Hello WIMBAs everywhere and welcome to another edition of the Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow with me, Dr. Sharon Grossman. How are you, ladies?
It seems everyone I’ve been talking to lately has mentioned how stressed out and burned out they feel. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to address the relationship between stress and mental health and what you can do to improve your results.
First, I’d love to explore the question: How does stress affect your mental health?
So the way we think about stress is that it is a perception in our mind. And as soon as our mind identify a stressor, it releases stress hormones and starts to affect our body. When this happens over and over again it can change the structure of the brain and lead to mental illness. So the more stress we have the more likely we’re going to feel depressed, anxious, or even burned out. This is really important when it comes to stress management because you can think about it as a prevention strategy. If we know that stress can exacerbate poor mental health, by managing our stress effectively we can help our mental health, we can help our mind be in a much better state. And as you already know the more you have that on board, the better off you’re going to be.
So we’re going to talk in a bit about what you can do to manage your stress. But before we do that I want to also consider the opposite question: How does your mental health affect your stress levels?
When we have poor mental health, we are more likely to interpret our circumstances in a negative way which exacerbates our mental health state. So for example people were depressed tend to have certain kinds of thoughts that are associated with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. And so the types of thoughts usually go something like this:
“What’s the point?”
“Why even bother?”
“It’s not going to make a difference anyway.”
“I just don’t have the energy.”
These are the kinds of thoughts that are obviously coming from a certain state and it’s hard to break through when you have these kinds of thoughts because they exacerbate the depression. There is a correlation between your thoughts and your feelings and so you are in a depressed state — that’s your circumstance — that leads you to have these kind of negative thoughts and the more you have those thoughts, the more depressed you actually feel, the more hopeless you feel. So it becomes a catch-22.
In the same way, when you are in an anxious state, you might have thoughts such as:
“What if this blows up in my face?”
“What if I fail and I make an idiot out of myself?”
“What if I humiliate myself in front of all the people?”
“What if I lose my job and I can’t pay my rent?”
So notice how all of these thoughts that are associated with anxiety lead to more anxiety, right? The more I think about them, the more I worry about something bad happening in the future, the more anxious I feel. When we’re anxious what we tend to do is really spiral. We tend to think about the same things over and over again as if that’s giving us more control over the problem. And it really doesn’t allow us to break through that cycle, so once again we’re in that catch-22.
So as you can see, your mental health and your stress levels are very much intertwined and it is important to know that and to understand why you feel the way you do. If you are struggling with if you’re struggling with this this is why, right? And if we know that we need to break through then we need to think about a new way that works better.
So if you want to improve your mental health, there are certain things that you can do. You can work on yourself from a behavioral standpoint. So if you are depressed and you’re really wanting to stay in bed and hide and isolate, then one way to break through is by pushing yourself to do the thing that you don’t want to do because you know it will make you feel better. So even though you question whether you deserve it and whether it makes sense and you tell yourself it’s going to take too much energy and you really can’t be bothered, that you do it anyway because you have to be in this place where you say to yourself, “I am so sick and tired of feeling this way that there’s nothing for me to lose by going outside and taking that walk or by going to hang out with my friends because it’ll make me feel better to be around people.”
So we have an inclination to do the thing that is really opposite of what would benefit us so you have to kind of challenge yourself and pick yourself up and throw yourself into these situations knowing full well that you can always come back to bed. That’s an option. But if you don’t get out of bed then you’re stuck and that’s not a good place to be.
Other things that you can do to improve your mental health include focusing on your thoughts. So even though it doesn’t feel true to tell yourself that you are going to have a wonderful day or that you’re grateful for certain things because you’re in this negative state, by really turning your thoughts around, you can make a big difference in how you feel and that’s going to allow you to have more energy, more optimism, and then to have that motivation to do the things that you otherwise don’t want to do. And when you do those things then you’re more likely to really break through that depression or the anxiety.
So for instance if you tell yourself, “You know, even though I am having a hard time, I have so much to be grateful for. I have people who love me. I have a wonderful place to live. I have access to so many resources and I’m really very fortunate.” And as you start to focus in on the things that you have and the gratitude that you have for them, you’re really shifting your mindset. One thing to note is that your mind cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. And so you can’t be depressed and focused on all the negative things in your life at the same time that you’re focused on all the wonderful things in your life. So just by making that transition really strategically, intentionally, then you can shift out of that negative state, even if it’s for just a moment. And the more you practice this, the easier it will be to get out of your depressive state.
So when it comes to your mental health, you can focus on your behaviors. You can focus on your thoughts. You can also focus on your body and that’s because we know there’s a real relationship between mind and body and when you focus on one, it has an effect on the other. So maybe you’re feeling really down or really anxious and you need something that’s more grounding. Maybe you take a bath and you listen to some calming music. And when you get out of that bath, I assure you that you’re going to feel a little shift. You’re not going to feel as down and out as or as fearful as you did when you went in. You might go for a walk in nature in particular because that’s very grounding. If you have an opportunity, you can go out barefoot and take a walk on the beach. The more you can connect with nature, whether it’s the sand or going for a walk in the woods, the more you really shift your mindset because your body is relaxed. So think about “what can I do to relax myself?” and notice how when you do these things, it really changes your state. And then you can plan in advance: “When my state changes as a result of doing these things, what will I do?” Have a plan for that so that you can really step right into the thing that is usually hard for you to do. Now it’s easier because you’re in that different new state.
Now let’s talk about how to really manage your stress so that you’re not exacerbating any sort of mental health issues or that you’re not getting to a point where stress is so chronic that you develop mental health issues.
So the first thing I would say again is that stress is about perception. So you got to really notice the thoughts that go through your mind and recognize that these are not facts. And that there are multiple ways for you to interpret any one circumstance. So notice that when you think about something in a certain way, it leads to a negative emotion for you. You usually feel stressed when you think of something as being “too much” and that you “can’t handle it.” Now, I challenge you to ask yourself, “What can I do to manage?” instead of telling yourself that you can’t. You might just think about “If I could manage it, what would I do?” So asking yourself these powerful questions can help you to be creative and come up with some solutions as opposed to just feeling overwhelmed by your circumstance.
Another thing you can do to manage your stress again is focusing in on your behaviors or your physical body. So what are some things that are very calming for you and if you can do those on a regular basis then maybe you’re chipping away at your stress so that is not building up. So for instance, if you don’t already have one, consider creating a meditation practice where the first thing you do when you wake up is greet the day by doing maybe 10 or 15 minutes of meditation. When you give yourself this time, it allows you to start the day on the right foot. You are not only training your brain to stay calm in situations so that you don’t become all stressed out when they happen and I’ll reactive, but you’re also starting off in a calm state. And you’re sending a message to yourself that says, “I’m important enough that I carve out 10 or 15 minutes every morning for myself.” And I think that this is where a lot of people struggle because they tell themselves that they don’t have the time or that they can’t be bothered or that it’s not going to make a difference. And what I want to challenge you to do is say, “You know, the way that I’m going about my life isn’t working as well as I would like so I’m going to take this on as a challenge.” And give yourself 30 days to try it out. And if at the end of 30 days you don’t notice any difference whatsoever, then you can drop it like a hot potato. But if you try it, you have an opportunity to see whether this actually works. And if it does it can really transform your life.
Now if you’re going to take on this challenge, I would love it if you would go to iTunes and after you subscribe to the show, leave me a comment and tell me all about what you’ve done and what you were able to accomplish. I would love to hear from you and it really is a wonderful way for us to have some sort of a dialogue instead of me just talking at you. And of course if you want more of me, you can find me at drsharongrossman.com where you can snag a free copy of my Mindset Mastery Starter Kit. So if you want more tips and strategies on how to manage your stress and everything else in your life, go grab it now. And I will see you again next week.