Recently I wrote in this column that 85 percent of the illnesses for which we seek medical attention are "stress-related." Today, I want to address the issue of coping creatively with the stress in your life. Below are a few suggestions.
Work off stress. If you are angry or upset, blow off the energy created by your stress response by engaging in strenuous physical activity. Run, exercise, play tennis, take a brisk walk. Physical activity allows you a "fight" outlet for mental stress.
Talk out your worries. It helps to share worries with someone you trust and respect. This may be a friend, family member, clergyman, teacher or counselor. Sometimes another person can help you see a new side of your perceived problem and thus, a new solution. If you find yourself becoming preoccupied with emotional problems, it would be wise to seek a professional listener, like a life coach or psychologist. Seeking help is not admitting defeat. It is admitting you are an intelligent human being who knows when to ask for assistance.
Learn to accept what you cannot change. If the problem is beyond your influence or control at this time, acknowledge your helplessness and accept the fact that you have no power to change the situation.
Avoid self-medication. Although there are many chemicals, including alcohol, that can mask the symptoms of stress, they do not help you adjust to the stress itself. Many are habit forming, so the decision to use them belongs to your qualified health care provider. Drugging yourself is a form of a "flight" reaction that can cause more stress than it solves. The ability to handle stress creatively comes from within you, not from outside your skin.
Get enough sleep and rest. Lack of sleep can lessen your ability to deal with stress by making you more irritable, more forgetful and feel more helpless. Most people need at least 7-8 hours of sleep every day (or night).
Balance work and recreation. "All work and no play can make Jack (or Jill) a nervous wreck." Schedule time for recreation and relaxation. Take a five-minute mental break from focused mental activity. Regularly practice abdominal breathing, meditation and peaceful imagery.
Do something for others. When you are distressed, you concentrate too much on yourself and your situation. When this happens, it is wise to do something for someone else and get your mind off you. There is an extra bonus in this technique…it helps make (or strengthen) friendships.
Take one thing at a time. It is defeating to tackle all your tasks at once. Instead, set some aside and work only on the most urgent. Remember the old saying, "You eat an elephant one bite at a time."
Give in once in a while. If you find the source of your stress is the behavior of other people, try giving in instead of fighting and insisting you are always right. You may find that others will begin to give in too.
Make yourself available. When you are bored and feel left out, go where the action is. Sitting alone will just make you more frustrated and stressed. Instead of withdrawing and feeling sorry for yourself, get involved. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations that need volunteers.
Recognizing stress as an ongoing part of your life may well be the first step in creatively managing it. Turn your stress into a positive force and let it make your life much more interesting.