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stressDo you have a lot on your plate at the moment, and you’re really not sure how you’re going to get it all done?  Do you say “yes” to every request, knowing that you can just sleep a little less until you weather the storm?  Do you feel a bit on edge and that you can’t quite catch your breath?  You just may be a stress-o-holic.

My grandfather lived well into his 90’s, and frankly being from the deep fried and gravy rich South he didn’t have the healthiest of diets.  He was always busy and kept himself physically and mentally active, but I personally think the key to his longevity was the fact that he had a very effective way of managing stress, keeping balance in his life, and not sweating the small stuff.

Stress is a normal, natural part of life, coming from the good and bad that define what it means to be human.  However, in today’s world it is very easy for us to adapt to very high, unhealthy levels of stress, and in a sense trick ourselves into thinking that it’s normal and “we’re controlling it.”  Wrong.  Studies have shown stress as a key contributor to everything from depression and heart disease to sexual dysfunction.  One platespinnerstudy showed that nearly 90% of doctor visits were triggered from symptoms that were merely the manifestation of stress (Elizabeth Scott, M.S.).

No matter how healthy your diet and effective your physical fitness routine, if you fail to effectively manage your stress, your overall health will be marginalized.

I was born with a hard-wired “type A” personality, so stress management has been something I’ve really had to work on.  I can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I do think I manage my stress much more effectively (and have come closer to my granfather’s mindset) over the past ten years.

Regardless of what you do for a living or your mental wiring, here are a few tips to help you manage stress.zen

  1. Get Some Sleep – It’s a proven fact that at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is needed for normal functioning.  Any less is unhealthy and adds to your stress.  Oh, and if you’re one of those who claims “I don’t need 7 hours,” research has proven that >96% of the population does need a minimum of 7 hours, and that there are millions of walking zombies who aren’t giving their bodies the recovery time necessary for proper maintenance at a cellular level.
  2. Sublimize with Exercise – Exercising not only keeps you active and fit, but gets the blood flowing and can help clear your head.  Think of it as physical catharsis, or one of Freud’s classic defense mechanisms with side-benefits.  Staying busy and moving your body is healthy, so channel your stress and energy here instead of bottling it up, or to another unhealthy diversion/addiction (e.g. drugs, alcohol, eating, etc.).
  3. Treat Yourself – Although I think this is always a good idea, when stress is at it’s highest, treat yourself in the same fashion that you would your child or someone you love.  Go shopping, go to a nice dinner, a movie, etc., and ensure that you “take care of yourself” with a bit more care.  You can’t control how others treat you, but you can step up and really take care of yourself during stressful periods.
  4. Minimize for a While – Prioritize the most important stuff and either delay or cancel as much of the rest as possible.  What “minimize” means will vary person-to-person, but in all cases you should have less going on (the most important stuff) and not more.  This means saying “not right now” or even “no” from time to time – – I know this is very difficult for some, but worth exploring and practicing.

These tips are meant to be simple, everyday things you can do to help cope with and manage stress.  Simply listening to your mind and body and realizing that you’re in the “stress zone” is actually step one, because many don’t realize they’re actually living there.  If these small steps aren’t enough for you and having a difficult time managing stress and coping, consider exploring meditation, or speak with a counselor who can help you put together a stress management program that will work for you.

Small steps add up!!!