“Don’t worry, Be Happy.” It is a simple phrase, but how do you live it?
Organizers of the 21st Annual Women’s Wellness Forum (WWF) brought in a local expert, Patty Wisner, to explain how to do just that Saturday.
Wisner, president and program director of the local NAMI affiliate, NAMI Payson, helps family members and caregivers handle the stress of life with someone with a mental illness.
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Wisner first learned about this grassroots nonprofit organization in 2013 when a family member was in the throes of a mental health crisis. NAMI Payson now offers many education, support and presentation programs for the Rim Country community.
She believes support is the answer to help individuals lead healthier lives and boost community health.
She talked about strategies to deal with stress, but started by sharing her own story. There was a time in her life that stress led to serious illness — first shingles and later severe migraines.
Wisner said stress has an important role in our lives. It is a survival mechanism providing a safety net — it is responsible for the fight or flight response. But stress should only be temporary, not a regularly recurring or ongoing condition.
Types of stress
• Acute stress — something that is the result of being or almost being in a car wreck for example, this should be temporary.
• When it does not dissipate, it becomes severe acute stress, which can either be episodic acute stress or long-term severe acute stress — also known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
• The third kind of stress is chronic stress, where the individual experiences high levels of stress for an extended period of time.
All three kinds of stress can result in both physical and mental manifestations. There is impact to the central nervous system; the cardiac and respiratory systems; blood vessels constrict and creates a risk for stroke and/or heart attack; digestive system — the liver increases its production of sugar and this can cause diabetes, IBS can result, ulcers, etc.; muscles tense up and don’t relax so there are headaches, body aches, back aches, etc.; the reproductive system — desire/drive reduced, periods become erratic, possible increase in infections; immune system is weakened, you can wind up becoming ill more often, needing more surgeries and recovery takes longer; behavioral impacts can include overeating, alcohol and substance use and/or abuse, sleeping too much or too little.
As bad as stress is, it is not incurable; there are strategies for coping, Wisner said.
“Set boundaries. When you are already feeling overwhelmed and someone asks for your help with another project, thank them for thinking of you and then just tell them it’s not something you can do,” she said.
• Figure out what’s causing it.
• Adopt behaviors to counter stress: eat well; get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly; exercise regularly; minimize alcohol and coffee consumption; take time to breathe; take a “braincation” — read, listen to music, cook, dance, sew, scrapbook, etc.; turn off the negative self-talk and create and listen to your inner cheerleader.
“Stop worrying, it is just a misuse of the imagination,” Wisner said.
She urged everyone to add more humor; get outside and enjoy the Rim Country.
“Focus on gratitude — write down the things for which you are grateful in a journal or put them on strips of paper and put the strips in a gratitude jar and pull out a strip whenever you are feeling stressed. Make a list of things that make you happy,” Wisner said.
She shared she loved to read and to dance to the oldies.
If work is where there is stress due to the workload, she said deal with the load in a way that helps minimize the stress it creates: use the pile method, put the most important stuff at the top of the pile and start working your way through it; or apply the time vs. task method — assign a time in which to do a task — especially one you don’t like.
“Cleaning is something I don’t like, but it has to be done. I set the timer for four hours on a weekend day to clean. At the end of the four hours I stop. What didn’t get done didn’t get done.”