How to get a handle on stress

Coping when life seems unmanageable
How to get a handle on stress

Your body is designed to be able to handle stress, up to a point. It even produces important hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help you cope with the stressful parts of your life. But when external or internal demands overwhelm your coping mechanisms, unrelenting stress can take its toil until it feels like you cannot possibly handle one more stressor. Fatigue, anxiety, and even depression can result from prolonged exposure to circumstances that seem unmanageable.

So if stress is an unavoidable response to rising to life’s challenges, how can you possibly get a handle on managing its impact in your life? By breaking the control that stress has over your mind and emotions, you can turn your sense of helplessness into healthy power. The following steps are designed to help you manage stress by breaking down your life into periods of time that begin and end. Most of us believe that stress is best managed when we can see the end in sight.


Step 1

Quantify your current stress level.

Visualize the way in which you perceive your stress level by assigning it a number on a scale from 1 to 10. Let the number 1 represent the absence of stress and the number 10 represent what it would feel like if the stress level in your life reached its peak. Set a realistic baseline based upon your perception of how much stress you can healthfully manage. For most individuals perception of stress will usually fall between 4 and 6. From now on you will use this same scale to quantify the amount of stress that you are feeling in any given situation.

Step 2

Make a list of all your stressors.

Make a list of all the current demands that are either being placed upon you or that you are placing upon yourself. Now separate the list into two groups. Title one group, «Things I have no control over,» and the other, «Things I can control.»

Step 3

Identify and then choose to let go of head pressure.

Recognize and then mentally assent to the reality that those items that you have no control over cannot be managed by you. Therefore, placing unrealistic demands upon yourself with respect to what you cannot change will be a waste of energy and negatively impact your ability to cope.

Make a choice to let go of what you cannot control. Realize that unless you continue to commit to letting go of things you have no control over, that your stress level will yo-yo depending upon the amount of head pressure you feel on any given day. Each time you review your list, mentally let go, again.

Step 4

Make a list of action points.

Turn your list of «Things I can control» into a list of «Action points» ranked in priority according to urgency and the time you can commit to each. Arrange your list so that your action points can be addressed over a period of time.

Step 5

Set completion target dates.

Set up a plan that includes targeted completion dates for each action point. Some of the tasks on your list will require perhaps only a few minutes while others may take several days to several weeks to complete. Be a realistic as you can in choosing these dates.

Step 6

Plot a new stress level after each completion date.

Check your stress level using the scale from 1 to 10 each time you complete an action point. Write down your new level and date it.

Step 7

Use your new stress level to determine whether to say «Yes» or «No» to the new demand.

Before you take on any new areas of responsibility or knowingly make a decision that may increase your stress level, visualize what your stress scale will look like if you agree to meet the new demand. If your stress level is a 3 or less, you can probably say «Yes,» but if your stress scale is already beyond a 5, the wisest answer is to say, «No.»

Step 8

Revisit steps 1-3 to maintain perspective and see progress in handling stress.

Periodically revisit Steps 1 through 3 so that you can sort out head pressure from action points. Remind yourself that spending too much time thinking about things you have no control over will only produce unhealthy stress and decrease your ability to cope.

Sources of stress are as varied as they are unpredictable. You will have moments when you will feel overwhelmed with things that you have no control over. There will also be times when you realize that you have said «yes» too often and are now overwhelmed by the commitments that you are struggling to keep.

If you use these steps consistently, you will experience a greater stability in your life as your stress level becomes more consistent over time. Not only will you gradually increase the amount of stress that you can manage but you will also learn how to better handle your stress.

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Things Needed
• A notebook for list keeping
• Something to write with
• Self-discipline to use the recommended steps
• The ability to say «No» without feeling guilty.

Tips & Warnings
• Do be honest with yourself about the number you assign to represent your stress level.
• Don’t expect changes overnight.
• Do consistently let go of «head pressure,» by consciously recognizing that you cannot manage it.
• Don’t let yourself be put on a guilt trip and end up saying «Yes» when you really mean «No.»
• Do realize that it is not selfish to take care of yourself.
• Don’t forget to revisit your steps frequently.
• Do feel good about your new stress management steps.


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