Last week I told you that research shows that you can become thirty-one percent more productive if you just get happy. At least, companies could get that “Happiness Advantage” when their employees followed certain exercises designed to increase their happiness. I know, however, that for people who are stressed out or feeling down, getting from where they are to a happy state can seem impossible. For those people I have an interim step: implement the Three-Legged Stool. (Of course, if you are truly depressed or anxious, you really should get yourself to see your medical doctor or a therapist first!)
The Three-Legged Stool is a little speech I give every one of my therapy clients (yes, I’m a psychotherapist in my other life) who suffers from some kind of depression or anxiety. There has been a fair amount of research showing the connection between the three steps I recommend and getting rid of, or at least easing, depression and anxiety. Although I have not done any research on the connection between the three legs and true happiness, my clients’ experiences gives me a strong suspicion that a good grounding in any or all three legs of the stool is also a good springboard to happiness, even in those who are not clinically depressed or anxious. So I offer it to you now.
I’ve been assuming that there is a link between stress, anxiety and depression for years now, recommending that strategies to counter an anxiety disorder be used to fight depression, that approaches to lessen depression can work on anxiety, and that all of these strategies should be tried on plain old stress. This has been based not just on my personal observation in the therapy room of the apparent connection between these three, but also the observations of various academics, my fellow therapists and the statistics that show anxiety and depression occurring at the same time.
Finally, researchers have found some real evidence of a biological link between stress, anxiety and depression. The lead researcher, Stephen Ferguson, believes that the connection in the brain that they found explains how stress and anxiety can lead to depression. They are also hopeful that a molecule inhibitor they developed will lead to new and better drugs to treat anxiety and depression.
Of course, if you’re stressed, anxious or depressed, you aren’t going to want to wait for the drug companies to develop the new drugs. Get started doing some of the things now that help bring down the symptoms, like exercise, eating right and getting together with your friends and family. (Of course, if the problem seems overwhelming, get in to see your doctor or a therapist to get some extra help.)
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.
A funny thing about stress — for some of us, it makes us crave things like cigarettes, coffee, soda, potato chips, chocolate, or anything with sugar in it. But smoking, drinking, or eating any of those things actually tends to increase anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
For people who get these kinds of stress-related cravings at work (or at home), eating cookies or sipping a Pepsi seems to take their mind off their stress and calm them down so they can function. Some people rely on their food, drink or smoke of choice so much that they keep a supply handy at all times, stashing a bag or two of Doritos in their desk drawer just in case the vending machine runs out. Others are so worried that they’ll run out that they cache supplies in several places, stashing bags of M&Ms in their drawer at work, their coat pocket, their briefcase, and in the back of closets and cupboards at home, hiding them so others don’t find out just how much they are dependent on the stuff. The thought of running out when they need it can make them break out in a cold sweat.
Unfortunately, these things we crave are precisely the things that make anxiousness worse. When we eat something sugary like candy or soda, our blood sugar spikes, which temporarily boosts our energy and heart rate. More energy may sound great, but it comes at a cost. When our heart rate goes up, it can add to our feelings of stress. Next, our blood sugar drops like a stone below where it was before we had the Mars bar, causing our stress to increase, too. Then, of course, we want more.
The same thing happens when we eat starchy foods, like white bread, white rice, and potato chips. The starch very quickly converts into blood sugar. Then we’re on the same treadmill we were on with candy and soda. You might as well down some sugar cubes instead of those Pringles.
Caffeine can lead to jittery feelings in anyone if they have too much. So if you’re already stressed, the addition of caffeine to the equation is definitely not going to help. You need to limit how much you have of such things as coffee, caffeinated soda, black tea, and — sadly — chocolate. (I’m told chocolate doesn’t have caffeine, but what it does have works on our bodies pretty much the same way as caffeine.) And avoid those sugary, super-caffeinated energy drinks like the plague when you’re stressed out.
Cigarettes also do their part to increase stress in our bodies. Which is usually news to smokers, who know that their cigarettes calm them down.
So what do you do when the thing you count on to get you through a stressful day is also raising your stress level? Most people try will-power first. It works for a few, but it’s pretty distracting to try to get through your day constantly pushing aside thoughts of that bag of half-stale Ruffles in the bottom drawer of your desk. And, if stress gets too high, will-power usually isn’t enough.
Cutting out the stress in our lives seems like the perfect answer. Sadly, however, most of us can’t retire tomorrow and move to a tropical island where we laze about thinking happy thoughts. We have to make a living, and we have to deal with other people (and, if we were honest, we’d get pretty bored on that island eventually). Stress is part of our world, at work and at home. I highly recommend looking for ways to limit it, but I know that is only a partial solution.
Making relaxation a part of your day is a good way to decrease your reaction to daily stress. Deep breathing exercises can retrain your body to be more relaxed throughout the day. So can visualizing yourself in a calm, soothing place. Yoga is also great for this, I’m told. I don’t have the patience for it myself, but I recommend it for those who enjoy it and have the time.
The fastest, most long-lasting way I’ve found to cut out cravings is to use the tapping relaxation exercises I teach. Some people get instant relief trying it on their own using my Quick Start Guide. For others, the cravings are more persistent. If you don’t make much headway, or your craving keeps coming back, there is probably something underlying it.
I work with people to clear out those underlying causes that increase their stress so the cravings go away for good. Please e-mail to arrange get-acquainted session to talk about what is bothering you and how we might work on that together