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.

Resilience: How to Bounce Back from Life’s Challenges

“The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.” – Japanese Proverb

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – but how do they do it? Resilience is the ability to bounce back and cope with stressful situations. It means that we flexibly adapt to challenges, without compromising our own well-being.

Developing your resilience won’t stop stressful things from happening. But it can reduce their impact and the time it takes to recover from them. That includes everything from minor daily irritations to major stressors like illness, loss, and relationship problems.

Resilient people share certain traits that may be both causes and effects of their flexible approach: good health, good social support, a sense of control over their own lives, an ability to manage their emotional reactions, and constructive problem-solving.

How to Improve Your Resilience

Accept the things you can’t change: Challenges are inevitable – don’t fight the ones that you don’t have the power to change.

Nurture supportive relationships: A good support network can actually help you to live both longer and more happily. 

Set realistic goals and put energy into achieving them: This will reinforce your sense of accomplishment and control over your own life.

Be active, eat well, and rest: Taking care of your body will help you to feel better emotionally — in fact, it’s a pre-requisiste.

Stress: When Should I Get a Grip, and When Should I Let Go?

People are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

 If I had to name the single most important key to happiness, it would be this: take control of what you have control over, and let go of what you don’t.

What happens when you focus on things that you have no control over? When you dwell on traffic jams, bad luck, and other people’s irresponsibility, you have a recipe for anger and resentment – which hurts only you.

When you focus on the possibility of future calamities that may or may not actually happen, you’re inviting anxiety.

When you take responsibility for solving problems that do not belong to you, such as those of a loved one, you’re asking for frustration – for both of you.

And what happens when you fail to take control of the things that are under your control? When you focus on your dissatisfaction with your job, your social life, or your accomplishments, without doing anything about it, you’re setting yourself up for depression and feeling like a victim.

If this is a problem for you, try this: when you find yourself expending mental or physical energy on a problem – either by trying to solve it or just by feeling bad about it – ask yourself a question: “Do I own this problem? Could I change it if I wanted to or knew how to?”

If the answer is no, don’t waste too much time or energy on it. Either let it go, or, if it’s a problem that belongs to someone else, just support that person as they struggle with their problem as best they can. After all, even if you came up with the perfect solution, you don’t have the power to implement it.

If the answer to the question is that you do own the problem, acknowledge that. Even if you don’t know how to fix it, acknowledging that you are not truly powerless is a helpful start. It tells you that you have choices – including asking others for help or advice.