Talking to Yourself: Using Your Mind to Cope with Stress

Daniel is a senior in high school and a very busy person. Besides attending classes (some of which are accelerated) he is co-director of the school musical and assistant manager of the junior varsity basketball team. On top of that, Daniel volunteers twice a week at the animal hospital because he wants to be a veterinarian.

“When I get home in the evening, my parents and my little brother have already had dinner,” Daniel says. “I’m not usually hungry anyway. I’m exhausted, but that’s the only time I have to do my homework. More and more often, I fall asleep over my homework. When I finally get into bed, I have trouble sleeping; and when I get up in the morning, I have a terrible headache. It’s getting harder to do the things I have to do to get into a good college.

“Mom keeps telling me I’m under too much stress, and I should give up some of my activities before I really get sick. I don’t think I can give anything up. I guess stress just goes with wanting to do a lot of different things.”

Daniel is under a lot of pressure, and he is experiencing several signs of stress. Continuous stress—stress that continues for a long period of time—can lead to physical symptoms much more serious than a headache in the morning. When there is a lot of stress in your life, and it goes on for a while, you need to make some changes. But before you can make any changes to reduce your level of stress, you need to be aware that you do have stress and recognize the symptoms. Once you acknowledge that there is a problem, then you can start making the changes that will help you cope with stress.

If you have physical problems associated with stress, discuss them with your close friends, a counsellor, or a doctor. Don’t be tempted to treat just the symptom—such as taking something to relieve a headache—without also making some changes in your lifestyle to relieve the stress. Stress may show up as a physical symptom, but there is always an emotional factor as well. First, you need to identify the stressor: What is causing your stress? Then you need to consider your reaction to the stressor: Are you making the stressor more serious than it needs to be?

Sometimes, just one change in your life can make a big difference. Doing one thing differently is a start. If Daniel volunteers only one day a week or one day a month at the animal hospital, it might relieve a lot of pressure.

Taking some small action can help to alleviate some of your stress. Simply phoning a friend to talk is a step in the right direction. When you come up with a good plan of action, stick to it, but stay flexible enough to try other ideas.
Talking to yourself and using your mind to cope with stress means setting goals, establishing priorities, getting organized, using problem-solving techniques, and taking action. You can develop a positive mental attitude, maintain your sense of humor, and stay in control while keeping everything in perspective. You can take responsibility for your own behavior and choose to act on your stress.

Be aware of your limitations, however. If a problem is beyond your control, you may need help from others. You might have to delay the resolution of a problem until you are able to handle it better. In that case, you need to accept the situation as it is, at least until a time when it can be resolved. Try to focus on what you do have control over. Do things in moderation; strive for excellence, not perfection. Forget about always winning.

When a situation makes you very angry or depressed, try to get away from it for a while so you can cool down and put it in perspective. You may need to set aside a problem until you can deal with it more effectively. Remember that a situation may be temporary and may be more manageable when you take a break from thinking about it.

Have a ”one day at a time” and “one problem at a time” attitude. While you are in office, don’t worry about those stressors that affect you at home or at work. When you are at home, let go of the things in other parts of your life that are bothering you. Thinking about everything at once can make the problems seem overwhelming, and you may think that you can’t handle any of them. Don’t dwell on past mistakes, and don’t depend on tomorrow to be better. Plan for the future, but act for today.