- Tired of living under too much pressure
- Looking for a way to get out from under all the stress
- Wanting to try something different
Feeling stressed-out is not uncommon. As a matter of fact, if you don’t complain about the amount of stress you’re under, you may be in the minority. Everybody is stressed! Right?
Wrong! Everybody has stress, but not everyone is stressed-out. If you’ve been feeling particularly stressed and have accepted it as a way of life, this topic may be just what you need. It offers strategies and techniques for putting stress where it belongs…under your control!
You can learn to manage your stress so that your stress doesn’t manage you. The 12 principles stated here will help you:
- Address the root of your stress
- Make better choices in the face of stress
- Find a greater degree of the peace that escapes so many today
Let’s get started!
I am so stressed I could:
- Choke the dog.
- Use a nice stiff drink to calm my nerves.
- Run over my child’s bicycle with my SUV.
- Run over somebody else with my SUV.
- Chuck everything and just walk away.
- Scream at the top of my lungs to let off a little steam.
Much of our stress comes from day-to-day pressures: work, family obligations, personal problems, financial problems, etc. As a matter of fact, before we even get out of bed we can become stressed just thinking about what lies ahead.
Sometimes we’re stressed simply because our role in life – husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, single parents, head of house, employees, you name it! Our stresses may be different, but they all have impact. That’s why it’s important not only to learn about your own particular level of stress, but to also learn what stresses you out.
Maybe you know all too well the stress that comes with the role(s) you fill in life. For example, if I work under pressure my chest begins to tighten. The less time I have to get something accomplished, the tighter my chest becomes. If I can identify the stress, I can decide what to do about it.
I’ve come to know that it’s better to manage my schedule so that I’m not working under pressure. But when it does happen and my stress level gets out of control, I get out and take a walk. Not a cardiac workout, but a nice long walk at a comfortable pace that allows me to loosen up. As I walk I ask myself what absolutely has to be done that day and what could possibly wait until another time.
Think about it. What is your level of stress? Maybe you’ve found that sometimes taking a walk won’t do – the pressure is too overwhelming and you know you can’t handle it on your own. Try some other methods such as listening to soft music, reading a book, etc.
Making decisions under stress is not a good thing – when stressed people make snap decisions, they may well regret them later as stress distorts our ability to be calm and to think rationally.
I know someone who says, “If you ask me how I am on a really bad day I just might answer, ‘I’m thinking about running away. Thank you for asking.’” She continues, “Sometimes the pressures are so great I feel like changing my hair color, walking a little taller, and disappearing into a crowd of people.”
Something happens inside when we are under stress – we either want to stand and fight or to run away. Perhaps the one we choose depends on what we think the outcome will be.
Consider Aileen: She not only thought about running away, she did! One evening she got all four of her children ready for bed, helped pick out their clothes for school the next day, and packed their lunches. Then she told her husband she was running to the drugstore. And the rest “is history.”
As Aileen says, “I remember my cell phone ringing after about an hour or so. I looked at the number and turned it off. I just didn’t want to deal with anything. I didn’t have one penny to my name. I had no clothes and nowhere to go, but I didn’t turn around. I drove about three hours before I stopped, crying the entire time. The sad thing was I wasn’t crying because I regretted what I’d done; I was crying because I felt such relief! I didn’t want to go home! Home meant the same old problems, the same old stresses – problems I though we couldn’t possibly get through.”
Two years later, Aileen shares, “At the time I couldn’t see any other way out. In retrospect, I now know it could have backfired. I’m blessed it didn’t. At the time it was the only solution I knew, but now I’d tell anyone to not allow stress to get you to that point. Going that far is dangerous. Stressed-out people don’t think ahead!
“My husband and I have come to an agreement that in the future, if either of us feels truly stressed – like not being able to handle something – we will talk to each other. I’m delighted we were able to make things work. Our problems have not disappeared, but together we’re finding ways to deal with them. It’s bearable; it’s much better. At least I’m not tempted to run away again.”
Have you ever been tempted to just run away? Escaping is not the answer. Leaving does not make the stress go away, it only adds to it. And it opens the door for much more.
Stress clouds over everything so that it’s difficult to think clearly. If you’re under a lot of stress, take your time and think things through. Weigh out all the possibilities: Is what I’m planning to do really reasonable? How will my decision impact my life (or the lives of those I’m involved with) in the long run?
Some things are a sure signal that you’re not handling stress very well, like choosing to use alcohol or drugs to cope, to dull emotional pain, or to keep from dealing with day-to-day frustrations. (Heavy drinking is not the same as taking a drink at a social event. Heavy drinking is what you do in order to escape from those daily pressures called life.) The same is true for using over-the-counter or presribed medications to do the same. Using these long past their prescribed or effective time is a warning that you may become addicted.
Or what if you’ve resorted to hitting your children or spouse out of frustration or anger. This is abuse, and it comes with severe consequences – legal action and sometimes loss of family, to name a few. Throwing tantrums, having difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much or chronic fatigue, unexplained crying, lack of energy, and prolonged periods of depression are also signals that you are not handling stress.
All of these are flashing yellow lights; they warn of us approaching danger. We are wise to heed them and not ignore them. They will not go away on their own; as a matter of fact, they are apt to get worse before getting better.
If you can relate to Aileen (in the earlier story) who ran away because she thought she’d crack under all the pressure, or if you’re entertaining thoughts of harming either yourself or others, NOW is the time to get a different perspective. It might be helpful to seek counsel from someone who can help. There is no shame in doing so and you may be pleasantly surprised at the light they shed.
Feeling stressed is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone is stressed from time to time, but high levels of stress can lead you to do something you might regret later. Now is the time to change some behaviours…before they become regrets.
I vaguely remember playing tetherball as a child. Attached to the top of a tall pole was a rope and on the end of the rope was a ball. Not lightweight – more like the size and weight of a volleyball. We’d take turns hitting the ball, without letting it stop or drop down. You didn’t want to get in the way of the swinging ball – sometimes you just had to duck. You needed to keep your eye on the ball at all times!
Consider Ricardo: He finally landed his dream job. Since he had no formal college training he knew he would have to work twice as hard to prove himself. He felt stressed, but it was a good stress – he finally felt as though he was achieving something in life.
Several months later his father died, leaving him, as only child, to care for this sick mother. This meant moving her into the small house he shared with his wife and three children. “That’s when things started going downhill,” he shares.
“There’s a lot of tension and chaos. My wife is unhappy, the chilren are upset, and I fell caught in the middle. It is a no-win situation. My work is slipping and I think they may give me the boot. I’m really stressed, and it’s not the good stress either!”
As Ricardo discovered (and you probably have as well), you can’t control whether or not stress comes into your life. But just because you’re under stress does not mean you need to live life as a victim, unable to do anything to improve your situation. Taking charge means keeping your eye on the ball (the thing causing the stress) and preparing to take whatever means necesary to keep it from becoming a desctructive force. It means being in tune with your weak areas and strengthening them; it means knowing when you can’t handle things on your own and turning to one who can help; it means actively participating in the solution.
Some problems that seem beyong our control actually are not. Take financial problems, for example. When there’s not enough money, your fears may be real – homelessness, hunger, no transportation, no way to work, and eventually no job – but, it doesn’t mean it has to become your life’s stress. Mabe for a while you will need a second income. What things can you cut out of your monthly budget? (I know people who think cable is a necessity, like keeping the lights on. Yet they struggle month after month to pay a $300 cable bill when they need groceries or shoes for their children)
Principle #5: Learn to Mind Your P’S, Q’S, and Relationships
Closets are convenient places to store things we don’t necessarily want out in the open. Once, when selling our home, a potential buyer inquired as soon as she entered the door, “I just want to know, how many catch-alls do you have?”
My blank look must have indicated I had no idea what she meant because her husband chimed in, “She means closets. She needs a lot of them because she has a lot to put in them.”
Some of our stress comes from issues that pile up and accumulate over the months or years. These are usually the things we really don’t want to deal with, or have the energy to deal with, so we put them in a mental closet and close the door. But at the same point something is bound to happen that forces us to deal with them.
What clutters your mental and emotional closets? Unresolved issues in your marriage? Problems placed on the back burner concerning family members? Misunderstandings with friends or coworkers? Unhealthy habits that place your finances in jeopardy? Neglected health issues? The list goes on…
It may seem like the best thing to do, but when you stash things away they eventually become an “issue”, and issues eventually become stress. suddenly you feel it: tightening of the chest, tention headaches, can’t sleep, etc. It’s as if you can’t get free.
Why do we tend to stash these issues in a safe place? Perhaps because we’re fearful; we are afraid that if we deal with a particular situation, a relationship might never be the same; we are afraid things may not work out as we’d hoped, or for the best. I’ve been there myself, but I’ve also found that it’s better to face the situation head-on and to talk it out – sometimes even a carefully worded letter can resolve heated issues.
If part of the stress you feel today comes from unresolved issues with others, you will benefit from addressing each one. Though it is hard work and calls for lots of prayer and patience, you will be pleasantly surprised at the weight that is lifted when you find the courage to do so.