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3 Prescriptions for Stress
By Dr. Alan Shelton

Recently I gave a talk at a retreat entitled "Dr. Shelton's 3 Prescriptions for Stress": three particularly powerful approaches that could disarm most of the nagging stressful issues that deplete our energy and promote burnout at work and in our family life.

Think now of the issue that most bothers you at home or at work, that causes the most frustration and unhappiness. As you ponder this think of how each of the following "prescriptions" could dissipate the impact of this issue so that you experience greater positive energy and enthusiasm.

1. GRATITUDE We tend to focus on the negative. Yet it is amazing that if one looks for it there is something positive to be found in even the most difficult situation. What can you think of about this particular issue that you can be thankful for? Perhaps you might need some coaxing, but once you get started most people can think of many favorable aspects of the situation. At the very least you can always be thankful that you have a job! If you had no job, this would not be an issue, but you might be suffering financially. Perhaps you could be thankful that this issue presents you with an opportunity to make a much-needed change. Perhaps it presents a challenge that, once you overcome it, will create character. An administrator once shared with me that it was extremely stressful for her when a board member complained to her about some problem in the organization. As we talked, she discovered that she could be thankful that the board member trusted her enough to come to her to complain. This scenario was certainly better than having the board member discuss the issue behind her back! She also saw that she was in a position of authority, and that due to her position she wasn't as helpless in the face of the complaint. Suddenly she saw the situation as an opportunity to make a positive difference. Seeing the positive and practicing being grateful can dissipate the stress surrounding a difficult issue.

2. FORGIVENESS One of the things that can really bring us down is the resentment we sometimes harbor towards a family member, fellow worker or someone in our workplace. Carrying a grudge wraps a tight noose around my neck. It only hurts me, as every time I think negatively toward another person, I tense up, which releases harmful chemicals into my body. It is a big relief to realize that people act according to their own situation- when they act in a hurtful way, it's not about me; it's about them. Recently at my clinic, a co-worker wrote a scathing e-mail in anger. One recipient was very upset and came to me distressed, her day ruined. By chance I ran into another recipient of the e-mail who also mentioned it but laughed, saying that the originator of the e-mail "certainly cares a lot!" In other words he was in the same situation, but responded with understanding. He knew the e-mail was simply a reflection of the sender's situation, and he didn't take it personally. This coworker's forgiving attitude worked to help dissipate a potentially very stressful incident.

3. PEACE OF MIND If we are stressed about something that troubles us and we keep mulling it over, the resulting anxiety causes even more tension, depleting our energy and enthusiasm. How do we move from anxiety to peace of mind? Practicing mindfulness or being wholly in the moment is one approach. Most of the things that we worry about have already happened and we stew about it afterward, or we are afraid something might happen and we fret about it beforehand. The habit of taking a deep breath and declaring, "This is a wonderful moment" as opposed to worrying about some other time than right now, is the key to mindfulness. The other day one of my patients confided to me that he had heard a rumor that a major client was unhappy, putting his business at risk. He was a nervous wreck all weekend. Then on Monday he had a conversation with the person involved who quickly explained that it was all a misunderstanding. My patient ruined his own weekend (not to mention harming his own health) by fretting about something that never materialized. Practicing mindfulness, he might have enjoyed a beautiful weekend. Another approach to moving anxiety to peace of mind is through prayer. In prayer we turn over our fears and worries to a power greater than ourselves. This brings a spiritual perspective to our lives and brings us a sense of peace, since ultimately the spiritual state of trust is where peace of mind resides.

So by practicing gratitude, forgiveness, and peace of mind, you can prevent any stressful issues at home or at work from depleting your energy and enthusiasm. Try it! Reframe these issues so that you can bring your best self to your work and your life. If you apply these "Three Prescriptions" to the item you brought to mind when you first began reading, I guarantee you'll be pleased with the results!

stress burnout releifAlan Shelton, MD is the medical director at the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority where he has worked as a family practitioner for 22 years. He also serves as faculty at Tacoma Family Medicine residency program at Multicare Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. In addition to his MD degree, Dr. Shelton earned a Master's in Public Health at University of Washington Medical School, and is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Medical School. He recently completed training in acupuncture.

burnout stress book Shelton grew up in Japan, an upbringing which helps him adapt easily to other cultures, including the Native American community in which he works. His personal renewal and recovery from burnout, along with his deep respect for the Native American spiritual tradition, inspired him to share with others the essential role spirituality plays in achieving true satisfaction and fulfillment at work. Dr. Shelton is married and is the father of six children. He enjoys coaching basketball and playing trumpet in his family band.



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