Tip Sheet

Recognize personal stress triggers and symptoms
Re-train the brain
Get solution-oriented
Develop a buddy system
Minimize self-blame
Be realistic in expectations for change

No one can avoid stress. In fact, it’s a necessary part of life. Stress symptoms such as rapid heart beat, sweating and feeling fearful are basic survival reactions that signal people that they must become more alert and ready to act. In pre-historic times, the ability of a person to recognize and value these symptoms might determine whether he or she survived animal or enemy attacks.
At the opposite end of the scale of reactions, feeling tired and overwhelmed signals people that they must slow down, rest and select the most important tasks. Women hunter-gatherers often had to rest between foraging for food to save energy to breastfeed their young.
Today’s modern warriors of home and workplace still have these hard-wired stress responses. Effective people know that stress management depends upon their ability to recognize their specific reactions and situations that trigger them.

Recognize personal stress triggers and symptoms
There are many ways to become more aware of stress triggers. What upsets one person may not upset another. For example, a song on the radio may bring back terrible memories for a person of ending an important relationship, but another person just hears the song without attaching any particular negative or positive feelings to it. Knowing personal triggers is an essential part of feeling more in control of life. People who feel more in control of emotional reactions tend to be happier.
One way to learn about personal triggers and reactions is to keep a feeling and behavior diary. A person doesn’t have to be a writer to keep one. Make sure to have a notebook or paper near the phone, computer or in a purse. Jot down the times when feelings occur of being “out of control” or “out of sorts” Look for typical stress reactions such as irritability, tiredness, insatiable hunger or dramatic drop in appetite, sleeplessness, increase in heart rate, increased perspiration or disinterest in previously fun activities. Put checkmarks next to the self-defeating behaviors—eating, spending, sleeping, yelling, criticizing, crying or using self-blame.
Then add the best guest as to what is triggering the reaction. Usually, people know what’s bothering them. Common triggers include bill paying, misbehaving children, fights with one’s partner, criticism from others, mistakes at work, too much work, illness or weight gain.
If a person doesn’t have the time to write things down, use a small recording devise to keep track of reactions. Another option is to say out loud or silently that an undesired over-reaction is occurring. Sometimes, just noticing it can calm down the stress.

Re-train the brain
People can retrain their brains to interrupt impairing stress reactions. When stressed out feelings and behaviors occur, try saying out loud the following sentences—or find more personalized ones:
• I don’t have to be perfect.
• I don’t have to come up with all the answers.
• It’s not personal.
• I am not a bad person.
• I can handle this—one step at a time.
• Stress reactions can be good—they are warnings to pay attention.

Get solution-oriented
It doesn’t do much good to complain or blame one’s self. Now is the time for action. Pretend that the problem and reaction to it are happening to someone else. Think about suggestions and sound advice to give that imaginary person. Removing one’s self slightly from the situation can allow for an easier flow of solutions.
To curb jolts of appetite increases, WAIT. Don’t grab that food. Have a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea instead. Often, hunger pangs are signs of thirst. Cravings are common in everyone, but they can be tricked into going away by toughing out the fifteen or twenty minutes the cravings need to subside. Concentrating on preparing herbal tea is an excellent distraction. Also, leave the kitchen or grocery store and substitute something better such as calling a friend, watching a favorite show, playing with the children in the family.
For anger outbursts and high frustration, take a breath and leave the room. Try to break down into small, small steps what has to be done so that feelings of helplessness or being overwhelmed don’t take over.
Say out loud again those personalized brain-wire change sentences.

Develop a buddy system
Recruit a friend to help. Make a buddy system with a good friend, spouse or other family member. Agree to call each other whenever stress increases. Research indicates that buddy systems are social networks of support that work. They make people feel less alone and accepted.

Minimize self-blame
Forgive setbacks. Everyone makes mistakes and has regrets. Just go forward, concentrate on solutions and be proud of getting pro-active. It is never too late for positive change. Use personal statements said out loud to counter the tendency to be self-critical.

Be realistic in expectations for change
Keep a longer time horizon for success in reducing major stress reactions. For example, eating when anxious, lonely, sad or mad is a common stress behavior. However, losing weight and changing one’s old methods of managing uncomfortable feelings cannot change in a few weeks. Think, instead, in terms of seasons.
It’s never too late to be brave, face stresses and take charge.

LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, is a therapist and frequent contributor. Her next book project, The No-Nonsense Woman’s Guide to Love, focuses on helping today’s strong women with their relationship problems. To participate or learn more about her, see her website at www.lovevictory.com

Author's Bio: 

My Qualifications

My work at the New England Institute of Family Relations, the first sexual dysfunction clinic in New England, and my research-based book, Incest, Work and Women (with my name as LeslieBeth Berger), earned me national recognition and honor as a pioneer in sexual dysfunction and women's love and career issues. My book uncovered the connection between women's childhood abuse and their career problems.

That research sparked my next ground-breaking project on the relationship problems of women, age 20-40+. These age groups come from the highest number of divorced or single parents. This factor, combined with increased number of professional women, especially in the fields of law and medicine, has created specific and troubling relationship issues such as disappointing choices of men, affairs and depression. I am writing this next book, The No-Nonsense Woman's Guide to Love to help women get over their mistrust, fears and unhappy, unhealthy dating patterns and learn to date and love smart! If you are interested in being part of the research, please see my research invitation above.

My education: Carnegie-Mellon U., B.A. History & English; Ohio U., M.A. English; Bryn Mawr, MSS. Social Work; U. Massachusetts, Ed.D. Adult Dev. Psychology and 3 yrs. post-graduate, Georgetown University. Family Center of the Medical School, under Dr. Murray Bowen.

My Licenses: Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland as an independent clinical social worker. I am a regular contributor to the award-winning website www.helpstartshere.org, the online magazine of the National Association of Social Workers, and I have been selected as an Official Guide to Family on www.selfgrowth.com, the number one self-improvement site on google and yahoo. I also serve as the Co-Director of The Counseling Network of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation that offers free counseling, nationwide, to military families and veterans. We help them cope with post-traumatic stress, grief and family adjustment. I am frequently cited in other national publications and websites, such as Us Weekly, The Washington Post, Vivmag.com and Women's Health.

I am happy to give a talk or conduct a workshop or focus group for your organization.

Thank you.

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