We have all heard the old adage that the only person who does not feel any stress is dead. Therefore, stress is a necessary ingredient in life. The questions are how much stress is the right amount, and how do we manage it so that it works for us.
The best level of stress is that amount which motivates us to positive, effective action. The worst levels of stress are too little to get us going, or so much that it inhibits our ability to keep going.
It is an interesting dynamic that human beings are very good at managing extreme stress. People in prison camps and disasters consistently cope and are usually moved to action to respond to the crisis at hand. However, we seem to have difficulty dealing with moderate amounts of stress.
Here are two strategies for managing your personal stress.
We all have subtle symptoms that indicate when stress is beginning to get the better of us: short temper, short attention span, eating poorly, drinking more, etc. However, each of us has different symptoms. Therefore, we need to identify our own symptoms so we can respond appropriately when stress begins to affect us in a negative way.
To identify your personal symptoms, monitor how you react to stress and make a list of your symptoms. It can be very helpful to have someone who knows you well (spouse, significant other, friend, close co-worker, etc.) help with the list of personal symptoms. This should identify additional personal symptoms of which you may not be aware. Next, make another list of the things you do to reduce stress: exercise, talk it out, take some time off, step back for renewed perspective, etc.
Now you have what you need to manage your stress.
The Action Plan – detect your symptoms early before stress becomes a problem and apply an appropriate response from your stress reduction list. This will create a positive, definitive action process to keep your stress levels just where you want them to be.
Let's look at another way to manage stress. We'll call it the Tasmanian Monster approach.
The Tasmanian Monster goes through the forest attacking trees. In an unusual approach, the monster only eats a few feet of trunk near the ground. Amazingly, the trees do not fall over; they just get shorter by dropping straight down to the fill the chunk eaten by the monster. Here's how we apply the Tasmanian Monster approach to manage our stress.
View all your stresses piled on top of each other in a column similar to a tree. When you have too many stresses in the column, your column grows above the manageable amount of stress, and the stresses begin to get to you. Here is what to do.
Arrange the stresses in your column from small stresses on the bottom to the big stresses on the top. Then, bring on the Tasmanian monster and wipe out a whole bunch of the small stresses on the bottom. You can probably accomplish this in one morning or afternoon with a 'to do' list. Then, eureka, the column shrinks and the stress level is more manageable.
The bottom line is to manage stress and not let it manage you.