Control Stress Before It Controls You

We cannot totally get rid of stress from our lives because it is our body’s automatic response to any demand, real or imagined, that is put on it. Besides, stress is a necessary part of life to challenge us into action. It is uninterrupted or prolonged stress that is the killer. If you have enough time to recover and rest between one bout of stress and another and you can keep your stressors to a minimum, you can control the damage that stress can inflict on you. Otherwise, stress will control your life and you will eventually experience burnout, illness, and broken relationships.

Three characteristics of stress
The first step to controlling stress or “stress management” is to understand what stress is all about. According to Barbara Brown, author of “Between Health and Illness”, stress has three characteristics: It is unique to each person, it depends upon interaction with others, and it starts in the mind.

Different people will interpret a stressful situation differently. Talking before a large crowd stresses Person A but stimulates Person B. On the other hand, Person A enjoys bungee jumping while Person B finds it terrifying.

One of the reasons Christmas is stressful is because of the social pressure to give gifts. Many people don’t want to do it but are pressured to do so because of the “what will other people say?” syndrome. If you didn’t care what other people would think of you, you wouldn’t feel stressed.

Depending on your relationship with a relative, you would perceive his or her announcement to visit you for a few months with joy or with dread.

Starts in the mind
It is your perception and expectation of a situation that determines what kind and how much stress you will undergo. If you have an attitude of viewing obstacles as opportunities or challenges, you will experience positive stress, which will help you grow as a person. If you view problems as threats or traps, then you will be negatively stressed.

Anticipating or worrying about problems that have not yet occurred is another example of stress originating in the mind. Richard Carlson, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” observes, “Most people anticipate life rather than live it”. Another way to put it is a saying that someone sent me: “Today is the Tomorrow you worried about Yesterday. Was it worth it?”

Get quick relief
To prevent stress from reaching critical levels, you need to take immediate measures throughout the day. These techniques are temporary but done on a regular basis, they are very helpful in releasing stress before it has a chance to build to unhealthy levels.

Manage your time
It is ironic that with all the supposed time-saving devices available like the cell phone, fax, email, and digital organizer, modern man is feeling even more time-crunched. Ofer Zur, a time-management therapist, had this to say about “techno stress” – “We’ve become obsessed with speed. We end up with lots of plans that we can’t execute, and full schedules that can’t be followed. The paradox of our timesaving tech gadgets is that we’ve wound up with no free time”.

Managing your time does not mean, as I used to believe, finding ways to do more things in less time. That just leads, as I discovered, to more stress. It means deciding what are the most important things to you and using your time wisely to do only those things.

Reach out to someone

Keeping your feelings to yourself is an excellent way to develop chronic stress and get sick. Talk to someone close on a regular basis about issues in your life that are bothering you. Even if they can’t help you, just talking about your problems makes you feel better. Getting daily hugs from your loved ones is also vital to your mental and emotional health. Studies have shown that even just stroking a pet can lower blood pressure. And lastly, don’t forget the power of prayer. There are many things in this life that we cannot control. Relinquishing those things to God’s able and faithful hands is a great stress-buster.

Exercise is one of the most important tools in managing stress because the body’s flight-or-flight stress response has prepared the body for physical activity. Exercise releases all that pent-up energy. It dissipates the chemical by-products of the stress hormones, normalizes your blood pressure, “cleans” out your blood vessels, strengthens the heart, releases tension from your muscles, and burns excess fat and glucose in your bloodstream. In short, it does all the opposite things that stress does to your body.

Research shows that exercise reduces tension, anxiety, depression, and anger though scientists still don’t quite know why. Both aerobic (walking, running, cycling, etc) and resistance (weight lifting) type of exercise are beneficial. Mind- body type of exercises like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates that incorporate principles of coordinated breathing, mindfulness, and focus have additional benefits in controlling stress.

There is one caveat about exercise and stress. Competitive sports can create more stress if you are the type of person who does not know how to lose.

Eat right and get enough rest
Even if you are managing your time correctly, you have close friends to share your feelings, and you are exercising regularly, your efforts at stress management will be undermined if you are not eating properly or getting enough rest. You cannot separate the mind from the body. When the body is tired from sleep deprivation or from not getting enough nutrients, your mind and attitude will be negatively affected.

C.O.P.E. Strategy
Jeff Anthony of the San Diego Sports Medicine Center defines stress management in nutshell with the C.O.P.E. Strategy: Control what you can, be Open about issues, Pace yourself and don’t overbook, and Exercise.

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