Although we think of guilt-induced stress in particular around the winter holidays, many people struggle with this throughout the year. So what better time is there than now to give yourself the gift of less worry?
One of the worst things about guilt induced stress is that you feel like you deserve it! Most people with this kind of stress don’t do anything about it in order to feel better. Or, if do something, it’s a feeble attempt that’s not enough to actually fix the worrying problems. Often we are satisfied with resolving to quit worrying. You probably already know how well this works.
Not only is it hard to quit worrying by simply telling yourself to stop it, it’s even harder to actively work toward resolving guilt that you believe you deserve. You are under stress and the body reacts to that stress as if it were any other kind of stress.
Relax. There are solutions and they aren’t complicated. They just take some work and determination. You can be in a powerful position to resolve guilt-induced stress.
The body’s stress response is meant to help you handle the extra demand that stress places on your functioning. This response is therefore thought of as “adaptive”, meaning it’s helpful. But it’s meant to be temporary, so it’s only helpful for a little while. Long-term stress (and guilt-induced stress can qualify) has a chronic effect on the body that results in overall damage.
HOW YOUR BODY REACTS
Theory suggests a three-stage response to stress: 1 ) The alarm reaction, (fight or flight) sets off adrenaline and cortisol resulting in increased heart rate, blood pressure, more glucose in the blood, and more awareness of your surroundings. Some people call this awareness hypervigilance, meaning that you are more watchful than average. Many people who struggle with guilt recognize themselves as being hypervigilant at times. 2) A resistance stage where your body operates at a higher level of functioning than before the stress. This is the body’s coping ability — it’s meant to help you survive as you find ways to solve the problem. 3) Exhaustion happens when you don’t solve the problem and stress continues. Reactions to the exhaustion stage can include depression, illness, anxiety, gastrointestinal difficulties, muscle tension, etc. The body needs help to recover and reduce stress.
Your body wasn’t made to linger in problems. Rather the stress response is like a short-term energy boost meant to help you manage stress while you solve the problem. Too much of the time we feel helpless or hopeless and don’t move toward problem-solving. Understanding how to regulate your emotions can help you use your feelings to your advantage instead of being sidelined by them.
CALM THE STRESS
When it’s not possible to solve the problem right away, you can still help yourself by acting on these three things to help your body better manage stress:
1) DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
Everyone’s heard that you should breathe to help with stress, but many people don’t know how to do this or why it’s that important. One of the things that is most helpful to your entire body functioning is a reliable supply of oxygen. Deep breathing helps release toxins and manage pain. It promotes relaxation in muscles and in the mind, improves blood oxygenation and nourishes the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and nerves). It strengthens the heart and lungs and helps burn excess fat more efficiently! Perhaps most relevant is that deep breathing immediately engages your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, countering the stress response.
So, now that you are (hopefully) much more interested in breathing, here’s how to do it: Breath all the way into your abdomen, not just into your chest. If you place a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach, the hand on your chest should not move and the hand on your stomach should move as much as you can make it move by breathing deeply. Imagine your stomach is filling up like a balloon with the air you are breathing in. Then, slightly open your mouth and breath out gently. Think about making the sound of a gentle breeze through the trees as you breath out. Focus all your attention just on these physical sensations.
2) PRESCRIBED WORRY TIME
This may sound a little nutty, but research supports the use of planned worry time if you find that you are constantly ruminating (ruminating is thinking about things without any problem solving, rather just turning problems over and over in your mind). Here’s what this means: simply write down the things you are worried about that you aren’t really able to solve right now. Instead of thinking about them throughout the day, choose a time period (say 15 minutes) when you will think about them. If your mind turns to any of these worries at other times, you have to tell yourself that no, you’ll think about them at your worry time. Then, when it’s your worry time, the only thing you’re allowed to do is worry about those things. Nothing else!
3) SUPPORT YOUR STRESSED BODY WITH ADAPTOGENS
You may think that your only options are taking an anti-anxiety medication (something like Valium, or a similar addictive benzodiazepine) or suffering. Smile – there are other options: Adaptogens are plants that have been shown to help the body’s response to stress, and to help prevent or reduce the exhaustion phase of the stress response. A large number of clinical research studies show that adaptogenic herbs have a wide range of positive effects on your body, all pointed to protecting the body from damage by stress. For example, Eleutherococcus senticosus (AKA Siberian Ginseng) stimulates your immune response so you are less likely to get sick as a result of stress, boosts your mood so you are less likely to get depressed, and (among many other things) improves liver, heart and blood pressure functioning. Rhodiola rosea improves clarity of the mind and boosts alertness, relieving fatigue even during stress, improving memory, and boosting endocrine system functioning. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) helps fatigue, anxiety, cloudy thinking and nervous exhaustion. A number of different adaptogens beyond these three examples (or combinations) are available to help you better manage the effects of stress on your body, but you should always seek the advice of your doctor before taking any herbs or medication. When looking for adaptogens be sure to choose a quality preparation. This is true particularly when it comes to the judicious use of herbal medicines.