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How to recognize and deal with unhealthy stress

How to recognize and deal with unhealthy stress

Stress is bad for us, we all know that. Ironically the paradox of knowing adds even more stress, so round and round we go. What we often fail to recognize is that there are hints along the way that, if we are paying attention, might help us reduce or even avoid the load we carry. So when we’re completely freaked out how do we make that happen? How do you defuse the ticking time bomb of stress?


Our subconscious often tips us off before are fully aware of what is happening even when we fail to recognize it, or worse, blanket ourselves in denial. The first step to finding some relief is acknowledgment. Paying attention to these symptoms allows us an opportunity to deal with the matter at hand before it becomes out of hand. After all, it is much easier to put out a match than it is to try and put out a raging inferno so paying attention to the signals our body and mind send us can often help.

How do we learn to recognize the signals

We all have different clues, learning to recognize them is the challenge. I have learned to recognize when my own stress levels are beginning to rise through a series of signals one of the most obvious clues is when I begin to lose my ability to be decisive. It starts gradually and if unchecked can become more and more pervasive. At first, it may show up in my work as difficulty deciding on a design direction or losing my focus but as my stress level grows even simple decisions like the decision between which brand to buy at the grocery store can become a challenge. As ludicrous as that may sound I know that when everyday decisions become a chore it’s time to slow down, reassert some control over my life, discover the source of my stress and address it. We all have different triggers. It may take some work to find yours so look for patterns of behavior that normally are not a problem but suddenly become one. If this is a recurring theme in your life chances are you discovered something important. Write them down so you remember and observe when you repeat them, how often, what was the trigger, how did you react. 


We can’t always control the source of our stress but we can control how we react. When stress crops up we need to remind ourselves that we still have a choice of how we react. We can buy into it and flail along helplessly as it drags us downstream or we can pause and remind ourselves that there are things we can do to mitigate the impact. When we engage head to head in an attempt to challenge stress we often lose or exasperate the situation. But when we practice acceptance we can begin to defuse the severity of our reaction. Acceptance doesn’t mean rolling over, playing dead or allowing ourselves to be steamrollered by a situation. It means understanding what we can control and what we can’t, This is where I am, this is what’s happening to me and here are some ways I can find or regain peace. 

The things that bring us peace are also different for each of us so you will need to discover yours for yourself. Meditation, exercise, quiet reflection, mindful distractions are just a few. The ability to practice these things in a decisive manner, so you may find peace in a stressful moment, is the key to finding and practicing acceptance. 

So for those of you who want to dig a little deeper on this, here a simple homework assignment. 

  1. Find and identify your warning signs. Is it difficulty making decisions like me or is something else like losing your patience or an inability to focus? Once you’ve identified the warnings write them down. Begin paying attention to when they show up again. What triggered it? How did you react? We're you your best self in the moment? Can you find a way to pause and remind yourself to take action next time you begin to slide?

  2. Practice acceptance. What would happen if instead of engaging you allowed yourself another outcome? How would it feel if you were kinder to yourself in the moment and we're able to comfort yourself instead of lashing out or lashing inward?

  3. Discover a way or ways you can regain peace when your life feels out of balance. Remember these will take some work and dedication. Many people who try meditation for the first time stop or quit out of frustration. Quieting the mind is not an easy challenge so be careful not to give up too soon when you try something new. The rewards will pay off for those who a patient enough to stay with them.