Successful coping with stress involves using the resources you have. What do you have available to help you (tangible things such as support, money, time, influence or more internal things such as faith in God, confidence, patience and prayer)? How will you use what's available? What strengths do you have that will help the situation?
Stress affects people differently. Some carry stress in their physical bodies. Others are more stressed because of their thoughts. They worry and become anxious. Some people do both. The following tips provide strategies for reducing stress.
Deep muscle relaxation. For those of you who feel body tension, use physical techniques to relax your muscles. Deep muscle relaxation is based on the idea that tensing a muscle and then releasing it produces a state of relaxation. If you take the muscle groups in your body and practice tensing all of them, and then releasing the tension, you should feel more relaxed.
Take a deep breath and relax. When you are tense, breathing often becomes short and rapid. It tends to originate in the chest. Some people hyperventilate, which can lead to panic. Breathing should come from the abdomen, not the chest. When you concentrate on taking deep, slow breaths, you supply more oxygen to the brain and muscle system. You stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you. Taking deep breaths can help clear your mind, too.
Get support. The more social support you have, the better you'll fare when it comes to managing stress. Social support, whether given by family, friends or even strangers, is a stress reducer. It is an established fact that the lack of social support can lead to psychological problems.
Regulate your sleep schedule. Set a time to go to sleep each night and wake up each morning. You can reduce stress by regulating your body clock. Usually it takes about three weeks to make a change, so don't give up quickly.
Make environmental changes. When you can, make changes such as these: Work by a window so you have daylight exposure; use ergonomic keyboards and chairs that support your back; take frequent breaks from a sitting job and walk around. Think of ways you can eliminate sources of stress in your environment.
Change your diet and exercise. Reevaluate your eating habits. Stop skipping meals, and eat healthy food. Take a multivitamin. Reduce sugar and caffeine. Try to exercise at least three times a week for 20 minutes.
Cut out activities. Reduce the number of social, sports, work and church events if you find yourself on the run with no down time. You and your children don't have to be involved in everything.
Reevaluate your priorities. Are you at work too many hours because family relationships are much harder and less satisfying? Are you so busy that you have no quiet time to spend with God?
Spend time in worship. Transformation comes as we sit in the presence of God. Worship gives our undivided attention to Him. Spend time singing, praising and loving God alone, not only in the corporate worship setting. In His presence are fullness of joy, peace, refreshment and love. Your life will change, and stress will fade.
Learn to say no. Too many of us take on too much because we don't say no. We are afraid to set limits; we don't feel we have the right. Or we need to please others and want to be loved for what we do. We may even think that we have to be super human and do it all. Time to turn in your cape! Learn to say no and not feel guilty.
Practice problem solving. It will boost your confidence and reduce stress. Next time you encounter stress, say: "I can deal with this. It's just a matter of finding the right solution and trusting God to help me."
Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical social worker and author of the new "Breaking Free" book series (www.charismahouse.com), from which this column is adapted.