The Stress Managers

Taming Tensions in Modern, Everyday Life

Mtn Living Mag July 2011

July-2011-stress-coachWith all of the titles we claim for all the jobs we perform, many of us should add one more: Stress Manager. One local life coach teaches that taking a good five-minute break will make us better at everything else we do in a day.

Grace Marks is a certified performance coach and holistic stress management instructor as well as a speaker and facilitator. She optimizes health and harmony in the workplace. She knows about being overwhelmed and remembering to breathe. Like others she has helped, Marks has benefitted best from her own advice.

Soon after divorcing, she lost her job in a downsizing effort, and then, her dog died. Her world exploded. “It was complete fear—I flat-lined,” Marks said. “I taught self-care at evening classes at NAU at the time, and did I need it.” Fortunately another coaching friend said to Marks, “It’s not the economy, it’s your inner economy,” reminding her not to be a victim, but a victor.

“All stress—physical, mental, spiritual and emotional—causes the body to react the same way,” Marks said. She explained there is good stress and bad stress. Bodies react to good stressors—like the highs of getting married or going a vacation—by releasing cortisol which dissipates as the event wanes. Chaos and emotional pain are bad stresses and tend to build up cortisol in the system. Secreted by the adrenal gland into the bloodstream, cortisol is called the “stress hormone” because it elicits the fight or flight burst of energy necessary to handle the unexpected.

“Bad stress needs a release valve though,” Marks said. “The stress accumulates in the abdominal area, weakening the immune system. Eighty-five percent of disease is caused from stress in all its forms—from hemorrhoids to headaches. People need to incorporate a release, such as focusing on breath in meditation or doing jumping jacks in the restroom to blow it off. Just take five minutes. “

Too many people think they don’t have the time to make changes in their behavior, even if they know they’d be better off. Their frustrating, fast-paced frenzy doesn’t make the best use of their resources. In a 24-hour day, Marks insists that clawing back five minutes to salve our stress can make the difference in how the rest of it plays out.

Nutrition is vital, and she warned about using food to comfort ourselves. Stress causes the body to crave simple sugars found in sweets and starchy foods. This quick fix relaxes us, but doesn’t offer wholesome satiation. And after the sugar crash, we’re right back where we started plus the empty calories. Marks said, “It’s a chain reaction of self-abuse, and people don’t drink enough water…to hydrate and release toxins either.”

Marks helped the sedentary customer service employees of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to let go of stress. She asked them, “What gives you joy?” Then, to shift the focus from their pressures, Marks advised them to focus on that inspiration regularly. The group decided to giggle more and aimed for 15 belly laughs a day. They emailed jokes to one another, shared family stories and remembered happy times.

When the going gets tough, Marks said, “Hit “delete,” reframe and take the next five minutes to start over.” Quick fixes that help someone reframe can be simple and need not be expensive. The goal is to soothe the soul. The stress manager’s list of soothers includes: a family photo, the trickling of a small fountain, soft music, a scented candle or simple affirmations tacked up as cues. “We have 5000 thoughts in a day. We need to quit the self-judgment.” Some examples of affirmations are: I am grateful for the love I encounter; I chose to make positive, healthy choices for myself; When I believe in myself, so do others.

Quoting Dr. Wayne Dyer, Marks said, “There’s no such thing as stress; there are only people thinking stressful thoughts.” She added her caveat, “We can grab the power back from the small things we let steal it.”

“People often don’t connect pain to stress,” she said. To educate clients, Marks rates events, work and home situations plus physical reactions to reach a Stress Symptom Score. “This opens their eyes and grounds them. I ask them what their life would look like without that stress. Then, we consider what they’ve done previously to create harmony and balance.” From there, the stress coach offers suggestions, and a plan develops of how to go forward, keep reminders visible and stay motivated.

The key to implementing change is motivation. Whether it is to live healthier, set an example for our children or find pleasure again, motivation is the toehold in this new territory called “Change.” Marks called this significant motivator, “The why in the sky.”

The solution to stress can be simple, personal and take only five minutes. And Marks confirmed, “Small steps lead to big change.” NAMLM 

Gail G. Collins

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