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A simple definition of stress is the way you react physically and emotionally to change. Like change, stress can be either positive or negative. Stress may be the sense of concentration you feel when faced with a new and challenging situation, or it may be the vague sense of anxiety you feel after "one of those days!" In any case, you can learn to manage stress so that you can be in control.

Stress is caused by trying to do too many things yourself. It occurs when you run out of time and must carry things over. This is followed by knowing that the "to do's" that get carried over to the next day will be added to a whole new list of "things to do." You then feel boxed in with no escape and no alternatives. To minimize stress - handle what you can and delegate what you cannot!

Positive Stress

In its positive aspect, stress can help you to concentrate, focus, perform, and can often help you to reach peak efficiency. Many people, in fact, do their best work when under pressure. Then, when the challenge has been met, they take the time to relax and enjoy their achievements. This relaxation response allows them to build up the physical and emotional reserves to meet the next challenge, and is one of the key elements of positive stress.

Negative Stress

Stress becomes negative when you stay "geared-up" and don't (or can't) relax after meeting the challenge. In today's world, where many situations can "push our buttons," it's no wonder. For some people, stress becomes a way of life. Unfortunately, when stress becomes a constant, ongoing cycle, your health and well-being can suffer. Negative stress has been linked with many physical ailments - from tension headaches to heart attacks. The good news is that with proper management, stress need not be hazardous to your health. Don't forget that your stress level impacts not only you, but also those who are around you and love and care for you.

Managing Stress - Awareness

In order to manage stress, it's helpful to know what causes your stress and how you feel when under stress. Try to identify the situations in your life that make you feel tense. Then, "listen" to your body for signs such as headaches, stomach upsets, tensed muscles, clenched teeth, cold or clammy hands, or other symptoms that are indicators that you're under stress.

Relaxation Techniques

As you know, stress can be positive when it is balanced with relaxation. However, when stress is constant and unrelieved, it can become negative and even a destructive force. You can break the cycle of negative stress by learning ways to help yourself relax. By taking the time to practice simple relaxation techniques on a regular basis, you can give yourself a chance to unwind and get ready for life's next challenge.

Positive Attitude and Lifestyle

A positive attitude and lifestyle are key elements of stress management. Since stress is both an emotional and physical reaction to change, the better you feel (in body and mind), the better you'll be able to deal with the everyday stress in your life. When you learn to think positively, exercise, eat well, and rest regularly, you'll be taking care of the most important person you know - you!

Your stress response is axiomatic, like blinking your eyes. When faced with a challenging situation, your muscles tense, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, you may perspire more, and you may even notice a gripping sensation in your stomach. You may also feel more mentally alert and focused. This stress response prepares your body to meet an immediate, recognizable challenge.

When stress is positive, your body automatically relaxes after you've handled the situation that caused your stress response. Your muscles relax and your heart rate, blood pressure, and other physical functions all return to their normal, pre-stressed state. This relaxation response is the most important aspect of positive stress because it allows you to rest and gather the physical and emotional energy you need to meet the next challenge. Positive stress is a series of heightened alert and relaxation responses that help you deal with the changes and challenges of daily life.

With negative stress, there's no true relaxation between one stress "crisis" and the next. When your body remains geared up, physical and emotional strain can result. Left uncontrolled, negative stress can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers, migraines, heart attacks - and worse. Fortunately, you can stop the cycle of negative stress by becoming aware of your stress and how you react to it, by practicing relaxation techniques, and by developing a positive attitude and lifestyle.

Developing a Positive Attitude:

  • Self-talk means telling yourself what you can or cannot do. Positive self-talk is saying "I can," and setting your mind to meet the challenge at hand.
  • Rehearsal is a way to prepare for a potentially stressful situation before it occurs. Think over the situation, go over the details, plan to take action, and visualize yourself proceeding successfully.
  • Developing an action plan can help you turn a stress disaster into a new opportunity. Always make an alternate plan, just in case the one you rehearsed doesn't pan out.

Developing a Positive Lifestyle:

  • Exercise. Physically fit people handle stress more easily than those who are not since they're apt to feel better about themselves in general. A regular exercise program should include some form of aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise helps your body to use oxygen more efficiently and strengthens your heart and lungs. Running, walking, swimming, and bicycling are all excellent aerobic activities. Stretching exercises are also helpful in relieving tense muscles and improving overall flexibility.
  • Nutrition. When planning your meals, remember that the old saying is true - you are what you eat! Junk foods and refined sugars are low in nutritional value and generally high in calories. Food is your body's fuel - so give it High Test! Plan your meals around servings from the four basic food groups: proteins, dairy products, grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating well, and limiting your use of salt, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can promote health and help reduce stress.
  • Rest and Relaxation. You already realize that relaxation is a key to balancing stress, but in addition to specific techniques, try to "slow down" and enjoy your leisure time. Realize that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is nothing at all. Don't cram your days off with endless chores - make an effort to relax and enjoy your free time. And, try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, especially if you're under stress. Your body needs sleep to refresh itself, and you need sleep to feel refreshed.

Proper planning and goal setting gives you a sense of stability during the workday. Delegation alleviates some of the responsibility you're carrying. Train employees not to not to bring problems - bring solutions! And, take time out for personal pursuits with the family, at meetings, hobbies, etc.

NOTE: A closely related topic to Stress is Crisis Management (#15). Be sure to review that and other sections, such as Planning & Organizing (#26), Procrastination (#28), and Time Management (#34), in this series of articles on Business Management.

Mike Holt's Comment: This newsletter was extracted from my Business Management and Management Skills' Workbook. Watch for our next newsletter and, as always, we encourage your comments and feedback. Send us your real-life experiences. Please respond to

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