Managing Stress Before It Manages You

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Catherine A. Casey, LPC, LMFT 

Stress is a part of life! We all have it – some of us more than others, at some times more than others. Life without stress is virtually impossible, so eradicating stress is not the goal. Let’s face it – if today we were able to determine solutions to all of the stress-producing problems in your life, tomorrow new problems would emerge. However, stress does not have to become consuming to the point that you lose sleep or feel perpetually overwhelmed. Stress management is a lifestyle. Living your life in such a way that you build an effective barrier against stress is possible. It involves prioritizing self-care in your daily life. Taking care of YOU has to be as important as any obligation that you may have to relationships, work, and other aspects of your life. If you are running on empty, how can you possibly be there in a positive way for the people you care about or perform at a consistently productive level in your work? And, how can you cope with additional stress if you are already depleted? 

So…how does one begin to approach building the energy well to interface effectively with stressors? Think of your life as multi-dimensional. It may be useful to consider the following domains: emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational (meaning the interactions that you have with others– family, work, friendships, etc.). If you consider this model, it becomes important to care for yourself in each area on a consistent basis. Attend to your physical needs by eating well, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep on a regular basis, and seeing your physician when necessary to care for your health. A car performs better with regular tune-ups, oil changes, and maintenance and it won’t run on empty! Likewise, caring for yourself physically will bolster your ability to navigate emotional stressors. Maintaining emotional balance is also important in stress management. Some examples of caring for yourself emotionally are devoting time to inspirational reading, using a journal to process emotions, or setting aside a daily quiet time for reflection or relaxation. Spiritual nurturing may include, but does not necessitate a religious practice. You may be spiritually nurtured when you spend time in nature, walking along the beach or hiking in the mountains. Giving of your time and energy as a volunteer is another form of spiritual investment. Relationships can be either emotional boosters or drains on our emotional energy reserve. Thus, managing stress on this dimension includes spending time with those who care for you, setting limits and boundaries when necessary to manage relationships that are draining, improving your ability to be assertive when necessary, and working to nurture the relationships that matter most to you. 

If you are working consistently on self-care in a multi-dimensional way, it has the impact of building a well of emotional energy that helps you to mitigate stress when it arises. Stress will flow in and out of your life, but you are not likely to be consumed by it because you are equipped to cope. During those stressful times, it helps to boost your attention to all of the areas discussed in this article and to find ways to give yourself a break from the stressful situation by getting away, taking a walk, or having some quiet time. The distance will help you to regroup, perhaps gain some insight or perspective, and renew your reserves to cope effectively. Determine what you can manage and what is outside of your control, and work on letting go of things that you cannot change or manage. Fighting the stress only tends to escalate it. Efforts to calm your mind and your body, as well as focusing on encouraging thoughts, are much more effective. Remember that a balanced YOU is the most important aspect of successful stress management.