Dear Tom,

I would imagine the root of most problems is related to stress. I’m a professional dealing
with high levels of stress and would truly like to know what you have found in different
cases and what is the most effective reliever of stress.

Ms. Stress

Dear Ms. Stress,
As humans we exist in a complex interactive network that is basically composed
of our mental processes, our internal physiological state, our social environment and
our actions or behaviors. When there is “stress” it can begin to affect various aspects
of this network of self. As Dr Warren S. Brown a stress researcher has put it. “Stress
is inescapably a bio-psych-social event”. We can basically describe “stress” as the life
circumstances that are maximally taxing, such as a high pressure job or a crisis event;
our psychological and emotional; responses to such circumstances, as in worry, anxiety,
hypersensitivity and hyperactivity; and the physiological responses our bodies made
make to accommodate these events, such as sweating, increase heart rate, upset stomach
muscle tension and headaches. Stress truly interacts with these various realms of our
In many ways stress is an internal alarm system, the body’s response to a real
or perceived threat. When we are stressed, stress hormones surge through our bodies,
sharpening our senses, tensing our muscles, and preparing us for battle. This is known
as the “fight or flight” response. If you are being chased by a lion, you can benefit from
this reaction. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a
new awareness and an exciting new perspective. We feel it within our control, it gives us
a big rush, generating energy, drive and excitement. We choose to take a risk, sky-diving
or embarking on a new business venture, and the adrenaline surges. It is undoubtedly
stressful, but immensely exhilarating.
Yet, people who experience excessive, chronic stress risk living in an ongoing
fight or flight state, even when they are not in life-and-death situations. Over time, the
over-production of stress hormones can erode their physical and mental health. Excessive
stress is usually the culprit for many of the mental, emotional and physical problems that
people deal with. As a negative influence, stress can result in feelings of distrust,
rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to so many health problems and
maybe even a stroke. It creeps in when we feel the nature, duration or circumstances of a
situation are outside our control. Every human being is potentially vulnerable to stress.
“No one is bullet proof.” In other words, stress is endemic in all our lives.
There are a variety of ways and techniques to deal with stress in our lives that
have been recommended by the experts in the field. In the limited space of this article, I
will list in general categories what you could do to deal with stress in your life.
First, you need to take care of your body through exercise and a healthy diet.
Exercise will help to burn up the stress chemicals that have been produced in your body
from the fight or flight response. While a healthy diet will help you keep an adequate
production of Serotonin in our brain chemistry. Serotonin is one of our “feel good”
chemicals the brain produces. An imbalance in Serotonin levels can lead to depression and other issues.
Secondly, know, understand, and accept one’s limits. We all have limits — none
of us are omnipotent. Sometimes we can get so caught up in things, we don’t really pay
attention to approaching or exceeding those limits. A general contractor knows it’s a
good idea to watch for indications when approaching or exceeding load-bearing limits.
If he doesn’t, the building will collapse. Not knowing and accepting our limits will
lead to “burn-out” and the failing at things rather than being successful. In a worst-case
scenario, in response to the failures, one will take on even more challenges in hopes of
recapturing some feeling of success only to perpetuate the ‘burn-out”.
Thirdly, develop peace of mind. This is where a good spiritual background is very
helpful. Trust in God as a higher source of strength can bring a strong sense of peace
and serenity. Prayer and meditation are always part of developing a peace of mind. Also
taking time to just be still and quiet while breathing deeply can help calm the spirit and
help assist in quieting the mind and slowing the pace of life.
Finally, learn to live intentionally. This means accepting personal responsibility
for yourself by not relinquishing control of your schedule to the unpredictable and
sometimes ruthless whims of the world. It means not giving into the demands of others
and learning to say no! and mean it. It also means not living in the shoulds and oughts.
Trying to live up to a list of “shoulds” imposed on one’s self or by others is one of the
most useless forms of stress there is.

I hope this helps. I could say so much more but have no more room to do so.
A good workbook to use to manage stress if you fin yourself still struggling is The
Complete Stress Management Workbook. I have use it quite a bit in my practice.