Stress Management

Michael W. Smith
Meditation Center

In a 1980 survey, I asked a group of people: “How do you personally deal with stress?” I received the following answers: panic, scream, cry, get sick to my stomach, churn inside, get a headache, eat chocolate, drink alcohol, take tranquilizers and watch television. Other responses might be to quit one’s job, move, divorce, or become chronically ill and dependent on others. At work one might hide in one’s office, fail to communicate openly, not confront a problem, take frequent “mental health” days, gossip or work halfheartedly. Actually, these are not ways of “dealing with” or managing stress, but are merely reactions to stress. By failing to effectively manage stress, the true sources of conflict remain unchanged, and tension will continue.

There are at least six helpful ways to deal with stress, each more dynamic than the one before:

1. Venting – “Getting it out.” Crying, shouting, getting angry and vigorous exercise may dissipate tensions, but not provide any insight as to an underlying cause. Talking with an insightful friend might do both.

2. Diversions. Some people respond to stress by “changing gears,” usually through physical activity and/or hobbies. Diversions can be negative or positive and should not be used to substitute one stressor for another. For example, participating in an all-night poker game with drinking, smoking and high table stakes would be a negative diversion. More positive options might be to play tennis, relax in a hot-tub, take a leisurely walk or work in the garden. The best diversions are healthy, calming and contribute to a greater awareness of factors in one’s life that exacerbate stress.

3. Changing the Situation. Oftentimes, individuals seek to eliminate the source of stress in their environment. In the workplace this might include repairing a noisy ventilator or adjusting one’s chair. If one is in a dangerous neighborhood or in an abusive relationship, the best strategy would be to get out of the situation.

4. Efficiency Engineering. Being more effective at one’s workplace helps reduce tension. Many stress seminars promote planning and organizational skills in the workplace and at home. Applying these skills often keeps one from feeling overwhelmed and allows one to have a sense of control over personal activities, thereby decreasing the chaos in one’s life.

5. Values Clarification and Self-transformation. The actual source of stress may not be outside circumstances at all, but may lie in one’s values and attitudes. When a person ceases to project his inner conflicts onto the external world and decides to take responsibility for them himself, a total shift occurs. Quite a bit of soul-searching may have to take place, because the blame can no longer be placed on external factors. If one’s relationships with others create tension, one should first partake in self-reflection. Becoming ill can make one aware that a major change has to take place in one’s personal lifestyle. For instance, one may start on a physical fitness program and change one’s diet or learn relaxation techniques. It is important to realize that often nothing significant can be done insofar as eliminating stress if a person thinks that the cause is entirely external.

6. Yoga. To be able to change one’s attitude and lifestyle requires a process of self-examination. When the mind is not preoccupied with outside distractions, peacefulness can be established from which to view emotional fluctuations. According to Andrew Harvey, author of The Quiet Mind “When the breathing is regulated and the mind stilled, one can then begin to observe and investigate the irrational thoughts and self-talks that have acted to initiate, strengthen, and maintain any upset.” It is at this point that hatha yoga and meditation are useful because such techniques not only provide a means for alleviating the symptoms of stress but also permit the exploration of any underlying conflicts.

Rank Your Life Change Events

Stress is a major catalyst in the disease process. Life events such as a wedding, divorce, death, job change, job loss, and moving are all major stressors in life. The well known study on “Life Change Events” (Holmes and Rahe, 1967) ranks stressful events on a point basis. The more of these events a person experienced in a given time, the more likely they were to become ill.

* Death of Spouse – 100 pts.
* Divorce – 73
* Marital Separation – 65
* Jail Term – 63
* Death of Close Family Member – 63
* Personal Injury or Illness – 53
* Marriage – 50
* Fired from Work – 47
* Marital Reconciliation – 45
* Retirement – 45
* Change in Family Member’s Health – 44
* Pregnancy – 40
* Sex Difficulties – 39
* Addition to Family – 39
* Business Readjustment – 39
* Change in Financial Status – 38
* Death of a Close Friend – 37
* Change to a Different Line of Work – 36
* Change in the Number of Marital Arguments – 35
* Mortgage or Loan over $10,000 – 31
* Foreclosure of Mortgage or Loan – 30
* Change in Work or Responsibilities – 29
* Son or Daughter Leaving Home – 29
* Trouble with In-Laws – 29
* Outstanding Personal Achievement – 28
* Spouse Begins or Stops Work – 26
* Starting or Finishing School – 26
* Change in Living Conditions – 25
* Revision of Personal Habits – 24
* Trouble with Boss – 23
* Change in Work Hours, Conditions – 20
* Change in Residence – 20

What You Can Do


* Don’t rush and multi-task, especially when eating.
* Don’t consume caffeine, sugar, alcohol, drugs and junk food.
* Don’t play the “Ain’t everything awful” game with people and be pessimistic.
* Don’t let your job run your life; do your job with the small toe of your left foot.
* Don’t judge yourself by what you have, who you know, or what you do.
* Don’t compare yourself to others. You have your own unique gifts!
* Don’t magnify problems.
* Don’t create stories and label people as villains and heroes.

* Rest, relax and get enough sleep at night.
* Minimize your exposure to negative elements in newspapers, TV, movies and magazines.
* Maximize your exposure to the positive experiences in life (nature, children, flowers, animals).
* Slow down; be patient; do one task at a time.
* Center yourself by letting your breath be smooth and even.
* Take two-minute breathing-breaks about once an hour.
* Take time to contemplate what is truly valuable in your life and make adjustments.
* Schedule regular times to be with loved ones, and to be alone.
* Forgive others; forgive yourself.
* Love others; love yourself.

Read Up

The Quiet Mind, Andrew Harvey

Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, Andrew Weil

Feeling Good, David D. Burns

Act Locally
The Meditation Center
631 University Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 612-379-2386

The Institute of Himalayan Tradition
1317 Summit Ave.
St. Paul, MN 651-645-1291

Yoga-Meditation Center
1290 Polk St.
Shakopee, Mn 952-938-1108

Stress Management

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