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Relax! Learn Stress Management

Stress is a state of tension created when a person responds to the demands and pressures that come from work, family and other external sources. Stress can also be generated internally as a result of self-imposed demands, obligations and self-criticism. Learn to get rid of the stress.

Being under continuous stress can cause physical and emotional problems that may damage both your health and your capability to perform as an employee. It does not stop there. If we allow it, stress and pressure will continue to grow. Excessive worry is a major element in the vicious cycle of tension.

"It is impossible to shut down and not react to any situation because life is stressful and there's always going to be some things that give us stress," says Martin Kluger, a licensed psychologist who specializes in stress management. "It's really a matter of learning how to relax our bodies when we notice the stress is there."

Symptoms of stress differ from person to person. Left unchecked, worry and continuous stress can lead to:

  • Stress-tense muscles
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Burnout
  • Absenteeism
  • Reduced productivity
  • Poor morale
  • High employee turnover
  • Family, alcohol and drug-related problems

Some employers are taking action to help reduce employee stress. Kluger works with employee assistance programs where people go -- or are sent by their boss -- to get help with stress.

"Over the years, there has been more of a recognition that stress is a real problem and does cause deficiencies in the work, so they [employers] figure if they help their employees to be happier and reduce their stress, they will be more productive," Kluger says.

"The earlier that you can learn to deal with stress, the better off you are going to be in the long run. You're going to prevent a lot of long-term disease and illness and learn how to cope better with daily stress," Kluger says.

An unhealthy reaction to stress is like setting off a false alarm. There is a natural alarm that goes off in our heads or stomachs when we sense danger. It is a natural sense that helps us deal with danger.

When turned on, it produces a response called the fight or flight reaction. This helps us to face the danger or flee it.

Rob Sarmiento, a psychologist in private practice, explains that when you are in immediate physical danger, it is appropriate to feel afraid. Getting your body charged up with adrenaline may help to save your life. However, most of the time when we feel stressed, there is no immediate physical danger, so the alarm is false.

"The fire alarm is sounding, but there is no fire!" says Sarmiento.

So why is your danger alarm turned on when you don't need it? "It is mostly how we talk to ourselves about what is happening that upsets us," says Sarmiento. "For example, if you are anxious about a difficult task, you might be thinking you will fail and that if you did, you would be a failure as a person."

To help turn off your danger alarm, the following "reality check" questions, provided by Sarmiento, can help. Whenever you feel upset -- anxious, stressed, worried, depressed, angry, guilty, frustrated, embarrassed, insecure, jealous -- answer the following questions:

  • What am I doing to create this situation?
  • Are my emotions helping me or hurting me?
  • What are the facts?
  • What am I telling myself?
  • Am I exaggerating or distorting?
  • How likely are my worries?
  • Whose problem is this anyway?
  • What is the worst that can happen?
  • Am I taking this too seriously? Too personally?
  • Am I unrealistically demanding success? Approval? Control? Perfection? Certainty? Comfort? Fairness? My way?
  • Am I stewing rather than doing?
  • What are my options?

Based on your answers, you might think differently about the task, as in this example, "I will probably do fine and even if I blow it, it is not the end of the world." Such realistic thoughts will help you be happy and motivated, not uptight and anxious, Sarmiento says.

Can we really learn to deal with the stressful pressures of relationships in our daily lives? Yes. But first there has to be something happening during these stressful relationships that you feel a need to change. Learning different ways of thinking can help you recognize actions and reactions that occur during even the most basic communication between individuals.

So, how do you learn to manage stress? There are two main ways: Learn how to turn off the alarm system through various relaxation methods Learn how to not turn it on unconsciously in the first place

The following are some methods to try during or after the next stressful event you find yourself facing. Remember, anything you can do that is the opposite of what the alarm system does will tend to disarm it.

Deep breathing: Try taking deep, slow breaths rather than the shallow, fast breaths we tend to take when stressed. This can help to shut off the alarm -- the feeling of breathlessness.

Muscular relaxation: Tensing and relaxing various muscle groups can work wonders. Try tensing your neck and shoulders, your shoulder blades, your forehead and eyes for a few seconds, then relaxing them. You can also combine this with deep breathing by inhaling while you tense, then exhaling when you relax the muscles.

Progressive relaxation: Concentrate on relaxing your shoulders, then arms, then hands, then fingers, all the way down to your toes.

Visualization: Imagine a very peaceful scene, perhaps lying on the beach, floating in a fishing boat on a lake, or whatever pleasant experience you can envision. It can be a real place or an imaginary one. Try to feel and develop all your senses as you imagine being in this peaceful relaxing place. For instance, what do you see? What can you hear?

Our feelings and behaviors are largely caused by our thoughts. Do not blame yourself entirely for self-defeating thoughts. There are many contributing experiences we learn from while growing up, some of which can lead to stress later in life.

Helen Joan O'Brien is a specialized kinesiologist. She helps people deal with stress by finding imbalances and tensions in the body through muscle tests and questioning. She says that stress causes vary as much as people do. But whatever the cause, stress should be dealt with as it can lead to serious health problems and relationship breakdowns.

"Knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to is important," O'Brien says. "Realize that perhaps sweeping the floor may have to wait because sometimes we demand too much of ourselves. If you can't do it, you can't do it. Realize that and be gentle with yourself."