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Is Stress Sabotaging Your Goals? You can Either Change the Situation or Change Your Reaction.

Stress is a constant for most of us. It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. The bills aren’t going to stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day for all your errands, and your career or family responsibilities will always be demanding.

Newsflash:  You have a lot more control than you might think.

In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management.

Time to Take Charge

In order to manage your stress, you must take charge. Take charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Because in the end, the goal is to have a balanced life. You want to be be able to appropriately balance your time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.

What are the sources of stress in your life?

Pinpointing the sources of stress in your life can be difficult. Yet it is a necessary task in order to start down the path of stress management. Further, your true sources of stress are not always apparent, and it is quite easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But is it because of your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to this stress?

In order to identify your true sources of stress, you must examine your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a ton of things going on”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

For those of you who like to journal, set aside time for a stress journal.

A stress journal can help you identify the consistent stressors in your life and, how you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:

  • What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure).
  • How you felt, both physically and emotionally.
  • How you acted in response.
  • What you did to make yourself feel better.

    Look at how you currently cope with stress

    Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life.  Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that make the problem worse.

    Unhealthy ways of coping with stress

    These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:

    • Smoking
    • Drinking too much
    • Overeating or undereating
    • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
    • Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
    • Using pills or drugs to relax
    • Sleeping too much
    • Procrastinating
    • Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
    • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)

    Learning healthier ways to manage stress

    If any of those methods look familiar; you are not contributing to your greater emotional and physical health. Therefore, it is time to find healthier coping options. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction.

    Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no perfect answers to managing it. No single method works for every person or in every situation, so test out different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

    Next week… we will discuss four different stress management strategies.

    Contributors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Ellen Jaffe-Gill, M.A., and Robert Segal, M.A.

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