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Don’t Let Stress Sabotage Your Goals (Part II).

Ahhh stress. We always seem to have it or can’t get away from it. So? Let’s deal with it.

Here are different strategies for dealing with stressful situations in your life.  Remember, you can either change the situation or change your reaction to it.

Change the Situation

Stress management strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress

Simple, right? Unfortunately, not all stress can be avoided, and it is not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. However, you may be surprised by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.

Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you are close to reaching your limits. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. Women, especially, have a difficulty in sticking to this because they often feel as if they need to please everyone. Stop it. Your friends and family will still love you just as much.

Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you are unable to turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely. It is time to set boundaries.

Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online. Figure out solutions to every day stressors that will ease some of your tension.

Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion. (This is in regards to social and work situations… deeper personal discussions with loved one should be evaluated and addressed separately).

Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you have too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that may not be truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely. Prioritize.

Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation

If you are unable to avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem does not present itself in the future. Focus on the forward thinking… how can a resolution be presented that will affect this type of situation in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you do not voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.

Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you will have a solid chance of finding a happy middle ground.

Be more assertive. Stop taking a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, and do your best to anticipate and prevent issues. If you have an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.

Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you are stretched too thin and running behind, it is hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you are under.

Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

What happens if you can’t change the situation? Then you must change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and your attitude.

Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time. Because really, how often do you get alone time?

Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.

Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.” (Not in boot camp or your health, though. Take care of yourself! This is one area you should try to overachieve in.)

Focus on the positive. People always say, “Count your blessings.” When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.

How you think can have a profound affect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as “always,” “never,” “should,” and “must.” These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.

Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you are unable to change.

Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.

Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you are going through can be very cathartic, even if there is nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.

Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you will be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably pop up.

Healthy ways to relax and recharge

▪ Go for a walk.

▪ Spend time in nature.

▪ Call a good friend.

▪ Sweat out tension with a good boot camp workout.

▪ Write in your journal.

▪ Take a long bath.

▪ Light scented candles

▪ Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea.

▪ Play with a pet.

▪ Work in your garden.

▪ Get a massage.

▪ Curl up with a good book.

▪ Listen to music.

▪ Watch a comedy

Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.

Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.

Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike. It does not have to be for hours, but schedule some time in.

Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

And above all else campers, try to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Make all of your camp session, eat healthy whole foods and get your rest. You will see a tremendous difference in your ability to manage stressful life situations.

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

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