Stress Busting: Principles of Stress-Management

by | Mar 3, 2000

Have you ever suffered from any of the following symptoms? Poor concentration. Forgetting to do important tasks. A pervasive sense of helplessness or hopelessness. Nervous behaviors (shaking leg, biting nails). High blood pressure. Blowing up or snapping at loved ones and co-workers. Accelerated heart rate. If so, you may be suffering from stress. Stress is […]

Have you ever suffered from any of the following symptoms? Poor concentration. Forgetting to do important tasks. A pervasive sense of helplessness or hopelessness. Nervous behaviors (shaking leg, biting nails). High blood pressure. Blowing up or snapping at loved ones and co-workers. Accelerated heart rate.

If so, you may be suffering from stress.

Stress is the psychological and/or physiological experience of being overwhelmed, under pressure, or unable to cope. Stress manifests itself in a number of ways. Additional symptoms include dry mouth, nausea, choking sensations, disrupted breathing, intrusive irrational thoughts, and reduced work performance.

Regardless of the specific symptoms, stress usually involves an automatized evaluation or belief that you are incapable of handling the tasks you (or others) expect of yourself.

Sometimes, such a belief is entirely rational and easily proved by the facts of the situation. For example, if you have four deadlines to meet at work in one day, you have to meet with your child’s teacher about school performance problems, and your car breaks down on the highway, you clearly have too much to do in a very short period of time.

In other situations, the belief might be an exaggeration or distortion of the facts. For instance, you feel you must work seventeen hours a day, seven days a week, in order to be efficient, when perhaps you could ultimately be more productive if you allowed for recreational breaks and set more realistic expectations for yourself.

In either case, stress management skills are essential to coping with daily life — especially if you have set high standards for yourself.

Stress management is important for two reasons: first, to accomplish your desired goals, and second, to enjoy the process of achieving your goals. People who successfully manage stress both perform better and have more fun in the process.

What are the essential principles of stress management?

1. Make promises carefully, not indiscriminately. At work, take on new tasks only when you are confident that you are managing the old ones reasonably well. Allow yourself time to think before making important decisions. If you are pressured to make a decision quickly, then ask the person who pressures you for a specific time period (one hour, one week, one month) to think it over. When the time period ends, follow up as promised.

2. Don’t act blindly under pressure. When feeling pressured, ask yourself if the pressure is really coming from outside forces or from within yourself; many feelings of pressure arise from internal, unrealistic expectations people subconsciously impose on themselves. (Example: I must be able to do anything anyone asks of me at all times, no exceptions).

Sometimes others are expecting the impossible of themselves, and consequently they will expect the same of you. Remember that this is their problem, not yours. Trying to do the impossible ultimately makes you look foolish, even dishonest. Do your best, and do it well.

3. Prioritize. Judge and rank the importance of various contacts in both your professional and personal life, and act accordingly. Return the most important phone calls first. Set lunch dates with the clients or associates who do the most for you. Remember that every second of your life is an investment of time. Invest your time wisely, as if it were money.

If you have many different social or business options to either accept or reject, ask yourself to rank the options in order of importance. You do not owe your time to anybody, and you should not give your time to anybody unless you expect something for yourself (financially, emotionally, etc.) in return.

4. Think benevolently and avoid the adversarial mentality. Give people the benefit of the doubt unless their actions prove they do not deserve it. Remember that dishonesty and other undesirable traits ultimately reveal themselves as long as you are alert and willing to make judgments. Just as it is naive to think everybody is honest and nobody will do harm to you, so too is it naive to assume that everyone is out to get you and cannot be trusted.

If you assume that rational, benevolent relationships with others are impossible, then this assumption will turn into a self-fulfilling, and self-defeating, prophecy. Adversarial, chronically suspicious individuals, while believing they are protecting themselves from pain, also “protect” themselves from valuable, rewarding relationships because they alienate those who really do deserve the benefit of the doubt.

5. Adopt a day-to-day policy of optimistic realism. When feeling negative, train yourself to see positive facts and not only the negative. Try to turn negative events into positives.

If you lose a major client in your business, ask yourself, “What does this free me up to do instead?” If a personal relationship ends or breaks up, ask yourself the same question. When you are swamped with work, remind yourself that business is good and that this is a nice problem to have. When things are slower, remind yourself that you have earned a break, and use the opportunity to find new clients, attend a conference, and enjoy lunch with friends or associates.

Try to realize that your mind needs optimistic realism as desperately as your body needs food and nourishment. Negative thinking leads to self-destructive action, which in turn reinforces the negative thinking. Optimistic realism represents the only psychological antidote to this vicious cycle.

6. Be a fact-oriented egoist, not a conventional egoist. Healthy egoists want to know the facts, and only the facts. They enjoy being right not because of how it makes them look to others, but because they enjoy being in touch with reality.

Conventional egoists, of which there are far too many in the world, are in fact pseudo-egoists. They want to be right not because they enjoy knowledge and competence; they want to be right so that others will like them, respect them, or perhaps even fear them.

If someone you respect criticizes or questions you, do not become defensive or hostile; consider the criticism or question and judge for yourself if it is valid or not.

It is OK to be wrong, so long as you are intellectually honest and willing to correct an error when you see evidence of one. Nothing creates more stress than the false, irrational belief that you must never be seen making an error. Human beings, while capable of great things when they use their minds intelligently and rationally, are also capable of error. Accept this fact and deal with it.

7. Take care of the body as well as the mind. The mind and the body exist simultaneously and interactively. Just as a healthy body is of little value if you are paralyzed by anxiety and low self-worth, so too is a sound and intelligent mind of little value if your body does not work properly. Eat sensibly. Exercise regularly. Keep your home and office environment clean and organized. Practice good hygiene. Pay attention to the details, such as dressing properly in cold weather. Poor or mediocre physical health is a major contributor to stress.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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