Posted on Nov 17th, 2006

You can have control over the stressful events in your life by developing a plan of action. How you manage your life involves choice - you choose to change what you can and develop coping skills for what you choose to tolerate. This plan will assist you in sorting through the issues.

Step One: Review the Basics

We are familiar with how stress makes us feel. We know we’re uncomfortable when we feel the pressure inside building, our heart starts beating fast and our palms get cold and clammy. Sometimes we recognize it for what it is and other times it’s combined with so many emotions that it’s difficult to put a label on it.

Stress - The Energizer

We think of stress as something to eliminate but stress is also essential to a fulfilled life. It’s what enables us to give interesting presentations, makes sporting events fun to watch, serves as a protection in dangerous situations and motivation during a challenge.

My Favorite Definition

Stress is a normal physiological response to perceived threats designed to energize you. It includes physical, mental and emotional reactions to internal or external events.

What Are The Different Kinds of Stress?

Acute stress is short term and short lived. An example would be approaching an intersection and almost getting into an accident.

Repetitive stress is caused by pressures that affect us repeatedly such as driving in rush hour traffic. It’s one of the factors in road rage.

Chronic stress occurs when we are exposed to pressures over a long period of time. Living in an unsafe neighborhood or caring for an aging parent would be examples of chronic stress.

Step Two: The Stress Assessment

Stress Management is an ongoing process. Our lives are so busy that events can take us by storm before we realize there is a problem. Looking at the whole picture can give you a better idea of the stress you face day to day.

Are your surroundings comfortable and pleasing?

  • Is your environment comfortable, organized and clean?

  • Can you easily find important papers?
  • Do you have maintenance issues left unfinished in your environment?
  • Is your home large enough to allow quiet time for each family member?
  • Is your neighborhood safe?
  • Does your car run smoothly and is it reliable?
  • Are you having problems in relationships at home or at work?

    • Do you work with someone that is unusually aggressive or obnoxious?

  • Does your boss make unrealistic demands of you?
  • If you are the boss, are your employees cooperative and reliable?
  • Do you have friends and and family that you can depend on?
  • How is your relationship with family and your significant other?
  • Are you a caregiver?
  • Do you have a blended family?
  • Do you have ongoing custody or divorce issues?
  • Are you a new parent, or parent of a teen?
  • Do you find discipline and limit setting difficult?
  • Is your involvement in organizations or the government giving you headaches?

    • Are you involved with the Zoning commission, City Hall, Social Security or disability red tape?

  • Are you involved with your child’s school and is it a pleasant experience?
  • Are you facing IRS or other governmental or organizational deadlines that you have no control over?
  • Do you hold office or are you a founding member of an association?
  • What does your schedule look like?

    • How rushed is your morning routine?

  • Your commute to or from work?
  • Are you responsible for other family members daily routines, ie: children or parents?
  • How many activities are your children involved in?
  • How many activities are you involved in?
  • What lifestyle choices have you made?

    • Are you eating a balanced diet?

  • Do you exercise?
  • Do you smoke or drink alcohol more than a few times per week?
  • Do you allow enough time to complete scheduled projects?
  • Do you have enough financial resources or are you meeting financial deadlines?
  • Do you have self-limiting beliefs?

    • Do you frequently find yourself saying, "I can’t do this" or "I can’t stand this?"

  • Pay attention to your inner dialog for a few days. What do you find yourself thinking about or saying to yourself?
  • Do you frequently exaggerate events, making "mountains out of molehills?"
  • Are you flexible?

    • Do you look at things as right/wrong or black/white with few gray areas?

  • Do you agree with the saying, "If you are going to do something, do it right?"
  • When you hear someone else’s opinion, can you consider it or are you set in your ways?
  • Do you have a stressful personality?

    • Do you have characteristics such as perfectionism, intolerance for the shortcomings of others, or are you pushing yourself?

  • Do you find yourself regularly working overtime and taking work home?
  • How much importance do you place on other people liking or respecting you?
  • Do your goals match your values?

    Inner turmoil can result if your goals and values aren’t on the same page. It can be just an uncomfortable feeling and difficult to identify.

    How balanced is your life?

    • Does your career take up the majority of your time?

  • Are you leaving time for personal pursuits?
  • Are you neglecting or ignoring critical aspects of your life?
  • Step Three: Evaluate

    What are you doing now to manage your stress? Are you taking into consideration the following?

    The Mind - Body Interaction - New research is acknowledging the interaction between our perception of stress and how we respond.

    Life Balance - If one part of our life is out of balance, it will affect the others and set us up for more issues.

    Prevention - Reduction - Relief. Include all three in your arsenal.

    Self Care - Nutrition, exercise and health. Consider it part of your prevention. It’s difficult to cope if we don’t have energy yet it’s the most frequently overlooked aspect of stress management.

    Evaluate your stressors and take action. Target your coping techniques to the issues. If you’re experiencing worry or a lack concentration - meditation and relaxation breathing might help. If you’re are having neck pain or tension headaches - progressive muscular relaxation in addition to exercise is the Rx.

    Develop resilience or the "hardy" personality. Adjust your attitude regarding stressful events. Adopt a balanced optimism. Take your vacations instead of letting the hours accumulate. Schedule rest and relaxation time daily - even if it’s taking a bath, walking or reading a few pages in a book.

    Are you directing your life or is it directing you? Take charge and develop a plan to deal with the pressures. Be aware of your needs. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you both physically and psychologically. Look into assertiveness, communication skills, anger management, and time management. The higher our skill set is in these areas, the less likely we’ll be suffering relationship and productivity issues.

    Include these areas into your stress relief plan and you’ll be armed with techniques that will reduce the likely hood of suffering health effects from stress. Your life will be calmer and more productive. If crisis situations develop, you’ll be more prepared to handle it.

    Step Four: Plan Your Coping Strategies

    Think Prevention - Reduction - Relief.


    We can change our perception of stressful events but it’s one of the most difficult methods of prevention. It is also the most promising method to provide lasting relief. We can include emotional intelligence, exercise and nutrition into this equation also.


    We can reduce the amount of stress we feel by changing what we can and developing coping skills for the rest. We have choices. We can tolerate the issue or make changes. It’s up to us.


    Stress relief involves matching the methods of relief to the cause of our triggers. For instance, meditation targets psychological effects of stress and muscular relaxation targets physical effects.

    Where were the majority of your stressors coming from? Take a notebook and designate two columns - change and tolerate. Take each of your stressors and list them in the appropriate column. Your stressors designated in the change column will require setting goals. Your stressors in the tolerate column involves developing coping skills for management. Outline your plan of action.

    Step Five: Evaluate

    Once we make a plan or set a goal, most of us stop right there but the most important part of goal setting is ongoing evaluation. Life will throw us roadblocks. We need to be flexible and re-evaluate often. How is your stress plan working? Have your issues changed?

    Having a stress plan keeps us mindful of our choices. We can choose to react to life - or we can develop a plan to manage it!

    Cathy Gariety is a consultant specializing in Stress Management. Visit her website at for more information on stress.

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