Stress is something that is felt by all of us at one time or another. As sung by REM, “Everybody hurts sometimes.” One way to think about stress is an overload to our system: nerves, emotions, thoughts, etc. Too much data flowing through our system makes it more difficult for us to function effectively. In our fast-paced modern life, many notice increased stress levels, making effective stress management more necessary than ever. Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has developed a stress reduction mindfulness program to manage this overload.
The program is based on the belief that the most useful way to manage, or even reduce, stress is to pay attention to its root. Paradoxically, by slowing down and paying attention to what is, even if it feels stressful, we are able to release some of our accumulated tension. By not trying to push away the unpleasant feelings and thoughts, it is possible to hold a more compassionate attitude toward the stresses that we encounter in our daily lives.
Once you have accepted your stress, it is important to find an effective method for managing that stress. Exercise, sleep, talking to a friend, spending time with a favorite pet, journaling, creating art, connecting to nature, dancing, yoga, Pilates, aikido, getting a massage, or listening to music you enjoy are well-known methods for managing stress. The trick is to find the method that works best for you and to do it on a regular basis. The outcome of a successful stress management program will be improved body flexibility, increased autoimmune functioning, clarity of thinking, understanding emotions and improved interpersonal relationships.
Combining these tactics into a comprehensive approach, that pays attention to mind, body, emotions and spirit is highly effective in releasing stress before it can accumulate and cause other difficulties. Given that stressful or unwanted situations are unavoidable, the key is how we respond to these events. How do we cognitively interpret them? How do we act on them? The external situations and behaviors of people we encounter do not have the power to adversely affect us unless we let them. Watching our self-talk, increasing positive thoughts and integrating affirmations can nurture us as well.
If your stress is overwhelming and you are not able to manage it on your own, then you may want to consider a psychotherapy session. The opportunity to talk with a professional about what is on your mind and heart can help you cope and identify personally effective stress management techniques. You might be surprised to see that your stress can be minimized or released in a very systematic way.