Coping with Stress

Stress is a fact of life, but it need not be a way of life. There are many things in life that you can't control, but very few that you can't learn to manage, including the negative aspects of stress.

The positive aspect of stress is that it can help you concentrate, focus, and reach peak performance. Many people do their best work when under moderate pressure. Then, when the challenge has been met, they take time to relax and enjoy their achievement. This relaxation response enables them to build up the physical and emotional reserves to meet the next challenge.

Stress becomes negative when you stay uptight and don't - or can't - relax after meeting the challenge. Too much stress can leave you tired, irritable, angry, tense, anxious, frustrated and depressed. Chronic, ongoing stress can lead to emotional problems and physical illness.

The first step to managing stress is to become aware of the things that cause your stress. Once you realize what causes your stress, try to focus on how your body feels under stress. "Listen" to your body for signs such as irritability, headaches, a knot in your stomach, tensed muscles, clenched teeth, cold or clammy hands, or other symptoms that tell you you are under stress. There are many potential causes of stress both at home and in the workplace, and many different bodily reactions to stress. Recognizing what causes your stress and how your particular body reacts to stress is the first step to finding solutions to the problem.

The many potential solutions include:
  • Recognize when your body is telling you it's time to take a break.
  • Learn any of the wide variety of relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, stretching, meditation, Yoga, etc.
  • Improve work habits, such as learning how to manage your time better.
  • Avoid the circumstances that create stress.
  • Adjust your priorities; decide what is really most important in your life.
  • Adopt more realistic career goals.
  • Resolve not to let yourself be provoked or upset by others' behavior.
  • Talk out problems with a friend or supervisor.
  • Go out of your way to improve relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
  • Develop a healthier or more positive lifestyle with good nutrition and exercise.
  • Seek professional help.
  • In some cases, prescribed medications may by beneficial
  • Religious or spiritual practices (e.g., attending church or synagogue, prayer)

A mental health counselor can help you find and implement the right solution for your particular problem. If the cause of your stress is not easily recognized or manageable, you may feel overwhelmed, depressed, or helpless, as if there is "no way out." If this describes your situation, you may need medical assistance to help you cope with these feelings.

While there isn't a specific test to diagnose stress, if you are having problems with symptoms such as headaches, upset stomachs, etc., you should see your doctor to rule out medical illness. Otherwise, relax, and take one day at a time. Life can be beautiful if you stop to smell the flowers and admire yourself. In addition, try to always have options!