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30 ways to reduce your stress

Stressed out? Have a million things to do in the next month? Feeling like you don't know what to do first with projects piled on your desktop? Are deadlines starting to stampede you like a wild herd of buffalos?

In an effort to minimize stress The Peorian and I will devote a three-part series to minimizing and conquering stress. Each of the three parts will focus on a different aspect, including attitude, leisure hours, and work life. I hope this series will give you some down-to-earth, helpful tips for making 2012 and beyond a little less stressful and more serene.

PART ONE

Before we begin, let's define stress. It is characterized by the daily "wear and tear" our bodies experience as we adjust to our ever-changing lives. Stress can create positive influences that urge us to take action, or it can generate negative responses, causing feelings of anger or depression, and physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, rashes, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke.

Stress is something we can't avoid... but the way in which we react to that stress (clinically termed the "stressor") is the key to stress management. We need to develop individual skills that transform our stressors into an optimal level of action rather than allowing them to overwhelm us, or harm our bodies or minds.

The first step to reducing stress is adjusting how you think, feel and react to the events in your life. The way in which we perceive a stressful situation determines if we will find an event upsetting or not. What is upsetting or distressing to one person may be a joy to another. Even when we all agree that a particular event is distressing, we are likely to differ in our physiological or psychological responses to it. For instance, some people thrive on conflict and love to arbitrate disputes, while others would be stressed in a job that is stable and routine. You have more control over your stress reactions than you might think!

Now that you know your perception of the stressor is a means of managing your stress, there are some simple techniques and skills you can use to manage your stress. Try these attitude and perception tips and watch your stress levels decrease.

LAUGH MORE! Research has shown that laughter stimulates the production of hormones called catecholamines, which cause the brain to release endorphins. These endorphins are the same stress-reducers triggered by exercise. So it appears that watching a good comedy or sitcom can actually lower your stress level, as long as you get some good belly laughs or some wide smiles.

REMEMBER THAT you don't need to do everything perfectly. Perfectionism is a personality characteristic that leads people to the brink of constant anxiety. Watch for thoughts such as: "Nothing is ever enough...nothing is ever done well enough...and nothing ever quite meets the standard." The key to minimizing perfectionism is creating realistic standards for acceptable performance, and rewarding our successes.

LEARN TO MANAGE your anger. Statistics have shown that people who are chronically angry have four to seven times the risk of dying from heart disease as those who are not anger-prone. One useful key to lowering your anger level is asking yourself three questions: Is my anger justified? Can I do anything to fix the situation? Is this issue important? If your answer to any of these three questions is "no" the only appropriate action is to calm yourself down and realize that you can choose to make the emotion work positively in your favor.

SLOW DOWN...take a deep breath. Really try to notice your breathing and feel the air move in and out of your lungs. Look at your surroundings and notice the beauty around you. Smell the freshness of the cool air and listen to the sounds of peacefulness. We are in control of enjoying each moment of our lives.

DON'T PROCRASTINATE. Putting things off usually adds to your anxiety and stress levels. Why wait until the eve of April 15th to look at your tax receipts? Lower your stress level by planning ahead.

DON'T FEEL GUILTY. Stress researcher Robert Eliot states, "Guilt is the most wasteful of human emotions." Learn to focus on the positives and your successes. Watch for self-defeating behaviors that create negative self-talk and lower self-esteem.

LET GO OF GRUDGES. Research has shown that holding a grudge can create a horror story in your mind that is larger than the actual event. Make an effort to minimize your pain. Reach out and make amends, or perhaps create a ritual to "let go" of the situations or people you hold a grudge about and look for new options.

FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS. Look at your life priorities and start to make changes. Create a list of your dreams and start compiling a list of ways you can make them come true.

PICK YOUR BATTLES CAREFULLY. Learn what you have control over and what you can't control. Let go of the things you can't control or change. Look for small actions you can take to create a better life.

DON'T EQUATE WORK with worth. Many of us have become walking resumes! What really matters is who we are inside instead of what we do or how much money we have accumulated. Remember our worth is in our hearts, not in our pocketbooks!

Joy Erlichman Miller, Ph.D., is an internationally known licensed psychotherapist, professional trainer and author. Miller is the founder and director of Joy Miller & Associates in Peoria. She is an Illinois state Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor as well as a Certified Master Addictions Counselor. Additionally Dr. Miller has been a part-time instructor at Bradley University, and was a faculty member and mentor at Walden University's doctoral psychology program.
Just how much do you know about stress? Try this simple quiz and see how much you know about stress.

True or false:

1. One of the best stress-busters is watching a good comedy.
2. There is good stress as well as bad stress.
3. Type A people (over-achieving, time-pressured people) are at greatest risk of dying of heart disease and cancer.
4. Research has proven that cell phones, fast food restaurants and e-mail have made our lives more efficient and less stressful.

Answers:

1. True. Laughter lowers our stress levels and encourages the release of endorphins into our body.
2. True. Stress can be a motivator for change and action.
3. True. Those who have not learned to manage their stress and pressure are at the highest risk of disease.
4. False. Actually these "conveniences" have raised our stress levels, pushing us to do more in a shorter period of time.

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