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Reducing Stress in our Lives
     by Sherry Messick

Sometimes you can take control of the situations and events that cause stress by taking control of your time. Most people expect too much of themselves, and try to do too much. Attempting to do too much in too little time can cause a significant amount of stress. In most instances, the stressors (those events or situations that cause stress) can be eliminated or their impact can be reduced. Changing your perception and attitude about time, and learning to budget this fourth dimension are the first steps toward reducing time's impact on your health and well-being.

Changing Your Perception

Live in the here and now, instead of in the past or in the future. Take notice of what is happening at the moment, instead of being anxious about what might happen in the future. Focus on what is happening now, instead of the situation that occurred an hour ago. Don't wear a wristwatch when it is not absolutely necessary to be at a certain place, or do a specific task, at an exact time. Do only one thing at a time, instead of three or four at once. Instead of trying to talk on the telephone while making dinner and keeping an eye on the kids in the yard, let the phone ring. Call the person back when things have slowed down. Slow down. Talk more slowly and try to avoid interrupting others. Walk more slowly, instead of racing around. Take time to smile and acknowledge people. Notice your surroundings instead of pre-occupying yourself with thoughts. Drive the speed limit. Don't weave in and out of lanes in an effort to get a few cars (and a few seconds) ahead. While waiting in lines, take pleasure in the process instead of becoming irritated. Observe your posture. Feel yourself supported by the ground. Feel your arms dangling at your sides or supported inside your coat pockets. Do deep breathing exercises and concentrate on relaxing your shoulders. Convince yourself that it's OK to simply do nothing. Schedule at least 15 minutes into everyday to simply do nothing.

Wake up and appreciate the little things in life. Really look at your surroundings. Listen to the sounds of your environment. Feel the wind or the temperature on your skin.

Budgeting Your Time

Budgeting your time is the same as prioritizing your time with respect to events and people. Many people have trouble saying no when someone requests their time. Time requests come in many forms such as telephone conversations, unscheduled or extended meetings and social invitations to which individuals feel a responsibility to attend. It's important to realize that YOU own your time. While there may be concessions that you need to make at work and in relationships, ultimately how you choose to "spend" your time is your decision.

The following tips may help you budget your valuable time more wisely:

1. Make "to do" lists. Keep track of those things that you must do, those things that you feel like you should do, and those things that you want to do.

2. Review those things that you feel you SHOULD do and ask yourself, "why?" Then, consider whether or not it is your responsibility to do them, or if there is someone else who could do them or who would want to do them? Try to take these items off your list and give them to someone else: a co-worker, your spouse, a neighbor, a hired helper. Chances are, if you take time to do all of the things that you feel you should do, you may not have time for those things that you must or want to do, and you probably won't get personal satisfaction from having accomplished them anyway.

3. Now review your "must do" list and ask yourself if you, personally, must really do the, items on the list? Ask yourself if there is someone else who could also do them. Also ask yourself if the items on the list are truly necessary? If not, take them off the list.

4. Now that you have your list down to those things you must do and those things you want to do, start prioritizing them. Don't try to complete everything at once. Assign a date and/or a time to each of the tasks. Spread them out and don't try to jam them into unrealistic time periods. Draw a line through each item as it is completed.

5. Identify people or events that "steal or waste your time." Try to take control of those, uninvited events that intrude on your time. Don't answer the telephone. Change your perception that you are obligated to answer the telephone whenever it rings.

Schedule "closed door" times. Ask others to not interrupt you during those periods, unless it is absolutely necessary. Schedule "open door" times, during which anybody and everybody can walk in and brainstorm, chat or ask questions.

6. Realize that it's OK to not be a perfectionist. There is a difference between quality and perfection. Striving for perfection on projects or details that do not require perfection can waste time and create stress.

7. Respect others' desire and need to contribute. Don't try to do everything yourself, when other individuals can and would like to help.

What's The Worst That Can Happen?

Learning to manage your time is a process. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. In any given situation, always ask yourself: "What is the worst that can happen if I decline this person's invitation?" "What is the worst that can happen if I don't do this task?" "What is the worst that can happen if I don't complete this project on time?" "What is the worst that can happen if I choose not to attend this meeting or event?" "What is the worst that can happen if I just say 'no'?"

When stress is frequent, chronic or prolonged, it creates wear and tear on the mind and body. The good news is that while the stress response is a "natural" one, it can also be naturally controlled and managed. The best strategy for avoiding the negative effects of stress is to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, many people try to relax at the same pace that they lead the rest of their lives. For a while, tune out your worries about time, productivity, and "doing right." Experts say that to relax muscles, you should tense them. As crazy as it sounds, it works.

To begin:

1. Sit in a chair with your eyes closed.

2. Rest your arms on the arm rests, or let them relax at your sides with your hands slightly folded on your lap.

3. Begin taking slow, deep, rhythmic breaths. Breath deeply from the abdomen, rather than from the chest.

4. Identify muscle tension in various parts of your body. At first, feel the tension but do not yet try to relax.

5. Then, firmly tense and tighten the specific muscle or muscle group. Hold the tension for five seconds, then let the tension fade away. For example, if you feel tension in your face and forehead, tighten your jaw, squinch your eyes and tighten you chin. And then relax.

6. Concentrate and focus on feeling the tension leaving the muscle. Visualize the muscle becoming relaxed and limber.

7. Visualize white light and warm energy filling the muscle.

8. If you have identified tension in more than one muscle group, follow the above process for all of the areas. You may even want to start with the muscles in your face and head, and slowly work through each main muscle group down to your toes. Tensing and relaxing as you move down your body.

9. If you have an injury or muscle group that is weak, use caution when tensing.

10. Open your eyes and look at the day in a different way.

Sherry Messick, Surviving Scleroderma,

United Scleroderma Foundation,  Fighting for our cause or Phone at 1-800-722-HOPE.

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