Getting a Grip on Stress

You’re sitting in heavy traffic, late for your daughter’s soccer game and your two preschoolers are having a shouting match in the backseat. Your daughter is complaining, “Why are we always late?” Your heart rate is rising and your muscles are tense. The car ahead of you has failed to see the light turn green and you are helplessly waiting for them to notice as the minutes tick by.

Now if you have already been carrying a load of stress around, as most of us do, how is this situation going to affect you? Will it put you over the edge? Chances are, you will either get burning mad at the driver ahead and start laying on the horn, or you will blow up at the kids and say something you would never say intentionally. Or you may fight to internalize all of it, letting it build, only to blow your fuse later when the kids fight going to bed. Trust me, I know this scenario well.

By working to maintain the lowest stress level possible, you will be better equipped to handle a typical situation like this.

On the surface, taking time out to manage your stress may seem almost selfish. With all of the racing around that we already do, who has the time for relaxation? But the truth is that spending some time to deal with stress will be beneficial not only to you, but also to everyone in your path.

Stress, labeled the “Epidemic of the 80’s,” has moved right on through the 90’s and into the next millennium. It effects people of all ages and from all walks of life and, in large doses, can be devastating to emotional, mental and physical health.

In reality, stress is a necessary ingredient in our lives that the human body is well equipped to use and control. But the fast paced society that we live in, and the unhealthy choices that we make can cause a stress overload that is often too much of a challenge to our systems.

We throw the word “stress” around so casually these days, but do we really understand what it is? Actually, stress is the result of any change in your life. t can be good or bad change, physical, financial, emotional, the list goes on. Going through divorce is an obvious stress, but getting married is a stress as well, they both involve a change. When you think about the constantly changing world we live in, it’s no wonder there is so much talk of stress.

Sadly, many people carry so much stress that is causes them to feel fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety or depression. Their joy for living may be lost. Often they turn to binge eating, alcohol, caffeine or some other such self-destructive behavior to “pick themselves up”. This provides only a temporary relief that, in turn, adds more stress to the mix.

If you see yourself in this description, I highly recommend reading *”How to Survive Unbearable Stress” by Steven L. Burns, MD. In easy to understand language, Dr. Burns describes how the human brain is affected by stress, sleep deprivation and the use of “pick me ups”. He also includes a quiz to determine your stress level and advice on what to do if you find yourself “overstressed”. I was profoundly affected by the message and discovered some definite changes to make in my own life where stress is concerned.

So what steps can we take to ease the stress in our lives?

First of all, if you feel you are on the verge of becoming over-stressed, avoid adding any more and try to go easy on yourself. Say “no” when you are asked to volunteer for another community project. Make yourself go to bed at a reasonable hour each night. Cut your daily “to do” list down to the barest necessities. Any improvement in the daily demands on your mind and body will relieve some of your stress.

Examine your lifestyle and list the ways that you may be adding to your stress load. Do you get enough rest? Is your diet lacking in nutrition? Has your usage of caffeine, sugar, nicotine become excessive? Are you a workaholic? Pinpoint one area to work on, keeping it uppermost in your mind for just a week, and try to improve in that area. These things take time and patience to get under control and it can be overwhelming to make too many changes at once. Take small steps. Don’t let yourself become stressed about relieving your stress!

Over the past two decades, concern about the ill effects of stress has increased awareness of numerous stress management techniques. Breathing techniques, yoga, aromatherapy, massage, just to name a few. All have gained in popularity due to the stress epidemic. Society is constantly seeking out ways to deal with everyday, unavoidable stress.

In the next several articles of this series, I will be covering many of the stress management techniques that are available. I look forward to seeing an improvement in my own stress level and perhaps it will make a difference in other lives as well. I hope you’ll join me!

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