Stress Management For Dummies
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Identifying the symptoms of stress is an important first step to reducing tension in your life. Once you identify the signs of stress, use your imagination and the proven tool of progressive muscle relaxation to put your mind and body at ease.

How to measure your stress

Recognizing stress symptoms and how often they occur can help you deal with stress. Use the previous two weeks as your timeframe and record the occurrence of the physical and emotional signs and symptoms of stress in the table below.

After identifying your stress symptoms and how often they occur, use the stress rating scale to find your score. If your score is high, or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below with increased frequency or severity, there may be other factors besides stress that are involved.

You may want to consult with your family physician and let them determine the best way to help you manage these symptoms.

Stress symptom scale

  • 0 = Never

  • 1 = Sometimes

  • 2 = Often

  • 3 = Very often

    ____ Fatigue or tiredness ____ Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
    ____ Pounding heart ____ Excessive drinking
    ____ Rapid pulse ____ Excessive smoking
    ____ Increased perspiration ____ Excessive spending
    ____ Rapid breathing ____ Excessive drug or medication use
    ____ Aching neck or shoulders ____ Feelings of upset
    ____ Low back pain ____ Feelings of nervousness or anxiety
    ____ Gritted teeth or clenched jaw ____ Increased irritability
    ____ Hives or skin rash ____ Worrisome thoughts
    ____ Headaches ____ Impatience
    ____ Cold hands or feet ____ Feelings of sadness
    ____ Tightness in chest ____ Loss of sexual interest
    ____ Nausea ____ Feelings of anger
    ____ Diarrhea or constipation ____ Sleep difficulties
    ____ Stomach discomfort ____ Forgetfulness
    ____ Nail biting ____ Racing or intrusive thoughts
    ____ Twitches or tics ____ Feelings of restlessness
    ____ Difficulty swallowing or dry mouth ____ Difficulty concentrating
    ____ Colds or flu ____ Periods of crying
    ____ Lack of energy ____ Frequent absences from work
    ____ Overeating ____ Your total stress-symptom

Your stress rating

Your Score Your Comparative Rating
0–19 Lower than average
20–39 Average
40–49 Moderately higher than average
50 and above Much higher than average

Identifying common thinking errors that increase stress

Your thinking plays a bigger role in creating your stress than you might imagine. How you look at potentially stressful events or situations can result in greater stress, less stress, or even no stress.

The important skill you need to master is knowing how to identify your stress-producing thoughts and how to change the way you think. The key here is recognizing your thinking errors.

Your thinking errors capture the negative, distorting elements in the way you see your world, others, and even yourself. Once you’ve identified an error, the next step is correcting that error. You re-frame the situation or event, bringing a more sensible you into the picture.

Following, are some important thinking errors to spot and correct.

  • Catastrophizing and awfulizing: Exaggerating the importance of a situation or event and its impact on you. Put as simply as possible, catastrophizing and awfulizing is making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • Can’t-stand-it-itis: Emotionally exaggerating an “I don’t like it” into something you feel is intolerable. You’re exaggerating your inability to cope with a situation.

  • What-if-ing: Worrying about something that has a low probability of happening (usually accompanied by some form of catastrophizing and awfulizing).

  • Overgeneralizing: Taking a single instance of something negative and applying that belief to a much larger group or process. The key words often heard here are “always,” “never,” “nobody,” “everybody,” and so on.

  • Mind reading and conclusion jumping: Thinking you know what others are thinking or coming to a conclusion about something without enough evidence.

  • Comparativitis: Comparing yourself unfavorably to others and putting yourself down, and possibly resenting the other person. It’s normal to make comparisons. What’s stressful is turning a comparison into a thought that makes you feel upset, angry, anxious, or depressed.

  • Personalizing: Blaming yourself, unreasonably, for the actions of others.

  • Emotional reasoning: Letting your feelings alone interpret the reality of a situation.

  • Filtering: Focusing on the negatives and disregarding the positives.

  • Magnifying/Minimizing: Exaggerating or minimizing aspects of a situation or circumstance, either blowing them out of proportion or minimizing their importance.

  • Should-ing: Demanding in an absolute way that the world and others in it must be more like you or live up to your expectations.

  • Self-rating: Rating your entire self-worth on the basis of a trait, ability, or performance, or making your self-worth dependent on the approval of others.

How to manage stress with imagination

Stressed? Imagine that. You’ll probably feel better if you can release that stress-producing thought and replace it with a relaxing, calm image. Here’s how to put your mind at ease:

  1. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes and get comfortable, either sitting in a favorite chair or lying down.

  2. Think of an image — a place, a scene, a memory — that relaxes you.

    Use all your senses to bring that imagined scene to life. Ask yourself: What can I see? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I feel? What can I taste?

  3. Let yourself become completely immersed in your image, allowing it to relax you completely.

    Use your breathing as a tool to help you deepen your relaxation. Simply breathe more slowly and more deeply.

How to control stress through tensing and relaxing your muscles

Looking for a way to control stress? Progressive relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and relaxing your muscles, is a healthful way to release muscle tension and a proven approach to a more relaxed, less stressful state. Follow these steps for a calmer, more collected you:

  1. Lie down or sit, as comfortably as you can, and close your eyes.

    Find a quiet, dimly lit place that gives you some privacy, at least for a while.

  2. Tense the muscles of a particular body part.

    Begin by simply making a fist. As you clench your fist, notice the tension and strain in your hand and forearm. Without releasing that tension, bend your right arm and flex your biceps, making a muscle the way you might to impress the kids in the schoolyard.

    Don’t strain yourself in any of these muscle-tensing maneuvers; don’t overdo
    it. When you tense a muscle group, don’t tense as hard as you can. Tense about three-quarters of what you can do. If you feel pain or soreness, ease up on the tension, and if you still hurt, defer your practice till another time.

  3. Hold the tension in the body part for about seven seconds.

  4. Let go of the tension quickly, letting the muscles go limp.

    Notice the difference in how your hand and arm feel. Notice the difference between sensations of tension and relaxation. Let these feelings of relaxation deepen for about 30 seconds.

  5. Repeat Steps 1 through 4, using the same muscle group.

  6. Move to another muscle group.

    Simply repeat Steps 1 through 4, substituting a different muscle group each time. Continue with your left hand and arm, and then work your way through other major muscle groups.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Allen Elkin, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the director of The Stress Management & Counseling Center in New York City. Nationally known for his expertise in the field of stress and emotional disorders, he has appeared frequently on Today, Good Morning America, and Good Day New York.

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