Counseling Corner: Learning how to handle stress in your life

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Stress is a given in our lives. Whether itís the news out of Washington, work problems or just the daily issues of life in todayís world, there are plenty of things to stress us out.

The stress of certain big events, such as house purchases, job changes, or the loss of a loved one, has been shown to affect our health and perhaps even our life span. But most sources of stress are much smaller things we can learn to control and even to direct their effects.

Stress has the potential to motivate us and to help us focus. Itís a remnant of when our cave-dwelling ancestors had to be always alert and ready to act in order to survive.

Today, itís important to learn to handle the sources of stress in your life in order to keep them under control. A good starting point is to analyze how stress affects you. Does it make you feel irritated, physically tense or prone to headaches? Or do you feel jumpy, or very talkative, or maybe quiet and listless?

When you start to see what stress does to you, you can begin to look for better ways to handle your reactions. If stress seems to give you energy, try to channel it in appropriate directions and use that energy productively. This can mean taking a walk, cleaning out a closet, or another physical activity that gets you away from the source of stress and allows you to redirect that stress-induced energy.

If stressful events leave you listless, take time to rest and get back on track ó maybe a few minutes for meditation, or something relaxing like gardening, reading or listening to music. Your goal is to find a pleasant activity rather than just facing the unpleasant reactions stress can bring.

As you learn to handle your stress, you also want to look at why youíre feeling stressed to begin with. Make a list of situations and activities that prompt stressful feelings for you. As you develop such lists, try to analyze the fears that make these situations stressful.

Managing stress can take work, but if you find the stress in your life overwhelming, consider talking to a professional counselor. He or she can provide stress management tools to help reduce stress levels and allow you to use your stress for more positive outcomes.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.

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