By Betty Hughes, Ph.D., LMHC
Stress. The word itself conjures up thoughts and feelings that most of us would like to erase. Yet it is such a part of modern life that we cannot just make it go away.
We can learn to manage it however. It may not be easy, but it can be done.
The purpose of this article is to provide a general overview of the concept of stress, its causes and consequences, and some ideas about how to manage stress.
Consider the analogy of a rubber band. You can stretch it to the point that it will eventually break. The same holds true for people. A little bit of stress over a short period of time can actually improve efficiency by getting our attention and increasing our focus on solving a problem.
However, the consequences of prolonged stress range from minor to catastrophic; both psychological and physical problems can ensue.
Stress reduction, therefore, is important for most people. Following are some ideas that may help you to manage your stress; however, they are not intended to replace medical treatment. Please consult with your medical practitioner when needed.
1) Know yourself. Perceptions of stress vary with different individuals and at different times within the same individual. Get your basic needs met as much as possible, including sleep, nutrition, exercise, socializing. Feelings of deprivation increase the reaction to stress. You deserve good health.
2) See yourself as your own manager, but be compassionate. Learn the difference between things that can be changed easily and things that require acceptance or long-term solutions.
3) Take time for yourself every day, even if it is only a few minutes.
4) Monitor your thoughts and feelings. Positive thinking is uplifting and
energizing; negative thinking leads to tension and is draining. If you find yourself worrying, imagine putting your worries in a container and closing the lid. Immediately focus on something positive such as remembering a fun vacation or imagining a possible one.
5) Deep breathing exercises. Many breathing exercises are available, but
the easiest is to simply focus on a long slow inhalation followed by a long slow exhalation.
6) Affirmations and self-talk. Imagine speaking to yourself using a
soothing and calming tone. Prepare short phrases that you can repeat to crowd out any self-criticisms.
7) Remind yourself that nothing is forever, that you are strong enough to get through each item if done "one item at a time" and "one day at a time." Remember to love yourself unconditionally no matter what.
Details of these and other techniques are available from a wide range of
published material. Reading itself can be relaxing. Consider daily relaxation exercises to prevent the building up of stress. Daily relaxation exercises may include meditation, prayer, listening to quiet music, writing in a journal. There are many more.
Stress management is an inside job. Only you can choose what is best for you. Remember that perfection is an impossible goal; feeling comfortable most of the time is attainable and can be fun. Balance is the key.