In this, our last installment of the resolutions series, we address stress. We all live with it, but desperately need to reduce it.
The detrimental effects of stress can lead to any number of health-related issues ranging from headaches and stomach upset to high blood pressure and heart disease. Dr. Jennifer Boisture, psychiatrist and psychotherapist specializing in Women's Mental Health, shares these five ways to stick with your resolution to reduce stress:
1. Identify your sources of stress. This sounds obvious, but you can’t change something as abstract as “I’m so stressed out.” You need specific targets. What are the situations causing you stress? Your job? Family obligations? Toxic friends? Finances? Then, get even more precise. What is it about your job that is so stressful? Your hours? Your specific duties? Your boss? Until you define the problem, it’s hard to come up with a potential solution.
2. Assess what’s in your control. You’ve identified your sources of stress, now determine what’s in your control and accept what isn’t. Think both big and small and take responsibility where you can. For example, if your relationship with your boss is one of your big sources of stress, what can you change about it? Thinking big – can you change jobs? Or, thinking smaller, can you be more assertive about saying no when she heaps on project after project? If you feel you can’t say "no," examine whether that’s because you can’t (i.e., your job is on the line) or you won’t (i.e., saying no makes you very uncomfortable and you need some practice).
3. Let good be good enough. Sometimes the way we think about tasks or situations rather than the thing itself creates stress. If you love to bake and decide to make your daughter’s birthday cake to do something special for her, save a little money or just exercise your creative muscle, don’t beat up on yourself if it doesn’t look like something from Top Chef. A pattern of all-or-nothing thinking means we spend most of the time feeling like nothing.
4. Find you in your life. What are the things in your life you absolutely have to do? Remember, anything beyond that is a choice. Think about how you spend your time and honestly examine whether you find yourself excited and energized by those activities or weighed down and depleted. Choose only those tasks that express who you are rather than who you think you are supposed to be.
5. Imagine a better future. What would your life look like with less stress? Don’t let yourself get away with an answer like, “I’d be more relaxed.” Think in concrete terms. For example, “I’d spend more time with my partner,” is a good start, but, “At least once a week, my partner and I could spend an hour together over coffee,” is even better. Having specific goals in mind will help keep you motivated when you are tempted to fall back into old habits. And, it’s easier to get somewhere if you know where you’re trying to go.
Dr. Jennifer Boisture is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist specializing in Women's Mental Health and practicing at 451 Andover St., Suite 130. 978-886-4938.