10 Strategies for Beating Stress
Regardless of all the media hype, you need stress in your life! Does this surprise you? Without stress, life would be dull and unexciting. Stress adds flavor, challenge, and opportunity to life. We need a degree of stress to operate, to meet a challenge or goal, to laugh, to love, to live.
Stress is that emotional or intellectual tension and exertion that speeds up our heart rate, raises our blood pressure, tenses our muscles, and prepares us for “fight or flight.” Too much of the wrong kind of stress is destructive to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The good news is that there is a winning strategy that can make the stress in your life work for you instead of against you.
Realistically, to be alive is to be under a certain amount of stress. Stress is with us at all times. Coping with it is an individual matter. What may be relaxing to one person may be extremely stressful to another. For example, to an executive who thrives on keeping busy all the time, “taking it easy” at the beach may seem extremely frustrating and nonproductive. While excessive emotional stress can cause physical illness such as high blood pressure, indigestion, ulcers, eyestrain, headaches, nervousness, or even heart disease, physical stress from work or exercise is far less likely to cause such ailments. On the contrary, physical exercise enables you to relax and handle your mental or emotional stress.
Although we cannot always control the external circumstances that bring on stress, we can control our reaction to it. When stress becomes prolonged or is particularly frustrating, it can become “injurious stress” or distress. Recognizing the early signs of distress and dealing with it can make an important difference in the quality of your life, and may even influence your longevity.
Our Reaction to Stress
What really matters is learning how to respond to stress demands effectively. Using stress in a positive way and preventing it from becoming distress requires that you become aware of your reactions to stressful events.
Let’s take the example of a typical rush-hour commuter situation. If a car suddenly pulls out in front of you, your initial alarm reaction may include fear, anger, and general frustration. Your body usually responds in the alarm stage by releasing hormones into the bloodstream that cause your face to flush, perspiration to form, your arms and legs to tense, and your stomach to have that sinking feeling. In the second stage, resistance, your body gears up to repair the physiological wear and tear caused by stress. Repetitive close calls, traffic jams, and stress, however, will condition you to anticipate potential problems when you drive so that you automatically tighten up at the beginning of each commuting day. Finally, the exhaustion state will eventually manifest itself in stress-related symptoms such as anxiety, energy loss, insomnia, or migraines. While one cannot live completely free of stress and distress, it is possible to minimize its influence.
Ten Positive Strategies for Beating Stress
It is vital to recognize and deal with stressful situations when-or even before-they occur. As you begin to understand how stress affects you as an individual, you may adapt these points to suit yourself to help ease the tensions.
1. Let go of the stress.
Many people try to relax at the same breakneck speed as the rest of their lives and wonder why they can’t ” let go.” Exercise will relieve that “up tight” feeling, relax you, and turn your frowns into smiles.Walking, jogging, involvement in your favorite sport, or working in your garden are just some of the activities you might try. Stretching, yawning, and deep breathing also help release tension. A good cry can be a healthy way of bringing relief to your anxiety-for men as well as women. Schedule time for a change of pace for both work and recreation. You’ll seldom “find” time for diversions; you have to make time. Play can be just as important to your well-being as work. Releasing stress can prevent tension headaches and other physical consequences. Remember, your body and your mind work together.
2. Share your stress.
It often helps to talk to someone about your concerns and worries. A friend, family member, teacher, or counselor can help you see your problems from a different perspective. If you feel your problem is serious, you may wish to seek professional help from your minister or physician. Knowing when to ask for help may avoid more serious problems later.
3. Be a participant.
Loneliness can be just as frustrating as being in an overcrowded situation. Sometimes we can feel lonely in a crowded room. One way to prevent boredom, sadness, or loneliness is to become involved in a positive way with other people and the world around you. Be a doer, not a sideliner. You’ll soon find yourself making new friends and enjoying new activities. Offer your services in a neighborhood or volunteer organization. Find activities that give you pleasure and that are good for your mental and physical well-being. God helps people through other people.
4. Protect yourself.
Lack of sleep and proper nutrition cause irritability and diminish our endurance and ability to deal with stressful situations. This can make you more prone to accidents. More than 56 million Americans were victims of accidental injuries last year alone. Each of these accidents required medical attention or limited work activity. One careless moment can ruin your health and physical well-being for a lifetime. Develop the habit of thinking ahead. Consider the end result of your actions.
5. Be realistic-know your limits.
If a problem is beyond your control and cannot be changed at the moment, do not fight the situation. Everyone experiences disappointments. Learn to accept what is-or is not-until such time as you can change it. Weigh the situation and act where possible, but also realize and accept limitations when and where they exist.
6. Change your environment.
You can often change your environment by getting away, joining a different group of friends, treating yourself to a good book, or playing beautiful music to create a sense of peace and tranquillity. Many environmental tapes are ideal for this. Change your attitude through prayerful quiet meditation. Count your blessings instead of fretting over what you do not have.
7. Check off your tasks.
Trying to do everything at once can be overwhelming, and, as a result, you may not accomplish anything. Instead, make a list of what tasks you have to do, then do one at a time, checking them off as they are completed. It will give you a sense of accomplishment when you can see the progress you have made.
8. Avoid confrontations.
Must you always be right? Do other people upset you-particularly when they don’t do things your way? Try cooperation instead of confrontation; it’s better than fighting and always being “right.” Ask yourself, “Is being right more important than a peaceful solution?” A little give-and-take on both sides will reduce the strain and make everyone feel more comfortable.
9. Avoid self-medication.
Too many people are seeking to dull the pain of life’s distress through alcohol or drugs. Such supposed cures have created more problems than they’ve solved! Although you can use prescription or over-the-counter medications to relieve stress temporarily, they do not remove the conditions that caused the stress in the first place. Medications can become habit forming and reduce efficiency, creating more stress than they take away. They should be taken only on the advice of your doctor.
10. Maintain a positive mental attitude.
Just as negative emotions can wear the body down, positive feelings can build it up. Biofeedback has shown that the link between mind and body is far more important than previously thought. Tune out your worries about time, productivity, and “doing right.” The Bible is replete with wisdom on how to maintain a hopeful, happy, tranquil mind. Proverbs 17:22 (TLB)* reveals, “A cheerful heart does good like medicine: but a broken spirit makes one sick.” The Bible’s “positive thinking course” is found in Philip-pians 4:8: ” Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.”
When the stress in your life seems insurmountable, apply these 10 points to your life and feel the difference!
*Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.
Lloyd W. Cary is a writer living in Holgate, Ohio.