Coping With Stress
Pam Wilson, Psy.D, M.F.T.
In today’s world, stress and anxiety are inevitable. Our lives are packed with pressure from jobs, family, traffic and financial obligations. This, coupled with the uncertainties of our world, can give us a sense of helplessness and in turn, can create internal tension, which we call stress. This tension can lead to feelings of hopelessness or fear and a sense that our lives are spinning out of control. For most of us, the issue is not how we can avoid stress, but how well we can learn to cope with daily stressors and take better care of ourselves, and those who depend on us, in the process.
Many times stressful feelings can overwhelm us and become ongoing anxiety or depression. It ‘s no wonder that two-thirds of all visits to doctors in this country stem from stress-related symptoms. Some of the top selling drugs in the United States are ulcer medications, high blood pressure drugs and tranquilizers. All of these medications are prescribed for symptoms that can be directly related to stress, anxiety and depression. Our bodies are literally screaming that our lives are out of balance, and that our ability to cope is breaking down.
Each one of us has different and unique ways of coping with stress. When we are coping well, we usually have confidence, perform well and have rewarding relationships. When we are coping poorly, we can have difficulty sleeping, irritability, depression, anxiety, bodily pains and illness. It is important that we pay attention to these symptoms and try to fully understand what our bodies are trying to tell us. It is only when we start to tune in to our internal selves, that we will be able to identify when our coping mechanisms are no longer working and our stress levels have gotten too high.
In order for us to deal better with stress, we first need to evaluate what we are doing day to day that contributes to our stressful lives. When do we feel the most tense? Are there times during the day when we feel the effects of stress more than others? Do I ever relax? Am I enjoying life or just getting through the day? Can I easily talk about my feelings or do I hold everything in? Am I feeling overwhelmed? It is important to ask ourselves these questions and think about changes we can make to alleviate daily stressors and lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
The following is a list of stress management strategies to help you deal with stress, relax and live the life you’re meant to live.
1. Set Realistic Goals…Be aware of what your capabilities and limits are. This means knowing what you can and cannot do and saying no when you need to. This involves finding out who you are as an individual, and setting limits.
2. Live in the Moment…Strive to enjoy and live in the present. Many stressed-out people are so worried about the future that they forget to enjoy today. Living in the moment will not only enhance your life, but you will be more present for those around you, which will make relationships closer and more rewarding.
3. Take Inventory…. Are you doing things that are unnecessary just because you’ve always done them a certain way? Are you happy in your current career? What things can you eliminate or do differently that will streamline your day? Are your relationships fulfilling? Rethink your priorities and make decisions accordingly.
4. Listen to Your Body…Too often we ignore our body’s signals until they reach extreme pain or illness. Learn to have faith in your internal authority. Remember, your body doesn’t lie. Pay attention! Give it rest, good food and gentle exercise.
5. Schedule Relaxation ….If you have a busy day, make time to relax, take a yoga class, do light exercise or go for a walk. Tell the kids you’re taking a time-out. Close your eyes. Put your feet up. Listen to soft music. Pray. We all need to regularly tune in to our bodies and center our thoughts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry if you need to. Crying is a great way to release tension, which can lead to a feeling of calm.
6. Let go…Give in once in awhile and don’t sweat the small stuff. You’ll be surprised how free you feel by letting someone else take charge. Let your spouse make dinner and let the kids clean up. If the kids’ rooms are a mess, close the door! Allow yourself to laugh and enjoy those around you. Focus on what is really important.
7. Don’t Compare… We all have individual thresholds for stress tolerance. We cannot compare our ability to handle stress with how our friends and neighbors seemto be handling it. Comparing ourselves to others is unrealistic and can only lead to more stress. Remember, you are unique and so is your situation.
8. Talk…Give yourself time to vent your feelings with someone that you trust. A good conversation with a supportive friend or spouse can decrease stress and give you the support you need. Isolation can actually increase stress levels, so stay connected, and talk about your feelings with others.
9. Know Yourself…Be aware of your strengths, weaknesses and most of all your limitations. Understand your reactions and responses to different people, situations and events. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and rejoice in all that you are. Remember, “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment”. (Lao-Tzu)
10. Get help…If you find yourself having difficulty functioning day to day or are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, depression, or relationship difficulties, do not hesitate to contact your health care professional or psychotherapist. Don’t forget that we all need help at times.
Dr. Pamela Wilson is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Psychoanalyst with a private practice in Mission Viejo, CA. (949) 922-7758.