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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stress: Reducing. Preventing. Coping.

Stress. What does it mean to you? Is it the issues you face every day at school? Is it the fact that there are never enough hours in the day for all your errands, your career or family responsibilities. They all demand your time and attention. But do you realize that you have a lot more control over all of these issues than you might think? In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management.

Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands that leads to deadline stress.

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem and find unhealthy ways of coping with stress.

These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run. Examples include: smoking; drinking too much; overeating or undereating; zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer; withdrawing from friends, family, and activities; using pills or drugs to relax; sleeping too much; procrastinating; filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems; or taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence).

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

If you or someone you know is experiencing stress and is turning to (or using) unhealthy solutions, call NCADD. Our Jason Surks Memorial Resource Center holds lots of information in the form of brochures and videos on how to deal with stress and making unhealthy decisions.