When I was in Iraq, I participated in a memorial ceremony for an Army Colonel who had committed suicide. He was a rising star in the Army, so when he made the unfortunate decision to end his own life, it was a huge shock. On the surface, he seemed to have everything going for him. But in the hidden places of his life, he was a man in pain and the stress he was under became unbearable. The sad part is that most people who knew him had no idea he was suffering.
I don’t think anyone would argue that everyone deals with stress at various levels throughout their lives. Sometimes, we have life stressors that don’t seem to ever go away, like a job we can’t leave, a rebellious child, an elderly parent who requires care, or an ongoing health issue. These situations wear on us. We end up short-tempered with those closest to us or find ourselves zoning out. Over time, stress that is not properly managed can affect our health, and make it hard to keep up with our normal responsibilities. Dealing with unresolved stress requires a totally different set of skills than handling a single bad day. Here are three tips to help you better cope with stress that may be causing some unwelcome anxiety in your life.
Identify the Source
People experiencing stress often find themselves more easily irritated by things that normally wouldn’t bother them. In the heat of the moment, we may react strongly and end up surprising the people we love and hurting their feelings. We don’t necessarily realize it’s the stress talking, not us. Identifying the real source of our stress helps us understand what’s driving us. Once it’s identified, we may still have a bit of a short fuse, but we’re much more likely to take a deep breath and be able to explain what’s going on. If we can’t identify the problem, we can’t figure out how to cope with it. More often than not, we need the help of a trusted friend, pastor or therapist to help us identify what’s really going on. Don’t look at this as a weakness. See it as an opportunity to grow and become stronger.
Change What You Can
Sustained stress usually arises as the result of a problem you can’t solve, at least in the short-term. That can leave you feeling helpless. I have found there are changes that can be made to help minimize a problem that can at the same time simplify your life. Not to sound overly simplistic, but for example, when you are worried about how you are going to keep track of all the big, important things going on in your life, do you forget about the small conveniences that help you get through your day? Cut yourself some slack. I know a few people who get so stressed out some days that they forget to eat. I don’t quite understand how anyone can do this but that is their thing. To combat this, they now put extra snacks in their cars. Misplace your keys often? How about getting spare keys made so you’ve got a set in the pocket of each coat. Ever look down on your phone and see you only have 3% battery life with no charger in sight? You should buy a second phone charger so you’ve got one for home, and one that travels with you. These are pretty obvious solutions, but they are often overlooked when we are in the midst of a prolonged stressful situation. You may have several important things going on that are causing you stress. Why allow the small conveniences in your life to become stressful, as well? Plan and get ahead of it, so that the “little stuff” in your life doesn’t become “big stuff” and cause you unnecessary stress.
Cut Back When Necessary
If you’re like me, you have a hard time saying no. You don’t want to disappoint anybody. The downside to this is that it can lead to a very stressful lifestyle. I have a lawyer friend who I had asked to be on the board of my nonprofit organization. He accepted and was a great addition to the leadership team. A year later, however, he called me to let me know he needed to resign due to some personal issues. I gave him the option of stepping back temporarily but he insisted he had to resign right away. He had made the decision to cut back from all of his “non-critical” commitments. He wanted to have more time to work on his problems. I was disappointed but I respected his commitment to focus on what really mattered. Sometimes we may have to cut back temporarily or permanently from the “non-critical” things in our lives so that we can focus on dealing with the problem at hand. A problem that festers will start to stink. And when it starts to stink it becomes something far more serious. So it is important to focus early and not let it fester. It is okay to say no now and then, in fact, it is very healthy to do so.
Coping with stress is often a marathon, only you train as you run. You can do it. Just make sure you’re getting some distance from the situation now and then, so you can view it objectively and make changes when necessary. It is important to call in favors now and then and use the resources available to you. Give yourself the same consideration you’d offer to anyone else dealing with the same problem, and you’ll find it easier to carry the load. The Bible says, “come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest….”
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