General Ideas To Get You Started Turning Stress To Your Advantage

We live in a stress-filled world. Crowded cities, noise and air pollution, isolation, loneliness, and the constant “bad” news reported in the media, press in on all of us. The fear of AIDS and herpes, the threat of a nuclear holocaust, interest rates and inflation, worries about aging and financial security, failing friendships and, at times, just boredom add up. All are stresses that, taken together, may one day break the proverbial camel's back. We all find ourselves at times shouting, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” but most of us don't.

Why not? Because most of us don't really want to “get off,” rather, we want to live happy, relatively stress-free lives. You can choose a better way than simply shouting at the heavens (or family or friends) in vain. This article lays out simple strategies you can use to make stress work for you. These strategies are designed to help you with concrete suggestions, and inspire you to design at least more ways of your own.

General Ideas

Here are some general thoughts to get you started turning the stress in your life to your advantage. These are techniques that you can use every day that will eventually become habits, and you'll wonder why you never used them before

1. Organize.

Disorganization produces stress and chaos. Organization initiates a facet of predictability. Predictability turns to control. When things are out of hand, we are stressed. Stress is lessened when we have the ability to control what is happening. Organize your personal life, set up a schedule that you can reasonably expect to meet, make a list of what you have to do, and follow it! Don't overextend, just organize before you act. And remember… the best laid plans can change, so be flexible. Give yourself plenty of time for each activity. If you're running late or things get cancelled, relax! You're prepared.

2. Seek Opportunity from Crises.

Those who cope with stress without dire physiological consequences see crises as opportunities. If the worst happened and we survived, or better yet; learned how to cope despite the worst, the rest is easy. If something bad happens, think how to use it to make things better. We reduce our stress when we use it as a teacher. It's the proverbial glass that's half empty or half full. You can emerge from a devastating event stronger, more confident, and more in touch with who you are and what you really want and need.

3. Create Environments that Reduce Stress.

There is no doubt that color can have a powerful impact on our emotional state. We use color to describe moods, feelings, thoughts: feeling in the pink or a little blue; seeing red; having black days; etc. Children performed better on certain types of tests in rooms that were painted light blue, yellow, yellow-green, or orange. Those in rooms painted white, black, or brown seemed duller and less responsive.

Should we all paint our homes orange and yellow? Obviously not. But our surroundings influence how we feel and how we function. It is ironic that so little thought has gone into the color of the walls, floor coverings, furniture, and artwork that fill our worksites. Colors can reduce stress and create a sense of well-being. When an environment engenders dignity, a number of difficult tasks become more achievable. Reducing environmental stress allows us to be objective, to focus our efforts, and to be efficient and productive. Alien environments alienate the worker not only from the workplace, but also from the work task. Caring is expressed by the presence of a pleasant environment, whether at home or at work.

4. Take Control of Your Life.

A man seeking help for the emotional turmoil created by a divorce stated he had not been to the theater in ten years because his wife would not go. He blamed his wife for all the plays he had missed. It never occurred to him that he had control over this decision - that he could have gone to the theater alone or with his friends.

While interest in the theater is seldom a critical element of a successful marriage, interest in open and honest discussion is a necessity. Even when we have good communication in a marriage, we can't expect our spouse to give us everything we need. If, for example, someone hates the theater, odds are it may take her a long time to change her mind. Unless they're faced with a crisis people are usually slow to change. It's up to us to assume responsibility for getting what we want.

It's easier to blame someone else for our unhappiness and failure. But making excuses doesn't solve anything. Being a “victim” is a convenient excuse for not taking responsibility for our actions and moving ahead. For us to grow, the first step is to identify our goals. The second step is to determine what actions we can realistically take to achieve them.

People who do not suffer from stress see a crisis as a challenge and an opportunity. Those who best manage stress feel in control of their lives.

5. Leave Time for the Unexpected.

The very unexpectedness of many life events - like death, illness, or financial ruin or success - makes them noxious for us. People have a remarkable ability to cope. But coping requires time. We need time to accurately perceive a crisis and time to rally our internal and external resources. Initially denying and minimizing the full impact of many stressful life events often allows the opportunity to use more time to gather the resources we need to cope.

6. Don't Procrastinate.

Delaying anything means added stress. By postponing studying for an exam, you make stress worse through the increased anxiety of not having the time to master difficult material. By procrastinating, you simply won't have the time to marshal all of your resources. Furthermore, you won't have the time to handle any of life's unexpected - and unwelcomed - surprises. You never win by increasing stress with delay. Instead, you are seen as a failure, as someone who does not work effectively.

Most people don't put off things they enjoy doing. We procrastinate because the task is “not fun” (writing a report) or possibly painful (going to the dentist) or because we are too busy. The most successful people approach every task or activity as it appears. Experience has shown them that putting something off until the last minute can only make it more complicated and stressful. Most “reformed” procrastinators have learned that once the unwanted task is completed, they have more time to enjoy the things they really want to do.

7. Forget the Past.

This may seem contrary to popular concepts of psychoanalysis, but there is some truth to the cliché: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” We cannot change the past. Freud felt that neurosis entailed trying to change in the present that which could only be changed in the past. What your mother and father didn't give you can't be obtained from your spouse or lover. Don't choose your life partner with the hope that you're finally getting the parent you never had - it won't work. It's a good bet that if you really have found someone just like your parents, then you have also found someone who probably can't give you what you want. To get what you need, you will have to seek partners (and alternatives) in the present. We can learn from the past. We can take comfort from the past. But we cannot re-live it.

8. Minimize Surprise.

You'll experience enough surprises, in life without creating new ones. In today’s world of instant information, make use of internet, TV, news radio, 800 numbers, to get the latest updates that can help minimize stressful delays. For example, it should come as no surprise that airports can be a hassle. If you must walk a long distance in an airport you may need to check your luggage through. On the other hand, checking luggage through may mean it gets lost, and lost luggage is gained stress. As an alternative to lugging heavy parcels long distances (and possibly straining muscles and slipping disks), invest in a baggage carrier. If you plan the right way you can minimize surprise - and stress.

9. Choose Friends Carefully.

George Eliot said that the strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. This is the strongest principle of stress reduction. Choosing the right companions is the key. It enables us to share our quandaries, increase our strengths, and create innovative solutions for life's inevitable adversities. We need people around us who support us when we take stress-filled risks. Why not choose the best with whom we work, with whom we play, and with whom we make love? Why not? We can all tolerate much more stress in life when the right people are there to let us know that we are not alone.

Society | Self-Help | Health | Mind

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