Coming Back from the Edge: Dealing with Stress

By the time Diane (not her real name) came to see me, she was at the end of her rope. She was a working mother, trying to balance a full-time job while struggling to deal with sports activities, dance lessons, volunteer committees, PTA meetings and all the other activities that packed her already full schedule.  

She sat in my office and said “I don’t think I can cope with my world anymore! I just didn’t sign up for all of this!” 
 
As her therapist, I soon discovered that, in some ways, the stress Diane was feeling were directly connected to things she had actually signed up for.  
 
But, like Diane, we do not always take time to evaluate the stress that accumulates in our lives. If your life feels a little out of control, here are six ways that you can de-stress:
 
Recognize the Symptoms
Stress shows up in three ways: physically, emotionally and behaviorally. Some of the common symptoms of stress can be an increased heart rate, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, irritability, anxiety, drugs or an increase in alcohol consumption. If you are having any of these symptoms of stress, ask your self “What is it I am trying to cope with right now?” 
 
Our bodies give us warning signs when we are stressed out. If we choose to ignore the warning signs, our bodies will go to any extent to get our attention; for example, we may have a panic attack. 
 
Evaluate the Stress
Take a few minutes to think about the stress you may have in your life. Is it good stress — such as preparing for a fun event like graduation or a wedding? 
 
Or is bad stress (known as distress). With distress, the stressors can lead to negative effects that will harm you or someone else? 
 
It is very important to distinguish the type of stress that you are experiencing to know how to proceed.
 
Eliminate Stressors
What stressors can you remove from you life? Is there anything you can ask for help with? 
 
If you are a full-time working mother, maybe eliminating stress means hiring a housekeeper, instead of trying to handle all the chores on your own. Or, do you really need to be involved in four volunteer committees or would it be better if you just picked two? 
 
Being able to remove the unnecessary significantly increases the ability to handle and cope with the stressors that can not be removed.
 
Organize and Prioritize
Have you made a “To-Do List” today? You might want to start! 
 
Writing down everything you must get done for the day is a great way to visualize what is going on in your head. Once you put your thoughts onto paper or device, arrange the important from the non-important items and the urgent from the non-urgent items. 
 
Often, we get overwhelmed with how much we have to get done in a day. Usually there are things that can hold off to another day or time. But, procrastination can also lead to an increase in stress. 
 
By planning and managing our time and figuring out what needs to be done today — and what can wait until next week — we establish some direction when it comes to our time which can reduce the amount of stress.
 
Use Positive Coping Skills
When was the last time you had some fun? It is interesting because, as children, play time was built into our day (i.e. recess), but as we become adults, we often lose the time that is meant for us to have some fun. 
 
Sometimes, stress is due to being overcommitted and not giving our bodies time to relax. Just like recess was planned into our school day as kids, we have to plan time for the activities we love. 
 
Unless you replace the negative coping skill with something positive, you are likely to return to your harmful way of coping. 
 
A positive coping skill is anything that is a healthy way of your body dealing with any stress that you may be under. This could be yoga/meditation, listening to music, exercising or journaling, just to name a few.
 
Find what works for you and start implementing these skills now. In a ]moment of crisis, you know what to resort to.
 
Get Help
There are certain situations that require professional help. If you feel as though you are not appropriately handling the stress in your life, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 
Whether it is individual or group counseling, a support group or a psychiatric hospital, there are many resources available.
 
Remember, life will never be completely stress-free, but stress can be greatly reduced when you choose to follow these six simple guidelines. 
 
Elise N. Banks, MS, LPC-Intern, is a graduate of Baylor University where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and the University of Houston, where she received her master’s degree in counseling.  She is a licensed therapist who works with families and individuals in the Houston area. She is also the reigning Miss Texas International and her platform is “Healthy Mind, Successful Life.”
 
 
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