Managing Stress


One of the largest threats to our well-being is stress. Stress is part of life. You promote your well-being by learning to manage stress. “Optimal” stress helps stimulate and activate you to live a productive and meaningful life. Without some stress, life becomes empty and lacking in meaningful engagement.

However, excessive stress results in suffering and reduces productivity. Too much stress damages the brain and body.

You experience stress when you feel threatened or frustrated. Stress is the experience of the ego when survival drives are blocked. This can happen when:

• Someone threatens you.
• You are hungry and cannot get food.
• You encounter barriers to achieving your goals.
• You’re alone, alienated, and lonely.
• You have too much to do.
• You have a conflict with someone.
• You don’t have enough money to live.
• You are physically ill, or have loved ones that are ill.

Happy events, such as getting married, getting a promotion, having a baby, or buying a house, might also cause stress. To that end, almost any significant life change can create stress.

There are many causes of stress. Stress is a signal that your survival, comfort, or prosperity might be threatened. Several cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual techniques can help you manage your stress. These include:

1. Becoming aware
2. Getting support
3. Setting realistic expectations
4. Solving problems
5. Prioritizing, planning, and pacing
6. Engaging in surrendered action
7. Relaxing, releasing, and resetting
8. Taking care
9. Taking perspective
10. Balancing work, love, and play

Let’s now discuss each of these techniques.

Becoming Aware
The first step in effective stress management is to be aware of your stress and its causes. This requires mindfulness. Ask, “What’s going on?” You know you are stressed when you realize you are worried, angry, irritable, depressed, or distracted. You may feel stress in your body as pain, muscle stiffness, stomach or bowel problems, or problems sleeping.

Getting Support
People who manage stress well ask for help from others. They seek out people who are healthy, positive, loving, and wise. No one should worry or suffer alone. There is a saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. It is amazing how just talking through a problem with others can bring peace and clarity.

Setting Realistic Expectations
Succeed by nurturing your passions and skills. Stress comes from doing what you’re not good at or don’t enjoy. Set realistic expectations for yourself regarding what you can do well and what you cannot.

Expect imperfection. No one does life perfectly. Mistakes are part of life. In fact, expect to make mistakes, knowing you learn and grow through your mistakes. Expecting yourself to be perfect is unrealistic.

Solving Problems
Effective problem solving stands as one of the most effective stress management techniques. You face problems and challenges daily. Your problems may be biological, such as dealing with illness or disability; psychological, such as mental illness; relational, including family, work, and other social relationships; or occupational. Get what you want if you can. Avoid what you don’t want. Doing this will decrease stress. If you are unemployed and get a job, stress over money will recede. If you end an abusive relationship or assert yourself to stop the abuse, relational stress will diminish. If you get effective treatment for a medical illness, you will have less biological stress.

Effective problem solving involves taking effective action. Worrying about a problem does not solve the problem. Worry only causes suffering. Taking care of problems is far better than worrying about them.

Prioritizing, Planning, and Pacing
Managing stress requires organization, planning, and time management.
You reduce stress by scheduling your priorities. Self-care comes first, including exercise, rest, love, play, and treatment. You must be good to do good. Cultivating your vitality makes you more effective in all aspects of your life.

Tasks come in four categories:
• Urgent and important
• Urgent but not important
• Not urgent but important
• Not urgent and not important

Prioritize your efforts, knowing you can’t do it all, by first tackling the problems that are both urgent and important. Next, take care of urgent but unimportant problems you can’t avoid. Address urgent issues so you can spend most of your time on the important, but non-urgent tasks. Delay non-urgent and unimportant issues to those rare times when you have addressed other, higher priority tasks.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Most worthwhile accomplishments take time, persistence, patience, and pacing. Get more done with less stress by pacing yourself. Take breaks. Keep routines. Set aside enough time every day for rest, relaxation, love, play, and exercise. Carve out time for silence and stillness, even if just 10 minutes twice a day. By pacing yourself, you preserve a healthy balance between work, love, and play.

Engaging in Surrendered Action
You create unnecessary suffering for yourself when you act while expecting a specific outcome. You may ask your partner to clean up after himself or herself, expecting they will comply. When they do not, you become annoyed. You forget you have no control over others’ actions. You may give wise advice, then feel disappointed when people don’t follow your advice. There is a difference between hoping for vs. expecting a certain outcome. With others, ask for what you want. See what you get. Then do what’s best for yourself and others.

Focus on what you can control. Do what you can. Hope for a positive outcome while letting go of expectations of what will happen. Do your best and accept the outcome.
Practice surrendered action, moment by moment. By surrendering the outcome, you stay positive. You avoid frustration, anger, and hopelessness. With repetition of surrendered action, you will persist, improvise, adapt, and often overcome.

Relaxing, Releasing, and Resetting
We’ve all heard the term, “blow off steam.” Several relaxation techniques help you do this. Many find massage, saunas, steam baths, and hot tubs relaxing.

Deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises are much less expensive and are always available. Sometimes just taking five slow, deep breaths can help to release stress. The “dive response” is another powerful relaxation technique. When stressed, put your face in ice water for 30 seconds. This stimulates a natural parasympathetic surge that calms the body.

Meditation, yoga, prayer, contemplation, Qigong, and Tai Chi are all proven techniques for promoting relaxation. Exercise also reduces stress and promotes relaxation.

Getting outside in nature, in the sun, and being around plants all help to calm. Going for a long walk often helps. Bringing plants and pets into your home and workplace can leave you feeling calmer and less stressed. Other soothing activities include listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bath, lighting scented candles, and playing with a pet. These are just a few examples. There are many others.

Getting away from a stressful situation to regroup and reset helps to manage stress. Don’t say or do anything when angry. Take a “time out” when upset. Count to 10 before impulsively speaking out of anger and making matters worse.

Dealing with stress often takes time to figure things out, get a proper perspective, and develop an action plan, often with the help of your trusted intimates.

We all need down time. Scheduling time to “hang out” helps to reduce stress and regroup.

Take in and appreciate your surroundings. Savor the simple miracle of consciousness. Become fully present to this moment, in all its richness. This gets you out of your head so you can relax, reset, and regain a healthy perspective.

Taking Care
Good self-care is a foundational part of a low-stress life. Self-care involves optimizing your biological, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being. Taking care of yourself involves:

1. Eating healthy
2. Getting plenty of sleep and rest
3. Abstaining from addictive substances and behaviors
4. Keeping regular routines
5. Getting regular exercise
6. Getting from and giving to others
7. Taking part in community
8. Pursuing your passions
9. Making time, in solitude, silence, and stillness, for prayer, meditation, contemplation, or reflection
10. Keeping a balance of work, love, and play

These are all integral pieces to your overall health and happiness. There is no perfect recipe, and each person is different. You might find one type of self-care more important than another. Choose best for you and remember that each of these will make a difference in your ability to care for yourself.

Taking Perspective
Stay positive during tough times. Even in the darkest of times, keep your hope that this too shall pass. Reassure yourself that you will survive, thrive, and prosper as long as you act skillfully. People who handle stress well see the glass as half full, rather than half empty.

Attitude is everything. When faced with hardship, you have a choice. You can choose to:

• Be grateful for what you have.
• Have hope.
• Look for opportunities for learning, growth, and change in the midst of difficulty.
• Consider all life events, whether painful or pleasurable, as teachers.
• Cultivate understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness.

You are in charge of both how you perceive your situation and how you respond.

Balancing Love, Work, and Play
A balanced life entails proper proportions of work, love, and play. Balance helps you realize your purpose in life: to nurture and savor life. Loving and being loved give connection, support, and the deep fulfillment of nurturing others. Work fulfills the need to contribute and provides resources to survive. Play involves activities that restore and rejuvenate. Work, love, and play, in healthy portions, every day.

While stress is inevitable, you can avoid unnecessary stress through skillful living.

Make a list of these stress management techniques and put it somewhere you can refer to and reflect upon when stressed. Practice these techniques over and over. With time, you will find life more manageable.

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