Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strategies for managing stress

A while ago I decided I was tired of being so stressed that I could hardly function. I found a community counselor at a local college and, in 4 months, she helped me completely turn around the way I was dealing with the anxieties of life.

The most important things she taught me was to intentionally practice stress management strategies. T
his may seem too simple to be helpful, but the reality is that most people find advice like this cliche and therefore don’t actively apply it in every day life.

Due to things like Pinterst, Delicious and other digital hoarding resources  along with the simple abundant of information that technology makes possible, people sometimes get in the habit of collecting strategies for different things and then never actually applying them. Also, because of the nature of a cliché phrase, people tend to discount the true wisdom behind some ideas and never really analyze how it could help them personally; I know for a long time I did. However, when we decide to make a change in your life it is important that you don’t simply hoard advice but rather that you also implement strategies.

If you type into Google “Stress Relief Strategies” you literally get more than 3 million resources. I took a peak at a few of the resources and found a variety of types of resources that cater to any type of person. I modified my search to Buddhist Stress Relief Strategies and found Buddhist strategies for coping with stress. I searched for Stress Relief Strategies for Moms and found an article on ways to adjust your life as a parent to help proactively prevent stress. But, my favorite search was 100 ways to relieve stress and I found an approach for Christan Women, “Strategies for Positive Change’s” 100 ways to overcome stress and, my favorite “100 Ways to Reduce Stress: Making the Balancing Act More Manageable”. If you don’t like the suggestions I give I urge you to try these other sites or do your own search.

Below are the strategies practice that I have found most helpful when I made a dedicated effort to applying them in my every day life. The way I approach this was to pick one strategy to focus on ever week and, as I added to my repertoire, I was able to more quickly apply an appropriate strategy to the times when I was feeling stressed.

This literally changed my entire outlook on life. Sticking with the idea of deconstructing clichés, reframing is based on the idea of changing your mindset from a “glass half empty” pessimism to a “glass half full” optimism. But, in addition to finding a more positive mindset, the idea of reframing is based upon the idea that you take existing problems, situations, and stresses and try to look at them in a new light. You are seeking not only a more positive outlook on life but also a more productive and reflective outlook. Now, for this to work you have to actually believe the more positive outlook you have found for a situation. This process may take time to adapt to because it requires letting go of grudges and stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies that humans naturally harbor. But in a week I was able to utilize reframing enough that it was, with contestant conscious effort, able to transform my angry and bitter attitude and help me let go of many of my anxieties.

Below is a list of ways that you can change a negative outlook on a situation or person and apply more positive frame to the situations.

Negative Oulook
Positve Reframe
a leader
attends to details
won't follow rules
talks too much

Visit the University of Florida’s page on reframing for further information.

Imagine that distracting tasks are already complete
Even with a more positive outlook on life, the realities of day-to-day operations can cause anxiety. Things like a sink full of dirty dishes, a couch full of clean but unfolded laundry, or a daunting to-do list can cause stress that hinders you from effectively tackling tasks. I remember specifically the amount of anxiety it would cause me when I would come home from a weekend work trip and see a filthy kitchen left by my housemates. It would literally keep me from doing anything else until I cleaned the kitchen. This was a problem because there might be other more important things that needed done, like spending time with my son who I hadn’t seen in him two days, that I couldn’t accomplish because of this anxiety. Then I tried imagine that distracting tasks are already complete and that would relieve my stress some and I would be able to come back to that when needed.

The idea is actually as simple as it sounds. When I would feel overwhelmed after my weekly trips I would stop wherever I was standing when I felt paralyzed by distracting tasks and close my eyes. I would image what it would physically look like if that task were finished (a clean kitchen, a completed to-do list, etc), take a deep breath, and let that feeling of accomplishment that completed tasks gives me sink in and then I would open my eyes. No, this is not magic and the dishes were still there, but the stress was elevated because I knew that eventually it would get done and in the mean time I could focus on things more important.

Breathing activities
While the other two strategies address the mental reasons that stressors affect us, breathing activities seek to calm the emotions and the mind.

There are many different types of breathing activities. One of my original favorites, before I actively started meditating, is called  Four square breathing. The idea is to control your breathing to stop your racing mind and anxious nerves. Follow the link to learn more.

Also, meditation has been an extremely important part of my journey towards being less anxious. I practice Shambhala meditation which focuses on mindfulness rather than religious enlightenment. However, there are numerous meditation techniques. To get started with a free online meditation class visit

All of these strategies are related to managing the physical symptoms of stress affect your mind. When you do this you can take your emotions out of control and let your brain more effectively guide you through life.

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