The Pros and Cons of E-Cigarettes

December 17, 2015 by  
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E-cigarettes are growing in availability, affordability, and popularity. Their popularity has even led to a new verb, “vaping”. They appear to be a great new way of kicking the habit or at least cutting back. Here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of using e-cigarettes.

Pros

E-cigarettes have no smoke
The clearest and most obvious pro is that there is no smoke and thus none or almost none of the cancer causing, health robbing, junk that goes with it. This also carries with it a variety of other pleasant side effects. It does not stay in clothes the way tobacco can. Vaping does not cause bad breath. Teeth are not stained. Vaping is acceptable in many (although not all) places smoking is not. While there is an odor, it is less strong and generally less offensive. Second hand smoke is not a concern. In general, by eliminating smoke itself, e-cigarettes have eliminated the most common complaints about smoking.

E-cigarettes may help you quit
The research has not confirmed it yet, but it is possible that switching from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes to no cigarettes is a possibility and in most communities you can find someone who swears by using them for this purpose. It makes logical sense that if nicotine replacement works in the form of gum and patches, that it would work in the form of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes feel like smoking
One of the major complaints of smokers attempting to quit is that they do not know what to do with their hands. The physical act of bringing the cigarette to the mouth has become so ingrained that failing to so makes one feel abnormal. E-cigarettes address this problem directly.

Cost
The cost of e-cigarettes really depends on where you live. In most locations, the cost of using e-cigarettes instead of tobacco cigarettes can save hundreds over the course of a year. To get an accurate estimation of the costs, those seeking to replace traditional cigarettes need to investigate the cost of all the accessories, batteries, and refills needed. If price is a concern, check out the costs including all of the accessories before investing in a starter kit.

Cons

It’s still nicotine
The recovery community has debated the use of nicotine as a replacement for cigarettes long before the popularity of e-cigarettes when gums and patches hit the market. To be fair, those products have survived the controversy. The problem is with e-cigarettes, gums, and patches is that the smoker is still addicted to nicotine. While the gum and patches are in many cases designed to wean one off of the nicotine, most e-cigarettes are not. Further, many are advertised as a substitute for when one cannot smoke not as a method to reduce smoking.

Nicotine is dangerous
Nicotine is toxic and there are reports of children swallowing the nicotine from e-cigarettes and teenagers drinking it out of curiosity. While the rumors about these incidents may range wider than the documented incidents, it does mean that those using e-cigarettes need to use the same care they would with their lighters and matches and keep them out of reach of children.

Mass use of e-cigarettes is new
Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, the long term effects of using them is not known. What may be safe for use a few months may not be safe for years and years of use. We simply do not know. Think of the lawyers advertisements you see on daytime television. Many of them are looking for clients who used a product that 10 years earlier was thought to be safe and effective, but turned out to cause significant harm or even death. Already concerns have been raised about the possibility of carcinogens being in the vapor and complaints about lung irritation. While we know a lot about nicotine and its addicting power, we simply do not know the impact of using it in an e-cigarette and it will be at least another 10 years or more before we do know.

There have been some concerns that since e-cigarettes are considered safer, nonsmokers will begin to use them and then begin using tobacco. Like concerns over safety, this concern has not been proven by long term research.

Taste
Many smokers have complained that e-cigarettes cannot provide the same flavor as smoking tobacco. This problem has led to many switching form one e-cigarette to another attempting, often in vain, to find the one that tastes just right. This search adds to the cost of the vaping experience.

The use of e-cigarettes has the potential to make a significant difference in the health of the user. Unfortunately, that difference could be positive or negative. The responsible user of e-cigarettes will need to carefully weigh pros and cons before starting and as more information comes out about it’s safe use. It can also be valuable to talk with your health care provider about if e-cigarettes are right for you.


Cyndy Adeniyi has been working in social services and mental health settings since 1999. She believes in the great potential of today’s youth, families, and entire communities and fights to see that great potential blossom. She is the founder of Out of the Woods, which provides faith-based life coaching, publications, and workshops.

Preventing Relapses by Embracing Prolapses

March 6, 2015 by  
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Girl-DepressedWe all make mistakes and miss the mark at times. If we allow a single lapse to cause us to move backwards, relapse begins and can take over our lives. If we learn something from the lapse and it helps us to grow, we can instead experience a prolapse.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a relapse from what we know about addictions. Someone who is addicted to a drug stops using the drug and then at some point starts using again. Often the person is more enslaved to the drug than they were before. This cycle is common in drug addiction, but it can also apply to any habit we attempt to change. The disorganized person fails to put away a day’s worth of mail and suddenly finds a month’s worth of mail scattered across the dining room table. The successful dieter eats cake at a birthday party and suddenly finds cake has become a daily indulgence. What if every lapse did not turn into a relapse? What if a lapse became an opportunity to grow and become stronger? This is the idea behind a prolapse.

A lapse turns into a prolapse when one is able to identify the triggers contributing to the lapse, increase outside support and create a viable plan for moving forward. The first of these three steps—identifying the triggers to the lapse—is a key step that’s often overlooked but all three steps are an important part of the process.

Discovering Your Triggers

Triggers can include events or circumstances, emotional or hormonal changes, anniversaries and the like. Triggers vary significantly from person to person and monitoring how someone else is triggered may help increase understanding of the concept—but it will not necessarily help one gain personal insight. Consider, for example, three former gamblers. The first ex-gambler played the lottery for the excitement. She is triggered when the jackpot gets over $100 million dollars. The second ex-gambler enjoyed going to the casino with friends. He is triggered when feeling lonely. The final former gambler enjoyed a wide range of gambling and gravitates to whatever is closest if she is short on cash. For her, being low on funds is a trigger. Each gambler had a different set of triggers for the same behavior. In each case, identifying the trigger for the unwanted behavior starts with understanding why the unwanted behavior started in the first place.

Once we understand why unwanted behaviors surface, we can then start looking for patterns. A smoker may notice that they lapse and have a cigarette right after work. Ending the work day is therefore a trigger. A former gossiper may notice they lapse when a certain person is in the office. That person’s presence then is a trigger. Finding patterns may mean taking a look back to when the habit was commonplace even though that may be a painful process.

Increasing Outside Support

Support can come from many different directions. Involving friends and family in the process is a great first step. This could include asking them to be mindful of what they bring into your presence, asking them to hold you accountable or helping you get to other resources. Many times the people who are closest to you know you best and also how to help. Other times friends and family are too emotionally involved to provide true support or have needs of their own to take care of. You may have to look elsewhere.

Outside support could alternatively include professional assistance. For serious or dangerous lapses, that could mean the assistance of a mental health or substance abuse professional. For other situations that could mean hiring a life coach or accountability coach. A dieter with frequent lapses may want to turn to a weight loss program with an accountability component such as Weight Watchers. Asking for professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it demonstrates true courage.

Outside support may also come from setting up systems to slow or delay the negative behavior. For example, someone who struggles with overspending on their credit cards could freeze their cards in a block of ice, call the card company and request the card be placed on hold for a period of time, or cancel their cards altogether. It can be very valuable to take some time to consider what creative intervention sparked by a person, computer or circumstance may slow down impulsive behaviors.

Creating a Plan

Understanding triggers and finding support may help one feel good, but without a plan for moving forward, the first two steps will likely be ineffective. In the addictions field this plan is formally referred to as a relapse prevention plan. It should just as easily be called a prolapse plan. Such plans can be applied to any behavior we are trying to overcome – not just addictions.

A great plan begins with an acknowledgement of triggers and a list of how to reach identified supporters. The next major part of the plan is what can be done when the triggers have risen. This is a detailed list of realistic actions that can be taken during times of temptation. For the overeater it could mean drinking a bottle of water. The disorganized may plan for 10 minutes of uninterrupted cleaning. The lonely ex-gambler may call a sponsor or have coffee with a friend. These small steps are what make the prolapse come to life.

If Another Lapse Occurs

Lapses happen. When they do, start the prolapse process immediately. Identify the triggers. Write them down. If you are not able to identify a trigger, talk with a supporter for suggestions. Revisit your list of outside supporters. How can your support system be modified to be more effective? Finally, revisit your plan while keeping what you have learned in mind. Tweak the plan as needed and move forward.

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching. She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Getting Help from Social Service Agencies

September 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

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Doctor talking to her male patient at officeAdmitting we need help with addiction treatment or other issues can be difficult, but this is only one part of the battle. Actually getting services in place in order to get the help we need can be the bigger challenge. Most communities have free or low-cost substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling, housing, clothing, food, healthcare services (including insurance and contraceptives), career training, and employment assistance. Some communities can also assist with dental care, transportation, and daycare vouchers. Here are some ideas on how to get real help for addiction treatment through social service agencies.

Who Can Help You?

Call the county or city level Department of Social Services or Human Services first. State and federal level government agencies will likely refer you to your local department of services as a first step. It can also be helpful to call your local chapter of the United Way. The United Way usually only has information about programs they fund, but in many areas that covers a lot of different programs. You can also find information about programs by contacting local communities of faith, such as Lutheran social services and other faith groups. In addition to contacting any faith community that you belong to, also contact the large congregations and denomination associations in your area. Church-sponsored food banks, clothes closets, counseling, and similar services often go unadvertised. The Salvation Army and Volunteers of America also often offer more services than what is advertised to the general public.

Making the Call as a First Step

The first step is always to call your local social service agency first. Calling first can save you a lot of frustration. Agencies are often very busy and rapidly changing. Information you got from a flyer or their website may be outdated. The person you need to speak with or see may only work three days a week. There could be a power outage. Anything could happen. Save yourself a wasted trip by calling first.

When you call a social service agency, be prepared and have as much information about your situation as possible.

For each family member involved in the situation, have their legal name, address, best phone number, date of birth, social security number, health insurance information, employer’s name and phone number, school name, and anything else you think might be remotely relevant.

Sometimes services are provided based upon eligibility requirements that seem to have nothing to do with the circumstances related to the need. By having this information available the first time you call, you can save yourself a lot of time.

Also be prepared to spend a long time on the phone and keep a pen and paper handy. The first person you call may not be the best person to answer your questions and you may be passed to several people before you find the right person. Take down each person’s name and phone number so that you can call that person back if necessary. Avoid high volume call times such as early on Monday morning or just before closing.

Meeting Agency Representatives

Ask for details about what you should do when you actually arrive at the agency for services. You will need to know specifics about what to bring, who to talk with, approximate wait times, parking, and the times representatives are available if you do not have an appointment.

When going to an agency be certain to bring everything mentioned during your preliminary call. If you do not have a required document, call back and find out if not having that document will delay services or if a different document could be used. Ask if the document can be downloaded from the agency’s website, and ask for the page or link. Plan to arrive early if you have an appointment. If you are running late, call to find out if you will be accommodated or will need to reschedule.

When meeting with an agency representative, request details about the service you are seeking. When can you expect services to begin? If there will be a delay, are there any temporary services available? What is the next step following the appointment? How long will the services last? Are there any fees involved? Who should you contact if you have a problem or question and the representative is not available?

Always ask each agency representative if they can recommend any other services that might be helpful. For example if you are getting assistance with housing, ask the housing representative to recommend services to help with employment. Sometimes a representative in one agency has a close relationship with someone in another agency and can help you begin the process.

Work for a social services agency can often be a thankless job. Remember, your representative is human. Representatives have bad days, impossible deadlines, and overly demanding bosses like anyone else. If someone is rude or disrespectful, you can let them know you wish to be treated respectfully, but also understand that the problem is likely not personal and you need this person to get services in place. If a pattern of poor professionalism from an agency representative persists, ask to work with another representative or the supervisor. Remember the goal is to get the services you need, so it pays to be nice.

Following Up

If you are placed on a waiting list, follow up with agency on a regular basis. When you do, ask if there are any new services you may be eligible for that address the same problem. For example, if you are on a waiting list for transitional housing that is two years long, check in with the agency each season to find out where you are on the list. Ask if there are new programs for temporary rental assistance. Let them know if your circumstances have changed.

All good things must come to an end, but there are a few things you will want to do to make sure certain services do not end prematurely. Follow all the rules of the program. Be in regular contact with service providers. Respond to any correspondence that is mailed to you. Ask questions if you do not understand. Unfortunately, many people experience gaps in services because they failed to respond to a renewal letter, or a social worker did not have their new cell phone number, or some other break down in communication. If a service is ending because you are no longer eligible, get in contact with the provider to determine if another service might be available.

Don’t Give Up

Addiction and drug treatment costs can be high, so if you can get some agency help to cover at least some of the cost, it is worthwhile. Getting social services may require tenaciousness, patience, and organization, but getting just the right service from an agency could make a huge difference in your quality of life. Don’t give up!

 

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

August 26, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Establishing healthy boundaries can lead to healthier relationships

Establishing healthy boundaries can lead to healthier relationships

Healthy boundaries are key to healthy relationships rather than dysfunctional, destructive or addictive relationships. Boundaries define what we are willing to give and to take in relationships. Examples of this include: helping others only when truly able, ensuring one is treated respectfully, and maintaining personal safety. Understanding how to establish healthy boundaries in your relationships is a good way to prevent yourself from becoming co-dependent in your relationships. Here are some tips on how to establish clear, healthy boundaries in your relationships.

1. Understand Your Personal Values

A great way to start establishing healthy boundaries is by thinking about personal values. What virtues, ideals, or concepts are most important to you? It is important to understand what we value so that we know where the boundaries should be set.

Personal values come from many sources. For most, the primary source of values is the family in which they were raised. Family loyalty, hard work, the importance of education, and personal appearance values are often formed within the family during childhood. For example, a family that highly values family loyalty over education may frown upon a high school graduate leaving the immediate area to pursue a college education, while a family that highly values education would celebrate such a move.

Personal values are also influenced by community and culture. Consider how the civil rights and feminist movements changed how many people think about minorities and women. More recently, culture has changed in ways that impact how many people view celebrity, political involvement, violence in football, marijuana use, and even carbohydrate intake. Our appearance, entertainment choices, and career choices are often highly influenced by our culture.

Once we understand our personal values, we can set boundaries that help us establish when and where we are not going to allow others to cause us to violate our values. For example, if you value honesty and your spouse wants to cheat on your taxes, setting a boundary may mean insisting on honesty or filing separate returns. If you are trying to avoid being a workaholic and value family time, and your boss wants you to work overtime on a regular basis, you may need to tell her, “No,” or begin looking for another position. If you are a recovering addict or feel uncomfortable around people who have addictive behaviors, you might establish a personal boundary that you will not get into relationships with addicts or even date recovering addicts.

2. Know the Benefits of Boundary Setting

There are many benefits associated with healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries allows you to be at your best for the things you value the most. It can be a freeing experience to refuse to accept unwanted activities or behaviors that cause you fear, stress, pain or a sense of being overwhelmed. Healthy boundaries are a form of self-care. They help to build self-esteem and self-worth. When you are responsible for your self-care by limiting how much you help others, and you allow others to be responsible to do some things without your help, it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes setting boundaries is hard, but knowing the benefits can motivate you to follow through and stick to your plan without caving in to the demands of others.

3. Set Boundaries Early in the Relationship

It is ideal to set boundaries at the beginning of a relationship. For example, when starting a new job, state which days of the week you are available for staying late or, when meeting for a first date, make it clear your rule is to do so in a public place. Establishing boundaries early makes boundaries easier for you to maintain and allows the other party to decide if they are comfortable with your boundaries and would like to be in the relationship. If Wednesday night Bible study is important to you and an employer often needs employees to work late on Wednesday nights, it may not be the right job for you. Failing to state your boundaries at the outset could lead to problems as either you or your employer will be dissatisfied in the future.

Often setting boundaries early in a relationship is not an option. Making a decision to reset the relationship boundaries may be the next best thing. Here are examples of how to reset a relationship where boundaries were fuzzy in the past. “I know I have laughed when you made jokes about my weight in the past, but I really don’t find them funny. They actually make me feel bad. I’d appreciate it if you can stop making those jokes as of today.” “I enjoyed volunteering a lot in the past, but I cannot do it now. I will call you when I’m available again.” In each example, the speaker acknowledged the past was different from what is true now, or is about to occur, which alerts the listener to the reality of the change.

4. Express Boundaries Verbally and Clearly

In most cases, boundaries will need to be expressed clearly and verbally. Sometimes our boundaries are violated because we assume the other party knows and understands our boundaries, but we simply have not adequately communicated what those are. Here are a few examples:

  • An office worker who highly values organization becomes frustrated when others use his desk and move items, but he says nothing because he assumes adults should know better.
  • A parent complains his teenager borrows a car full of fuel and returns it without refueling.
  • The teen thinks as long as it is not on empty it is okay, unaware of the parent’s unspoken expectation of at least half a tank full of gas.

Unspoken boundaries are certain to be violated. Learning to state boundaries may be a struggle at first. It does take practice. When talking with someone directly, maintain eye contact and state your boundaries clearly. Remember, stating your boundaries is about stating a need, not a want or a hope. It is not necessary to over-explain or defend your boundary. “I will not be lending you any money. You can use me as a reference for that part-time job you were talking about, though,” is an example of a statement that is very clear and also demonstrates concern for the other person. If instead the person said, “I can’t lend you any money. I’m short this month myself and my car just broke down,” the speaker has positioned herself for an argument. The would-be borrower can challenge the speaker. “Short this month” could mean you’re okay to help out next month. If you are concerned about stating boundaries with confidence, practice in a mirror or try setting boundaries with strangers first.

5. Establish Appropriate Consequences

Many boundaries are presented in an “if, then…” format. If you do X, then I will do Y. We need to be careful about what we establish as the consequences if boundaries are not respected. Consequences that are not the appropriate in severity or effectively punish the wrong person will result in the boundary being broken repeatedly. Consider the following rather extreme example: A parent tells a child, “If you don’t clean up your room by Saturday, I’m throwing everything out.” If the parent follows through with this, the parent will find themselves doing a lot of shopping in the future. Instead, the parent could say, “If you don’t clean up your room by Saturday, I’m throwing out everything I don’t think you need.” We need to avoid setting up consequences we really do not mean.

Setting boundaries can be difficult work, but it is well worth the hard work when you take the time to do it, and can lead to more fulfilling relationships and a more fulfilling life.

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

The Power of Thought Stopping

August 19, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Sometimes unwanted thoughts simply will not go away and we spend a lot of time and energy focused on the wrong things. Thought stopping is a simple, but effective tool for getting rid of those unwanted and unnecessary thoughts.

Thought stopping can be applied to a wide variety of unwanted thoughts, and is particularly helpful as a tool for those in sober recovery or rehab. Any bothersome thought, including anxious thoughts, depressive thoughts, memories of addiction behaviors, thoughts of using drugs or alcohol again, and memories of trauma or abuse, can be addressed through thought stopping. Thought stopping develops the mental discipline needed to consciously take control over an unwanted, unconscious behavior.

Getting Started on Thought Stopping

The first step in thought stopping is to tell yourself, “Stop!” If you are alone, this means shouting, “Stop!” as loud as you can. If not alone, say it to yourself silently. For some, this is enough to break the cycle of unwanted thoughts and move forward. For others, the statement needs to be combined with another type of reinforcement. Perhaps the most famous method is to snap a rubber band kept on one’s wrist. Other, less painful methods include visualizing a stop sign, snapping your fingers, tapping on a table, brief bouts of physical exercise to distract you, or literally turning in the opposite direction.

Thought Replacement

Being clear on what one does not want to think about often is not enough. The unhelpful or negative thought needs to be replaced with a helpful or positive thought, even if the new thought does not have any relationship to the negative thought. To accomplish this, one can visualize a special place, embrace an accurate, logical thought about the situation, or engage in a task that requires concentration and focus.

Real Life Application of Thought Stopping

Sometimes thought stopping is criticized for being an overly simplistic response to complex emotional problems. While this may be a fair criticism, those who are successful at using thought stopping as a coping skill frequently incorporate several types of thought stopping techniques for each unwanted thought. The skill is easy to learn, but using the skill may require practice. Consider the following real life examples.

Mark has been invited to a restaurant he frequented during the height of his alcohol use. He has not been back since he became sober. As he and his friends are ordering, friends begin to order alcohol and Mark experiences unhelpful thoughts arising in his mind. The margaritas here are great. If I only get one I’ll be okay. Everyone else is drinking. Mark recognizes that these are addiction thoughts, and begins the thought stopping process by saying “Stop!” silently to himself because he is with others. He reinforces this by closing his eyes and picturing a stop sign. He replaces the thoughts of alcohol by saying to himself, My sobriety is important to me. I don’t need any poison today. To get his mind focused on something else, he asks the server to make a recommendation for an appetizer.

Diane works in a stressful environment with many deadlines and an incompetent boss. One afternoon her boss begins complaining about problems with her work performance, most of which relate to things she did not do. Diane attempts to return to work, but cannot get anything done because she keeps thinking, My boss is so incompetent. I don’t get why they don’t fire him. As the thought repeats in her mind, she becomes angrier. She shuts the door to her office and says, “Stop!” as loud as she can without attracting attention. She does three jumping jacks and starts to smile as she is beginning to feel silly. Okay, Diane, she says to herself, You have three projects due today. Focus on those. Diane gets to work on her projects.

Mark and Diane demonstrate how effective thought stopping can have multiple steps. If either had merely said, “Stop!” to themselves, there is a high likelihood the unwanted thoughts would have quickly returned. Each of them used thought replacement and an activity to fill their mind with something positive.

Myths that Interfere with Thought Stopping

For thought stopping to be an effective coping skill, one needs to have confidence that the process will work. The following myths and inaccurate assumptions are common hindrances to effective thought stopping:

  • I can think negative thoughts or unhelpful thoughts as long as I don’t act on them
  • No one will ever know if I just think about it
  • I deserve the joy of thinking about my old habit or addiction
  • Thought stopping isn’t really possible–you really can’t control your thoughts
  • This is psychobabble
  • I can maintain my sobriety even if I don’t do practice thought stopping

Each of these myths can turn into an excuse for dwelling on an unwanted thought, which is unnecessary and self-defeating.

Moving Forward

With practice, thought stopping can become a part of daily life. As one consistently replaces unhelpful thoughts with helpful thoughts, the new helpful thoughts become more automatic. Thought stopping can be an effective tool during particularly stressful periods of life, such as the holidays, when there may be more frequent triggers for negative thoughts or relapse into addictive behaviors.

 

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Maintaining Sanity When Your Job Is Crazy

May 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture

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overwhelmedWe typically spend much of our time at work. If your job if full of impossible deadlines, office politics, overly demanding bosses, or unethical practices, it is reasonable to expect stress, depression, and anxiety to follow. This places us at high risk for family problems, health problems, and engaging or relapsing into addictive behaviors. In this economy, looking for a new job is rarely an option. We have to find a way to unwind, stay positive, and endure.

Stress-Relieving Techniques

Whatever stress relieving techniques are effective at the end of the day or on the weekend may also be effective if done for a few minutes throughout the day. For example, if 30 minutes of meditation is helpful after work, try 5 minutes of medication every couple of hours during the work day. If your morning walk is helpful in clearing your head, try taking a walk during your lunch break. By addressing the stress as it comes, there is less build up at the end of the day.

Planning is key to incorporating stress relief during the workday. Using an alarm or adding stress management techniques to a calendar can help make certain that managing stress does not become forgotten. One may need to bring a pair of sneakers to work for that lunch time walk or a pair of headphones to listen to an inspirational speaker. Thinking through what may be helpful head of time increases the likelihood it will actually happen.

Use Fantasy to Your Advantage

We all fantasize on occasion. If we work in a crazy job environment, we likely fantasize a lot. What would it be like if my boss quit? What if I could get my co-worker fired? What if we lost that big account? All of these fantasies are normal, but they are not helpful. They are very negative and engaging in them does not inspire any real solutions. Instead, use your fantasies to think of solutions: What if we landed another account and did not need that troublesome account anymore? What could I do to make that happen? My boss is up for promotion. Is there anything I can do to help her chances? This is more than just thinking positive. This is using your creativity to develop plans for making real change.

It should also be noted that fantasy should be time limited. Too much fantasy can impact productivity. It can also make us more frustrated with reality. A few minutes a day should be enough time.

Use Paid Time Off Strategically

Many workers save up their vacation time for a week long vacation and it works well for them. For others, taking a a day off every month is more practical and a better way of managing the stress that can build while waiting for the week-long break. It can be helpful, for example, to schedule a day off immediately following a big project or a week of working double shifts. If you know your boss dumps his end of the month report on you the day before the end of the month, schedule well ahead of time to be off on that day.

Occasionally events take us away from work and the hard worker within us returns to work too soon. If you have a baby, take the full 12 weeks allowed by the Family Medical Leave Act. If you have jury duty, volunteer to sit on a week long-trial. These events can be considered gifts of time away from the office.

Provide a Quality Good or Service

If you work in a crazy job, you may not get recognition from your boss or your customers, but if you do a quality job you can walk out the door each day with personal satisfaction. When we do our best in difficult situations it builds the character and endurance needed for greater things. Perhaps today’s customer will be tomorrow’s boss at the great new job you got because you were able to provide what the customer needed in spite of the circumstances. The self-discipline and determination that is built in you through the job may be needed for some other task in life. There are many benefits beyond pride and personal satisfaction that may not be realized for years to come.

Finding Support

Support can take many different forms. Support on the job could come from a supervisor, human resources, co-workers, those you supervise, or in some cases even your customer. A supervisor could be helpful in balancing workloads or resolving a conflict with a co-worker. Human resources may be able to assist with adjusting your job description or addressing a hostile environment. Co-workers and those you supervise may have excellent ideas about how to solve problems. A customer may be willing to adjust a deadline. Sometimes workers feel unsupported because they have only asked one potential supporter for assistance when there are others available to help.

When support on the job is not an option, consider support from outside sources. Perhaps a mentor can help with the problem solving process. Maybe it is time to use the Employee Assistance Program, an outside counselor, or a support group. If depressive or anxious thoughts are beginning to take over or if one finds themselves returning to an addiction, it is time for professional assistance. Again support may be available that goes unused because the worker failed to ask.

Working in at a crazy job can be draining and demoralizing, but sometimes it has to be done. Workers who intentionally combat the negative emotions that naturally follow can find they are not just productive, but also growing.

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Using Distraction to Reduce Stress

April 4, 2014 by  
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The Flower of Human MindUsually we think of distraction as a pesky stumbling block preventing productivity. Conversely, planned and controlled distraction can be a helpful tool in reducing everyday stress.

Healthy distractions fall into four main categories: activities that engage the imagination, activities that challenge the mind, activities that challenge the body, and alternative tasks.

Tapping into Creativity

Activities that engage the imagination are largely entertainment based. Books, music, and videos all take us out of our current situation and our mind is charged with the task of absorbing information from somewhere different. For many the more information provided by the distraction, the easier it is for the stressed person to become absorbed in the storyline. For that reason, video is more effective than literature or music. If one is reading and cannot focus on making the mental images necessary for reading to be a distraction, he or she may be more successful watching television or a movie.

Fictional stories are also more likely to help the stressed person escape in their minds than nonfictional stories. If one is more interested in nonfiction, stories that are not closely related to stressor are advised. For example, if one is stressed because she is about to go on a long plane ride, it is not the time to watch a documentary about the events of 9/11. A documentary on monarch butterflies would be a much better choice.

Mind Games Are Good

Many activities can challenge our minds, but to be effective in reducing stress they need to be at just the right level. If the activity is too difficult, it becomes a new stressor. If the activity is too easy, the mind will drift and begin thinking about the stressful situation. Common examples include: word games (crossword puzzles, Jumble, or word searches), board or card games, and utilizing social media.

Move Your Body

Activities that challenge the body include any type of aerobic activity such as walking or biking, but also include other, more novel challenges. For example, one can attempt to separate their fingers between the middle and the ring fingers to make a V, a la Dr. Spock, or try bending the one finger at a time without bending the others. Provided you have some privacy, try giving yourself a field sobriety test. Walking in a straight line toe-to-heal requires mental focus. These types of trivial tricks take only a few moments and give the stressed out person something else to focus upon. For course going for a walk, yoga, and more traditional exercise works too, provided the person is not focused on their stress while engaging in the exercise.

Picking Alternatives

Perhaps the most productive distraction is to engage in an alternative task. If the math homework is overwhelming, start the English homework. If traffic is going nowhere, stop at the supermarket and pick up dinner. The idea is to stop the stressful activity and start an activity that needed to be done anyway. The advantage of this type of distraction is you can be productive while reducing the stress.

Making It Work

Some distractions fall in multiple categories. A video game such as Wii or Xbox with Kinect would be an example of this. The game engages the imagination. Let’s say the player is pretending to be a dancer at a nightclub. This allows the player to let go of their present situation and take a different person’s situation which is anything but stressful. The game also engages the player mentally as he or she attempts to keep up with the instructions on how to dance. Finally, the game engages the physical body which attempts to do the steps in the correct order. The physical body is also challenged as the heart rate is increased and muscles are exercised. If the player is playing with their children, it could also be considered an alternative task as the parent is connecting with and entertaining their child.

Pay Attention to Timing

To make distraction helpful in reducing stress timing is key. The distraction should not be too late, or for the wrong length of time. If the distraction is tried too late, the person will continue to think about the stress while engaging in the distraction. The stress would have already become overpowering. If the distraction is for too short of time, only a portion of the stress felt would be released. If the distraction is for too long, problems can occur as productivity suffers and the person may begin a pattern of avoiding problems that is also unhealthy. If, for example, an office worker reads a novel during lunch time to reduce stress, problems may occur if she reads long after her lunch time ended. If she really needed to reduce stress earlier in the day, reading the novel came too late and she may not be able to concentrate and really get into the storyline.

Healthy distractions can take many different forms and what is helpful for one person can be destructive or addicting for someone else. When properly used, distraction can be an important part of a stress management plan.

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

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