Confidently walking around the room holding up a glass of water, a young woman began to explain stress management to an audience. Everyone was sure she going to ask the question: “Is the glass half empty or half full?” Instead, she inquired with a smile, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out from the audience ranged from 8 ounces to 20 ounces.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “That’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”
As with the glass of water, you have to put your burden down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we are refreshed, we can carry on with the burden—holding the stress longer and better each time we practice. So, as early in the evening as you can, put your burdens down.
How do you learn to put your burdens down?
The word “stress” is actually a scientific term used to describe the amount of applied force. As in the analogy of holding a glass of water, pressure builds until something gives way— physically, emotionally, or spiritually. If you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, several techniques can help you regain your sense of peace and increase your ability to handle the challenges of life.
- Trust your Higher Power, or God, and His plan for you. If you do, you can safely let go of your intense grip on whatever is stressing you and allow yourself to get some rest and distance from it. Faith is the antidote to anxiety and is my personal answer; however, it is not always the answer for all of my clients.
- Change your thoughts. If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself and your attitude. Understanding stress means understanding your perception of stress. We feel overwhelmed when we believe our ability to cope is being compromised by external forces that are out of our control. Our thoughts create the idea that we are unable to cope comfortably with what is happening.
- Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time. Alternatively, go back to solution number one: hand it over to your Higher Power.
- Look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself how important is it really? Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, or simply count your blessings. Write down three items you are grateful for each day or start with the first letter of the alphabet and see how far you can go identifying alphabetically the good things in your life right down to the letter ‘z’.
- Avoid stress if you can. For instance, don’t run an errand at rush hour, turn down an invitation if you are overbooked, decide not to bring up a touchy subject if you know it is a bad time for the other person, etc. However, not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed.
- Remember the serenity prayer. ”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Learn how to set boundaries—know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching your limit. Learn to say no.
- Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress, then recognize it and either stay away from them or learn to say no or to be assertive enough to let them know the stress they are causing you. It is important to communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same or get worse.
- Learn to manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress.
- Remember to plan ahead. Make sure you don’t overextend yourself.
- Make time for yourself every day. Even if it is only for 30 minutes, give yourself a break. Remember that your batteries will run out if you don’t recharge them.
- Regularly make time for fun and relaxation. You’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
- Practice some relaxation techniques. Try approaches such as meditation or mindfulness if you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. Mindfulness can be done informally by nonjudgmentally accepting and staying focused on the present moment without getting distracted by your thoughts or feelings.
- Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit—your favorite chair by a window or in a peaceful corner of the yard or in a park.
- Simply focus on the moment.
- Notice your breathing. Slowly breathe in deeply a sense of calm and then breathe out the stress.
- Let your shoulders and body relax. Then start to be aware of the thoughts in your head.
- Imagine capturing each thought in a bubble. Send each bubble away and clear your mind.
- Try to practice for twenty minutes at a time.
To stress or not to stress—your choice
Lifting weights can build our strength just as carrying stress can build our confidence and coping abilities. For a successful and happy life, however, we must learn to lay our burdens down periodically. Once we are restored and refreshed, we can pick them up from a position of strength and confidence, allowing them to be a positive force for growth.