A moderate amount of stress can be a good thing. It can motivate us to stop procrastinating and to get things done. It can energize a project and, let's be honest, make life more exciting. Excess stress, however, can be damaging indeed. It can paralyze us, derail our progress and wreck havoc with our health and minds. When we''re over-stressed, we can make life miserable for ourselves and everyone around us.

I was reminded of this last week. I was preparing a meal for company -- and although I 'know' better, I found myself stressing unnecessarily. Okay, I'll be honest: I panicked. It wasn't pretty. My hands shook, my heart palpitated and I found myself short of breath. I couldn't think straight. My motions were jerky, scattered and entirely inefficient. My mind raced, as logistical details jumbled with the dozen disastrous scenarios that were ping-ponging around my head.

I don't recommend this as a way of operating. It felt awful and it made the situation much more complicated and difficult that it was.

If ever you find yourself experiencing too much stress, it's imperative that you (a) recognize what's going on and (b) take steps to reduce the stress you are experiencing ASAP. Here's how:

1. Stop and breathe.

At the first tingle of panic, force yourself to stop whatever you're doing. Take long, slow deep breaths until you feel calmer. This might take a few minutes -- some very l-o-n-g seeming minutes during which you are loathe to remain 'stopped' -- but resist the temptation to do anything but breathe.

2. Consider the consequences of your stress.

What is it doing to your body? Your mind? Your competence?

More importantly, what is the impact of your excess stress on other people? Luckily for me, no-one else ventured into the kitchen during my bout of excess stress. It would have been very awkward and unpleasant for anyone to be near me. It would have created the horrific scenarios I was panicking to avoid.

Let these consequences motivate you to change your current state.

3. Assess the situation objectively.

What's actually going on? For example, in my case, I was preparing a meal. I have the skills and experience to carry out this task. I know how to cook. I cook well and often. I love cooking, actually. My guests were nice, non-judgmental people. This was but one meal in the midst of a week long visit. There was no obvious, logical reason for me to be stressed, let alone panicked.

4. Is anything else contributing to the stress level?

Are you well rested or fatigued? Healthy or not? Juggling too many other things? Cut yourself some slack for whatever else is going on. In my case, I was getting over a rare, prolonged cold. I was sleep deprived, having pulled an all-nighter the night before. The meal was but one item on a twenty-three item 'to do' list for that morning. No wonder my stress level was higher than the situation would normally evoke.

5. Dig deeper.

What's really going on? What is the source of the unnecessary extra stress? In my case, the true source of the stress was actually quite noble: we love our guests and wanted them to be happy. However, the importance of the meal loomed large because my guests were our very first family members to visit our place. Ever. My husband and I projected onto them all our wishes and desires for a successful visit. We blew our preparations way out of proportion, bought ten times the amount of food required and otherwise over-compensated. It was like we were trying to nourish all our family members in this one meal.

6. Identify the underlying fear.

At it's core, stress is fear. It's an unhealthy, amped up version of 'fight or flight'. Whenever you feel excess stress, ask yourself what you're really afraid of. Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of humiliation? Whatever it is, identifying the underlying fear is the first step to addressing it.


In most circumstances, the preceding steps will be enough to reduce excess stress. If, however, the stress persists -- or you find yourself in a chronic state of perpetual stress, consider getting professional help to overcome it. Rest assured that there are proven techniques -- like meditation -- you can learn to overcome chronic stress.


Activity: What causes you excess stress?

Activity: How do you tend to react when you are in excessively stressful situations?

Activity: Ideally, how would you prefer to respond to excessively stressful situations?

Activity: Select one of your answers from the first question. Picture yourself encountering this source of stress. Now: take a few moments and imagine yourself responding to this source of excess stress as you would prefer to respond (as detailed in your last answer, above). Breathe slowly and deeply. Dwell on the details. Make this pretend scenario as vivid as possible.


Want to re-publish this article? Go for it – just include the author’s name (Liisa Kyle, Ph.D.) and the following text blurb:

Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/ .

Author's Bio: 

Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. is the go-to coach for smart, creative people who want to overcome challenges, get organized, get things done and get more out of life (www.CoachingForCreativePeople.com).

Liisa Kyle is also an internationally published writer/editor/photographer as well as author of books including "YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE: A Workbook to Become the Person You Want to Be" Available here: http://bit.ly/ChangeYourLifeWorkbook).

If you are a creative person with too many ideas and too much to do, check out her other helpful articles here: www.DavinciDilemma.com