Counteracting Stress

After disclosure of a child's sexual abuse, most mothers experience acute stress. This stress causes changes in brain chemistry and reduction of the immune system's protection from illness and disease. You can counteract the stress by coping in ways that increase your quality of life, enhance your immune system, and help you become more resistant to illness.

Change is always difficult because it requires altering habits. However, if you want to improve the quality of your life, you may want to consider making one small change each week. The concept of baby steps leads to major lifestyle changes over time. These changes can result in your increased health during this stressful period of your life and an increase in overall satisfaction with your life. Effective coping and healthful life choices increase your sense of competence. This has a positive effect on your self-esteem which promotes more healthy choices. 

Coping strategies that counteract stress include:
  • Diet. Eating a healthy diet improves your energy and your health. What you eat affects your mood. Pay attention to your intake of coffee, sugar, and fats aas these alter energy levels. Healthy eating habits will provide your body with the nutrition it needs. Healthy eating habits also enhance self-esteem as you choose to take care of yourself. 
  • Exercise. Adding more exercise to your life will improve your energy and your health. The more stress you experience in your life, the more tired you may become. It is at those times that you need to exercise the most. This may require forcing yourself to make a wise choice and take care of your body and your emotions in this way, but it is worth it. You will feel better and increase your resistance to illness.
  • Assertiveness. Assertive responses are thoughtful and planned, not impulsive and spoken from your emotions. When you use your rational mind to plan your approach to a conflict situation or a difficult communication, you ultimately feel better about your behavior. The goal is to present with self-confidence, respecting the other person, and respecting yourself.
  • Journaling. Journaling is an effective way to deal with stress. Write down your thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. Write it all down, no matter what it is. Journaling can get out feelings of anger and relieve you of hostile emotions that affect your heart and health. Daily journaling is an outlet for creativity, discovery, and release from painful emotions. Automatic writing is a form of writing in which you set an amount of time and write whatever comes into your mind. You can find clues in your writing about your unspoken thoughts and feelings.
  • Poetry. Poetry is another form of writing that allows you to write your thoughts and feelings in a form that is creative and satisfying, as well as relieving. You can put the feelings on paper in whatever form you choose. You can learn about poetry as an art form. You can condense the feeling into the fewest words, finding metaphors that express your feelings. 
  • Meditation.The practice of meditation quiets your body, mind, and emotions. It has been proven effective in reducing stress, improving the immune system, and increasing health. Sitting mediation, walking meditation, standing meditation, and yoga are types of meditation exercises.
  • Prayer. Prayer works. Recent research shows the healing effects of prayer. Prayer allows you to turn over the worry, stress, anxiety, fear, concern to God or your Higher Power. The 12-step models of recovery for alcohol, drugs, and other addictions incorporate spirituality.
  • Music. Music is healing. You can release your emotions through movement to an upbeat melody or crying to a sad ballad. You can sing your pain. You can sing your prayer. Listening to music can alter your emotions.
  • Recreation. Recreation of whatever type gets your mind off your problems and allows your to release the stress. Recreation re-creates you.

A word about negative or ineffective coping strategies: Marcia Linehan (1993), creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, describes distress tolerance skills as crisis survival. The goal is to survive the crisis without making the situation worse. Sometimes people choose ways to deal with stress and make an already difficult situation - much, much worse. For example, if your child is abused, and you choose to drink to excess or use drugs over it, Child Protective Services may be concerned about your parenting ability. 

Examples of choices that give into the stress and make the situation worse:

  • Increasing alcohol consumption - getting drunk. 
  • Use and abuse of other mood altering drugs - methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, prescription drugs.  
  • Unrestrained anger - striking out at others with words, instead of taking care of yourself and your anger through effective coping skills.
  • Giving in to depression - closing the curtains, staying in bed, neglecting your family.
  • Gambling - like other choices that make the situation worse, gambling is a temporary escape resulting in negative consequences.
  • Sexual promiscuity - may feel good and boost self-esteem for a short time, but is a temporary escape. 

Remember: The goal is to counteract the stress and SURVIVE THE CRISIS!



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