Overloaded, overwhelmed, overboard…stressed out?

Learn mindful techniques to recognize and manage stress.

Overloaded, overwhelmed, overboard…stressed out?

Notice how many expressions we use to indicate feeling stress, like ‘over’ or ‘too much’ ? This state can be defined as too much pressure, of any variety, physically, mentally or emotionally.

And the holiday season is often a perfect combination of circumstances that together bring that response on. Especially if you’re dealing with a restricted diet, just trying to stick to healthy amounts and choices can be stressful.

What to do about it?


How to mindfully respond to stress


1. Be aware of it

Begin at the beginning, with awareness. This isn’t the first or last time you’ll hear this, but you can’t change anything that you’re unaware of! Sounds obvious yet occurs surprisingly infrequently in the mind. So develop intimacy with your stress, really get to know every aspect of it.

When I’m stressed, the initial signs I notice are in the mind. Usually, it shows up as a sense of urgency, feeling pressured, or annoyance at who or what I perceive to be impeding my ‘progress’, or bothering me (in my mind) with ‘less’ important things. After an embarrassing length of time lost in those unpleasant states, I begin to catch the impatience, frustration, irritation. Once felt, noticed and named, it’s far easier to let go of.

After all, it doesn’t feel good!


My absolute belief at the time, that this is objectively how things are, overshadows the truth that it’s my stressed overloaded mind conjuring up this distorted angle.


Try this now

To increase your awareness and intimacy with stress, stop reading for a second, close your eyes or soften your gaze staring off into space.

Recall a situation that stressed you. It might have been agreeing to coach your daughter’s soccer team even as you take on an additional project at work, or being determined to bake extra goodies for your neighborhood holiday party. Notice what’s happening in your mind and body when recalling the situation.

Pay deep attention to all sensations during this exercise. Perhaps you notice your mind jumping around, becoming agitated, leaping from thought to thought. Maybe you tune in to  your body, noticing it tighten, shoulders hunched up, your fists clenched and fingernails digging uncomfortably into your palms.

Whatever you notice is fine, knowing more about your stress response is helpful. There’s nothing broken here that needs fixing!


2. Acceptance

Accepting the moment as it is reduces tension, whereas resistance increases it, setting in motion a series of internal physiological reactions, which end up by triggering stress-inducing cortisol. The body is now in flight or fight mode.

And all over maybe baking an extra plate of (hopefully low carbohydrate) cookies?

So accept how things are, know they’ll change as everything does, and don’t fret. Tolerate the situation by steadily moving on through it until you notice a shift. Particularly monitor your thoughts, that’s the engine that drives everything. The more attention you pay, the sooner you’ll become aware of it changing.


3. Pause and breathe

Rushing through doesn’t necessarily get you there sooner, or move you away from the unpleasant quicker.

Pausing, meditating even briefly, taking deep breaths are all ways of inserting a “page break”. Try it…then pick up on the fact that your productivity actually increases afterwards. That pause or deep breath steadies the mind, helps with focus and enables you to be more deliberate, not spinning your wheels. The result…you’re more effective with less energy expenditure and lower cortisol production.

Simply put, you’ve staved off a stress response.


4. Be realistic

Only take on that which you’re able to. Even if you have the physical time, do you have the

internal space to deal with one more thing, what I refer to as bandwidth? Ask yourself honestly, can you mentally and emotionally take it on?

Most at risk are those of you who feel too uncomfortable to say “no”.

Risky because it’s a surefire precursor to resentment, another stress-inducer.



So what to do?


Instead, if you’re unsure, practice saying “Let me get back to you on that”. Give yourself some time to evaluate it, check what feelings emerge when you contemplate taking it on. They’ll be your best guide to ‘Yes” or “No”. 









How to practically respond to stress

Addressing stress physiologically can be swifter than taming your mind. Here are some suggestions that can help no matter what your mind is doing.


1. Get plenty of sleep

If you’re typical, enough sleep is probably more than you’re getting. The recommendation for adults is 7.5 to 8 hours nightly. Since developing Type 2, I function best with 8.5 to 9 hours. I commonly hear from clients they sleep just 5-6.5 hours, but that’s insufficient for the body to rejuvenate itself physically and the brain to process everything.

One result of inadequate sleep can be an increase in stress responses. Inadequate sleep can lead to poor daytime functioning. Feeling fuzzy minded or bleary eyed slows response times and increases stress just going through your daily activities.


2. Move your body

In what way is less important than just being physically active. Any activity that is cardiovascular, running, gym machines, swimming, tennis, brisk walking, will reduce physiological stress if undertaken for a minimum of 30 minutes.


3. Stroke a pet

If you share your life with a furry one, groom or pet them if feeling stressed. Walking your dog is the best as you’re moving your body too. Stroking fur lowers blood pressure, calms the central nervous system, and lowers production of cortisol. And if you can sync your breathing to theirs during the petting, even better.


4. Laugh with a friend

Just talking or laughing with someone shifts your mood. Cortisol hates laughter, they’re mutually exclusive. If one is present in your body, the other isn’t. Choose to laugh!


5. Watch something that’ll make you roar

No one around to share a laugh with? Then watch a show or movie you know will make you laugh. Go for the full-body, deep belly laugh, one that’ll shake up the internal organs!

Let me know what works for you, or what you’ve tried that doesn’t…leave your comments here…



Filed under: Exercise, Sleep, Stress Management


  1. Ganesh says:

    Hi my friend,…

    Good article – nothing new though. The way of your telling is excellent which is very important to create readability/acceptability when we offer bitter pills. Expecting more such stuff from you.


    • admin says:

      Thanks Ganesh. You’re right, not that original in the suggestions, but my hope is to reinforce the value of mindfulness. Just paying attention to things we know so well can deepen their value and our experience. And I’m not even going into all the ‘brain benefits’ from this practice here.

  2. Heidi says:

    Love the ideas. Sometimes the people in my diabetes groups think that self-care and mindfulness have to be complicated, involved, and time-consuming. You have reminded us that good self-care is really back to the basics–breathing, slowing down, stroking a pet. Thanks for the reminder!

    • admin says:

      You’re welcome! Mindfulness brings back basic things into our vision. Look no further than the breath…without this practice, who’d have thought something we mostly ignore could be so powerful and life-changing. Often, for me, mindfulness is an ever present way of remaining in touch with what is grounding, helpful, ‘small’. Our complex, driven world can easily seduce us away, spiraling upwards into more frenzy and thoughtlessness. I love the simplicity and accessibility of mindfulness.

  3. Sharon says:

    Super information for any person dealing with stress!
    I’ve made a plan ; I’m on target and practicing what
    you describe in your post. Christmas is coming
    very soon to enjoy! Happy Holiday!

  4. We must recognize large part of stress we receive are created by ourselves.
    Since we were born, we have always been forced to pay narrow attention to almost everything, which put us in almost all the time nearly so called “fight or flight” situation.
    Needless to say narrow attention is vital for living – to accomplish many things successfully, but our body and mind are not designed to be always in such situation. Continuous exposure to strong stress distorts hypothalamus function, which controls secretion of hormons. It will sooner or later put us in problems like anxiety, depression and insomnia.
    When we get used to paying narrow attention all the time, we become unable to wind us down. We simply cannot relax.
    We need to learn how to moderately allocate narrow attention. You can easily imagine what happens to elastic bands after being fully stretched for a long time.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for filling in some of the physiological background on stress. Fascinating and relevant material I chose not to include for this particular post.

  5. Beatrice says:

    Excellent reading. Even though the information is not earthshattering new news what comes to mind for me is to print this information and when I know I am under stress pull it out and read it, addicts are told to have their relapse plan ready so why not have a stress plan to read in times of need. Stress is a killer as I have several autoimmune diseases attacking my body which I’m sure have their roots in my stress levels. Thanks for the great read.

    • admin says:

      As I’ve mentioned to others who noted the same point, the suggestions aren’t earthshattering, just ideas that many already know. Being mindful is often simple, but in our overcrowded minds things slip out of awareness, a situation that mindfulness helps rectify. With your autoimmune diseases as constant reminders to manage your stress well, I’m glad this article might be of help for you!

  6. ldeanjones says:

    Ganesh…The simple things often can bring us much ease in times of discomfort and stress as your article suggests. I also appreciate enjoying a pleasant aroma such as scented candles,or simple lavender air freshener. Occasionally by distracting the mind to a more enjoyable fragrance or even a soft shakuhachi flute or classical piece of music the mind is able to be at peace in the nowness and stress abides. Also, the alluring hypnotic sway of a flame in candle or firelight can alter the consciousness and induce a peaceful respite. At the heart of all these techniques remains one constant….allowing, followed closely by acceptance.

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