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More on Stress Management

If you are like most people who can read, you have seen a world of stress management information cross your field of vision. What more can be said? Much or the stress information in the public concerns stress management by control of stress related areas of our lives. What if the stress does not act in control? Do we give up and try another approach? What if the stresses in your life cannot be controlled? What if you are a victim of our latest cultural philosophy that says go with the flow-even at flood stage?

I have worked with victims of stress for almost three years at Healthworks, a Division of Wake Medical Center. As a counselor of people who have had heart attacks, angioplasty, bypass surgery, and some near misses, I have seen distress show up in most cases. In working with cardiovascular disease recovery patients, one fact has become clear. Maintaining good weight control requires a change in lifestyle. Adopting good exercise habits requires a change in lifestyle. Quitting smoking and alcohol abuse or use requires a change in lifestyle. And for sure, lowering stress requires a change in lifestyle. What can you change? You can’t change other people yet other people cause stress. You can’t change jobs because they are too scarce yet your job causes stress. What can you change to manage stress effectively? You can change yourself.

As a private counselor, I have seen people go through tremendous loads of stress and distress when they do not have to do so. Most stress relates to the interaction of relationships with other people. As such, the key to slowing stress is to revise relationships so that there is communication, trust, and intimacy. The relationship problem exhibits itself in broken marriages, sibling rivalry, generation gap issues, authority issues, mating disorders, low self-esteem, over-active guilt and shame, power plays, and just not understanding the opposite sex.

In working with stressed people, there are a few principles that have become constant. 1. Stress is an uninvited guest at the beginning. 2. Stress grew from a healthy way of forcing good progress and then into a burden that begins to crush its victim. 3. Once the stress has a hold and will not come into control, it becomes distress. 4. Most common methods of coping produce negative results. The common methods of coping are abuse of alcohol, drugs, time, sex, power, relationships, and self. 5. Most people do not have time to learn something unusual to help with distress. 6. A pattern of self-destruction develops without the person’s consent or knowledge. 7. Most people react to stress instead of acting toward stress. It is acting toward stress that gives people the most control and makes management possible.

Stress is the result of an interaction of demands put on us by the environment that we live in and our own internal drives to do or not do things. As an example: Highway patrol cars are always on the road. I an often on the road. I often see a patrolman without any stress reactions. When I am or have been over the speed limit, I feel a rush of excitement and slow down, watch the patrol car and hope to get out of sight before the patrol car slows and turns. I am only stressed by the highway patrol car when I suspect that I may be pulled over by the patrolman. The environmental demand is the law as represented by the patrol car and my internal drive is guilt due to my driving beyond the legal limit. What can be changed? Relaxation techniques may help me be calm while I get a ticket and face a judge. Deep breathing may turn down the animosity I feel toward the patrolman. Counting to ten may help me pull back onto the highway rationally. Driving the speed limit would keep the event from occurring. Acting to stop stress before it occurs will give you back some capacity to handle the stress you cannot control.

What if you cannot act before the stress? Knowing what your normal internal drives are to the stressing environment will allow you the opportunity to lower or avoid the stress that may develop. Some of those internal drives are guilt, love, fear, awe, loneliness, passion, survival, greed, lust, hate, animosity, bitterness, playfulness, vengeance, forgiveness, procrastination, perfectionism, and zealousness. Some are negative, some are positive, and some are both. By looking at your interactions with the environment and determining your internal drives, you have a defined interaction (or stress) on which to work. You don’t want to take on all stresses at once. Start slow. Pick a small one. Realize some success and some relief and then go on to bigger stresses.

What about relaxation? It is very necessary. Learning to get your body to respond to your command to relax is the most productive way to relax. Responding quickly requires practice of a relaxation technique when you are calm and in good self-control. Do not wait to try a new technique of relaxation for the first time after you have already become distressed. Daily relaxation before leaving for your daily dose of stress is valuable to keeping stress in control. A stress break of fifteen minutes instead of a smoke break, snack break or gossip break will keep you free from overload during the day. A period of relaxation an hour before bedtime will make the benefits of sleep much greater. The greatest benefit to relaxation is the ability to turn off adrenalin production (and other stress hormones). The side benefit of stopping adrenalin production is the production of endorphins (calming hormones). Tears are a good way of getting endorphins into your system and start the calming process. Exercise is also beneficial to the reduction of adrenalin and the resulting calm that follows. Biofeedback techniques help relax muscle groups. Imagery helps relax the mind and the body. Deep breathing when coupled with other methods helps trigger a relaxation response. Self-improvement through reading, daydreaming, problem resolution, planning, time management and diet can reduce the internal responses to a hostile environment.

What about learning more and more about stress management? That depends. Does anything you already know work? Are you sure you have properly applied what you have learned or are you looking for an easier or more convenient way to cope with the stress? Are you obsessed about managing stress perfectly? Do you really want to distress? Do you believe you are a super human while you are working above your productive level of stress? You have to be serious about applying stress management or the application of stress management will become just another interaction (or stress).

If you are in stressful situations and have not found a way to help yourself, here are some good sources of information. Check out the library and settle on one or two methods you can learn at home. Call any of the local medical facilities and ask what stress management programs they offer to the public. (Healthworks does a short stress management program to get you started). Check with your employer and find out if they will sponsor a program that you can attend. (For a nominal fee, Healthworks provides a six-hour program to businesses.) Watch the advertisements in the local periodicals for scheduled stress workshops. Get with a counselor, psychologist or other mental health provider for individual stress management. Make sure you do something. If you continue to leave your stress untested, you may lose the opportunity to have it treated.

See follow-up article:  Emotional Distress