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Make Stress Work for You

At a women’s retreat this past weekend, I asked the question, who had experienced stress in the past week. All hands went up.

I then asked how they experienced their stress. What were the symptoms they had. As I jotted responses on the white board, I was reminded once again of just how many demands are placed on us today and the heavy toll it was taking in our lives.

There are a thousand scenarios that contribute to our stress, but a basic pattern runs through them all. Thoughts return over and over again to what isn’t working. The list gets longer and longer as we think about what we have to do to survive. As more and more time is spent thinking about what we can’t do, we find it more and more difficult to concentrate and accomplish what we want to do.

New technology increases our work load as we struggle to learn and apply it. We are not only required to work faster and smarter, but improve the quality and quantity of output. The learning curve gets steeper and steeper and we struggle to keep pace. The harder we try the more tense we become. The tenser we become the more difficult it is to stay focused. And the cycle goes round and round and we soon find ourselves overwhelmed and exhausted.

We forget, become disorganized, and confused. There are too many options with no time to think and consider decisions resulting in more and more mistakes. Accidents lurk around every corner waiting to happen. We begin to make excuses – first to others and then to ourselves. And at the end of the day we feel like a violin string that has been stretched so taut that if we breathe we will break.

The day begins and ends with a never-ending stream of things we “have to do” and “must do” to survive. Lists of things we “should or ought” to do have long been set aside: the thank you notes, the call to a sick friend, scheduling a long overdue doctor’s appointment, etc. etc. etc. There isn’t enough time.

We run out the door in the morning, grabbing a bagel or sweet roll to eat along the way and return in the evening dragging. As we drop our keys on the kitchen counter, we look around at the mess left from the morning and wonder where to begin. Our stomach hurts and we grab a cookie to eat. And as it melts in our mouth, we realize we have been snacking on sweets of some kind all day.

And when we finally get a moment to sit down, we zone out on TV, Face Book or some kind of internet game before we fall into bed. Our neck and shoulders hurt, acid reflux starts and we wonder if we will be able to go to sleep and/or stay asleep.

We can’t slow the world down. But we can get off the merry-go-round that simply keeps us spinning around and around out of control. We can take back our life.

It doesn’t mean we won’t be required to learn new skills, work more effectively and efficiently. It doesn’t mean we will find all the answers.

But we can become more adept at problem-solving, more pro-active instead of re-active and in the process take charge of how we respond to our circumstances. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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