21 Ways to Manage Your Stress

by Dr. Bert Pitts

    • Learn and understand what stress is, what it is not, and that not all stress is bad. You can think of stress as physical, mental, and/or emotional tension and strain that has no clear source, instead, is just “there” or free-floating. We human beings are designed to need basically two things, love and work (Sigmund Freud originally posed this thought.) When we have too little work (e.g. stress), our nature is to be lazy, “fat and happy.” When we have too much work, fear, anxiety, or stress for too long—we can become overwhelmed…any of us. A favorite quote of Dr. Pitts (not his own): Hard work is not stressful…stress is losing control of your life.
    • Get enough sleep. Much of our country is chronically sleep-deprived. Adequate sleep increases stress tolerance, physical/mental/emotional health, quality of memory and thought, and significantly lengthens the lifespan. If you are not able to get a good night’s sleep most of the time, see a physician or mental health professional.
    • Don’t forget to eat and eat healthy. Managing and tolerating stress requires regular refueling (not too much or too little) and good fuel.
    • Drink fluids constantly throughout the day. Staying hydrated is the most important (and neglected) tip for health, weight, and feeling your best. A test—begging your pardon—your urine should be mostly clear in color and transparency (other than first in the morning) or you are not adequately hydrated.
    • Ask your physician about nutritional supplements such as a daily multivitamin and fish oil. For most adults, fish oil has broad and far-reaching health benefits (available in enteric-coated form causing no aftertaste).
    • Exercise 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week or more (Or start with 15 minutes, 3 days a week if you want.) Start slow. Do not push it. If you do not make it comfortable and easy at first, you will not stick with it. Resist the temptation to start raising the impact until you, your body, and your schedule have solidly adjusted to and integrated the new routine.
    • Whenever you find yourself stressing, take a minute or two and do a body stress check:
      • BREATHE: Take a long, slow breath, hold it, then let it out slowly. (Breathe in 4 counts, out 7 counts.) See the article about breathing on the right under “Clinicians’ Round Table” for more information.
      • RELAX: Relax any part of your body that feels tense (e.g., forehead, brow, eyes, throat, chest, gut).
      • TEETH: Are you clenching? (If so, relax your jaws.)
      • STAND: Are you standing with good posture? Is your “body language” stressed? If moving, can you slow down (unless you are trying to get exercise)? Are you trying to carry too much?
      • STILL: Are you sitting comfortably? Are you compulsively moving a foot, leg, tapping fingers? Are you biting or picking your nails?
    • “Multi-tasking” at one time was considered undesirable and even rude. When and where you can today, try doing one thing at a time (especially when driving, please). Focus. You may find you are able to get more done, do it more efficiently, do it better or more safely, all because your attention is not spread too thin. How about that!
    • Chirping or vibrating cell phones/iPhones do not always have to be answered (or even viewed). Whoever or whatever it is probably does not need your immediate attention (they only want it). In general, it is unwise and unhealthy to take better care of others than you are willing to care for yourself.
    • Spend 5-10 minutes a day or more in quiet reflection, meditation, and/or prayer. Before turning on the TV, computer, radio, or reaching for your phone, consider that silence (and stillness) often are more restful and refreshing choices.
    • Take (and make) time to “chill,” laugh, and have fun as often as you can get away with…doctor’s orders! Do something (legal) that makes you feel young.
    • Ever had a massage? Massages release stress, stimulate our brains to release endorphins, and provide lymph drainage (trust me, a good thing)…all that, and feel great, too. Cannot afford or no time for a massage? Ask somebody you love to trade you a backrub, foot rub, scalp massage, go crazy!
    • Think positively today, as much as possible. Be grateful for what you have, and who you love. Avoid pining for what you do not have (or not yet). Envy is a waste of time, you probably already have all that you need. If you become bogged down with guilt, discouragement, or other negative emotions, talk to a friend, or talk yourself through (or out of) these, just as you would encourage a friend that called you.
    • Rediscover the joy of “live human contact” (like riding a bike, no worries). Go somewhere that people are, and instead of looking down at your phone, look up, notice who is close to you, and if you choose, smile at them (careful, don’t scare anybody J). If they smile back, maybe say something to them! Innocuous phrases like “Nice day, eh?” or “How ‘bout that weather?” or even “How ‘bout those Braves?” work well here (unless a Yankees fan). First thing you know, you and this person may actually start to have a “conversation” (remember those?), and presto, a possible friend! Another place to find people with whom to connect is a friendly local house of worship …and yes, it is absolutely fine to go for social reasons, if the spiritual part makes you uncomfortable. (The latter is not at all meant facetiously.) Nor is the entirety of #14. We are social animals, and our brains are far more stimulated, biologically and innately by REAL people than what they say or look like on a screen. Not knocking technology, I’m just sayin’…
    • Think about what you want to accomplish today. Be reasonable, overdoing is inefficient and produces meaningless guilt. What are your goals? Your priorities? Take a minute or two, several times a day, to review your progress, goals, expectations. At the end of the day, perhaps write a few goals for the next day.
    • Show affection to those you love. Tell them you love them often. Ask what you can do for them, and what you want from them. (Even people that love you cannot read your mind.) Do your share of the housework. Do not take yourself so seriously (others do not). Forget issues of the past; do not remind your partner of these. You do not have to win every argument, listen (e.g. close your mouth for a while and REALLY listen) and you may discover less conflict very quickly. Agree to disagree when you cannot reach a resolution. (See “Communicating about Conflict in Intimate Relationships” article in the Library.) Avoid comparing your life to that of others: You have no idea what their journey is about. Avoid wasting your precious energy on gossip. Forgive people who have hurt you (regardless of whether they ever knew what they did, apologized, or even are still alive). You can make this choice and accomplish it on your own, or ask a friend, minister, rabbi, or cleric to just listen and/or guide you through the forgiveness process. The hurt and hatred beneath a lack of forgiveness, whether your feelings are justified or not, can eat you alive. Purge yourself of this cancer, if at all possible. Call your Mom or Dad. Visit a relative. Write somebody an e-mail or good old-fashioned “snail mail” letter.
    • Prioritize (e.g. make time for) your most important relationships, inside and outside your family. If you are married, start (and finish) with your spouse.
    • Think about ways you can spend less, save more, and the ultimate money-saving tip: need less. Clip coupons if you want. Do what you can to get your finances in order, one step at a time. If needed, ask a trusted family member or friend for advice, or talk to a financial planner (many provide free initial consultations).
    • Drive safely. Slow down—speeding is dangerous. Leave earlier—give yourself more time to get places. Watch where you are going (another old-fashioned idea). Enjoy the journey. Arriving on time or early leaves you time to relax, socialize, and prepare for the upcoming task or activity.
      Are you stressed beyond your ability to cope and feel you are “deteriorating” or no longer functioning at what was your normal level?
    • Are you becoming depressed, having trouble controlling anger, crying uncontrollably, starting to have anxiety or panic attacks, not eating or sleeping (or eating or sleeping uncontrollably)? Are you grieving a major life change or the death of a loved one and feel like you cannot “move on” with your life? Are you withdrawing from people, no longer enjoying much or anything in your life, and/or thinking about death or hurting yourself or others? If you answered yes to any of the above, please…do not just wait for things to get better…get help ASAP. Talk to someone you trust and get their advice. Talk to your minister, rabbi, or cleric. Go to your physician or a mental health professional. Can’t afford private medical or mental health care? Go to your local public health department or community mental health center, or call a large church (many have their own counseling centers that are subsidized by the church, and thus able to offer a sliding fee scale). In or near the Birmingham or Jefferson County, Alabama area, call the Jefferson County Crisis Center, (205) 323-7777. In case of life-or-death emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to a local hospital emergency room. As a private practice that receives no outside subsidies, Pitts & Associates still is willing to arrange payment plans and/or adjust fees when and to the extent that we can, plus we are on almost all insurance and managed care panels, including limited Medicare and Medicaid. Hardship fee reductions or payment plans need to be requested at the time of the visit (or 1st visit), whichever is applicable.

    Are you addicted to alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, gambling, sex, or something else? You will not get better until you take the first step and get help. Wake up. Don’t be foolish or reckless: Your life, and the lives of those who love and depend on you may be hanging in the balance. Go to an A.A., N.A., G.A., S.A., or appropriate 12-Step group. Don’t like or believe in 12-Step group? You can often find another type of Addiction Group (the Crisis Center as mentioned in #20 has a frequently-updated community resource list). Or look at it this way, if you can’t find something other than a 12-Step group, know that way more than the 12 Steps, you’ll find a lot of PEOPLE WHO GET YOUR PROBLEM because they’re dealing with it, too; others are succeeding in recovery and eager to shepherd you, there is plenty of time-tested, well-written LITERATURE, and you’ll get plenty of SUPPORT! Please, don’t continue to ruin your life and take your family down with you. Stop pretending you can handle this (you can’t, you are lying to yourself…addicts tend to do that). If you are a victim, that is not your fault, but staying one is. Nobody else is responsible for your addiction, nor can anyone but you take the first step. Are you willing to step up, be brave, and pay the price to get better? You can do it. Admit that you need help—real men (and women) have guts and are willing to work and make sacrifices to feel better. It won’t be easy, but how easy is your life now? Deal with your problems instead of sticking your head into the sand (e.g. your addiction). You can do it, and many will be there to help you. THAT’S the essence of a 12-Step Group. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, if you can’t find a substitute.