Quick Stress Management Tip: Pay Attention!

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2012-03-19 11:32:05 -0500
Started 2012-03-18 17:58:56 -0500

Think about the last time you were really stressed out. How were you feeling? And what were you thinking about?

Wherever our mind goes, our emotions follow. And when you’re in a stressful situation, our minds can take us into places that can result in lots of fear, anxiety, and anger.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you are in your doctor’s office, waiting to see him/her about some test results or to talk about a change in medication. As you wait, you think about how worried you are about what your doctor might have to tell you, maybe you visualize the worst possible outcome, or a few outcomes. And all of those scary thoughts lead you to feel your usual signs that you are about to become stressed out. Maybe your breathing becomes shallow. Your heartbeat speeds up. You get butterflies in your stomach.

See what’s happening? Your mind is taking you down a path that may or may not be reality, and your body is pumping out all those stress chemicals in response.

The result: Stress!

You can avoid all this stress by using mindfulness. And it’s simple. All you have to do is pay attention. But I do mean PAY ATTENTION!

Be mindful of what’s going on around you. The guy sitting across from you is reading the newspaper. The carpeting is a little worn in spots. A driver outside just honked her horn – I wonder what kind of car that was? The ceiling fan is on. There’s a slight breeze. You catch a whiff of the cologne the woman sitting a few feet away is wearing. The wallpaper is your favorite shade of green. Did you notice that before? And are those flowers real or artificial?

It can help to focus on your breathing as you do this. Inhale, exhale. Relax.

See what I mean? By using mindfulness, you are focusing on the here and now, what’s real, and not the fearful thoughts and images that just lead to stress. Now – mind you – the here and now isn’t all that exciting. After all, what’s exciting about that ceiling fan? Nothing. And that’s the point.

You can try this technique in virtually any stressful situation. Before a meeting with your boss. When someone in your household is taking out their bad day on other people. In a crowded room, pay attention to individual people and objects that interest you instead of focusing on how all those people interacting with each other seem scary to you.

Replace the “what if” with the “what is.” Not the drama, especially the drama your mind wants to create. Just real life.

Admittedly, this takes practice. After all, we have a lot of time and energy invested in the stories that we create when we don’t have enough information. And yes, some good and some bad experiences over the years have taught us to keep our guard up and maybe to expect the worst. It might help to remind yourself that each experience is a new one, and we can choose not to assume that it is going to be a repeat of an old one. Life starts over each and every moment of the day. Each experience is unique in its own way.

Give it a try. Have some fun seeing how many details you can notice. Make it a game. Focus on the trees instead of the forest. Smell those roses that you never even noticed before this moment. Smile at how average life can be.

Pay attention! And feel yourself calm down.

Tags: stress

1 reply

Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2012-03-19 11:32:05 -0500 Report

Dr. Gary, I am probably the less stressed person on DC. I don't let anything I can't control stress me out. While in therapy I had a biofeedback treatment to determine my stress level and learned my stress level was way above the normal range. I then went to treatment twice a week and learned relaxation therapy.

My last major stress was a double whammy. My mom died in my sisters car in the parking garage at the hospital where she was going for cancer treatment. She was revived by a nurse and taken into the ER. She died again and was revived. The third time my sister was told she would become a vegetable if they brought her back again. My sister stopped treatment. I was mad because I was not there and felt had I been there this would not have happened. This was followed by a call from the cemetery asking for permission to exhume my dad because they made a mistake and did not bury him deep enough to bury my mom on top of him. I was beyond angry at that point. That was until my aunt asked what can you do about any of this. I immediately calmed down because I had to think rationally. Thankfully my sister and I were both on the phone and on speaker so the aunts could hear the conversation. We agreed to exhuming my dad and in the end we did not have to pay for my moms burial and they gave us perpetual care.

I think people spend entirely too much time worrying about things out of their control. You have to ask look at the problem head on and solve it. If you know someone gets on your last working nerve, don't let them. If hate your job work hard finding another one. Life is so much easy once you know what will stress you out and work towards preventing the stress.

I don't worry about test results. I had a very competent doctor and he would give me the bad or good news and tell me how WE would work through it. I am the kind of person who if the doctor told me I had six months to live, after the initial shock, I am going to pack clothing, go on a cruise and fight the Cancer when I return. If I die within the six months at least I got to do one thing I enjoyed doing before I died.