Q: I've been developing some stress-related health issues and am wondering what to do. Changing jobs isn't an option.
A: Look at all aspects of your life to manage harmful stress.
The inner game
Stress feeds stress; creating some space in your life can help keep it in check. Start by letting yourself move away from a stressed feeling just for a while. Take some deep breaths, releasing stress with each exhale. Once you're more centered, notice how you feel. Let tension ease from your neck, your shoulders, your arms, and your legs. Relax your jaw. In just a few minutes, you've probably achieved a substantial level of relief.
Examine your life, perhaps pretending that it belongs to someone else so that you can be more neutral. What are the big stressors? Which can be eliminated and which do you need to live with? Look at the medium-level stress factors, and then the minor irritants.
Consider your lifestyle, particularly the extent to which you have habits that help build resilience. If you hit the caffeine hard, have an unhealthy diet, drink a lot, and don't exercise, you'll have much less ability to deal with stress.
And look at the positive side, noting the assets available to you, including friends, healthy habits, spiritual practices, and a sense of humor.
The outer game
First of all, work with your doctor or other professionals to ensure that you're getting the care you need to prevent serious health problems.
As with many situations, the main thing you control is your response. Consider a day when you have too much to do at work and more gets piled on. In the moment, you have alternatives. You can get angry. You can get upset. But how will these responses help you? The work will still be there and your response will be eating up energy that could help get through the work. Instead, go back to the beginning. Breathe. Relax your body. Let the tension ease so that you can move forward.
This is not to say that you shouldn't look for systemic solutions. Managing stressful moments more effectively does not mean you accept a bad situation. However, you'll also be more creative in finding solutions if you're feeling less reactive.
Look for ways to cut the small problems. A lot of little annoyances can wear you down. If your commute bugs you, change the time or route. If there are emotional vampires in your life, limit the interactions.
Be conscious of your choices. Ask yourself why you're reacting so strongly; it may help you let go. Consider if the chocolate will make you feel better or worse. Be aware of the actual need you're trying to address so that your solution fits the problem.
Pull it all together to build a stress relief oasis: a calm place, with positive people, free from anger and aggravation; an opportunity to step away from the stress even for two minutes. Go there often — several times a day — to build the habit of letting go.
The last word
Building a habit of walking away from stress will help you manage your health and enjoy your life.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.