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Stress Management 101

By Michelle May, M.D.

Author’s note: I had intended to post this last week but I ran into a little problem which led to a little stress so I had to take my own advice! I hope you’ll enjoy reading that post to help you see how to put the strategy below into action.

Managing Stressstressed black woman

Now that you know what stress is, let’s use our FEAST strategy to help you deal with it.

Focus

When you’re experiencing stress, your impulse might be to power through, freak out, or stick your head in the sand (procrastinating, eating, drinking – you get the idea). As we’ve all noticed, behaviors such as busyness, overworking, smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol to excess, isolation, and taking our frustration out on others, perpetuate the stress reaction.

Instead of trying to escape what you are experiencing, pause and take a few deep breaths. Do a slow head to toe scan (see Body-Mind-Heart Scan in chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat). Become aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, how your body is reacting, and what you’re doing as a result without judging it. Just observe what is there.

Explore

There are physical, mental, and emotional sources of stress. Some of these are universally stressful-such as the loss of a loved one or the risk of bodily harm-whereas others are uniquely stressful to the individual.

Physical – Sources of physical stress include fatigue, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, lack of physical activity, illness, pain, and others. Not only are these stressful on your body, they can leave you more susceptible to stress from other sources.

Thoughts – Remember the Thought-Feeling-Action-Result cycle (TFAR)? (Chapters 4 and 18 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.) The experience of stress is often triggered by a thought. In other words, stress frequently results from your perception and interpretation of life’s events.

Therefore, whether an event is stressful is often dependent on the individual. For instance, to one person, just the thought of speaking in public will cause a pounding heart, dry throat, and inability to utter a word, while to another person (me!), it is an exciting opportunity to get one’s views across. In other words, one (wo)man’s stress is another (wo)man’s pleasure!

However, until you pause to become aware of your thoughts, you may not be aware of that they are the source of your stress. Are any of these familiar?

  • “I’ll be late!””
  • “I feel like everything is out of control!”
  • “I have to get this perfect.”
  • “Why did I say (or do) that?”
  • “How could that happen?”
  • “I want everyone to like me.”
  • “I have too much to do!”
  • “I shouldn’t eat this.”
  • “Why did I eat that?”
  • “What will they think?”
  • “I am not good enough.”
  • “It’s not fair!”
  • “I have to be right.”
  • “I can do it all, have it all, and be it all!”

Note that most of these thoughts are about the past or the future, not about the present moment. That’s important because you have absolutely no control over the past or the future. But you can control what you think about right now.

Emotional – As you explore your feelings, you may notice boredom, loneliness, anger, frustration, happiness, and myriad other emotions. Emotions provide information so practice noticing what you’re feeling without judging it.

Accept

tornadoLet’s face it: our society places a lot of demands on our energy and time. This often creates unrealistic expectations and a sense of urgency, leading to stress.

It’s important to respect your own personal strengths and limitations and use self-compassion when you are experiencing stress: “I’m feeling overwhelmed and tense. I can’t do everything on my to do list; no one could, but I’m doing my best-and that will have to be good enough for now.”

When you accept the situation (and yourself) as it is in this moment, and just allow it to be, you won’t compound the stress response by overreacting to it. It’s like imagining yourself at the center of the tornado; you are calm and centered while everything whirls around you.

Next Post: Stress Management 102 – Strategize and Take Action

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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