Janet nearly fainted when a week prior to our session she watched in horror as an entire patch of her hair fell out! Janet braced herself for the worse: Perhaps she was the victim of some life threatening disease. Much to her chagrin, Janet's physician could find nothing wrong with her physical condition. Instead, he suggested that her dis-tressing malady (pun intended!) was the result of acute stress in her life.
Simply put: Janet's problem was generated by psychological rather than physical causes. This is a scenario that as a professional counselor I have seen again and again.
There are literally thousands of ways to combat stress. Nevertheless, in this brief, but highly informative article, I am going to share the best methods (or technologies) to stop stress dead in its tracks.
First let me point out that research shows that a tinge of stress can actually be a positive . . . that's right, I said a positive thing! Say, for example, that we have three people who are equally prepared to take a college exam. Person A is in a total panic. He is completely anxiety ridden to the point where like Janet his hair is actually falling out. Next we have person B who virtually has no stress whatsoever. Finally, we have person C who is basically calm and confident but is plagued with a very small amount of anxiety. According to research, person C will fare best. Hence, the object of this article is not to eliminate all the stress from your life; just the majority of it.
Everyone knows that stress is caused by negative things like high credit card bills, traffic tickets, and failing grades in school. What is not common knowledge is that positive things in life such as marriage, giving birth to a child, or securing a promotion at work can also abet stress.
Since we can't totally control the environment such as the temperature or the stock market, most experts agree that stress management procedures should focus on personal change. Moreover, research tends to indicate that crummy things happen to all of us, but some of us seem to react better to those crummy or good stressful things than others!
Methods For Handling Stress
Okay, without any further ado here are some superb methods for handling stress:
1. Stop "awfulizing." This term - coined by Dr. Albert Ellis - one of the greatest psychologists of all time, suggests that you make things worse in your life by exaggerating their impact. You literally tell yourself that a minor event is terrible, horrible, or even catastrophic. Thinking in this manner will almost always abet physical and mental disturbance. Start making keeping a journal of times when you do this and then force yourself to look at the situation in a different manner (e.g., "Not being invited to my neighbor's party certainly isn't the best thing that ever happened to me, but it definitely isn't the worst either").
2. Another great way to cut stress off at the pass is to make a concrete decision about something you are hedging about or have been putting off. This could be breaking up with your boy friend, applying for college, or trying a different hair style. Most of my clients discover that their level of stress lessens when they finally make a decision; even when they have clearly made the wrong decision. So if you've been putting off making a decision, or need to take action on some project in your life stop reading - yes right this very minute - and get off your duff and take some action!
Did you stop and take some action? Well did you?
3. You've probably heard that exercise is a great way to reduce stress. What you most likely haven't heard is that too much exercise actually causes stress and prompts your body to release stress hormones! People who exercise too much look old for their age. Working out a few times a week is wonderful. Running a marathon every other day won't make serve as an effective stress-buster.
4. Learn to relax. There are lots of ways to relax. Some people meditate on a phase on a single word called a mantra repeated again and again. Meditation allows one to focus and clear the mind. A host of research indicates that meditation works.
Another highly effective strategy that has been used for over 60 years is the so-called Jacobson method. To perform the Jacobson Method you merely tighten one major group of muscles at a time (e.g., the upper arm or the stomach) as tight as you can for a few seconds and then let the muscle group relax. Repeat the relaxation with each muscle group a couple of times and work your way through the entire body.
One irony is that some this approach makes some people feel more uptight during the muscle tension phase. For persons who react negatively to this approach I'd wholeheartedly recommend a different approach in which you mentally command yourself to relax each and every muscle group. So you would actually say to yourself, "My breathing is slow and rhythmic, my entire hand is relaxing, even my fingers." Others will respond best to a guided imagery approach in which you imagine a scene that is relaxing to you.
This paradigm can easily be combined with the one I just mentioned for excellent results. This person might say to himself or herself, "You are sitting on the beach on a nice warm sunny day . . . you are very relaxed . . . your arm is so relaxed etc."
5. Another viable option is biofeedback. In this approach you are hooked up to a sophisticated electronic device (and don't worry you won't feel a thing, the device does nothing to you) that carefully monitors your relaxation or lack of it. The machine gives you feedback as to whether you are relaxing or not. Somehow, by receiving feedback, you learn to relax on command. Pretty cool 'eh? Another good thing is that some people swear they are relaxed but the biofeedback meter indicates that they are deceiving themselves. I'll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell your local Yogi: A lot of folks who practiced meditation for years without the feedback realized they were actually becoming more tense during meditation or other relaxation exercises!
6. You could also try hypnosis or self-hypnosis. No you won't be told to bark like a dog or scream like a chicken (unless of course those things relax you and if that's the case your stress is well beyond the scope of this article!). In fact, most people who choose hypnosis will not be placed in a deep dark trance where you forget your mother's name. You will merely be placed in an extremely relaxed state and then you will be given relaxation commands. Since a lot of crackpots gravitate toward hypnosis and biofeedback -- some of whom like to bark like a dog or scream like a chicken -- I'd strongly recommend a practitioner who has a state license such as a licensed professional counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
The most important thing is to pick a strategy or set of strategies that you feel comfortable with and give them a whirl. You have nothing to lose but a boatload of stress and another bad hair day.
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- Revised Publication Date: 04/24/11
About Dr. Rosenthal
Dr. Howard Rosenthal is HairBoutique.com's official "hair psychologist". Dr. Howard Rosenthal is the Program Coordinator of Human Services at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and a private practice therapist.
Over 100,000 people have heard his dynamic lectures. Therapists from coast to coast use his materials to pass licensing and certification exams.
You can purchase his ultra popular lively self-improvement guide entitled: Help Yourself to Positive Mental Health and his book Not With My Life I Don't: Preventing Your Suicide And That Of Others by clicking on the highlighted books and buying through HairBoutique.com's association with Amazon.com or by visiting Dr. Rosenthal's web site.
Dr. Rosenthal has also written the very popular Straight A's in Thirty Days: The Shocking Truth About Getting Good Grades which is available on tape from his website.
All of Dr. Rosenthal's books are written in his folksy, and conversational "reader-friendly" style. To secure his popular 27 minute cassette tape Master Course in Self-Hypnosis and Sleep Learning send $17.50 check or money order to: Dr. Howard Rosenthal, Dept. Hyp., 3417 Cottonwood Drive, St. Charles, MO 63301.