Stress from the mess? …12 strategies to help you relax

Stress from the mess? …12 strategies to help you relax

“Every morning is a struggle. The bathroom is so cluttered I keep losing the kids toothbrushes.   I can’t find clean clothes for the children let alone me.  School books go missing in the hoard.  Papers strewn all over every flat surface in the kitchen makes it difficult to prepare a healthy food.  I feel frazzled and stressed out of my mind – all.the.time.  This overwhelming pressure is paralysing me!”  Can you relate?

Last post  I talked about hoarding possibly being a survival gene gone rogue and how stress can cause us to “hang on” to weight and possessions in preparation for tough times ahead.  A little bit of stress is motivating and helps us get out of tricky situations; without it we would probably still be searching for our food on the savannah.   However, the ubiquitous, relentless stress of modern life is debilitating.

So what can any of us do to relieve stress and get back in control of our lives?

Here’s 12 things I’ve tried (I could always try harder of course):

  1. Walk – take a short 10-15 minute walk when you feel overwhelmed; we keep getting told walking is magic so maybe we should give it a go
  2. Breathe – try this: breathe to the count of 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8; this will help when you are stressed and in pain
  3. Take a mental vacation – You’ll need 10 minutes and a quiet private spot.  Imagine your happy place (mine’s a hammock on the beach under a palm tree), hear the sounds, feel the sand or the grass under your feet or the sun on your face; just like a mini-break
  4. Pet a small animal – this can be very soothing and reduce stress as well as help you get well quicker if you’re sick
  5. Laugh – watch a funny movie or YouTube video – just a smile can reduce your stress level
  6. Make time for fun – dance, sing, join a club, take up a new hobby…research suggests a sense of belonging will like-minded people can help decrease stress and improve depressive symptoms
  7. Do one thing at a time – multi-tasking will only increase stress…try to stay in the present moment not ruminating over the past or stressing over the future – be.all.there.
  8. Do something kind – a random act of kindness, like buying a stranger a month of free coffees, is a big gesture but even just a smile for a neighbour or complementing a co-worker reduces your stress – and theirs
  9. Forgive yourself – Self-compassion has taken over from self-esteem; being kind to yourself is important too
  10. Talk to someone – call a friend, drop into a local coffee shop; connecting with people and sharing your worries can really help reduce stress
  11. Throw your stress in the garbage – write down everything that’s stressing you and tear the paper up; burning it in the backyard is even better 🙂
  12. Change what you can – ruminating over what is outside of your control won’t help – trust me I’ve tried

Do you have any ways you decompress?  Tell me about ’em.

Survival Gene Gone Rogue

Survival Gene Gone Rogue

What do you think about this idea? “A complex gene, body weight and psychopathology relationship wherein a primitive, survival “thrift gene” strategy may be conserved and represented in a subgroup of humans manifesting severe hoarding symptoms”*. Put plainly, this hypothesis is suggesting hoarding is an adaptive evolutionary behaviour gone rogue.

Animals tend to use two strategies to manage energy demands when there is a shortage of food or when they are faced with other stressful situations. First, they gain weight via fat storage for use later on (or “Ron” as we say in Australia), so the body actually stores more fat from every meal no matter how high or low the caloric value. Second, animals tend to hoard actual food stores. In stressful environments, studies have shown mice and other rodents hoard more food and carry more weight.

Animal studies are all very well but we can’t be expected to believe that humans will behave in the same way as mice or rats… can we? Humans are the thinking animal with emotions, feelings, and an understanding of our impact on others and our environment aren’t we? But what if, in times of stress, our primitive brain is storing fat and we are hoarding “stuff” because it is protecting us from future scarcity just like the animals we evolved from? In our primitive past, stress was being chased and eaten by predators or killed by other tribes but in 2015 our stress may just be a constant feeling of not being “enough” or the nagging notion of being a “failure”. Our brain can’t tell the difference. Hunters and gatherers experienced the “fight or flight” response when faced with a predator. They dealt with the stress by killing or being killed. Either way this stress response was short lived; if it persisted, it was likely to be due to famine, severe weather, or some other external threat. In this case saving energy, by way of “hoarding” fat and supplies, was the right strategy.

So while our primitive brain is telling our body, in times of stress, to save – save – save, the sophisticated brain is trying desperately to manage our emotions – which are the cause of our stress. So you see the brain is conspiring to keep us overweight and overstuffed. Both hoarding and dysfunctional eating patterns have been linked to emotion regulation. Eating and hoarding are both coping mechanisms that have evolutionary relevance. Comfort food and comfort objects… I’m just sayin…

We need ways to manage our emotions in order to reduce the stress in our lives. Well how the heck do we do that? Let me know your thoughts or successful strategies and I’ll let you know mine next time.

*Timpano, K. R., Schmidt, N. B., Wheaton, M. G., Wendland, J. R., & Murphy, D. L. (2011). Consideration of the BDNF gene in relation to two phenotypes: Hoarding and obesity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 700–707. doi:10.1037/a0024159

“Where do I start?”: 6 steps on the road to recovery

“Where do I start?”: 6 steps on the road to recovery

You’ve made the decision.  Drawn the line in the sand.  It’s time to get organised!  Then you start thinking about where to start.

Decision-making is so difficult for you…

What if I start in the wrong place?

Where is the “best” place to start?

What are the “best” organising strategies?

How many times have you gone to start addressing your mountain of possessions only to be faced with the paralysis of indecision?  Your perfectionist self takes over and bombards you with thoughts about how many times you’ve tried before.  How useless and disorganised and worthless these efforts have been in the past.  I say: thank your mind for it’s input.  Other people’s opinions about your lifestyle don’t create change for you do they?  Heck no!  You don’t listen to them putting you down and criticising every attempt you make to get your life together?  Hell no!  Well why do you let your mind do it to you?  There’s a saying about not judging people by their words, judge them by their actions.

Tell you mind politely to go get knicked and start taking action.

But in which direction?  How? Why?

OK try these steps:

STEP 1

  • Decide on what you value most in life.
  • What are your possessions stopping you from doing?
  • What are the things that give your life meaning?
    • Is it family?
      • do you want your kids to feel they can invite friends over?
      • do you have grandkids that you can’t have over because of the state of your hoard?
    • Is it your marriage?
    • Is it your health?
  • Even though you have trouble making decisions this is THE decision.  What do you truly value? Effort here is worth it…this is the direction your life will take.
  • DON’T pick a goal like “have the bedroom clutter free by May 2015” or “have my family over for Christmas dinner in a clutter free dining room”.  There’s nothing wrong with goals but they come second you achieve goals that lead to living a valued life.  Once you’ve achieved a goal – what next?
  • Living a valued life –> one you find meaningful will guide you in every decision you make from here on… Hear your brains objections but don’t listen.  

How do you work out what your values even are?

  • TRY THIS: Imagine your funeral…I know that’s truly confronting but stay with me…
    • What would you want people to say about you in your eulogy?  What stories would you want them to tell about you?  What do you want to be remembered for?

There’s your answer.

STEP 2

  • Depending on your life values – start where the most impact will be felt.
    • e.g. You want your family to visit you more so you can connect with them but they don’t have anywhere to sit down and have a coffee…
      • start with the couch or kitchen table – initially it might be BYOE (bring-your-own-espresso) situation BUT it’s a step towards reconnecting with loved ones.  Done that?  Now call someone and invite them over…

STEP 3

  • Each day work on the same area to reveal the vision you have for the space in your minds eye (if you feel like it draw a plan for the room and post it on the wall).
  • Spend a minimum of 30 mins (set a timer on your phone or watch) and commit to sort for the entire time – no excuses.

STEP 4

  • Take pictures.  Each day – before you start and after you finish.  Visual motivation is great.  Post your progress to a support group.  Clutter blindness is a real thing so take a photo and really “see” what the room looks like.

STEP 5

  • Recruit a helper.  Once you’ve done 2-3 days, maybe a week, of work on your own and you feel ready to ask for help to move forward, book someone you can trust to be non-judgmental and co-operative to help you once a week for between 30 minutes to 2 hours (if you have physical disabilities 30 minutes is enough because if you set a higher target you may feel like a failure if you don’t achieve the allotted time).
  • Ask THEM to remove the charity and recycling items for you.
  • Agree on your terms BEFORE you do anything.  Choose wisely (someone neutral with no emotional ties) because this is going to move things along more quickly than you working alone by: keeping you on task, focussing your attention and giving you emotional support when needed – and trust me you will need it.

STEP 6

Celebrate your achievement.  Post the finished room pics with a description of how you feel and how much closer you are to living the life you deserve.  You know you can do this.  I believe in you 🙂