about the next challenge to their perfection. Such perfectionist thinking has been linked to eating disorders and depression in adolescents.

• Negative Expectations. 

In a classic psychology experiment, teachers were told that half the students in their classes had tested high on a measure predicting academic success, and the other half had tested low. In fact, the students were randomly assigned to the two groups, regardless of academic abilities. At the end of the semester, guess which group had the better grades? The group the teachers thought would do better actually did do better. Conversely, the teachers’ negative expectations for the other group was a significant factor in the group’s poor showing. Negative expectations from teachers and parents discourage children from trying.

Our children can sense when we expect the worst from them, even if we don’t use the words. If you yourself believe your child is hopeless in math, you can say, “I know you can do this,” but your tone of voice will give a different message. Or perhaps you wait only a few seconds for your child to answer a question and then hurriedly give him the answer. You and your child may not even be consciously aware of this difference, but the message is received: “You don’t think I can get it.”

• Over-protection.

When we step in and do for children what they could eventually do for themselves, we send the message that “you can’t handle it.” Children must be free to overcome their frustrations, solve their own problems, and accept the consequences of their choices if they are to develop the stamina required to succeed in school and in the community. The overprotected child easily gives up when things are difficult. She’s quick to shout, “It’s not fair” at the slightest transgression. She looks for someone else to solve her problems, and lives with many unrealistic fears that hamper her growth.

Think of the problems such attitudes cause in the classroom, where teachers cope with 25 or more students and must rely on a degree of independence from each one. An overprotected child who expects special treatment at school is in for a frustrating, discouraging time.

How can a parent tell when she’s offering reasonable protection and when she’s overprotecting? Two rules of thumb may help:

1. Ask yourself the worst that could happen if you don’t step in.

2. Never do for your child on a regular basis what your child can do for herself. Be on guard against the rationalization, “But it’s easier to do it myself.” It may be easier and faster in the short run, but think of the damage you do in the long run. Eventually your child may not be able to do much of anything for himself that presents a challenge including school work.

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