Dealing Effectively with Negative Stress
Spend some time trying to isolate and identify the major sources of negative stress in your life. Ask and answer the simple question, "What's bothering me?" Make a list. Give yourself plenty of time to get in touch with the various areas in your life where negative stressors may be "eating" on you. It's hard to fight an enemy you can't quite identify. The following categories may help you to unlock specific areas of stress:
|marital problems||child-raising problems|
|financial difficulties||pressures at work|
|too many commitments||lack of career direction|
|lack of purpose in life||feelings of social isolation|
|lack of acceptance from others|
Talk About Stress
Find a trusted friend or a group of such friends with whom you can be open and honest concerning these areas of negative stress. Dr. Mike Samuels observes that "support is the functional opposite of stress."5 He lists the following reasons why social support increases health:
- It gratifies emotional needs for security, affection, trust, intimacy, nurturing, and a sense of belonging.
- It helps in appraising and defining reality.
- It makes people aware of shared norms of feeling and behavior.
- It increases group solidarity.
- It increases self-esteem through social approval.
As part of helping people cope with stress better, Dr. Tessler says, "I am a firm believer in the need for human beings to spend time in religious and spiritual pursuits. . . . Take time to make a connection with the source of your life and be thankful for all your Creator has given you."6
Abraham Lincoln, no stranger to stress, was one who shared Dr. Tessler's view on the importance of connecting with God. It was during his administration as President of the United States that the whole country erupted into a self-destructive civil war. Of that tumultuous time in his life, Lincoln has said: "Amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance in God." Later, when a delegation presented him with a Bible, he replied: "This great book is the best gift God has given to man. But for it we could not know right from wrong."7
Envision Yourself in Control
Researchers have found that people who have learned to see themselves as helplessly trapped in their circumstances are more likely than others to develop disease. "People, and even animals," writes Dr. Samuels, "who believe that their actions have no effect on the outcome of a situation that they have no control over their world are more prone to illness."8 On the other hand, those who practice seeing themselves in control over their situation reduce the negative effects of stress. By envisioning the power to make changes, you're sending health-promoting messages to your body.
My wife and I experienced the importance of this mental attitude in our own battle with cancer (see Introduction to this book), a very stressful situation, indeed. Had we agreed with the doctors that Anne was little more than a helpless victim to the disease, we would've been overwhelmed with distress. As it was, we took control of the strategy, much like a commander in the midst of a battlefield, and won back her health.
Set Goals for Managing Stress
Make and begin to work toward short- and long-term goals in each of the areas of most significant negative stress to you. Because the joy of success breeds more success, start your changes with the areas of stress that you find the easiest to deal with.
Find Sources of Help
If you need it, get outside help that will enable you to move forward toward your goals. For instance, if you have money problems, you may want to consult with a professional financial advisor. If you're experiencing parenting problems, maybe a family counselor could help you with better strategies for raising your children. There are professionals available to help you in every area of your life.
Exercise is a wonderful stress reducer. Some find that morning exercise helps to prepare them to handle the hassles of the day. Others prefer evening exercise as a form of winding down. Either way, exercise is vitally important to your body's ability to withstand negative stress. Exercise lowers blood pressure, strengthens the heart, oxygenates your cells, and improves your spirit. Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly feel more capable and confident of overcoming the negatives setbacks in life.
"It is an amazing concept that exercise can help 'tune' the body to cope with stress," observes Dr. Samuels. "And it is particularly pertinent, and important, to men and women today whose health patterns are so greatly affected by stress."9
From HEALTHY HABITS: 20 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health by David J. Frahm as used by arrangement with Jeremy P. Tarcher, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2003 by David and Anne Frahm. All rights reserved.
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