3 Things You Can Do To Feel Better Quickly

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!)

A 3 Legged Stool

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.

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Why (and how) you should take a break!

Over the last month or so several of my clients have been blocked at work by their stress. The reasons they have been stressed are very real: an unsupportive boss; financial setbacks; fights with spouses; personality conflicts at work. They knew they needed to take action to resolve their issues, so they did what made sense—they thought about the issue over and over trying to come up with an answer. Unfortunately, that just increased their stress, which kept them from accessing the parts of their brain that could solve the problem.

When you are stressed, your focus narrows. This is great if you have a deadline and need to get that presentation ready. It narrows even more if you are in danger—say a tiger is chasing you. This is also great, since you don’t need to do calculus then, you need to focus everything you’ve got on running like crazy to get away from the danger. The trouble with stress is that sometimes it turns off the areas of your brain that handle higher thinking in order to escape danger when the “danger” is something like an irate customer. Just when you need to be able to think rationally, even creatively, to fix what is happening, all you can do is go over and over the problem, getting more and more stressed and tense.

Riding the tiny wheelSo what do you do when you’re on that hamster wheel? The counter intuitive answer is to first get rid of the stress so that you can then deal effectively with the situation causing the stress. The good news is that this can be easier to do than you would think.

To get my clients to let go of their stress, I did EFT (a technique involving tapping on acupressure points) with them. If you are curious, you can read more about how to use EFT to reduce stress here. [ However, if you don’t want to take the time to learn to use the technique, you still may be able to get similar results. What you need to do is take a break.

There are a lot of ways to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Listen to upbeat music.
  • Take a nap.
  • Dance to party music.
  • Call a friend.
  • Call your mother.

The main thing is to change what you are doing so you stop thinking about what is stressing you out. The most effective ways to do this that I’ve found are taking physical action (so run up and down the stairs a few times), change your scenery (get out of your office and walk around the block), and listen to happy music (but stay away from heartbreak ballads or frenetic electric stuff). By all means, combine them if you wish. Pop in your headset, get out the tennies and walk to the next neighborhood.

Even if you can’t leave your desk you can still let go of some stress. Just do deep breathing, which forces your body to relax. When your body relaxes, your mind follows. Here’s how: close your eyes, take a breath that goes all the way down to your navel, leaving your shoulders and chest still. Let it out easily. Now take another. And another. That’s all there is to it. Simple and effective.

Taking a break is a short-term fix. Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s the equivalent of “sleeping on it.” You stop thinking about something and the answer comes to you.

But I know that sometimes the stressor, or what is stressing you out, is unavoidably in your life for the long term. There is no “answer” that will make it go away. Still, unless your stress is helping you (and it almost never does) you will do better if you can let go of your stressful reaction to the stressor. For long-term stressors I suggest three main approaches: (i) half an hour of exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate, four to five days a week; (ii) face time with people who, when you’re with them, you feel good about yourself; and, (iii) EFT. I’ve noticed that both exercise and socializing with your peeps tends to take longer to have an effect than EFT — and you have to keep doing them, unlike EFT — but they have the great advantages that you can start right away and do them on your own.

So now you know what you need to do if your stress is blocking you. Good luck, and please let me know if you have any other ways you have found to let go of your stress.

Next time I’ll tell you about something that can increase your productivity thirty-one percent. And it won’t hurt a bit!

Stress Relief Is Just a Phone Call Away

I just read about a study done on stress and girls 7 to 12 years old. (Stay with me here; this could be helpful to you.) It seems that seeing or just talking to their mothers helped lower their stress.

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In the study, the girls were given something stressful to do. Then one-third met with their mothers and got hugs and soothing words, another third talked to their mothers on the phone, and the last group watched a movie. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, came down quickly in both sets of girls who had contact with their mothers but remained higher than normal in the control group throughout the experiment. In addition, oxytocin, a brain chemical that helps us feel good, rose sharply in the girls who interacted with their mothers but did nothing at all in the control group.

So what does this mean for you if you are not so young (or a girl, for that matter)? Well, the researchers seemed to think that the effects might hold across the board for young and old, male and female. In other words, if you had to give a presentation to the board, or just got yelled at by your boss, or something equally stressful, try calling Mom.

And, while I’m all for hugs, it seems that you don’t need them to get help with your stress level. So if you live in Boise and Mom has retired to Boca Raton, a phone call will still do the trick here.

All right, I know all mothers are not created equal. If yours is not the comforting sort but more of the keep-your-back-to-the-wall-at-all-times sort, don’t look to her to help you de-stress. Try someone else in your life: a Dad who is good at listening, an aunt who thinks you are the bee’s knees, or a spouse who can comfort instead of lecture. The closer the relationship, I’m guessing, the better the result.

Whoever you choose, you might want to let them know you don’t want them to do a post-mortem on what happened. You just want a kindly shoulder to cry on. Or someone just to tell you it’ll be alright. The clearer you are, the more likely you will get what you need.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

The Link Between Stress, Anxiety and Depression

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.

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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.)

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

Meaningful Conversations May Improve Your Mood

I just read an article about some research that both confirmed what I knew and added a twist. First the confirmation: happier people spent 25 percent less time alone and 70 percent more time talking than unhappier people in the study. I have long preached the importance of spending time with the good people in your life. The twist in this research is that the happier people were having more substantive conversations than the unhappier folk, whose conversations were described as “trivial small talk.” That was news to me.

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While the research shows a correlation between the two types of conversations and the subjects’ relative well-being, I didn’t see that it proved that meaningful conversations cause happiness, or that small talk causes unhappiness. Perhaps happy people go out and have deep conversations on the meaning of life with their friends while unhappy people can only muster the strength to comment on the weather. Still, it might be worth trying to have some more meaningful conversations to see if that helps your mood.

And don’t forget, unhappier people spent more time alone not having any conversations at all! I suspect that it is better to have shallow conversations with people in your life than to have no conversations at all while sitting on your couch watching reruns of “Friends.”

Why am I mentioning this in a blog about stress? I’m making some assumptions here. First, clinical anxiety and depression often appear together. Second, many of the same things that can help you bring down depression — like exercise, eating right, and socializing — can also help you bring down anxiety. If having meaningful conversations actually helps you feel happier, then it may also help you feel less anxious. And, finally, if you are only stressed, not clinically anxious, then one change (like having deeper conversations) might have a powerful effect on your stress.

That’s a lot of assumptions. Still, different approaches help different people lower their stress. This one may just be the perfect fix for your stress. If not, you can always try another.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.