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Everyone has stress as stress is a part of life.  Life is demanding and stress can present itself in all areas of your world.  Whether you are a stay at home mom, a teacher, a law enforcement officer, a fire fighter, serving in the military, an author, a grocery clerk; stress does not discriminate.  You have a big report or project due at work on a short deadline.  Your dog had an accident on your favorite rug in the living room.  You had a fight with your spouse this morning over finances and they stormed off to work without saying goodbye.  The laundry is piling up and you need to go grocery shopping too.  Family is coming to visit.  I am sure you can relate!

Unfortunately, many people aren’t managing their stress very effectively and that can have some serious consequences.  If stress continues without relief it can lead to distress which is a negative stress reaction.  When you are in distress your body’s internal balance (equilibrium) may be off and it can lead to physical symptoms like :

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Forgetfulness

As if that isn’t enough, emotional problems can also be a result of distress.  This includes:

  • Depression,
  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive worrying
  • Increased anxiety

Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, accidents, lung ailments, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself!

Here are 10 proven ways to manage stress more effectively:

  1. Accept that there are things and events you can’t control. What you focus on magnifies and most people tend to focus on all the things that they can’t control.  Work on focusing on the things that are within your control and  that you can and want to change.
  2. Keep a positive attitude.  Again, what you focus on magnifies.  So if you adapt a negative attitude and outlook you will find that negativity finds it way into every aspect of your life leaving you wondering “why is everything going wrong?”  Being more optimistic and positive enables you to cope better with stressful situations.
  3. Learn to say “No”    Over extending yourself can only lead to stress.  You may worry that if you say “no”occasionally, you may hurt other people’s feelings.  It won’t hurt other people as much as you think it will.  It is important that you set and maintain healthy boundaries with everyone in your life, including yourself.
  4. Learn and practice relaxation techniques.  Set time a side daily to work on relaxation.  Diaphragmatic deep breathing exercises, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are a few very effective techniques you can implement to manage your stress better.  These techniques can help you calm your mind and your body and help reduce stress.  Anxiety can not exist in a calm body!
  5. Exercise regularly.  We all know that we should exercise, right!  Well, your body is better able to fight stress when it is fit and healthy; remember all those health issues mentioned earlier.  Exercise can also provide you with an outlet for pent up emotional stress.  What better way to get back at your unreasonable boss than to beat him or her on your next run or during your next round with the punching bag?
  6. Eat healthy and well balanced meals. Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, junk food, binge eating and other drugs as your primary means of coping with stress.  Moderation is key, and some of them can be helpful once in a while.  However, if you use them as your only or mostly used method you will have long term problems like alcoholism, weight problems,sleep issues and other health related issues.
  7. Get proper amounts of sleep. Everyone is different, but for most people adequate amount of sleep is seven to nine 
  8. Maintain strong social support.  Talk to your family, friends and peers and spend enough time with those you love.  A social support network is something you can develop when you are not under stress.  It will provide you with a sense of comfort to know that your friends are there if you need them.  A fast chat with a neighbor, quick coffee break at work with a friend or coworker at work, a phone call to a family member are all ways to reduce stress while at the same time fostering lasting relationships.
  9. Learn to identify and monitor stressors.  Just knowing what your stressors are is important.  This will enable you to monitor yourself and your responses in specific situations thus helping you to stay calm so you don’t overreact, become aggressive and lash out.  You can come up with an organized plan for handling stressful situations.  Caution!  It is important that you don’t get into the habit of overgeneralizing negative reactions to things.  Sometimes that is the appropriate response.
  10. Cultivate a sense of humor.  You need to have a sense of humor!  Life happens and when things don’t go as planned it is okay to laugh.  As a general rule, work on having at least 3 belly laughs a day.Don’t laugh at yourself, laugh with yourself.

Implementing these 10 ways to manage stress should help you in your daily life.  It is not realistic to think that you will be stress free, some level of stress is normal and serves as a motivator.  If you are unsuccessful in reducing the effects that stress has on you it may be time to seek professional help with a mental health professional who can teach you more effective methods for managing stress.

Susanne R. Mealer, LCSW, CHt