Coping with Stress: A 4-Fold Approach

As noted under Causes of Stress, stress can result from physical, social, or emotional sources. Thus, ways of coping with stress also include approaches from all three domains, plus one extra worthy of note.

Physical: Take care of your body.

One of the best sources of natural stress relief is physical activity!

And that makes perfect sense because if you think about it, the body is geared up by the fight or flight reflex for action. So give it some action to take and then that adrenalin can get used up the way Mother Nature intended.

So taking a fast walk, shooting hoops, even vacuuming the living room with real enthusiasm can be very helpful stress relievers.

It’s also important to make taking care of your body a priority. Now, I’m not talking about being so physically fit you have 6-pack abs or wear a size 8. I’m talking about eating good food, getting enough sleep, and minimizing or avoiding the use of alcohol, drugs, and nicotine.

You only get one "vehicle" to live your life in – take at least as good a care of it as you do your car.

Social: Love yourself as you love others.

Another good way of relieving stress is to spend time with other people: friends, family, people who enjoy the same hobbies or interests you enjoy. Having a social support network that includes at least one really good friend that you can talk to from the heart also goes a long way towards reducing stress.

Being with other people helps us recognize that we are not alone in our struggles and challenges; that Kathy’s teenager is aggravating her as much as yours is frustrating you. Or that Dan is also worried about the economy, so he has taken some action that you could also take to protect your retirement savings.

When we spend time with others, it’s easier to become more comfortable with ourselves because we realize we don’t have to be perfect – no one else is, either! And that can become the foundation of compassion and a sense of humor – both valuable tools for living.

Emotional: Changed thoughts lead to changed emotions.

“Happiness is a choice, not a destination.”

Okay, maybe sometimes happiness is a destination.

But most of the time, happiness is a by-product of how we approach life. And that is where choice comes in.

How many times have you heard someone (maybe yourself?) say: You make me so mad!!

Well, there is a school of thought out there that says no one can make you feel anything, that your emotions result from what you choose to believe about something and your determination to get whatever you desire.

So, the theory goes, if you choose to change your thoughts or beliefs about something, you will find that your emotions about it also change.

For example, if hubby leaves his wet towel on the bathroom floor (again!) you might feel your anger rising. But did the towel make you angry? Or did what you said to yourself about the towel make you angry?

No, seriously, this is important so stay with me here and lets take a deeper look.

    A. Hubby left wet towel on floor

    B. Your thoughts/beliefs went something like this: “Oh! He did it again! How many times do I have to tell him to hang up his towels? He treats me like a maid and I don’t even get paid for it!”

    C. Your resulting emotion? Anger!

But …what if

    A. You found out that hubby went running out of the bathroom suddenly because he heard your daughter fall down the stairs?

    B. Then your thoughts/beliefs might be something like this: “Thank goodness he heard her fall; I was moving the car and didn’t hear a thing. What a good dad my husband is to our kids.”

    C. And then your emotion might be relief or even gratitude.

The wet towel is still on the floor, but your feelings about it are very different.

Okay, I admit, that example was a gimme. Let’s take something less obvious.

    A. Teenager forgot to walk the dog before the dog wet on the floor.

    B. Belief: My kid is so irresponsible and undependable, I don’t know what to do!

    C. Consequent emotion? Irritation, frustration, resentment, etc.

But what if Teenager comes into the kitchen looking very stressed and says s/he is overloaded with homework, has a big test tomorrow, and best friend just confided s/he had tried marijuana?

Well, now we might be able to understand why the dog didn’t get walked in time and our resulting emotions are more likely to be concern and compassion for our kid – even while we let them clean up the dog’s mess. (Natural consequences are the best life teachers, after all.)

Why am I spending so much time on this? Because many times, we leap to a conclusion about something that leaves us angry, upset, and stressed. And if we would only take the time to check it out, we’d discover we didn’t need to get all upset after all. This can be a powerful stress prevention technique when it becomes a habit.

Spiritual: Look for the bigger picture.

There are many different ways to include spirit and spirituality into our lives. For many people, belonging to a church community or religious organization helps provide spiritual nourishment.

Other people feel closest to God while in communion with nature – hiking, camping, soaking in natural hot springs, or even gazing at the stars.

Any activity that reminds us of the bigger picture helps us gain a wider perspective on life. It’s hard to stay stressed about the state of our housekeeping while looking through the observatory telescope at Bruneau Sand Dunes at a cluster of billions and billions of stars. In fact, my dirty kitchen ceases to matter at all. And that is liberating.

Taking the time to ponder the big questions such as Why are we here? What is the meaning of Life? Is there life after death? these types of questions connect us to the bigger mystery of existence as well as to the countless other people who have also wondered about the same things. It places most of our daily hassles and stressors into the ‘temporary folder’ of life - so small and transient, they aren’t worth getting worried about.

Another way of managing stress is by using some method of relaxation therapy. This approach would include such practices and techniques as:

As individuals and as a nation, we are literally stressing ourselves to death. It is so important in our fast-paced world today that we learn how to deal with stress by practicing and incorporating one or more stress management techniques into our daily routines. And we have to make the decision to take that time for ourselves because our culture really doesn’t support people taking down time.

Our present-day American ideal is to be active, organized, and productive every waking moment. Even our vacations are expected to include our cell phones and laptop computers so that we can “work while we relax.” And that's in spite of the fact that Americans take less than half the vacation time our European counterparts enjoy each year.

So, to recap, the best ways of dealing with stress include:

    A. Physical health and exercise

    B. Social connectedness and friendships

    C. Learning to manage your thinking in order to modify your emotions, and

    D. Including some form of spiritual practice in your life.

Brought to you by:

A Better Day Counseling Services & Paula Sharp, LCSW

Serving Boise, Eagle, Meridian and Treasure Valley, Idaho

Located at: 1414 W. Franklin St., Boise, ID 83702

(208) 344-4343

In the Heart of Boise, for Good!

Copyright © 2009 A Better Day, PA. All rights reserved.