You have probably seen the cartoon sketch that depicts stress as "the overwhelming urge to choke the living #@*% out of someone who desperately deserves it". While that depiction may be true, it certainly is not the only form of stress.
It seems that even though none of us likes stress, we have almost come to accept it as a fact of everyday life in these post 9/11 times. But it doesn't have to be that way.
There are probably as many different ways to deal with stress as there are forms of stress. Some of these ways are positive and socially acceptable while others are violent and deplorable (hence the term "going postal"). One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to reduce, or preferably eliminate, as much of it from your daily life as possible.
REDUCING / ELIMINATING STRESS
The first step in reducing or eliminating stress is to identify the causes of stress in your life. This may be somewhat difficult since, as I mentioned before, we have almost come to the point of accepting stress as a normal part of our everyday lives.
A good place to start is to take a profound look at your daily routine. I'm sure that as you go through a typical day there are things that you do on a regular basis that you really enjoy and also things that you really hate to do.
Think of all the things that you do on a regular basis that you really don't enjoy doing. As you think of these things make a list of those things that cause you stress. Be sure to jot down the ones that make you feel tense and uneasy as well as ones that just frustrate or annoy you.
You might even consider keeping an ongoing list for several days, so that you can write down these things as you face them. Don't worry about prioritizing the list. Just be honest with yourself and try to make the list as comprehensive as possible. Don't worry about what other people may think of your list. That really doesn't matter. What does matter is your ability to identify those things that really annoy you, or cause you stress, regardless of how petty they may seem at the time. After all, the little things do add up.
Eliminating or Reducing As Much Stress As Possible
The ultimate goal is to try and eliminate or reduce as many of these items on your list as possible. Realistically, you probably won't be able to eliminate all the items on your list. However, those that you are able to eliminate, however small they may be, will go a long way towards increasing your tolerance towards the ones that are much more difficult, if not realistically impossible, to eliminate from your life.
Some of the things on your list "may" seem petty to someone else. That really doesn't matter. Keep in mind this is your list, not theirs. In fact, you don't even have to show this list to anyone else. Just keep in mind, it is to your advantage to identify as many things as possible that annoy or aggravate you on a regular basis. Once you have identified the things that cause stress in your life, you have taken the first step towards greatly reducing or eliminating that stress in your life.
When you're finally done with your list, it's time to start making changes -- not in the list, but rather in your everyday life. Changes that will hopefully reduce, or better yet eliminate, those things that you find stressful in your life.
Start with the little things such as malfunctioning appliances or other annoying physical things in your household surroundings or physical environment. For example, let's say one of the things on your list is an old worn-out can opener that you have to fight with on a daily basis just to open a can. If you get frustrated and annoyed every time you try to use that can opener, why keep it? Why not just buy a new one and replace it once and for all? Think of all the daily frustration and aggravation that you could eliminate just by purchasing a new can opener!
Another example might be a door that sticks or squeaks. If you use that sticking or squeaking door on a regular basis and find it to be annoying on a regular basis, get it repaired! It may seem like a little thing, but those little annoying things really do add up. This is especially true if you have to deal with them on a day in and day out basis.
I have a desk at home where I do most of my writing. I bought the desk second hand from an old neighbor before he moved out of state. The desk is not the best quality and in fact looks almost homemade. Nevertheless, I've grown attached to the thing over the years. For the longest time though, I used to get frustrated every time I tried to open one of the desk drawers. The drawer would stick, and I would inevitably end up pulling the front of the drawer half off during my battle to open it. Usually I would end up with a sore hand from trying to pound the front of the drawer back on with my hand without knocking the drawer back into the desk any further.
I used to go through this frustration several times a week. Eventually, I got smart, took my own advice and took the time to fix the drawer once and for all. To this day, every time I open the drawer, I ask myself why I waited so long to fix the damn thing. This may sound crazy, but it feels so good to be able to open that desk drawer without having to do battle with the thing on a regular basis.
Again, don't worry about what other people think. This is your life and you have every right to eliminate, or at very least hopefully reduce, the stress in it.
Small Annoyances Add Up to Frustration and Stress
Admittedly the examples listed above may seem like small annoyances. However, those small daily annoyances can really add up over the course of a day and quickly build your level of frustration -- especially if you interact with those things several times a day, on a day-in and day-out basis.
Unfortunately, you "might" not be able to eliminate all the larger causes of stress in your life. Yet, if you can successfully eliminate or reduce some of the smaller ones, it will go a long way towards reducing the overall total amount of stress that you face.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to find solutions to the larger causes of stress in your life. On the contrary, it only means that you should try to eliminate as many causes of stress as possible. Unfortunately though, it may also mean some sacrifices and compromises on your part -- not moral compromises, but rather compromises that may affect your current life style.
The items on your list that cause the most amount of stress are usually those items that require the greatest amount of effort and sacrifice to reduce or eliminate. For example, if you've listed your job as the number one cause of stress in your life, you may have to make some major changes to eliminate that job-related stress. Depending on your situation, these changes may very well mean a new job or a career change.
Unfortunately, job and career changes are typically stressful in and by themselves. Even so, if you have identified your job as causing you an overwhelming amount stress in your life, you owe it to yourself to consider other career alter-natives. This is true even if making the career change will result in a dramatic change in your lifestyle, possibly as a result of a reduction in pay. After all, what's more important, your current lifestyle or your overall mental and physical health? (Hopefully you picked the latter!)
DON'T OVER COMMIT YOURSELF
One common but often overlooked cause of stress is "over commitment". This occurs when we commit ourselves to too many different daily activities or events.
Oftentimes we are afraid to say "no" because we want to be liked, we want to be "in". We're afraid that we'll hurt someone's feelings or look like the bad guy if we say no to a request for help or an invitation to some social function. Sometimes we're afraid that if we turn this request or invitation down, we won't be asked or needed again. Perhaps we're even afraid that we won't live up to somebody else's expectation of us.
Regardless of the reason we're hesitant to say "no", we have to be realistic about how we are going to keep our commitments for all the times we've said "yes". If we try to squeeze too many commitments into our daily lives we become tired, stressed and sometimes outright irritable. When this happens, we often are not able to live up to the most important commitments to ourselves and to our families.
The best way to avoid over-commitment is to be realistic about your available free time. Always leave yourself plenty of travel time between activities or events. Don't be afraid to say "no" to invitations or requests for future commitments. Again, you have to be realistic about your available free time when making commitments.
As hard as it is to sometimes say "no", it will be that much worse if you overbook yourself and have to break a commitment. Make sure that you always give yourself enough slack time in your daily life to compensate for any unexpected problems, delays or emergencies. If you don't run into any unexpected delays or problems, you can then use that slack time to relax or spend with your family.
SLEEP REDUCES STRESS
One of the best things that you can do for yourself to help reduce and combat stress is to get plenty of sleep. It's such a simple concept and such a basic human need that we often tend to overlook it. We typically tend to give sleep a low priority in our busy lives. How many times have you heard somebody say, or even said yourself, "I'm so busy, I barely have time to sleep"?
Oftentimes we try to fit so much activity into our daily lives that we tend to skimp on sleep. That's in part because we don't realize how important sleep is to our physical and mental health and in part because we don't feel that we are accomplishing anything by sleeping. For some people it's because they feel they are going to miss out on something if they go to sleep.
Sleep rebuilds and heals our physical, emotional, and psychological beings. In essence, sleep actually rebuilds our hearts and souls. While we're sleeping, our subconscious continues to work on solving all of our daily problems and to work on any outstanding emotional issues that we might have. When we don't get enough sleep, we tend to lose our capacity to think and reason. Our cognitive abilities are diminished as well.
Additionally, the loss of much needed sleep dramatically lowers our tolerance level for frustration and severely diminishes our coping skills. Consequently, when we don't get enough sleep, we don't deal well with stress. Things that never used to bother us we now find to be extremely annoying. We get angry and frustrated when the slightest things go wrong. Some people are not as adversely affected by the loss of sleep as others. Nevertheless, their physical, physiological and emotional well being still suffers from sleep deprivation.
For long term benefits and a better life, try to arrange your daily schedule to insure that you "always" get enough sleep. Be realistic with your planning. Don't cheat yourself on sleep. If you know that you are going to have a busy schedule later in the week, do yourself a favor and make sure you get plenty of sleep early in the week. Regardless of how busy your schedule is, if you know in advance that you are going to be in a certain stressful situation, make sure that you get enough sleep well in advance of that situation so that you are able to cope with that stress.
When we don't get enough sleep, we tend to quickly fly off the handle. We say things that we don't mean. We overreact at the slightest inconvenience. We often end up inadvertently hurting the feelings of those that mean the most to us. Do yourself and all your loved ones a favor, make sure you always get enough sleep!
EXERCISE REDUCES STRESS
If you feel stressed, tense, or uptight, you can reduce your nervous tension through exercise. It doesn't even matter what type of exercise as long as it is exercise.
When you exercise, your body produces natural morphine chemicals called endorphins. The endorphin release has a natural calming and relaxing effect on the body. Hence the term "runner's high".
If you get a good workout, not only will you feel more relaxed, you will also sleep much better as well.
Be realistic with your exercise. Start out slowly and gradually build your exercise routine. If you are elderly, overweight, out of shape, haven't exercised in a while or are in poor health, check with your doctor first before starting any exercise routine.
You need to be realistic with your expectations. You have to be careful to insure that you don't overdo it.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
NYTEXT Publishing Co. LLC. ©2003.
A Better Life Ahead: A Motivational Guide to Living a Better Life
by Mark Schwartz.
A Better Life Ahead addresses such topics as: self-confidence, career changes, adult education, overcoming depression, overcoming substance abuse, letting go of the past, coping with stress, etc.
Info/Order this book.
About the Author
Mark Schwartz is a successful author and software engineer residing in a beautiful rural area of upstate New York. As an adult, Mark has authored numerous software applications and technical documents for fortune 500 companies from New York to California. Much of what he has written in his book "A Better Life Ahead" is based on his own personal experience and observations. The principles and beliefs discussed in his book "A Better Life Ahead" are the same principles and beliefs that have helped make him the success that he is today.