By Carol Gooch, M.S., LPC, LCDC, LMFT

Managing stress is about taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life around personal and professional responsibilities.

Fitness WomanAt times, some stress can be beneficial because it produces a boost that gives you energy to get through tough situations. But, an extreme amount of stress can be harmful to your health. As a mental health professional, I see people who are anxious, have insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts due to stress related situations. My medical colleagues see people with muscle pain, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and other major illnesses like heart disease and obesity all due to years of stress.

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. To identify your sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses. Explaining away stress can lead to problems because you are not dealing with the situation. Defining stress as just a part of your life or personality can lead to physical and emotional issues if not handled properly. Blaming your stress on other people or outside events will only prolong the stress in your life. You must take responsibility for the role you play in creating and maintaining your stress level or else it will continually remain outside your control.

Writing down what caused your stress, how you felt, both physically and emotionally, how you reacted and how you made yourself feel better will help you identify stress patterns. Then you can start working on coping strategies.

Certain coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run: Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much or too little, taking out your stress on others, using pills or other drugs to relax and procrastinating about the situation are a few examples.

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control. Learn to say “No” whether it is in your personal or professional life. Avoid people who stress you out as much as you possibly can. Check your daily schedule, responsibilities and tasks. If you have too much to do, distinguish between the “shoulds” and “musts”. Express your feelings in an appropriate way instead of holding on to them. Deal with problems as soon as you can and manage your time. View your stressful situation from a positive perspective. Ask yourself how important it will be in the near future and is it really worth you getting so upset. Perfectionism can contribute to stress. Set reasonable standards for yourself.

As a mental health professional, I know your attitude is the key to your success when trying to alter a behavior such as controlling stress. How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in a tension situation. Think good things about yourself and you are more likely to feel good. Eliminate words such as “always,” “never,” “should,” and “must.” These are marks of self-defeating thoughts.

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come. A few examples of healthy ways to cope with stress are eating a health diet, reducing caffeine and sugar, getting enough sleep, going for a walk, exercising, talking to a friend or professional who deals with stress issues, writing in a journal, listening to music or getting a massage.

Remember the sayings” When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.

Carol Gooch, MS, LPC-S, LCDC, LMFT, is a columnist for the Montgomery County Healthy Living Alliance and she is the Director of Business Development for Aspire Hospital at 2006 South Loop 336 West, Suite 500, Conroe, TX 77304. Aspire Hospital has diagnostic imaging and a behavioral health hospital in Conroe, oncology services in The Woodlands, sleep diagnostics, diagnostic imaging and physical therapy in Huntsville. Carol is also the Founder & Executive Director of the Montgomery County Association of Business Women.