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Listen to your body to find balance

by Tom Chillemi

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Knowing how to deal with life’s problems is essential to finding balance.

“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” That advice states the obvious, but it’s something to remember when you’re under stress and choices get cluttered.

Susan Hallett, a licensed clinical social worker, said being aware of your emotions is important. How you feel is an indication of where you are on what Hallet calls a “stress or anger meter.”

If you’re frustrated, annoyed or afraid, stress is building. You need to assess your stress level on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least amount and 10 being the worst. 

If your stress level is over 5, the next “crisis” could cause a crash.

Be aware of tense neck muscles, headaches, irritability, sleeping and eating problems (too much and/or not enough of each), Hallet explained. “These can be signs that unresolved problems are building up.”  

When stress gets to 5, it’s time to take action—quit digging. Step back, take time out, take a deep breath and look at the big picture. Is this problem really that important?

Put things in perspective, advises Hallett. Imagine what is the worst thing that could happen; then rank the immediate problem that you are facing. 

Remember: Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

One person, who has been looking for “balance” for 30 years, offered the acronym “HALT” to remind you to stop and think if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. “Don’t let those controllable events control you,” he said.

Solve small problems
It is really important to keep stress and anger below a 5 and solve problems while they are small. Delaying action only gives problems time to grow bigger, and they become that much harder to solve. They may get to the point they cannot be solved without, a major intervention.

For example, imagine you had a leaking roof. And say you ignore it until it has dripped enough water in the attic to grow mold and cause rot. You eventually see a water damage spot on the ceiling. Now, your problem is a 10—you must do something. You will be replacing wood and drywall, and painting. And you’ll still have to fix the roof, which you could have done when the leak was a one.

Ranking your feelings
Learning the signals of building stress is critical. When stress and anger go past 5, they get harder to control, explained Hallett, who operates Tidewater Recovery in Urbanna.

When stress and anger reach level 10, the result could be panic attacks, hitting, throwing something, yelling and any variety of negative consequences, which can include using alcohol or drugs or behavior that will lead to even bigger problems.

“If you are at a 6 all the time, the next event may trigger a negative reaction and a feeling of being out of control,” Hallett explained.

Hallett said each person needs to find their “sanctuary,” a way to calm down. Maybe it’s walking, exercise, reading or a hobby. The answer could lie in just talking to someone. 

Take responsibility
Even when someone “pushes your buttons,” how you cope is up to you. “Don’t be defensive,” said Hallett, who explained that people often overreact, because that’s what they have learned to do. “If your parents shouted, you are used to it and have become desensitized to loud talking. People tend to imitate what they experience.”

When a situation escalates, take time out. Don’t respond instantly to a negative comment. Stop digging—think before talking. The next words out of your mouth could make the situation worse. 

Step back from a problem for a more “balanced” view of the situation.

Self care
Tense muscles are a sign of stress. After you’ve been working on a task for a while evaluate yourself. Are your jaw or neck muscles tight? Do you find yourself holding your breath, or sighing? These are indicators of stress.

Take a few deep breaths. That will bring more oxygen to your muscles. Stand up, stretch and move every 20 minutes. Close your eyes to rest them. Look away from the computer screen. Take a walk; use the stairs.

If you are on a long phone call, stand while talking, pace or move around if you can.

If you’re driving, change seating positions. A small pillow placed behind your lower back will straighten your spine and you’ll use different muscles. Adjust the seat back or raise the seat.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Learn new ways
Start by taking a daily inventory of what causes anger or stress. “Figure it out and get rid of it,” Hallett explained.

Habits are ingrained in the brain’s neurotransmitters—pathways or connections that signal a nearly automatic response. The challenge is to “practice” a new behavior. This will establish new pathways so that you can control your response.

“The good news is the brain is resilient,” she said. 

Learn to let go of the little things and hold on tightly to the things that really are important to you. 

The man seeking balance puts it this way. “Focus on what you have, not seeking what you don’t have.”

posted 02.20.2013

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