Manage Stress So It Doesn't Manage You
- Dr. Archibald D. Hart Guest Author
- 2001 9 Sep
Obviously, prevention is always better than the cure. So what are some of the ways you can prevent stress buildup in your life?
To manage your stress effectively, you should do the following:
Set boundaries in your life. Your body needs to "be told" when there is an emergency and when there isn't. Therefore, be clear in your mind whether you are working or relaxing. Be intentional about setting boundaries for your feelings of responsibility for others; don't assume responsibility for things for which you are not responsible.
Resolve conflicts quickly. No emotions are more stressful or stress-producing than anger and resentment. Whenever you are in a conflict, your body goes into accelerated fight-or-flight mode. It feels threatened, but it doesn't know what to do. It is up to you to tell your body what it should do. The most obvious thing to do, therefore, is go and solve your problems right away. If you allow a conflict to stay with you into the night, it is going to disturb your sleep. You're not going to sleep well, and this is going to make you less effective when you try to resolve that conflict the next day. Festering conflicts are one of the major sources of stress disease.
Take care of unpleasant tasks first and get them out of the way. Some of us are procrastinators. I know that I am. But procrastination doesn't keep you in low-stress mode; it increases your level of stress. So wherever possible, try to do things on time, especially unpleasant things. These tasks need to be taken care of right away. The sooner you get them off your body's agenda, the sooner your body will go back into a low-stress mode again.
"Inoculate" yourself against stress. Just as being inoculated with a mild dose of disease causes your body to build a resistance against it, so also dealing effectively with small amounts of stress can help to build your body's resistance against stress. People who are at greatest risk for stress are those who never experience any stress at all. Suddenly they are thrust into a whirlpool of crises, and they do not have any skills for dealing with that. On the other hand, don't take things too seriously. Try to understand where others are coming from and don't take matters too personally. Learn to forgive other people very, very quickly because you will benefit from giving that forgiveness.
Be firm about setting up your "recovery times." You must build recovery time into your life after every period of stress. Failure to do this means that your body never catches up; it never heals itself and gets back to its original state. It is extremely important, therefore, that you take a Sabbath rest. You need rest times; you need a day off; you need periodic vacations; and, especially, you need to build into your life some personal retreat time.
Keep your adrenaline arousal to a minimum. The problem with adrenaline is that it is so energizing, so exciting, we seek it even to the point of becoming addicted to it. Many people like the thrill of challenge or the thrill of change simply because it gets their adrenaline going and makes them feel good. This is dangerous. Too much adrenaline will kill you in the long run because this is the high-octane gasoline or petrol of your body. As I mentioned earlier, high-octane engines don't last very long. They are designed for short burst of high speed and then they must be replaced. Remember, our bodies are designed more for camel travel in the sense that they must go the distance, not just finish the high-speed race. So learn to enjoy a little bit of boredom in you life every now and again. Take time for leisure and recreation because these, in the long run, will help to prevent stress from killing you.
Maintain open and healthy relationships. We need one another, but we also need to live in harmony with each other. This is important to us spiritually and emotionally, but it's also important to us physically. People who lie in conflicted environments-for example, in families that are always fighting or in churches that have lots of conflict-are always under a lot more stress. Make sure that you have people around you who love you and care for you, the kind of friends that you can rely on in moments of crisis.
Give yourself a break by learning to say no. One of the greatest sources of stress in many of our lives (I know it is in mine) is the inability to say no. Result? We become busier and busier, and we have little time for renewal-spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Under such stressful conditions, our happy messengers fly the coop. We are left holding stress at arm's length, but fighting stress is as stressful as being stressed. If you really struggle with the word no, then perhaps you need some basic training in Christian assertiveness, that form of assertiveness that lovingly declines being trampled on or overwhelmed by activities that other people think up for you. Remember this: Your no gives meaning to your yes. If you say yes to everything, you are essentially saying yes to nothing because the stress will eat you up and spit you out as a hollow shell.
Postpone making major decisions during stress. Remember, change is stressful. If you are already under stress, don't make it worse by welcoming more stress. If it can wait, let it wait. So relax and postpone any big moves or changes for a while. Some examples of things that can wait are remodeling your house or apartment, moving to a new house or apartment, elective surgery, looking for another job, or making major financial investments or purchases that will put you under more stress. There are many things we do impulsively that can wait for more considered reflection. Impulsiveness always raises our stress levels.
Tap into your spiritual resources for stress busting. I have more to say about this point in the last chapter of this book, because it is so foundational that I want to make sure it is given the attention it deserves.
If you have tried all these suggestions and are still very anxious, depressed, or stressed-out, then it is time you got some professional assistance. This is not a sign that you are weak, simply that you are human. It's really not all that bad to accept your humanness. It sure beats trying to play Superman or Superwoman. Or should that be Super-stupid-human-who-tries-to-do-everything? I must confess that description fits me better than most. How about you?
Excerpted by permission from The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Emotional Tranquility and Wholeness, copyright 1999 by Dr. Archibald D. Hart. Published by Word Publishing, Nashville, Tenn., www.wordpublishing.com, 1-800-231-0442.
Dr. Archibald D. Hart is a professor of psychology and former dean of the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. In addition to maintaining an active practice, Dr. Hart lectures widely on topics of stress and stress management.
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