22.11.2013 Wellbeing

Downsizing Stress

Olivier LeJus continues his series on reducing the impact of stress on our daily lives.

The consequences of stress were dramatically exposed on national television a few years ago, when the Sydney-based journalist Juanita Phillips suffered an on air coughing fit while presenting the ABC evening news, forcing the national broadcaster to temporally divert the program to its Melbourne studio. Juanita later attributed the very public breathing incident to ongoing stress. This traumatic experience forced the newsreader to reevaluate her life. She took a break from journalism, and later wrote a book called A pressure cooker saved my life, how to have it all, do it all, and keep it all together which I highly recommend, not only for the cooking tips, but the very useful lifestyle advice.

Let's face it, life is stressful. The problem with stress is that it gradually creeps up on us, so we become unaware of its impact on our well being, until a crisis forces us to make changes. It is like one of those unwelcome guests whom we grudgingly accommodate for weeks on end, until we discover one day that we have become constantly moody, irritable, and are now finding any excuse to avoid coming home at night.

Of course, stressful factors will vary according to each individual. One person will be terrified of public speaking, while another will be excited by the challenge. Stress also manifests itself in many different ways. The psychologist Connie Lillas used a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they're overwhelmed by stress:

Foot on the gas

- An angry or agitated stress response. We get heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.

Foot on the brake

- A withdrawn or depressed stress response. We shut down, space out and show very little energy or emotion.

Foot on both pedals

- A tense and frozen stress response. We "freeze" under pressure and can't do anything. We look paralysed, but under the surface we are extremely agitated.

We should remember that while we may feel the stress in our life is out of our control, it is up to us how we respond to it. Taking up yoga and meditation, or learning deep breathing techniques can increase our ability to stay calm and collected under pressure, but managing stress is also about learning to take charge of the way we deal with problems. The first step is to identify and, as much as possible, try to eliminate the stress factors that are affecting us.

I know that when I started taking a hard look at myself, I quickly realised I was actually very good at making my life difficult.

In her book, Juanita Phillips explains that when she decided to change her lifestyle, she soon realised many of the technological gadgets she was using were not only great time wasters, but a constant source of stress. This led her to take drastic steps to simplify her life as much as possible, which resulted in getting rid of most of her kitchen equipment, (except her pressure cooker which she discovered was a great time saver). She bought a very basic mobile phone, and switched off her voice mail service. After all, if the call were that important, the person would get back to her anyway. She got rid of her landline, and she took drastic steps to control her use of the Internet. ('Do I really need to check my email a dozen times a day?' I ask myself). She set herself a two minute limit for replying to work email. She dropped out of Facebook, without any ill consequences, and she drastically limited her television intake. Being a busy mum with a young child, she started dividing her day into 15 minute blocks of time with each specific household task allotted a single, or a multiple slots, thus forcing her to stop procrastinating.

She taught herself to learn to say, "Can I check my diary and get back to you?" instead of automatically accepting invitations to social events only to find herself overwhelmed later on. By reorganising her wardrobe, and getting rid of all the clothes she hadn't worn in a year, she made it a lot easier and quicker to select an outfit every day.

With her new method, Juanita got rid of most of her stress, and she used the extra time for doing the things she really wanted to do.

We can probably all make similar changes in our life without any ill effects. Of course, the idea is not to make our life miserable by cutting out all the things we enjoy. After all, watching a little bit of junk on TV now and then has never harmed anyone. But in my personal experience, pruning most of the unnecessary time wasters out of the day can make a lot of difference in reducing stress levels without really costing anything.

In my case, it even led me into buying a pressure cooker from a discount warehouse, which would have made my late mother very proud of her son.

Olivier Lejus MHSC.BHSc. is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney

Olivier Lejus

Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com