You Can Cope With Stress—But How?
YOU may realize that stress is now epidemic and that it can dispose you to serious illness. But what can you do about it?
As mentioned in the previous article, one of the most important steps is to identify the cause or source of your stress. Volume 1 of “Understanding Human Behavior” explains why this is so vital: “Remember that stress exists when a physical or psychological problem is keeping mind and body on constant if not necessarily high-level alert. In many cases the physical and psychological problems need only to be identified for them to be removed [and] the stress will inevitably disappear.” The point is, if you can isolate clearly in your mind what is putting you under stress, your response to it will likely be less severe even if the cause cannot be avoided.
Let us, though, focus in on some practical suggestions that certainly can help you to cope with stress that you may face.
Try to Adapt
Some persons strive to get away from much of what produces stress. For instance, they may change where they live or work so as to get away from tension-producing conditions, such as working where it is noisy or smelly, or living in a crowded, dirty city.
That may help, but such drastic measures are not always needed to reduce stress. For example, to reduce the stress of commuting on crowded buses or highways, some leave earlier or later. They profitably use the waiting time to read, study or write letters. But, more importantly, by adapting in this way they gain confidence that they are in control of their lives, which experts say is a key to coping with stress.
Adaption can help parents. Some parents seem to careen from one crisis to another. What may be needed to decrease the stress from this source is for them to establish firm, consistent guidelines for the children. The Bible has proved to be an excellent source of wise advice on living with and training children. (Compare Ephesians 6:1-4; Proverbs 29:15, 17.) Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have applied that godly advice have benefited by facing less stress.
As another illustration, what could you do to adapt if noise is adding to your stress? At home, shutting the windows, putting up drapes to absorb sound or closing the door to a room where a radio or television is being used may help. Similar steps might be possible on the job, or you could consider using small ear protectors to reduce noise-produced tension. Similarly, keeping your living or working area neat and clean may cut down on stress by making your surroundings more pleasant for you.
Likely any adaptions of this sort that you make will not totally eliminate potentially harmful stress. But even if it just reduces the stress, your life will be healthier and happier.
Talk Out Stress
Don’t keep all your worries and stress bottled up inside. You will find much relief in ‘getting it off your chest.’ Discuss it with a sympathetic friend whom you respect and who may be able to help or advise. You naturally don’t want to be, and shouldn’t be, a complainer or whiner about troubles real or imagined. But you do not become that by confiding in a trusted friend.
Beyond just emotional relief, you may get a new view of your problems, benefiting from the practical suggestions of an experienced person. (Prov. 18:24; 20:5; Titus 2:3-5) Many have been helped with stress by pouring out their feelings to God, who hears the entreating cries and prayers of distressed ones.—2 Chron. 6:19.
Exercise Will Help You
Recall that your body often manifests the “fight or flight” response to stress; it is prepared for strenuous effort. Regular physical exercise will help you to use up the extra sugars and fats in your blood caused by stress, thus counteracting the biochemical effects of stress and restoring your body’s healthy balance.
So do you like to exercise, as when swimming, hiking or playing tennis? Then exercise. And if you are under stress but don’t like to exercise, exercise anyway. You’ll feel better, especially if you do some sort of energetic exercise daily, even as you daily feel stress.
The healthful exercise you choose may be the long walk to and from the grocery store, rather than taking the car or a bus. It might be walking up the stairs rather than using the elevator. Or you might ‘burn off stress’ in useful work such as spading a small garden, beating the dust out of the carpet or other useful deeds.
Balance Work and Play
Many persons view work and play as hostile enemies of each other, which view just adds to the stress they may feel.
It helps to appreciate that work is not an evil plague. It is physically and mentally good for you to be active and productive, such as in earning a living and the means to enjoy play. (Eccl. 3:12, 13) In “Stress Without Distress,” Dr. Hans Selye comments: “Your most important aim should not be to work [or be occupied] as little as possible. . . . For the full enjoyment of leisure, you have to be tired first, as for the full enjoyment of food the best cook is hunger.”
Even when you are working, take a few moments regularly to “play” by stretching. That can relieve the muscles of your face, neck, shoulders and back, lessening any buildup of stress.
But just as you make time for work, make time for relaxation. Yes, schedule some recreation, perhaps a hobby that will absorb you and divert you from the physical or emotional causes of your stress. Dr. Selye adds: “In most instances, diversion from one activity to another is more relaxing than complete rest.”
Get Enough Sleep
Some persons make a habit of staying up to socialize over a cup of coffee or to watch a TV program, maybe a comedy or a “talk show,” that they say helps them to unwind. Whatever claimed relaxing effect there might be must be weighed against the constant sleep debt that may be built up. A sleep deficiency is itself a stress on the mind and body, and makes one less able to cope with other stress.
Since stress causes physical changes in the body, you can see why it is vital to get enough rest and sleep. Sleep lets your body repair itself, restoring the balanced biochemical state. Well did Shakespeare describe it: “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care. The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
So if you are a victim of stress, try getting more sleep, especially by forming a normal sleep pattern week in and week out.
Adjust Your Viewpoint
In your coping with stress, the most important thing is not where or how you live or work. Nor is it how much exercise or sleep you get. It is how you view life and its problems or stresses.
A three-year study of air-traffic controllers shows a very high incidence of hypertension. But not all suffered ill effects. Dr. Robert M. Rose found that ‘what seemed to increase the incidence of illness was the attitude the men had toward their work.’ Similarly, after decades of research in stress, Dr. Hans Selye wrote: “Rather than relying on drugs or other techniques, I think there’s another, a better way to handle stress, which involves taking a different attitude toward the various events in our lives.”
You need to learn to evaluate your priorities in life. Perhaps you face a situation that will involve stress—a new job, a social function, having another child, taking out a loan for a major purchase. Before deciding what to do or how to respond, ask, ‘Am I willing to accept the stress involved? Is it worth it? Just how important is this to my life?’ Such sane evaluation will help you to realize your limitations and priorities, resulting in your being a happier person.
Much of what the Bible says about one’s viewpoint toward money conveys this same idea. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, . . . The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some . . . have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) Also, Jesus told of a man who exerted himself to accumulate much wealth, only to die suddenly. Christ concluded: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) He urged us not to be anxious—to feel stress and worry—about food, clothing and shelter. ‘Not easy,’ you say. True. But the point is that we must begin working to have that outlook. Do not forget, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Jesus added in the Sermon on the Mount: “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.” (Matt. 6:25-34) That Biblical counsel comes to the very heart of the most up-to-date advice on how you can best cope with stress.
Lasting Relief from Stress?
It would be unrealistic to think that we could fully avoid stress today. No matter how we live or how fine our attitude is, there will be things that can cause us harmful stress. Crime still abounds. Prejudice and injustice bring grief. So we must learn how to cope with stress.
But could damaging stress—distress—be brought to an end someday? The answer based on evidence is, Yes. Your learning how and when that will be can affect your ability to cope with stress right now. The following article will examine this important matter.
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