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Stress solving strategies

By Laura Benjamin

Fascinating research is being done in the area of stress and it's impact on the human body. As Hans Seyle found in the 1930's, there is a direct connection between your reaction to stressors (traffic jams, financial problems, personality conflicts) and your health. For example, according to a June 14, 1999 article in Newsweek magazine:

  • The chances of catching a cold increase the longer people experience work or interpersonal stress.
  • Men who say they are highly stressed are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes.

In a 1998 study, Carnegie Mellon psychologist Sheldon Cohen found it's not the big incidents like your teenager's car accident or favorite uncle's death that cause the most stress. It's the small but ongoing conflicts that increase the odds of stress-related illness by 3-5 times.

Similarly, it's also the small steps that reduce stress. Use these three strategies:

Resolve grudges
She lived to be 101 years old and when asked to share the secret to her long life, she replied, "I learned to forget." She learned to forget, and thereby forgive, all the wrongs, slights, criticisms, and conflicts that could have sapped her energy. Researchers have found the best way to become stress resistant and improve quality of life is to resolve grudges and prevent new ones from forming. "Oh yeah? (you may be thinking to yourself) That's easy for YOU to say!"

It's not easy to do and it certainly doesn't occur overnight, but you can begin the process by following these simple steps:

  • Evaluate the true impact of the damage done by this person. Has someone died, lost a limb, or is living on the streets with nothing to eat as a result of this person's behavior? Put it in perspective.
  • Resolve to take responsibility for only what you can control. Therefore, let go of your efforts to try and change this person. You can choose to let this issue continue to destroy your life or you can move beyond it.
  • Identify one positive thing that came as a result of this person's behavior. (Perhaps you are smarter, stronger, have found a new business opportunity or a new partner.)

Get more rest
Sleep deprivation causes 100,000 automobile accidents per year. The majority of Americans only get 6.7 hours of sleep per night, despite the fact that adults need 8-10 hours. Teenagers need 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep. A study of 3,100 Rhode Island students found on average, those getting A's and B's on their report cards got 35 more minutes of sleep than those earning C's and D's.

How does one build more rest time into our already overburdened lives?

  • Take a 15-20 minute snooze at lunchtime. Set your watch timer or enlist a co-worker to rouse you so you don't oversleep.
  • Go to bed 10-15 minutes earlier at night. Start 5 minutes earlier one week and increase the time gradually.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on vacation and weekends. You can't undo the impact sleep deprivation has on the aging process by trying to "catch up."

Do one thing at a time
In the book, "Margin" by Dr. Richard A. Swenson, he states we are reaching our saturation point by trying to do just "one more thing" throughout the day. Multi-tasking has been elevated to heroic proportions. Yet, the more we try to cram in, the more mistakes we make, the less time we truly listen to each other (because we're trying to type email at the same time), and the more stressed we become without necessarily accomplishing the priorities.

Rather than trying to do one more thing, consider eliminating those tasks and appointments that are not critical and do not give you the biggest "bang for the buck." You say, "I can't do that. My boss expects me to do more with less." Sometimes our supervisors need help when establishing objectives. I propose we develop the courage to put sanity back into our work lives by questioning the value of the task, compared to the price we pay to accomplish it. More and more of us are seeking jobs that allow the time and resources necessary to do quality work, burn-out free!

In the end, there is no real magic formula or scientific pill for reducing stress. (Indeed, some stress is a good thing since it motivates us to action.) The best way to restore balance and regain quality of life is to decide where you're going to put your energy - both physical and emotional. Make choices that are life extending vs. those that rapidly age the body and mind. Have the courage to follow the airline's safety instructions, "If you're traveling today with small children and we experience decompression in the cabin, please put your oxygen mask on first!"

Also see:
How dot-com moms find balance
Finding work and family balance
Women say life is a balancing act
More about work and family balance

Laura Benjamin is an author, consultant, professional speaker and featured guest on radio and television. For more information, visit her website at or email:

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