Stress and Unhealthy Behaviors – Emotional Pro

April 11th, 2006

On February 23, 2006, the American Psychological Association issued a press release through the APA entitled “Americans Engage in Unhealthy Behaviors to Manage Stress.” Here are some interesting items from that release: 1) Forty-seven percent of Americans say they are concerned about stress; 2) Leading sources of stress include money, work, health problems (especially of family members), health concerns, “state of the world” and children; 3) People who are “very concerned” about their stress are more likely to be smokers and also exercise less. What “unhealthy things” do people do in working with such stress? Comfort eating, poor diet choices, smoking and inactivity. More people who report they are affected by stress are hypertensive, anxious, depressed and overweight. Women, by the way, report that stress affects them more than men (51 percent versus 43 percent) and have more things that stress them out. Women report feelings of nervousness, wanting to cry and lack of energy, while men talk about trouble sleeping or feeling irritable and angry.
So, let’s talk about stress! Studies like these are interesting, because they also reflect our beliefs. Yes, this is the way X percent of people are, or report they are, but what do they BELIEVE that underlies their experience? What are some possible beliefs, here? 1) I’m concerned about changing things but don’t believe I can change them; 2) I’m a woman and have less faith in my ability to change things than I would if I were a man; 3) I’m a man and have faith that I can change things more than if I were a woman; 4) I’m a man and cannot let my concerns show; instead they “leak” in ways I cannot control (such as in my sleep); 5) I’m a woman and I can express my feelings and let people know I cannot function very well (e.g., low energy); 6) The areas of my life where I have the least control are with money, work, keeping my body healthy and keeping charge over my children; 7) Since I have so little control over things, I will channel the anxious energy through smoking (activity), rather than doing something constructive that will really work. Since we all live according to our beliefs, it is important to identify what they are, and also to realize that we can change them. If you are holding some of these beliefs, what can you do to change them? (Hint: You can “rewrite” your belief and feed the new belief into your brain by constant repetition. The subconscious mind (where beliefs “live”!) cannot tell the difference between fiction and reality; it believes whatever is repeated, repeated and repeated.)
The more a person focuses on what cannot be changed and where s/he is helpless to make things different, the more stress and anxiety build! In our culture, we have learned to focus on “the problem” rather than on “the solution,” or better yet, “the outcome we want and how great it will feel to us.” Focus is very important regarding stress, as well as other “problems” we experience in life. Focusing on “the problem” makes us feel more helpless and ineffective. As I write in “Born to Learn,” and stress on “Full Power Living” (my Internet radio program), we need to “Pay attention to what you want to become, not to what you want to overcome.” Making this single change will transform anyone’s life. It is the mainstay of my psychotherapy as I help people to gain control of their lives and move in the direction they wish to go.
And then there is Fear. When we focus on the problem, we look at what “is not” going right, happening the way we wish, etc. If we want things to be different, we’ll need to change. Most people are afraid of change, as we discuss in “Born to Learn.” So, they put off making change until the pain of where they are registers high on the scale (stress?), so high they think it couldn’t be “any worse/more” if they made the change. Then they go into the change.
Here’s the scoop: We Americans can change the level of our stress with several easy steps: 1) change our beliefs; 2) focus on what we want to become, rather than on what we want to overcome; 3) utilize courage in making changes, rather than postponing them; 4) face life with faith and trust, rather than with fear. Bon Chance!

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