De-Stress Yourself Today

These are the notes from a seminar Dr. Service gave for Oregon State Capitol employees in Salem Oregon

  1. Each of us have a point where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually balanced, and that is called being in a state of homeostasis.
  2. A stressful event can trigger the production of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These are fight or flight reactions that are not intended to happen often.
  3. Acute stress can be okay in small doses. We have incidents of acute stress on a daily basis. A deadline, a fender bender, a family trip, a ride on a roller-coaster, a rock concert.
  4. Chronic stress is a long term stressor that wears away your body, mind, and spirit. This can be a dysfunctional relationship or family life, a job that you despise, poverty, feelings of the need to be perfect or a high achiever in all things, past experiences that seem to replay in your life over and over again. This is very dangerous because we can get used to it. That means we have a good chance of dying an earlier death than what we would have had we not been so chronically stressed.
  5. We cannot eliminate all of the stressors in our lives, but we can eliminate some… and we can change our reaction to them, which lowers our stress.

 “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels nor demons, heaven or hell.” Buddha

Each of us have a stress threshold.

  1. Each of us have a DIFFERENT stress threshold than the other.
  2. One person may be able to deal with and handle an immense amount of stress while another may crumble under the slightest mishap.
  3. Additionally, each of us view different experiences or stimuli differently. Some would rather die than give a public speech. Others relish the opportunity. The stimuli is the same, but the way they perceive the stimuli is different.

Secret #1: Stress is in the mind of the beholder.

Let’s place an inherent stress value on each of these things:

Public speaking –

Losing a job –

Riding a roller coaster –

Somebody interrupts you while talking –

Getting your picture taken –

Being caught in a thunder storm –

This was actually a trick because nothing has an objective  stress value. People view the same life events and experiences differently, and thus their level of stress will be different as well. Even a well deserved vacation to an all-inclusive place of paradise can be stressful. The reason for the stress is because you have to adapt to the changes taking place. Anything that constitutes change in your life, big or small, can be considered a trigger to stress.

When I treat somebody for stress, the key is cognitively re-framing or restructuring their perception and thoughts about an event. What we have found is that we feel stressed when:

  1. We do not think we have the necessary resources to manage a challenge or situation
  2.  We believe we cannot cope well with the challenge or situation
  3. We think we have few or no other options

Interestingly, a recent study from Yale, Dr. Crum and her colleagues found that how we view stress itself can have a negative or positive effect on us. For instance, if we believe stress is bad, that is drains our energy and stops growth, then that is typically what those people experience. Conversely, if we believe stress can provide an opportunity for growth, one that would not have presented itself otherwise, and that it can help us be healthier and happier, then they find that it actually increases their productivity and performance. These positively stressed participants found that they sought out feedback for their performance and were able to handle stress far better than the negative Nellys.

This study teaches us to see most forms of stress as a good thing, and an opportunity to grow.

In the book The Littlest Acorn, Ashton has an amazing amount of stress in his life, yet he grew knowing it would help him grow stronger.

Secret #2: Stress multiplied
Debbie Downer: [after being hugged by “Pluto”] Oh, hi, Pluto. It must really be fun working at Disney. Although at any major theme park, you live under the constant threat of terrorist attacks.
Amy Poehler: [depressed, the Pluto character walks off] What, where’s he going? What’s wrong?
Debbie Downer: In that outfit, he’s probably in the early stages of heat exhaustion.

Jimmy Fallon: [ordering breakfast at Disney World] I love Mickey’s Steak and eggs!
Debbie Downer: Ever since they found mad cow disease in the US, I’m not taking any chances.
Jimmy Fallon: What?
Debbie Downer: They say it can live in your body for up to three years before it attacks and destroys your brain.

A study of over 1200 people showed something interesting. The 1200 participants had personality tests. Those who showed high levels of borderline personality DO and other tendencies were measured against those who were introverted and did not do a whole lot. They found that those with the borderline traits tended to have far more stressful events occur in their lives. Basically, they made everything bigger than it was and tended to create more stress or create stress where there was none.

Secret #3: A bad mood in the morning really can ruin your day

Research shows that you can wake up on the wrong side of the bed and it will likely effect the rest of your day.

In a study out of the University of Pennsylvania researchers tracked employees’ mood changes throughout the day in response to their contact with customers.  They found that those who started the day with a bad mood tended to rate their customers more negatively than those who started out in a good mood.  Those employees who had a customer with a negative attitude ended up being less productive throughout the day and took more frequent and longer breaks.  Beginning the day in a bad mood can lead to a difficult time interacting with others, which leads to more stress which, means you may interpret things differently, thusly leading who less than desirable work performance and interpersonal interactions. This leads to the next secret:

Secret #4: Sleep and stress are connected

There are hundreds of studies that suggest that when a person feels more stressed, they tend to get less sleep or lower quality sleep. When you get less or lower quality sleep, guess what, we tend to awake in a bad mood or get tired throughout the day.

Secret #5: Emotional labor affects stress levels

“Emotional labor”  is the effort it takes a person to “be nice” , whether they feel like it or not. Most of our jobs require us to be nice to our coworkers, customers, or clients.  For Service oriented occupations, such as wait staff, cashier, or customer service reps, it is a requirement.

Tunghai University’s Kay Chu et al (2012) found that workers who tended to have a sunny disposition and good attitude expended less emotional labor because they felt like being nice. For those in a bad mood, being nice was a draining experience. Those people tend to drain the energy from others around them too. We can lessen our emotional labor by feeling more genuinely caring toward those whom we serve.   Learning empathy helps in this. Think of the consequences of genuinely wanting to help others. Job performance improves, as do reviews and as a result, moods improve and stress lessens.

Secret #6: Feeling like you have no control increases stress

Workplace bullying increased stress and affects the mental and physical well-being of the victims. Workplace bullying is defined as negative interpersonal acts on the job which victims cannot cope with or control. Workplace bullying can manifest in the form of social isolation, direct harassment, intimidating behavior, work-related criticism, and even physical violence.

When an animal is cornered by a predator the animal will become highly stressed and as a result resort to doing things it would not normally do to escape. When an animal has its foot stuck in a trap, what have animals been known to do to free themselves?

Studies also show that those who are in control in the workplace, such as managers and supervisors tend to have less stress than those who are purely subordinate. This is because they have some control over what goes on. The higher the level of management or control, the lower the stress felt.

Know you have options to your problems and knowing you have ultimate control over what happens to you is a freeing concept to many. When we engage in catastrophic thinking we can allow ourselves to get caught up in false cognitions. When we become stressed parts of our brain stop working well, such as judgement and decision making.

Secret #7:  Medication reactions and half-lifes can have an effect on stress

Some medications effect how you feel the next day.

A half-life is the amount of time it takes for a certain medication to lose one half of its pharmacologic activity. Some medications can still be in your system after taking them the night before, which may lead to grogginess in some cases.

Secret #8: Ten years from now your mind and body will thank you.

If any of you are planning on retiring and actually doing some great things, listen up, because changes you make today, right now, will affect your retirement.

Researchers found a relationship between the way we handle daily stress and our psychological well-being ten years later. It was discovered that what happens to us now has less to do with our long term well-being than how we handle what happens to us now.

Doing a better job at managing our reaction to stress and not letting things bother us results in a better functioning brain 10 years from now.

In ten years, those who respond poorly to stress have greater feelings of “worthlessness, hopelessness, nervousness and anxiety.”

Stress is also linked to bad cytokines (IL-6, TNF alpha, C reactive protein, etc.), which is seen in clients with PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety disorders. Add to that what we know about cardiovascular disease. The way we process stress changes how we deal with stress. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or other substances which increase the inflammatory cytokines (substance abuse, smoking), while decreasing behaviors that decrease inflammation and the presence of bad cytokines, such as exercise, meditation, and sleep).

How to Cope With Stress

  1. Keep a stress journal:

Once we allow stress to change to distress, it’s like trying to stop a freight train moving down the track. It is easy to stop a train that never leaves the station.

Q: When are people MOST motivated to deal with a stressful situation?

A: After it has already blown up into something that it never needed to be and it now threatens something important to you.

When somethings goes further than it should have and caused an inordinate amount of stress in your life, write down what you would do differently next time in a journal. This will help you internalize the new plan of action when your brain is not thinking straight next time. Also, in your journal rate your stress level for the day and a peak stress level for some point in the day. What was the situation for the peak level and what can be done differently to keep it from reaching that level again for that situation? Write down the lowest level of stress during your waking day when confronted with a potentially stressful situation, and note what you did to obtain that low rating.

Tip 2: Just say “no” when you know you cannot take on a new assignment or duty without it causing serious stress on your life. Provide yourself with three or four ways of nicely and politely declining an invitation and practice saying it in the mirror.

Tip 3: Drink more water. This may surprise you, but keeping your body hydrated will help you feel better, improve your mood and ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs! Your body produces the hormone, cortisol, in response to stress. Dehydration, even by levels as low as 17 oz (just over two glasses) increases cortisol levels in your body, which hurts your body and brain.

Tip 4: Eat well. In addition to drinking water, pay attention to what you eat. Diets high in fiber and low in yuck have positive effects on overall mood.  B vitamins, especially folic acid (folate) and vitamin B12 are known to help prevent mood disorders, including depression. These vitamins are commonly found in spinach, romaine lettuce, lean chicken breasts, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products

Tip 5: Stress does not come with the territory.  We have been duped into believeing that to have a certain job means we must be stressed. We have been fooled into thinking that a stressed person is a person who is working harder. Some use stress as a badge of honor that tells others that they have a more important work to do and therefore they have a right to run around pulling their hair out and using body language to tell others how difficult their job is, so they deserve their pay and vacations and promotions. Don’t participate in that line of thinking. That is it… just say, I don’t participate in that.

Others have been conditioned to react in a dramatic stressed out way to anything that happens. A kid spills milk at a restaurant… there are two ways to deal with it. One is to freak out and jump up from the chair and start frantically wiping milk up off the table while waving the waiter over for moe napkins because of your kids mistake… or just smile and say oops and put a few napkins over it and keep talking as if nothing happened. It will get cleaned up either way, and the bill is the same in the end… but how we deal with it makes all the difference.

What if all you needed to do to lower your reaction to stress was to just decide to not participate in stress anymore?! What if it were that easy? Well it is. Stress is a choice and you can choose to participate in it or not. Nobody is making you be stressed. It is only you!

In the following scenario, we are not looking for suggestions on how to handle the situation, but rather on how to think about the situation before doing anything.

Scenario: You are watching television in your living room and suddenly a golf ball comes crashing through your front window.

Scenario: Your partner, despite being asked 40 times, has not done a certain task.

Scenario: A guy tailgates you for 5 miles while holding his phone to his ear. He flips you off, then cuts you off before your exit. You have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting him. You end up at work where you find that the guy in the car works in mailroom at your work and you are both walking to the building at the same time, and it is inevitable that you will be going through the doors together.

I also have a few more tips that range from “Quick and Easy” to “Requires More Effort”


Really breathe. Everyone breathes, right?  It’s a reflex, but breathing fully and correctly is rare in a society that places so much value on a tight, flat tummy.

  1. First try to gently push all of the air out of your body. This means your stomach should go in as well.
  2. Next allow your lower part of your stomach area and diaphragm to fill with air first, then your mid chest, then your upper chest.
  3. Inhale slowly in this manner several times and then notice the difference you feel. What you have done is fully expelled the stale old air that is of no use to you and replaced it with new, fresh air in both the large and small airways. This will provide more oxygen to your blood which will help ease fatigue, muscle tension, tiredness, and increase your feelings of well-being.

Progressively Relax Your Body. Several times each day take a few moments to tense and release the tension in every area of your body beginning with the toes and ending with the head. You can also experiment with office yoga.

Smile and Laugh a little more. Increase your feel good neurotransmitters by smiling more, even when you don’t feel like it, and laughing more.

  • Watch a funny comedian on a video for a few minutes.
  • Hang out with people who make you smile and laugh
  • Be goofy and don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Smile at people in the hallway. They will wonder what you have been up to.


Do the deep breathing exercise each hour so it becomes a habit. Recognize when you are not breathing fully and try to train yourself to breathe deeper more often. While breathing deeply pay close attention to your breath and how it feels and sounds.

Meditate mindfully by setting a couple of minutes aside each day to clear your head and place your attention and focus on your breath.




Engage in 10-15 minutes of meditation daily