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Decrease Stress and Increase Productivity

Stress. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t suffer from it. For some, it might stem from a single situation, for others, it might be a way of life. Sadly, in our world, stress is also unavoidable.

Stress, whether it’s emotional, psychological or physical can cause a variety of ailments; headaches, digestion trouble, sleep disruption, muscle tension and aches, anxiety, trouble making decisions, confusion, emotional over-response and mood swings. Long term stress can result in high blood pressure, ulcers, increased allergic symptoms, asthma flare-ups, weight changes, suppressed immune system and migraines to name a few.

In addition to physiological illnesses, stress can keep us from achieving our goals. When our lives are consumed by stress, we often lack the energy to focus on our dreams. During times of worry and tension, my writing productivity has waned, and sometimes, stopped altogether. However, we can take steps to decrease our response to stress. In controlling our responses, we can lessen the effect it has on us. There are several, easy ways to counteract stress.

Anything that interrupts the physiological stress response can help to short circuit it. Here are some suggestions.

Exercise: Writing is a sedentary activity. Sitting still can exacerbate the effects of stress. Exercise can counteract this. Physical exertion releases the tension our body tries to hold onto. Get up and move at least once an hour. Dance. Do jumping jacks. Stretch. Do yoga. Go for a walk.

A caveat - walking to the fridge or pantry is not considered a stress relieving activity. Often, we use food as comfort. It can soothe us when we’re stressed. However, it also encourages poor eating habits and transference. Instead of dealing with our stressors in a healthy way, we’re stifling them with food. Better to go out and weed your garden than gorge on Twinkies and potato chips.

Changing Bad Habits
I don’t know a writer who doesn’t crave it. Research has shown us that heavy caffeine intake actually stimulate the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system, also known as the fight or flight response. When people feel hyped up from caffeine stimulation the body releases adrenaline, which in turn raises the blood pressure, the heart rate and respiration. The body looks for a stressor to fight off or run from, but it isn’t able to do either with chemical stimulation. Most modern stressors can’t be deal with the fight or flight response so our bodies live in a chronic state of arousal, and not the good kind!

A note – for some people, highly processed and refined foods affect the body in the same way as caffeine. Studies have shown that our bodies metabolize these foods far less efficiently, causing a host of other health related problems.

Bedtime: It doesn’t sound like much, but go to bed fifteen to twenty minutes earlier each night – work up to a half an hour to an hour. Our bodies need a certain amount of time each night to naturally wind down in order to fall asleep. The earlier bedtime will help reprogram your body and give you little more sleep, which will, in turn, help you deal better with stressors. Avoid exercising at least three to four hours before bedtime. You may also want to consider avoiding caffeine and refined sugars at this time, as well. I’ve never had a problem with caffeine before bed, but our bodies change as we change, often becoming more sensitive to these stimulants.

Aromatherapy: Certain scents can trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that can further relaxation and stress release. What smells good to some people might smell like compost to another. Personally, I find the combination of Sandalwood and Vanilla very soothing. Some traditional scents used for relaxation and stress release are: Apple, Bergamot, Broom, Chamomile, Catnip, Frankincense, Freesia, Gardenia, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lily, Lily of the Valley, Meadowsweet, Myrrh, Plumeria, Rose, Sandalwood, Spider Lily, Stephanotis, Tuberose, Water Lily, White Ginger, Wood Aloe and Ylang-ylang. This list is by no means exhaustive. Experiment. See what works for you.

Aromatherapy + Warmth = Relaxation: A neck wrap is one of the best tools a writer can have at his or her disposal. The combination of warmth and scent can ease some of the physiological effects of stress. Filled with rice and herbs, neck wraps are better than a heating pad to loosen stiff muscles. Warm it in the microwave oven and let the relaxation begin. You can find neck wraps at department stores, boutiques, health food stores and gift shops. You can also make your own.

The simplest method is to fill a knee sock with rice and lavender – making sure that it’s still flexible enough to drape around your neck and over your shoulders. Stitch the opening shut and you have a neck wrap. You can also make a tube out of fabric and fill that. Or you can cut out a semi-circle – think of it as a large upper case “C.” Sew and fill with rice, herbs, buckwheat or whatever other substance feels comfortable draped around your shoulders. Re-warm as needed.

Meditation: The first and easiest path to meditating is focusing on our breathing. Studies have shown that centering on, and adjusting, our breathing can lower blood pressure, heart rate and other physical stress responses. Meditation actually changes the brain’s waves from Beta (waking thought and activity) to Alpha (heavily relaxed to light trance) and eventually, Theta (deep relaxation/trance state.)

Breathing: Close your eyes. For a slow count of five, breathe in through your nose. Hold the breath within your lungs for a count of five. And finally, exhale through your mouth for another count of five. Repeat as necessary until the urge to cry, scream or strangle someone has passed.

While practicing breathing techniques, it can be helpful to visualize a place or activity that feels peaceful to you. For example, I picture sitting by a stream that runs through a shady forest. I try to capture the sights, (sunlight dappling through the leaves) sounds (the soft brush of branches against leaves in the breeze) and smells (the thick, sweet scent of sap.) I have a friend who loves to go to the park and swing on the playground swing set. She imagines herself flying, back and forth through the air as she practices her breathing.

Music: If visualizing doesn’t work for you, find music that soothes you, and listen to it while doing your breathing exercises. It can be helpful to listen to your meditation music while you’re writing. After some practice with meditation, the music can act as an aural cue, helping your brain to produce those relaxed alpha waves more easily. This slight shift of consciousness can enhance your writing, muzzling your internal critic and setting your Muse free to do her work.

Guided Imagery: Another helpful meditation technique is the use of guided imagery tapes or CDs. The typical guided imagery will include relaxing, background music as well as a narrator who guides the listener, coaching him or her through the stages meditation process. The narrator’s suggestions serve as cues to focus the listener’s attention so the mind is doing more than listening to music. Listening to the imagery with closed eyes reduces awareness of the physical surroundings as well as of bodily sensation. This is why guided imagery and meditation are often taught to patients as part of a pain management regime.

There are several, wonderful instructor/authors I’d like to recommend. Caroline Myss, Wayne Dyer and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Their guided imagery tapes and CDs can be purchased at and

Cognitive Restructuring: Reframing the way we look at things can change how we interpret events and, in turn, how we respond to them. This is not to say we should take a “Pollyanna” attitude toward disappointment. However, finding the positive aspects in any given situation helps us to better deal with the stressors of those circumstances.

For example, my sister didn’t get in to the college of her choice. After feeling disappointed and angry, she chose to look at this experience in a new light. Attending her second choice will afford her different opportunities than the other school – opportunities not available at her first choice. Now, she’s looking forward to the new experiences to come.

An example from the writing world would be the dreaded “R” word – Rejection. We can look at rejection as the end, or we can view it as a chance to improve our work and make it the best we possibly can.

It’s a sure bet that none of us will ever be stress-free. But, using these techniques, we can lessen the effects of stress in our lives. A decrease in stress can help increase our writing productivity, something most of us would like to see happen.


Kelly Kirch said...

Wow! You know a lot of cool things. But Me, if I close my eyes and deep breathe, I'll fall asleep. And can panting over gorgeous Huge (Hugh Jackman) be my hourly exercise? Jumping jacks would scare the cat.

Ashley Ladd said...

I can relate.

This week I've been majorly stressed. Our dayjob boss got mad at a number of and now we're all stressed out.

On top of that, I'm used to exercising an hour or two daily but I hurt my foot and per my doctor, I can't do my normal exercises.

When I walk (I'm mainly a walker) or swim, it seems to free my stress and even helps me to think better.

I am trying to go to sleep earlier. It seems to be helping.

I have to invest in some aromatherapy.

I think Hugh Jackman might be a good stress reliever, too. :)

Ashley Ladd said...

I can relate.

This week I've been majorly stressed. Our dayjob boss got mad at a number of and now we're all stressed out.

On top of that, I'm used to exercising an hour or two daily but I hurt my foot and per my doctor, I can't do my normal exercises.

When I walk (I'm mainly a walker) or swim, it seems to free my stress and even helps me to think better.

I am trying to go to sleep earlier. It seems to be helping.

I have to invest in some aromatherapy.

I think Hugh Jackman might be a good stress reliever, too. :)

Caley Greene said...

THanks for all of the great ideas. For stress, or just to regroup - I like the combination of music and scents.

Bronwyn's Blog said...

Thanks Kel :) Absolutely - panting over Hugh is a brilliant form of exercise... God knows I've done it before!

Ashley, when you're looking for scents that work for you, remember to focus on essential oils or blends of oils. Sometimes the chemicals used in the not-entirely-natural stuff can give you a wicked headache which rather defeats the purpose! BTW, I hope your foot feels better soon!!

You're welcome Caley :) Enjoy your smelly music ;)

Smut Girl said...

And positive self talk. Don't forget. Or is that just me? Am I the only weirdo who makes her self stop 'shoulding' and won't allow negative self talk?? probably. As long as I don't start answering myself.

I had a seemingly endless period of full on stress and I had just about all of those symptoms until I got my head together and remembered all the cool self-healing stuff I have learned over the years. Thanks for sharing some of yours! What a fantastic blog post! It is very easy to forget to remove the butt from the seat once in awhile. Thank god for fat red weiner dogs.

Now I need to find someone to do that hot stone therapy for me. Om...
p.s. btw, you are adorable over there in that side bar! :)

Anny Cook said...

What is the pic at the bottom? Rocker? Rocking tub? Hot rocking tub? It looks so cool.

Sandra Cox said...

Bronwyn, this was an excellent blog. Lots of great info on stress relief.

Bronwyn's Blog said...

Thanks Sommer! Sheesh - I can't believe I forgot positive self-talk. Duh! Thank you for adding that - it's a great one!

And thank you...I'm much cuter in 2-D ;)

Anny - I think it's a rocker...with nifty lights...or something. I think I could sit in that all day.

Thank you Sandra! :)

sterlingwriter said...

Stress? Nope. Hardly get it. (brag, brag, brag) My granny used to tell me it's not worth worrying over anything. She was right.
I love all your suggestions, especially the aromatherapy. Yum. Must go off to burn candles. . .

Lisabet Sarai said...

Your blog is just so topical. My husband was lecturing me last night on the fact that I just had to release some of the stress, or I was going to make myself sick.

Physical interventions (massage, exercise, aromatherapy) are useful, but the key to relieving stress is in the mind. Letting things go, realigning our priorities... The Buddha taught that attachment is the source of suffering. Letting go of our tense grip on the world can lead to much greater peace - and, as you note, increased productivity.