person who is stressed

Understanding and Dealing With Stress

Introduction > What Is Stress? > Signs of Stress > Dealing with Stress > Long Term Strategies > Resources

Long-term Strategies for Dealing With Stress

Identify what is causing you stress.

Don't ignore or gloss over your problems. If something is bothering you, identify what it is. If you think it shouldn't be bothering you, stop and ask yourself why it does -- maybe something larger is bothering you and it has seemed easier to focus on the small things. This may help you cope in the moment-to-moment, but eventually you must face up to your larger issues. Taking the time to identify the serious stressors in your life will help you come up with a strategy for managing them.

Recognize what you can change.

Can you change what's bothering you? If not, can you change your response to the problem or learn to channel your frustration in another way? People find comfort in patterns, even if those patterns are stressful. Maybe it's time to change those patterns. If your relatives criticize your cooking every time you invite them to dinner (and you aren't ready to stop seeing them altogether), maybe you could suggest dining out or throw a pot-luck dinner where everyone brings a dish. Or maybe you can chime in and begin making outrageous jokes about how if they don't like your tapioca you can always use the leftovers to re-caulk the bathroom. If you can't change your stressors in life (such as critical relatives), maybe you can change the situation (different environment) or your response (humor) to lessen the most stressful situations.

Reduce the intensity of your reactions.

Should you be reacting so strongly to the situation? Sometimes, we need to put things in perspective. You may be overreacting and seeing the situation as more stressful than it is. Take a breath; walk out of the room; accept that no one's perfect, including your parents, coworkers, teachers, children, and yourself. Step back and ask yourself if what's bothering you deserves all your attention and energy. Maybe the time you're spending worrying could be better spent on improving your life and the life of those around you.

Re-examine your attitudes and 'obligations'.

Are you putting yourself under too much stress? Are you trying to be all things to all people? Sometimes in trying too hard to do good for others, we aren't doing well for ourselves.

Stop and examine your priorities in life -- and don't forget to name yourself as one of those priorities. Is working overtime for that new television worth the quality time you're sacrificing with your family and friends? Can't take an hour out of your busy week to relax in a bath or read your new magazine but find yourself volunteering to help every family member, friend, coworker, and acquaintance? Feel that you're depriving your family by buying a frozen dinner instead of preparing one from scratch although you've worked a ten-hour shift and need to sleep? You don't want to set the bar too low, but you don't want to set it so high that it's overwhelming.

Ask yourself what you would expect from other people, and expect the same from yourself. Learn to forgive yourself and others when, on occasion, you can't meet those standards -- it's called being human. And learn to accept help. Ask your family, friends, or partners for assistance. Instead of straining your relationships, you may find this helps. By handing over responsibilities to others (and letting them handle them their way, not 'your' way), you're building trust and making them feel an important part of the process.

Organize yourself.

Are you spreading yourself too thin? Are you more productive during certain times of the day? Overwork and fatigue are one of the most common causes of stress. Maybe you are taking on too much: learn to say no to things that will not affect your job, school or relationships. Spending time with family and friends is important, but sometimes you need down time and time to rest. Are you managing your time well? If you work better in the morning, plan your big tasks for morning. If you're a night owl, plan your important tasks for later in the day. Visit the Tools and Resources area for a checklist of recommendations to improve your organizational skills.

Develop emotional supports and use them.

Do you have someone you can talk to about your life? Having someone you can share both the good and bad with is important. If you have a large group of friends, lean on them in times of difficulty; you wouldn't turn them away if they needed you, would you? If you don't have a large network, start to build one. Join a group or organization where people will share your interests. Get out there -- even if it's just a trip to the grocery store, gym, library or WalMart; you never know who you may bump into. Seek assistance from professionals (health care, counselors, religious advisors) who are experienced and comfortable in giving support. Most of all, be your own best friend: accept any flaws or the occasional failure; make the most of your abilities and successes.

Let it all out.

Laugh. Cry. Scream. Sometimes you need to let out your emotions and few tools are better than the ones nature gave us. Saving these emotional outbursts for a private, comfortable setting is important -- crying, screaming and laughing hysterically at work or school will more likely add to your stress, after the fact, than reduce it.

But what's wrong with having a good cry? Or a good belly laugh? Or a good yell (though certainly not directed at anyone in particular and preferably in the privacy of your car, closet, or pillow, so no one notifies the police). These mechanisms offer some of the most immediate means of stress relief -- they just shouldn't be your only way of dealing with stress.

Society often judges people who can't control their emotions or behavior, and letting go around friends and family can sometimes result in hurt feelings. But occasionally unleashing your full fury on the dresser you always bump into in the middle of the night or having a good cry on the shoulder of a loved one could leave you more relaxed and relieved than any amount of time management, deep breathing, or rational discussion.

Next: You Are Not to Blame: Some Stresses Can't Be Avoided

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