by THOMAS E. "Tom" DENHAM firstname.lastname@example.org Alpharetta, GA USA
We could eliminate much of the stress that troubles human life today by the consistent practice of two basic skills: (1) "Saying No" and (2) "Asking for Help." I challenge you to watch yourself today. How different would your life be if you said no and asked for help every time it was appropriate?
Most of us go along feeling as if we cannot say no or ask for help. The root of this problem is a failure to appreciate the value and significance of our own lives. The key to really getting a handle on stress management and living a healthy, happy life is developing genuine self-respect.
Without self-respect, we will not act on what we already know about stress management consistently enough to make a real difference in our lives. Self-respect grows out of living with integrity through the practice of consistent behavior. Inconsistent behavior destroys self-respect.
Three Simple Movements
To deal with stress and stressful situations there are three basic moves to make (1) "Step Back," (2) "Take a Deep Breath," and (3) "Dive Back In." Repeat these basic moves as a sequential set as often as needed until you achieve resolution.
These movements belong together. To overemphasize or to neglect any one is pathological and invites trouble. Stepping back by itself is procrastination. Taking a deep breath by itself is preparation without application. Diving in by itself is a short road to burnout. These movements must operate in concert. Effectiveness requires stepping back to take a deep breath to get prepared to dive back in to deal with the situation at hand.
We need to step back from stress much like the literal physical move of taking a backwards step.
There are also some mental steps to take: Ask yourself, "Is this really going to matter a month from now? A week? A day? In the broad scope of my life, how much does this matter? Is there anything anybody can do? Am I taking too much responsibility for this situation? What is the worst thing that can happen? Have I done the best that I could under the circumstances?"
Look at your expectations. When we have the courage to examine our expectations of others and life in general we often find that they have become unreasonable or even irrational.
When things look bad, think about the future. If things are bad now, statistically speaking they are bound to get better. You might call this extending your perspective.
Take a Deep Breath
There are things we can do to help repair us from and prepare for engagement with demanding tasks. One is literally taking a deep breath or, even better, taking a series of deep breaths. When upset or scared, many people hold their breath or breathe with short, shallow respirations. Deep breathing is healing. Other steps include:
Eat right (good food at least three times a day). For support read the Nutrition Action Healthletter, P.O. Box 96611, Washington, DC 20077-7212.
Exercise regularly (30 minutes of aerobic exertion at least three times per week). For support, make a commitment to workout with a friend.
Sleep adequately (for most people this means 7 to 8 hours per night). For support, get a good mattress and box sprints and a fan to mask sound.
Practice progressive relaxation (sit quietly, close your eyes, relax all muscles from feet to face, breathe through your nose, continue for 15 to 20 minutes, practice once or twice a day). For support, see the book by Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response.
Put yourself in the hands of a massage therapist. Check the phone book for a professional.
Spend time with friends and talk about what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. Look for friends in places where you do not compete. For support, consult a therapist.
Dive Back In
Nothing replaces diving in and going to work when there is much to do. Finishing tasks is a marvelous method of stress management. Additional guidelines include:
Invest yourself in a job or career you like. We spend too much time working to burden ourselves with tasks that do not fit our personalities.
Aim for a pace that suits your personality. Some of us enjoy tight, full schedules. Others prefer more space. We have some choice about these things. Exercise yours.
Use a day planner to organize time usage and to keep track of phone numbers, addresses, and commitments. Develop plans for the next few days, the next few weeks, the next few months, the next few years, etc.
Divide tasks into easily accomplished units to reduce procrastination. This also allows you to feel good about getting things done more often.
Do something for somebody else. Philanthropy puts us into a better frame of mind for handling pressure and stress and helps us to maintain perspective.