Stress: How To Manage It?

The next few months for many will be filled with joyful and happy times as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Although these are usually happy times for many of you, for others, it may be stressful.  Some people may feel overwhelmed by the stress of organizing holiday events, buying gifts for family and friends, and involving in church and family events. It is proactive to assess the stress in your life and plan on ways to manage it. Mental health providers often find it difficult to define stress and diagnose it. Stress can be subjective so it is different from person to person the way holiday stress may affect a person. How a person reacts to the stress can be different for each individual. Events that some may find stressful others may find enjoyable. No person can totally avoid stress because it is a fact of everyday life and it’s also a necessary part of life. Stress is not always a bad thing. In small quantities, stress is good; it can be a motivator, and possibly help some to become more productive. It is a normal part of life. However, too much stress or a strong response to stress can be harmful and that is when it can become a silent killer. Stress becomes toxic because physical or mental stresses may cause physical illness as well as mental or emotional problems. Stress can affect the brain, digestive tract, heart, lungs, muscles, productive system, and so on. It is a very difficult task for your body to distinguish between life-threatening events and day-to-day stressful situations.

Stress Warning Signs:

Being able to recognize when you’re feeling stressed can help you quickly counteract the stress response. A good first step is to look over the list below and circle all the symptoms you recognize.









Tight neck and shoulders

Grinding of teeth


Continual worry

Back pain

Inability to complete tasks


Poor concentration

Sleep difficulties

Overly critical attitude


Trouble remembering things

Tiredness or fatigue



Loss of sense of humor

Racing heartbeat or palpitations


Feeling powerless to change things


Shakiness or tremors

Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities


Lack of creativity


Emotional eating or overeating

Feeling anxious

Trouble thinking clearly

Dizziness or fainting

Fist clenching

Quick temper




Changes in the amount food you consume

Lack of meaning in life and pursuits




Nervous habits (nail biting, hair pulling)



Diarrhea or constipation

Increased desire to be with or withdraw from others



Frequent, urgent need to urinate


Rumination (frequent talking or brooding about stressful situations

Unhappiness with no clear cause











 Inability to complete tasks




 Overly critical attitude












Overuse of alcohol



 **Adapted primarily from The Wellness Book, Herbert Benson, M.D., and Eileen M. Stuart, R.N., M.S. (New York: Fireside, 1993). 


“Garbage in, garbage out” is a good way to describe proper nutrition. The food choices you make can feed your stress or ease it by truly nourishing your body. In other words, good nutrition will improve your ability to deal with stress. As I mentioned before from my previous articles, what you eat plays a big role in your risk of developing many illnesses. Just like nutrition is important to cope with stress, exercise is also important. Exercise is the most important part of a plan to manage stress. Exercise reduces anxiety by 50%. The pyramid below nicely describes the importance of eating a balanced diet and gives you structure when it comes to what to eat.




I am stressed…. what do I do now?

1. Prayer. Speak to God. Let prayer be your first response, not your last resort.

2. Start off your day with breakfast.

3. Find some time during the day to meditate or listen to a relaxation CD.

4. Instead of drinking coffee all day, switch to fruit juice.

5. Organize your work - set priorities.

6. Don't try to be perfect. Don't feel like you must do everything.

7. Avoid trying to do two, three, or more things at a time.

8. Develop a support network.

9. If possible, reduce the noise level in your environment.

10. Always take a lunch break (preferably not at your desk).

11. Optimize your health with good nutrition, sleep and rest.

12. Get regular exercise.

13. Celebrate birthdays and other holidays. Turn more events into special occasions.

14. Look at unavoidable stress as an avenue for growth and change.

15. Avoid people who are "stress carriers."

16. Avoid people who are "negative."

17. Don't watch the 11 p.m. news.

18. Give yourself praise and positive strokes.

19. Develop a variety of resources for gratification in your life, whether it's family, friends, hobbies, interests, special weekends or vacations.

20. Treat yourself to "new and good things."

21. Be assertive. Learn to express your needs and differences, to make requests, and to say "no" constructively.

22. Seek out the emotional resources available to you such as co-workers, spouse, friends and family.

23. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help.

24. Allow extra time to get to appointments.

25. Take deep breaths when you feel stressed.

26. Try to find something funny in a difficult situation.

27. Take an occasional "mental health day."

28. Adopt a pet.

29. Take a mindful walk.

30. Understand that we do not all see or do things in the same way.

31. Practice mindfulness - learn to live in the moment.

32. Become a less aggressive driver.

33. Show kindness and consideration. Open a door for someone, pick up litter, etc.

34. When stressed, ask yourself "Is this really important?" and "Will this really matter a year from now?"

35. Resist the urge to judge or criticize.

36. Become a better listener.

37. Be flexible with change - things don't always go as we planned.

38. Allow time to relax and enjoy it.


Deep Breathing Exercise

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Take 3 deep cleansing breaths.
  3. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  4. Try to breathe so that only your stomach rises and falls.
    1. As you inhale, concentrate on your chest remaining relatively still while your stomach rises.  It may be helpful to imagine that your pants are too big and you need to push your stomach out to hold them up.
    2. When exhaling, allow your stomach to fall in and the air to fully escape.
  5. Take some deep breaths, concentrating on only moving your stomach.
  6. Return to regular breathing, continuing to breathe so that only your stomach moves.  Focus on an easy, regular breathing pattern.

Note: It is normal for this healthy breathing to feel a little awkward at first. With practice, it will become more natural to you.



Ballesteros, D. & Whitlock, J.L. (2009). Coping: Stress management strategies. The Fact Sheet Series, Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY