For most of us, stress is unavoidable.
Responsibilities, relationships, finances, school, work…the list goes on. These stresses are a fact of life—a reality of our culture and social climate.
To some degree, stress can be healthy and motivating.
It’s what keeps us on our toes, what drives us to meet deadlines and what motivates us to do our best. However, when too much stress accumulates, it weighs us down like a load of rocks, that we must grudgingly carry throughout the day.
This added weight can lead to serious health and social problems, affecting our bodies and our relationships.
How can we learn to manage stress so that it doesn’t weigh us down?
In order to manage our stress, we must first identify it. In doing so, we must be careful not to confuse manifestations of stress with the causation.
For example, if money is a daily stress, is it really the money itself (or lack thereof) that’s creating the burden? “Money” is merely a symbol—the real cause may actually be poor spending habits, a low paying job, accumulation of debt, etc.
For some of us, the holiday season can be stressful. But, is it really a day on our calendars that is the root cause? In reality, the plans, financial challenges and difficult family relationships are the real cause of “holiday stress.” Don’t blame Thanksgiving or Christmas—the stress truly lies within a complex string of issues that all require planning and work to correct.
To manage stress adequately, we must look deeper for the root cause, and take active steps to change our reactions.
1) Identify the source of the stress. Even though we may label stress as “money,” “family” or “work,” if we dig deeper into ourselves, we’ll find the root cause.
2) Use relaxation, meditation, exercise or sleep, as a way to relieve the symptoms of stress.We must use coping mechanisms to minimize stress symptoms until we are able to eliminate the source.
3) Use symbolic cues as a physical representation of the root cause of stress.
This will raise our awareness of the real issue, and focus our attention on the solution, rather than the reaction. For example, carrying a rock, stone or other item, to represent the stress, can serve as a constant reminder of the physical burden.
Eliminating the cause may take days, weeks or even years of thought, planning and action. But, carrying a physical symbol of the cause of our stress works to keep us on task, reminding us of the game plan we’ve devised to eliminate the stressor over time.
4) Put down the burden.
Using a physical object to symbolize stress also allows us to put down that burden at the end of the day, both physically and emotionally.
Removing the object from our pocket or purse acts as a mental trigger to let it go, to relax and to set aside that issue for a while. Perhaps, we can enjoy more focused time with our family or get a more peaceful night’s sleep. The next day, we can pick that burden back up and continue working to rid it from our life, once and for all.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum