Stress: The Good, Bad and Ugly

How to manage to keep sane

By Lisa Cleary
|  Friday, Feb 11, 2011  |  Updated 9:54 AM EDT
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Stress: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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Trying to manage school, work and sometimes both--on top of other obligations--is a sure fire recipe for stress.

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Let’s talk about stress.

The good, the bad and the ugly kind of stress.  The kind that, you know, makes you want to buy a one way ticket to a sabbatical in Tahiti.

(Evoke current thoughts of friends, family, job, school and other stress-related obligations, here.)

As Rockville resident Ilana Lakhman explains, stress is a permanent feature in her life.  Lakhman, who is currently pursuing her master’s in occupational therapy, is constantly overwhelmed with the juggling act of her career, work and otherwise having a life outside of both.

Throw the pressures from others, like family, into the mix?  You’ve suddenly got a pressure-cooker waiting to explode.

“Family members stress you out more when they have such high expectations and don't understand what it’s really like to do what you do or take the type of test you have to.  They think it should be easy and that you shouldn’t have problems with it. But you do, they just don't get it,” said Lakhman.

According to Joyce Dover Forman, LICSW, of Forman & Associates, stress is often equated with change, which can have beneficial results if looking at the bigger picture.

“When this level of change occurs, everything increases in a kind of chaotic way while the change process sorts itself out,” said Forman. “It is a time when our envelope is stretched whether we like or choose it or not.  It is a time to take ourselves very seriously, to take the trouble to make sure that every aspect of our lives gets the support it needs, and treat ourselves in ways that respect our bodies that house the unique person we are…whether or not our families or friends understand our mission.”

Oftentimes, even though others may want you to perform at your very best, family (and friends, coworkers, neighbors and so on) may not always understand the time commitment involved with, say, a work project. 

Likewise, though many may have priorities in their lives, some do not always recognize that your priorities are not the same as theirs.  That doesn’t mean you don’t care, but that simply means that doing “the best you can do” is just that.  Many also may not recognize that, even though you are the go-to-person in their lives, you’re also the go-to-person for Tom, Dick and Harry, too. 

For the unnecessary stress (back to that friend who guilt trips you into being on call, 24/7), resort to one of the first words learned in childhood:  “no.”  By saying “no” to a friend’s request, for instance, you’re not being insensitive, uncaring or a terrible person. 

You’re being realistic. 

If others are unable to realize that the word “no” is issued for a good reason, then are their selfish attitudes worth your time? 

At this point, learn how to self-talk, primarily by saying, “If so-and-so cannot realize that I’m unable to attend or help with [insert obligation here], then this is no longer my problem.  So-and-so should know me well enough as a person to know I do within my means, even though my means may not meet their level of need at the time.”

Here are Forman’s tips for ways to tackle stress, head on:

1. Make the steps to change what’s needed to reduce stress, even if they are difficult.  If you need to see a counselor for coaching during this process, then make it a priority.

2.  Clean your environment.  Throw out what you haven’t used in a year and organize to suit your own efficiency.  This helps clear the air and frees up the juice so everything flows more easily.

3.  Remember you can only be responsible for yourself.  When you say ‘no’ to others, allow kindness, genuineness and quiet firmness to live in your words.

4.  Unless you take care of and respect your body, you’ve shot yourself in the foot before you've started.  It’s basic.  Stress affects every cell in your body.  Over time, it is overwhelmed with the toxins that build up until the cells are unable to clean themselves and can’t function as they were meant to do.  Stress also depletes minerals and trace minerals that are necessary for every cell to function.

Need more stress-coping techniques? 

Chunk your time via things-to-do lists and estimate projected due dates for obligations in small increments.  That way, you’ll know that in the moment, you are in control of your present situation. 

Think of that work project that’s due two months from now and all of the uncollected data -- then sure, you’re going to feel overwhelmed knowing what still needs to be done.  Think of the deadlines to be completed that day, and you’ll suddenly be surprised at how accomplished you feel.

Finally, be grateful for what you have and for those whole-heartedly supporting you: 

“I cope by having fun and remembering to live life like it’s the last day, because even when I can’t pass a stupid test I know that at least I am healthy, happy and still have my family and friends by my side,” Lakhman said.

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