Advice Column for Stress | Natural solutions for stress, anxiety & tension at home & work.

Self Help Advice Column for Stress Anxiety Tension


KRS EDSTROM
Advice Columnist, Radio Host,
Speaker & Author

Personal Growth Advice Expert for Relaxation Techniques

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RESOURCE CENTER
Archived Letters

Dear KRS,
I would just
like to know how I can get rid of the stress I go through everyday. First, I have trouble getting to school on time and that causes me stress. At school, I stress over paying attention and learning. When I get back home, I have to do tons of homework and practice drums for about an hour (my drum teacher says I have to). I also have this ex-girlfriend that I remain very good friends with but she keeps breaking my heart, although I know itís not intentional. So I stress over her too. Finally, when Iím ready to sleep, I stress about what I should wear tomorrow! What can I do!?
Stressed Teen

Dear Stressed Teen,
It seems you are in ďthe habit of stress.Ē This is actually quite common and fortunately, it is something that can be reversed. There are some behavioral changes I would suggest:

1) Getting to school on time. Simple solution: allow yourself more time by getting up earlier, if necessary. Decide on the time you need to leave the house to get there on time Ė then vow to get out the door at exactly that time. You can set an egg timer to help you with this in the beginning (have the egg timer go off 10 minutes before you should leave the house).

2) Paying attention at school. Worry less about it and try to relax into hearing something of interest to you. I always suggest that, if the teacher doesnít weave that information into practical usage in your life, you can use your own imagination to think how this information might prove worthwhile at some point. It will then ďstickĒ in your memory better than stressing over memorizing lists of unrelated facts or statistics.

3) Drums Ė if practicing them brings you stress, consider quitting for now. That is something that should be pleasurable to you, not stressful.

4) Ex-girlfriend Ė whether she intends it or not, if she is making you feel bad, consider making other positive friends. Good friends should not, by definition, be stress producing.

5) What to wear. Lay out your clothes the night before. This eliminates the time and worry it takes when youíre under pressure to get out the door in time.

Finally, when you catch yourself starting to worry about something, recognize the pattern and say ďI donít need to continue this stress cycle. I release the need to cause myself stress. I deserve peace and happiness.Ē

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KRS

Dear KRS,
Iím newly
married and Iím so stressed with everything thatís going on around me. I came from a different country than my husband. The culture is so different and the way we look at things is not the same. I terribly miss my family, friends and cats that I left behind. My husband is very busy so heís not always there to make my transition easier. How do I handle all these things and not let stress get the best of me?
Stressed Foreigner

Dear Stressed,
Iím sorry the transition to your new life has been difficult. A few suggestions: get a cat or two, call home regularly to hear the voices of the ones you love. Talk with your husband about how important this is to you and work it into your budget. Join a group in which you have an interest Ė whether itís knitting, hiking or stamp collecting. It doesnít matter, just get yourself around other people with similar interests. Depending on the size city you are in, you might also find a group of people of your own nationality. If not, you may find some on the internet, although itís ideal to be around others face to face. If you are shy, this will be a challenge but a good exercise in overcoming shyness. You have to take the initiative and take charge.
You can do it!
KRS

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Dear KRS, 
Iím currently finding
things very difficult. I am feeling totally overwhelmed and trapped. I just want to give it all up but that isnít an option. I am at college and have been struggling to get through this year while battling an eating disorder. 

The exams are only 4 weeks away and I still have two course projects to do. Iím confused and donít know what to do. Every time I try to do something I get totally stressed thinking of all the other things that I feel arenít going to be done on time and as a result end in a complete panic. I can feel the fear physically. 

I get so angry with myself for being so pathetic and for letting my eating disorder interfere so much with my studies. I just feel I canít do it. Iím never going to make it through the next 4 weeks. Iím sorry to go on and on but I needed to get it all out. If you have any suggestions about how to cope Iíd be very grateful. 
Stressed Anorexia Student

Dear Anorexia Student,
Put these words on your wall: ďEverything is going to be alright. I am not a bad person.Ē 

Realize that you are not alone in your feelings. I receive so many similar letters from students who act out their school pressures through eating disorders. Eating disorders often manifest the desire to get control of at least one area of our life, i.e. food intake. 

Sometimes the eating control issues are deep rooted and other times itís just a matter of making a few shifts in your thinking and behavior. Either way, consider consulting an eating disorder specialist to guide you though this. 

So how do you make such shifts? Slow down and take it one step at a time. Make an attainable list of what you need to do each day for the next 4 weeks to get things done. Youíll be amazed at how much calmer itíll make you feel to see everything written down in tangible goals versus flying around your head in endless loops. Youíll also be amazed at how much can get done in a day, not to mention 30. 

Then attend to each day as it comes. When you catch yourself looking up at everything at once, bring your focus back to the day at hand. If you still feel, after making your list that it simply cannot be done, consider talking to your instructor(s) about getting an extension. You might ask your doctor to write a note if need be. People are far more understanding than you think, and either way, you WILL survive this. My father used to say, ďWhatís the worst thing that could happen? Are you going to die?Ē Of course not. 

You mentioned that youíd like to give it all up. If you really dislike your college, classes, etc. you can certainly consider switching or even working for awhile. There are solutions for everything. 

For help with some meditation techniques to work on the physical sensations you experience with your fear, you might want to read some of the ďAsk KRSĒ Meditation Letters. 
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I must learn to cope
with stress which, at this point, seems impossible to me. I am married with 8 children. Just the regular schedule is quite hectic and every time anything extra needs to be done I get nervous.

I am happily married and the children are usually happy and healthy. I am just overwhelmed by the mess in the house and keeping up with everything that needs to be done. Alot of times - if I see too many things that need to be done Ė I just sort of freeze - and do nothing. Its like being paralyzed in a way.

I am also always worried that I'm not doing enough for my family and I feel guilty most of the time which does nothing positive for anyone. Any advice?
Overwhelmed with 8 Kids

Dear Overwhelmed,
With 8 children I'm sure it's easy to feel overwhelmed at times. My first suggestion is to have all children who are out of diapers have regular tasks, IN ADDITION to putting away their own belongings and play things each day.

Naturally, the younger the child, the more simple the household task obligation. You might want to keep a chart on the wall that gets checked off each day (you can design a weekly task chart and make several copies for the following weeks). 

Then comes the most important part of the plan - rewards and discipline. Decide what the rewards and discipline are for each child and then enforce it rigorously, with no exceptions, or it will not be taken seriously by the children. It will be well worth your effort to set up this system. You will find your job easier with 8 little helpers and your children will be getting valuable training for their adult years. 

Whenever you feel overwhelmed: 1) Make a Priority List of what you want done. 2) Ask for "extra credit" help from your "kiddie crew" (for extra "rewards") or consider hiring help even once a month to help with the basics. 3) Tackle one thing on your Priority List at a time. Put on some music (or a walkman), think of your chores as exercise, and "relax into it." 

I would also practice some basic relaxation skills, such as deep breathing. This should give you a good start to gaining control of your household and life.
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I have been taking stress relievers
for over a year. The medication is a temporary relief for stressful times. What else can I do to control my stress and not rely on the medication?
Drugs for Anxiety


Hi Drugs for Anxiety,
Many people would (and do) just take pills their whole life and never look up or seek deeper solutions. I'm proud of you for wanting more from life. There are wonderful, easy techniques you can use daily that will enhance your life in calm times as well as stressful times. One easy stress reducer is a meditation on the breath.

1) Focus on the abdomen where it rises and falls with each breath. You can rest your hand on this spot (over the navel area). 
2) Let your shoulders drop as you allow the breath to flow in and out like a wave. Let your face muscles relax along with every other muscle in your body.
3) Search for any other tension in your body as you continue to follow your breath in and out. 
4) When tension arises with anxiety, instead of dreading it think, "Great! This is an opportunity to practice my skills." Just knowing you are learning what to do and that the physical sensations of anxiety are not big bad monsters will free you their grasp. 
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I am the mother
of 16 month old twins. It took me five years and seven miscarriages to have them through IVF. Now that they are walking I am experiencing a great deal of anxiety that something will happen to them while we're out. 

I am terrified that I will not be able to watch them both and that something bad will happen the minute that I turn away. I don't want to instill fear in them and I want them to be able to explore their world. I suspect that this is a kind of post traumatic stress disorder from all the miscarriages but I don't know how to control it. I would appreciate any advice on how to deal with this anxiety before I pass it on to my children. 
Anxious Mother of Twins

Dear Anxious Mother,
It is very astute of you to realize that you could pass this fear onto your children, so congratulations for addressing it before it gets worse. It is very natural for mothers, particularly first time mothers, to have a fear for the safety of their young ones. 

The fact that you went through so much to have yours heightens that concern. I often marvel myself at how children make it though all the bumps and falls alive once they become mobile. BUT THEY DO! In fact, itís part of their learning process. This is what you must remember. 

I have two suggestions. One, have faith (whatever that means to you) in the process. Know that they are in ďhigher hands.Ē When you leave, realize that they being watched over in more ways than one. This will ultimately strengthen your faith (youíll need it when they become teens). Second, practice relaxation skills when you feel like focusing on their safety. Notice where you feel tight in your body and let that area release with each breath. 

Check out some relaxation audios. Give this your time and attention and you WILL overcome it. 
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I am taking
a vacation next month and Iím getting so stressed thinking about all I have to do I feel like canceling. Help!
- Pre-Vacation Stressed

Dear Vacation Stressed,
Here are two effective tips to reduce stress and enhance your vacation experience:

1) Work Ahead Ė Make a list of everything that needs to be done before you go. This will make you feel more organized and will alleviate your stress. Bite the bullet and be willing to put in some extra hours. It is the best gift you can give yourself.

2) Pack Ahead Ė Put on vacation music and start filling your suitcase a week or more before your trip. It will eliminate the stress of last minute packing while extending your vacation through the joy of anticipation.

Bon Voyage!
KRS

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Dear KRS, 
I work
a 40 hour week, have three children under ten years of age (four, if you count my husband), a dog and an endless "To Do" list. My holiday cards say "Peace" on them. How can I find a little peace for myself this season?
Seeking Holiday Peace

Dear Seeking Peace, 
Since extra activities, responsibilities and expectations at this time of year are unavoidable, I'm going to give you a few ideas on how you can clear a better path for serenity.

Start by removing as much outer stress-inducing debris as you can. Basic practical skills can help bulldoze the clutter of activities that rob your time. For example, simplify your schedule and responsibilities. Reschedule non-urgent activities for after the holidays and eliminate those holiday "To Dos" you no longer enjoy or that cause you stress. Then use every time management tip you know and ask other working moms for timesaving tips that get them through the holidays.

Next, eliminate as much inner stress-inducing debris as possible. Identify any self-sabotaging emotional patterns that may surface at this time of year. For example, do you allow or even create more chaos than necessary? Does any part of you feel undeserving of holiday joy? Are you in the "habit" of stress during this time of year?

If you answered "yes" to any of these, try to heighten your awareness of them so you can catch yourself when you start slipping back into them and apply the brakes. The recurrent spotlight of consciousness, like an acupuncture needle, can diffuse old patterns even in the busiest of times. Also remember that emotional issues are, in themselves, ideal opportunities for inner growth and spiritual evolution.

The more inner and outer clutter, chaos and stress you clear from your days, the more space you create for peace. It is a powerful positive cycle that quite effectively counteracts the negative stress-breeds-more-stress cycle.
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I have a nervous
stomach and get upset very easily. I don't want to take drugs.  What do you suggest?
Nervous Stomach

Dear Nervous Stomach,
Relaxation skills will help you with the immediate as well as long-term problem. You'll learn to recognize the very early stages of nervousness approaching and, instead of letting it make you even more nervous, you will use your skills to relax before it becomes bigger. It is very empowering process that will serve you in many other areas as well.

One relaxation technique: Imagine a magically healing waterfall gushing over and through your body, washing away any tension or negativity. Pay particular attention to your stomach area and allow the muscles to soften as you imagine your cool waterfall healing you. (You might want to check out my relaxation audios. They have been quite successful with this sort of problem)
KRS

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Dear KRS,
My family and
I live in Florida and, during this time of year, we are in constant fear of hurricanes. (Ironically, one of the reasons we moved here from Los Angeles was to escape earthquakes!) In the five years we've been here we have had some close calls with violent weather and minor damage but have, so far, been lucky enough to avoid a hurricane. How do you deal with fear of a hurricane (or any natural disaster, for that matter)?
Stressed Over Hurricanes


Dear Hurricane Stressed,
One of the worst things about natural disasters is the fear of the unknown. Lack of control. Without a stress reduction "fall-back plan," lack of control leads to stress. I was recently interviewed about how to survive the stress of a natural disaster. Having experienced first hand the last big quake in Los Angeles, I suggested that the "advantage" of an earthquake over most other natural disasters is that there is no warning - no time to think about it and get worked up about it. It happens and then (for better or worse) it's over. No time for needless anticipatory stress, which in most cases is worse than the actual event. For example, think about all the stress you've put yourself through over hurricanes in the past five years - yet nothing has ever even happened to you. Worrying about hurricanes or anything else, as you know, doesn't change the outcome.

It sounds like you have become a bit over-sensitized to natural disasters (moving across country is a dramatic step). Being aware of this is the first step to returning to a healthy perspective of the situation. A few more tips for reducing "natural disaster stress":

1) Don't feed the frenzy. Don't engage in "what if" conversations about potential disasters with friends or family. Don't read everything about it or listen non-stop to the radio or television during threatening times. Naturally, you should check the news at regular intervals if a problem is pending, but there is no need to have the news blasting through the house for days at a time.

2) Be prepared for disasters. Have a predetermined plan and necessary supplies should a disaster strike. Then -

3) Let it go. Turn on soft music, rent a funny video, meditate, get a massage. Challenge yourself to see how much you can let go. In answer to your inner voice screaming the ultimate fear, "But what if I die?" say, "Then
it is my time." It can actually be quite an enlightening experience. We, after all, are not in control of the universe.
KRS

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Dear KRS,
Is there such a thing as "positive" stress? I own a small business and am running from morning to quitting time (I'm usually good at stopping at six or seven). I seem to thrive on the challenges that come up each day but my family is worried that I'm pushing myself too hard.
Is There Positive Stress?

Dear Is There Positive Stress?,
There is no such thing as "positive" stress. It's like describing something as "blackish white". The dictionary defines stress as "mental or physical tension or strain" which doesn't fit very well in the same sentence with the word "positive". Our bodies and minds are made to endure short periods of stress but prolonged periods become health hazards, raising blood pressure and cholesterol levels while weakening the immune system, to name just a few by-products. The key word you used is "challenge". If you view your daily hurdles as feasible challenges (versus in-over-your-head impossibilities) and feel a sense of control, accomplishment and satisfaction, you're no stresses--you're living life to the fullest. Now tell that to your family so they will quit causing you stress about not being stressed.

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Dear KRS,
My husband stops eating when he's stressed.  I, on the other hand, eat everything in sight and then rob my kids' private goody stock.  No matter how good I've been it all goes out the window when things get crazy.  Is there any hope?
Eating When Stressed


Dear Eating When Stressed,
Eating to numb emotions is very common.  People don't want to FEEL the negative sensations that accompany stress so they take their "drug of choice."  In this case it's food.  Food, like everything else, consists of nothing more than a combination of various chemicals.  When consumed, these chemicals stimulate the release of natural occurring body chemicals, such as serotonin, our own built-in tranquilizer.   Why do you think Prozac is so popular?  It stimulates the release of serotonin.  Overeating produces the same sort of "drugged" effect for a slightly different reason (the digestion process requires an amazing amount of energy).  Being aware of your actions is key to changing them, so the first step is to realize exactly how and when you use food as a drug.

Next you need to summon the courage to feel the negative sensations of stress skillfully instead of running from them.  Each time you want to eat, ask yourself specifically what sensation in your body you are trying not to feel.  Then, if only for a few seconds, put all your attention on that sensation as you let go and allow the sensation to be there, to do whatever it wants, to "complete" itself and move on (and it will, eventually). 

With practice, you will emerge free from the chains of food, more internally educated for future stressful situations, more self-respecting and - slimmer.
KRS

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Dear KRS,
I'm in a high pressure job that requires I sit at my computer most of the day. I think I handle the stress pretty well but because of all the sitting my neck and shoulders ache, especially  in the afternoons. Aspirin helps but I don't want to take it every day. Any suggestions?
Computer Pains


Dear Computer Pains,
You may not be handling the pressure quite as well as you think. Unfortunately, your body is paying the price absorbing the overload. When the body is stationary for a long period of time muscles tend to tighten and when you add stress they tighten even more. Prolonged muscle contraction can limit circulation and even "pull" vertebrae out of alignment, exacerbating the headache, backache and exhaustion cycle. The solution? Movement (for circulation) and stretching (to lengthen muscles before trouble  has time to "set").   Don't sit for more than 20-30 minutes without moving, if only to stand up, do a few shoulder rolls and sit down again. Establish built-in breaks, so you don't have to think of something each time: get a glass of water, go the rest room or how about walking or jogging the stairs to the next floor and down again (it only takes a minute or two). The point is to keep circulation moving and keep the muscles somewhat warm and flexible. A wonderful de-stressing, posture-enhancing stretch for you: (standing or sitting) clasp your hands behind your back at hip level, keeping your elbows straight. Then raise them up as your chest and shoulders open. Hold for as long as it feels good. You might hear a little "crack" or tow as the vertebrae realign themselves. You'll love it.

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Dear KRS,
Why does my hair fall out when no one in my family is losing their hair, including my grandparents?

Hair Falling


Dear Hair Falling,
Hair loss can often be the result of stress.  If this is the case, take steps  to monitor your stressors.  Also, practice stress reducing skills, such as   meditation.  If there has been no significant increase in your stress level   since you started losing your hair, check with your doctor.  Whether or not   your hair loss continues, use this as an opportunity to accept yourself on a   deeper level than the physical.

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Dear KRS,
What's the best and easiest way to get rid of stress?

Tired of Stress


Dear Tired of Stress,
Eliminate or modify the things causing you stress.  How do you do that?  First, make a list of your stressors.  Then put the stressors that you feel you CANNOT CONTROL in one column and the stressors you feel are potentially controllable ("CAN CONTROL", or modify to some extent) in the other column.  Interestingly, many feel a great deal of relief already at this stage. Defining your stress is a very important part of the process. 

Next, focusing on the "CAN CONTROL" column, write down how you can eliminate or modify each stressor.  Take your time and be creative and brutally honest with yourself.  For example "car payments" is a common stressor.  Many find the decision to go to a less expensive car or even sell one of the family cars is the "brutally honest" best solution.  In other words, much of our stress is self-created.  The good news is that it can be self-repaired. Breathing exercises, meditation and visualization will help with the CANNOT CONTROL column.

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Dear KRS,
What is the easiest way to live a healthier, stress-free lifestyle?  I don't have the time or interest to research everything there is to know on the subject.  Can you "bottom line" it for me?
Seeking a Stress-Free Lifestyle


Dear Seeking Stress-Free,
You start by prioritizing a life of QUALITY, not QUANTITY.  We are so busy trying to go faster, do more and have more that we forget about BEING more, long term.   Everybody wants to "be" more on Monday, but by the time Friday rolls around, the desire has often dissipated.  Decide that your goal to be healthier and more stress-free is a matter of "life-or-death."  Then, one step at a time, work towards that goal in a workable, non-fanatical way.

Make a list of those people or things from your life that are unhealthful, whether it's a bad boss or junk food, and write them down.  Then, one at a time, work on eliminating them from your life. The process may take a lifetime, but you will reap the rewards all along the way.

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Dear KRS,
I am having a horrible time sleeping. I am very tired but I just can't seem to sleep.   I can't seem to clear my mind and just sleep.  I've tried everything from a hot bath to sleeping pills.  HELP!!
Busy, Sleepless Mind


Dear Busy Mind,
It helps to have a wind-down routine that may start 2-3 hours before bedtime.  This is a time to turn work off, have a few laughs (talk to friends, for example) and prepare for bed.  Don't eat right before bedtime and eliminate caffeine entirely for awhile.   Read until your eyelids are so heavy you can barely reach for the light. 

Here's one technique I teach:  When you notice that you are thinking, bring your attention to the most prominent sensation in your body.  In other words, where is that thought manifesting in your body?  Go to that area and allow it to relax, to let go.  Stay with it relentlessly, even as your mind keeps trying to think/worry/obsess.   Continue coming back to the sensations in your body and observe them, practicing ways to stop fighting and just allow them.  For more tips, read some of the other responses I've given for insomnia.

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Dear KRS,
I
am very confused about my present situation. I'm miserable at my job, however I earn a pretty high salary for my field and I've invested 8 years in this career so far. I'm contemplating quitting and looking for another job, but I'm so stressed out I don't even think I want to pursue this field I am in any longer. I'm thinking of a career change, but then that will mean staying at home with my parents until I finish training, and frankly, I don't want to postpone getting my own apartment (I'm 29). Which leads me to another stress: my parents are extremely traditional and do not find it acceptable for an unmarried woman to live on her own. They're giving me an incredible guilt trip (tears and all). Please help.
At the End of My Rope



Dear End of Rope,
Whenever it seems as if you have an overwhelming load of unresolvable problems, it's important to untangle the mental web and establish clarity before making decisions.   List the possible solutions to each problem with a "Pro" and "Con" column for each one.  Write down the positive and negative aspects of each solution under the "Pro" or "Con" heading.  Then compare solutions and watch clarity and intuition resurface.  It's a simple but rather enlightening technique.

Let me guide you a bit with your current "web" of confusion.  It doesn't matter whether you've invested one year or 35 years in a job in which you are unhappy. You must honor your true nature and seek a job to which you are better suited -  as soon as possible.  Console yourself that every bit of experience you've gained at your current job will serve you one way or another at some point in your life, so it wasn't a waste of time.  Does a career change necessarily mean a period of unpaid training?   If so, consider the options, such as getting a part-time job while in training and sharing an apartment with a friend to help with the rent.  Perhaps having a roommate would help your parents accept your move.  If not, be gentle but firm with them and make the move anyway.  Exciting changes are on the horizon for you.  Now take action.

Dear KRS,
Th
ank you for your advice. Things are already starting to look up. A negative situation at work has cleared up, and I've decided to go ahead and get my own apartment. My parents, though not happy about it, said they will get used to it if they have to. Just wanted to let you know. Thanks again.
No Longer At The End of My Rope

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