Manage Your Stress for a Healthier Life

What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” – Thaddeus Golas

Stress is a fact of life. But how do we keep it from becoming a way of life?

First, by understanding that stress is your body’s physiological response to the environment. Stress is built-in, hard-wired, and can’t be eliminated. We need to learn to manage stress and to cope with it when it climbs too high.

It’s helpful to know your body’s physical stress signals that tell you when stress is becoming too much. What do YOU notice in your body when you get stressed? Sleep problems, back pain, stomach upset? Getting sick more often? Think about a recent sressful situation you had. What was the degree of stress you felt, and what were your physical signs? Depending on severity, those signs may be a signal that it’s time to take better care of yourself and find more effective ways to manage your stress.

So how do we do that?

Too often we seek to soothe our stress with activities that are not truly helpful – going overboard with eating, drinking, shopping, or TV. These all distract us for the short term, but the consequences leave us feeling worse.

More helpful, and healthful, approaches are: reduce caffeine intake; exercise; deep breathing when dealing with a stressful situation; using or building up your social support network; doing more problem-solving and less dwelling on things we can’t control.

Be aware of negative self-talk, such as “I’m no good; I’m letting other people down; I’ll never get it right; if it’s not perfect, then it’s perfectly awful.” These statements discourage us and lead to more stress and less effective coping methods. Instead, challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself whether they are realistic or helpful. Reframe the problem so you’re not helpless – focus on what part of the situation you do have control over.

Reach out and talk with friends about what you’re dealing with – you are not the only person who has dealt with stressful situations.

Balance your life. Pursue hobbies, interests, and activities. Create time for an exercise routine. Set personal and professional goals, then connect your daily activities to these goals, instead of just trudging through a daily grind.

We can’t totally avoid stress, but if we approach it the right way, we can stay on top of it before it gets on top of us.

Negative Thinking: A Luxury You Can’t Afford

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Dale Carnegie

We’re all prone to putting ourselves down from time to time. We may tell ourselves a few discouraging words about what we see int he mirror, how we performed at work, or the impression we think we made in a social situation. When that negative self-talk becomes habitual, we’re setting ourselves up for a poor sel-image, and even depression: if everything we do is a failure, why bother trying to do anything? That attitude can lead to withdrawal, and retreat into food, alcohol, or other addcitive self-soothing behaviors. And that will surely lead to more negative self-talk.

If you find that you frequently burden yourself with discoraging words, it’s time to break that habit. Start by simply observing your thoughts and the way you talk to yourself. Once you learn the nature of your negative self-talk, you can begin to reality-test those negative statements.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is this self-statement really true, and if so, is it true all the time?

2) What evidence do I have that this thought is true?

3) What are the costs and benefits of believing this?

4) Am I looking at the whole picture?

5) Would I say this to a friend?

6) Is this statement at all useful – that is, can it lead to an action plan to make improvements, or is it just a put-down?

As an example of this last question, “I’m a loser and no one will ever like me” is a dead-end, useless statement. “I’m not happy with my social life and I’d like to do something about it” is reasonable, and it gives you something to work with.

Negative self-talk is useless, and it holds us back rather than motivating us to move forward. Change your thoughts and you can change your life.