STM8282 - SECTION 9: STRESS MANAGEMENT HANDOUTS
Section 9: Stress Management Handouts
As a final support for clinicians studying stress management, this course includes some practical handouts that may be printed and utilized as part of the psychoeducational process. Please feel free to make copies of these handouts and provide them to clients when appropriate. These handouts are meant to work together.
The first handout provides an easy to read overview of stress and stress management. It is designed to be very positive and encouraging to clients, while providing the vocabulary that will allow you to work with them to refine their stress management efforts.
The second handout then focuses on creating a structure for developing a practical stress management plan to address the areas that are most important for improving the overall approach to stress. This is designed to be somewhat comprehensive, but the client be advised to select those areas that will have the biggest impact and/or be easiest to implement. This will make the process of managing stress feel much more achievable.
Because these are copyrighted materials, please remember to retain the copyright notification at the bottom of the page. Otherwise, feel free to paste these onto your own letterhead.
A Real World Guide to Managing Your Stress
Managing stress is less complicated than people think. It requires you to know what you are doing, and to make a commitment to following through with things that can help. This handout is designed to increase knowledge and provide guidelines for practical things that you can do to take control over your level of stress.
Basic Things to Know about Stress
Your body has a complicated chemistry of handling stress. It actually keeps track of your overall level of stress sort of like a bank account. Things that help you to feel rested and restored – and give you more energy - are like putting money in – they add to your stress “bank account”. The things that stress you out are like taking money out – they drain your stress “bank account”. If you have more going out than you do coming in, this is when you start to feel stressed out. You can feel stressed out from a large stress that drains you at all once, or many smaller stresses that add up to drain you over time.
Good stress management is about keeping your balance in good shape. Most people need to do this the same way they work on their finances – a little at a time. They figure out as many ways as possible to keep their payments up and their expenses down. Like with your finances, sometimes all it takes is very small changes to either get things in good shape, or to create problems. For this reason, stress management in the real world will often be about making a lot of small changes, not a few big ones.
The bad news is that there won’t be one magic solution that will stop your stress. The good news is that most of us can always find ways to improve our stress balance and get things more under control. Each small change can help a little bit, and they all add up. If you know what you’re doing and are willing to work at it, you can make things better.
Managing Your Stress Balance: Practical Tips
1) Improve your stress balance by cutting down on the number of things that stress you out, lowering the intensity of the things that stress you out, and minimizing how long the stress goes on.
Don’t expect yourself to get rid of all the stress, or be disappointed if you can’t. It’s impossible, and trying to do the impossible will only hurt your confidence. Instead, focus on cutting your stress by a percentage - a half, a quarter, or even a tenth - in a lot of different areas. Your stress balance gets a little better with each little improvement. All the little improvements add up to improve your overall stress balance, and allow you to feel more in control.
a) Actually take some time to look at all the things that stress you out. Avoiding them won’t make them go away, but finding solutions for them will. Figure out which stresses you can remove. If you can’t remove them, improve them – even if it’s just a little bit. Make a plan to do it, and stick with the plan. It may be helpful to write your plan down, so you can keep track of all your solutions. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Every little decrease in stress improves your balance.
b) Don’t take on any unnecessary new stresses when the stress is already high. Learn how to say no to people who try to put more stress on you when you are already stressed out.
c) Don't put off finding solutions for stresses that can be handled now. Like with bills, you may end up having to take care of them when things are harder to handle. Plus, the longer the stresses go on, the longer you will be stressed out by them, and the more drained you will get.
d) If you start to get behind with stress, don't give up. Keep working at it. The less behind you get, the easier it is to pull yourself back up, and the sooner you will get back to a better place in terms of managing the stress
e) Don’t stress your body out by using drugs or excessive alcohol during periods of stress. This just adds more stress and makes it harder on your body to keep a good balance.
f) During high stress times, try to stay away from people and relationships that drain you or stress you out. Instead, spend more time with people who are supportive to you.
2) Improve your stress balance by increasing the number of things that restore and replenish you, by choosing to do the things that restore and replenish you the most, or increasing how much time you spend doing the things that restore and replenish you. In periods of high stress, you need more time to rest and restore yourself in order to keep a good balance.
The more time your body spends in rest and restoration mode, the more resistant you will be to having problems with stress. If you just work all the time, you get worn down and begin to work less effectively and less efficiently. If you add time to rest and relax, it can actually make you work more effectively and efficiently, which saves you stress - and frees up more time to take care of yourself. For people with lots of responsibilities, it is important to remember that even a little time to rest and restore is better for your balance than no time to rest and restore.
a) Get enough sleep. Sleep is like your regular paycheck – it is the most important thing you do all day to restore yourself and create positive payments for your stress balance.
b) Take care of your body by eating healthy foods, seeking good medical care, exercising to keep your body in shape, and not trying to do more than you are able to do. If you keep yourself healthy, you tolerate stress better, so it doesn’t drain you as much.
c) Schedule in some play time. Play restores you and gives you more energy to handle life’s challenges. It also protects you at a very deep level from getting discouraged about how hard adult life is. Nobody needs to tell a child they should get more play when they are stressed out. They just know. Adults should remember this, too.
d) Put some time in your schedule to take short breaks to rest, relax and do nothing – even if it is just for a couple of minutes at a time. And don’t let yourself feel guilty when you do. You will be able to work better when you take these short breaks. During this time, you could also create additional stress relief by daydreaming or visualizing yourself being someplace that is relaxing and restorative, like lying on the beach.
e) Studies show that yoga, meditation, and prayer naturally relax and restore people. Take a few minutes to do whichever of these is most comfortable for you.
f) Spend more time in the company of people who support you, make you feel good, and make you laugh. When you laugh, it actually changes your stress chemistry in positive ways. When you talk to supportive people about your stresses, it usually reduces the level of stress you are feeling.
g) Fill your life with pleasant sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These things all restore you. They actually work to change your body’s stress chemistry, and are among the easiest things to add into your life.
h) Make a commitment to refuse to let other people convince you to work so hard so you end up with no time to take care of yourself. Honor and respect yourself by making it a priority to engage in some of these stress relieving activities.
3) Improve your stress balance by adding skills and resources that help you manage stress better.
People who are confident about their skills and resources to handle life’s challenges manage stress much better. Research shows this. There are a lot of skills and resources that can help with managing stress. They are not necessarily hard to learn, it just takes a little work on your part. If you learn them and get good at them, there are two benefits for handling stress. You can increase your confidence – which makes you more resistant to stress - and you can use your skills to manage your stress better. There are many good books that are very easy to use and can help you learn better skills.
a) Count up and keep track of all of your skills and all of your resources for handling life's challenges, including all the people and things that can be supportive and helpful to you. It builds your confidence and decreases your stress to see how extensive your list of skills really is.
b) Invest some time and energy into developing better stress management skills and resources. This will help you be more prepared when stressful times arrive. If you can, pick a time when you aren’t already too stressed out. Have a plan to decide what new skills and resources would be most helpful and start with those. You can work on things slowly and get better a little at a time, so it doesn’t add a lot of extra stress. Every little improvement helps your stress balance.
c) Spend some time to build relationships that support you, and invite the people in your life to give you sources of love, nurturance and affection. Whenever possible, only invite positive relationships into your life, and make a promise to yourself to avoid more negative relationships as much as possible. It takes a little energy to keep the relationships in good shape, but it is worth it to have people there for you when you need them.
d) Take some time to work on relaxation skills. You can use this skill to reduce stress in any situation, and it increases your confidence about handling stress. There are many easy to read books on improving your relaxation skills that you can find at the bookstore.
e) Take some time to work on your people skills and relationship skills. This includes skills in communication, assertiveness, conflict resolution, and setting boundaries. If you can learn how to handle relationships well, it lets you get more positive things from relationships, and keep out more negative things from relationships. There are many easy to read books on this subject that you can find at the bookstore.
f) Take some time to work on time management skills and organization skills. If you get better at managing your time and getting organized, it can create more time to use for taking care of yourself. There are many easy to read books on this subject that you can find at the bookstore.
g) Take some time to work on positive thinking skills, self-esteem skills, and skills to stop negative thinking. There are many easy to read books on this subject that you can find at the bookstore.
h) Trust your ability to learn new things. You have been learning skills you whole life. The skills that help you manage stress better are just skills - anyone can get better at them. It just takes knowing what you are doing and making a commitment to working at it.
4) Improve your stress balance by changing your thinking about stress.
When two people see a spider, or make a mistake, or get insulted or criticized by someone else, their stress reactions can be completely different. One person might feel a great deal of stress because they feel that the spider, or making a mistake, or getting criticized is a serious threat to them. The other person might feel that those things are a very minor threat, and therefore would feel only a small amount of stress. The difference is in the different perceptions of the two people. Stress management is much easier if you have good perceptions about stress.
a) When you have a stress reaction to something, teach yourself to slow down and see if it is something worth getting stressed about. Sometimes when we are stressed, we have a hard time evaluating the things that stress us out. This happen because when we’re upset or nervous, it’s harder to think clearly. Try to bring your good thinking skills back into the situation. Your clear thinking skills might tell you that you don’t need to be so stressed out, and this can help you to relax. The more you practice this, the better you will get at it.
b) Do a daily stress inventory. On one side of a piece of paper, list the things that stress you out. On the other side of the piece of paper, start writing down the solutions to improve each of the things that stress you out. This helps you see that the things that stress you out are real things for which there are real solutions. This helps your thinking to stay clear, and builds your confidence in handling your stress.
c) Fight the temptation to let your thinking turn to negative things. When we get discouraged and scared, we can be tempted to give up and think everything is awful and hopeless. It isn’t – that’s just the way we think when our feelings get too strong. Fight back and teach yourself to keep your thinking positive. Ask for help from people who support you in doing this.
d) If you have had too much stress – particularly early in your life – or if you have had major tragedies or trauma in your life, you may need extra help in handling your perceptions around stress. You may need the help of a counseling/psychotherapy professional to change your thinking and perceptions. With support and direction, you can learn new ways to look at the world and at yourself.
e) If the level of stress has gotten too bad, it can sometimes create some serious changes in your body’s chemistry. When you are really stressed out, your body releases a powerful chemical called cortisol. This chemical helps you to keep going, but it can have some very powerful and very negative effects on your brain if it stays in your system for too long. Among other changes, it can make it difficult to feel positive about things and make it hard to think clearly. You could end up feeling like you are in a rut you can't get out of. If this happens, you should probably meet with your doctor and discuss whether it might be time to consider using a medication that could bring the cortisol level down and help return your body chemistry to a better place.
5) Pulling it all together
Most people don’t have problems with stress because they don’t know what to do. Most people have problems with stress because they don’t do it. Stress management will not be one thing that you can do one time and be fine. There are a hundred little ways that you can improve your stress balance. Ultimately, you have to make a conscious decision to make stress management important in your life. Then you have to get in the habit of doing what works.
a) Once you figure out what helps you to keep the stress level down, figure out a way to turn it into a habit. Put it in your schedule. Write yourself reminders. Congratulate and praise yourself when you do it, scold yourself when you don’t. Do it so many times that it becomes a part of your daily routine, so you don’t know how to live without it. When something becomes a habit or a routine, it gets done. If it is important to you, it deserves to be a habit.
b) Keep track of your solutions to things. Write them down so you don’t forget. Keep on improving on your solutions. This makes you more confident all the time.
c) Keep practicing your skills to keep the stresses down, and keep learning how to do them better. The better you get at the skills that help you manage stress, the more confident you become.
d) Don’t be afraid to ask for help – from supportive friends, supportive family, or from a counselor.
e) Stay positive. There is always hope, always a solution you haven’t thought of, and always something you can do to improve your stress balance.
Copyright yourceus.com, Inc. 2001
Practical Stress Management System
The Big Picture:
• Stress tip #1: Make a commitment to yourself to find, make and keep the best balance possible between the things that stress you out and the things that relieve the stress and allow you time to rest and recover. Your commitment to this will be the most important factor in your success in stress management.
• Stress tip #2: Understand that stress occurs in a vibrant, complex economy in which there many things you can do to improve the overall balance, not just a few.
• Stress tip #3: Improve your stress management by focusing on both sides of the stress equation: finding ways to decrease your stressors and finding ways to increase the activities that create relaxation and de-stressing.
• Stress tip #4: Improve your stress management by approaching it in terms of doing many little things to decrease your stress and increase your rest and relaxation, not major things that are hard and disruptive to everyday life. The "many little things" approach is more effective and realistic than making major changes.
• Stress tip #5: Improve your stress management by handling your stress economy well day to day, not just once in a while.
• Stress tip #6: Reduce your stress by looking at your stressors on a regular basis, and seeing which ones you can quickly eliminate or reduce. Start with the ones that will be easiest or most helpful to eliminate or reduce. Doing this on a regular basis will help you to keep to a minimum the number of stressors that you have at any point in time.
• Stress tip #7: Improve your stress management by not taking on any unnecessary new stresses unless you are sure that you have room for them in your stress economy. If you choose to take on more stress, pace yourself to avoid overload.
• Stress tip #8: Improve your stress management by avoiding periods of procrastination or inefficiency, in which it takes more energy to perform tasks, leaving less time for rest and recovery. If you aren't skilled at being efficient, target this as a skill to improve over time.
• Stress tip #9: If you start to get behind with stress, don't give up. Keep working at it. The less behind you get, the easier it is to pull yourself back up, and the sooner you will get back to a better place in terms of managing the stress.
• Stress tip #10: When things are bad, don't necessarily work harder to fix things. It may actually be more effective to rest or play more to re-establish a better stress balance. This may free up energy to work better at reducing the stress.
• Stress tip #11: When times are good, invest some time and energy into building your stress management resources and creating a better balance in preparation for more difficult times.
• Stress tip #12: Don't procrastinate taking care of stresses that can be handled now. Like with bills, you may end up having to take care of them when your resources are at a more depleted point.
• Stress tip #13: Improve your stress by increasing the number of activities that allow you to relax and enjoy yourself. Don't deprive yourself of regular rest, relaxation, and play. Because you never know when the next period of stress will arrive, you can never be too well rested and restored.
• Stress tip #14: Improve your stress management by making sure you get enough sleep, which is the most successful activity of all in producing restorative effects.
• Stress tip #15: Take care of your body by eating healthy foods, seeking proper medical care, exercising to keep your body in shape, and not exceeding your physical capabilities. Your body will last a lifetime if you take good care of it.
• Stress tip #16: Take care of your emotional well-being by fixing anything that has been damaged emotionally, and creating sources of positive emotional energy in your life. Counseling, self-help books, and good relationships can help with this.
• Stress tip #17: Get away from your stresses on a regular basis. If you can't get away for days or weeks, get away for hours, minutes or even seconds.
• Stress tip #18: Fill your life with pleasant sensations of smell, sight, touch, taste and sound.
• Stress tip #19: Discover your relaxation pathways through meditation, focused breathing, prayer, yoga or other deep relaxation techniques.
• Stress tip #20: Strengthen and increase your relaxation techniques through regular practice and repetition.
• Stress tip #21: Increase your positive people connections. Promote and protect your play time with others. Learn to give and receive affection and closeness. Invite fun people into your life to laugh and play with.
• Stress tip #22: Build and use relationships that support you, not drain you. Have people you can talk to about your stresses, and let them support you. Invite the people in your life to give you sources of love, nurturance and affection.
• Stress tip #23: Whenever possible, avoid negative and toxic relationships that create hardship and stress.
• Stress tip #24: Whenever possible, choose to work in positive environments, live in positive environments, contribute to the community in positive environments, and play in positive environments.
Skills for Better Stress Management
• Stress tip #25: Know what skills and resources are in need of work and improvement, so when you are ready to invest time and energy into improving them, you know where to start.
• Stress tip #26: When you expend time and energy on building better skills to handle stress, work on the skills that will give you the best return for your efforts.
• Stress tip #27: Spend some time learning how to organize. If you are organized, it takes less time to do the things you have to do, leaving more time to do the things you want to do. There are many easy to read books for improving organization.
• Stress tip #28: Spend some time learning how to communicate better, so you can have more control over how well your relationships work out. There are many easy to read books on improving communication and relationships.
• Stress tip #29: Spend some time getting better at being assertive. If you learn how to be more assertive, you can prevent people from making you do things that stress you out, and stop people from taking away your play time. There are many easy to read books for improving assertiveness.
• Stress tip #30: Spend some time improving your thinking skills, so you can see things more clearly, and not become your own worst enemy through unnecessary negativity and pessimism. There are many easy to read books for improving positive thinking skills.
• Stress tip #31: Spend some time improving your relaxation skills and techniques. Look for a way that is right for your life style, values, and comfort level. There are many easy to read books on developing better relaxation techniques.
Better Thinking for Better Stress Management
• Stress tip #32: How much stress you feel is based upon your perception and evaluation of your stressors – and whether you think your skills and resources will be enough to handle those stressors. Spend some time improving your skills at perceiving things clearly. Use these skills to evaluate both the challenges that are stressing you and your resources for handling them.
• Stress tip #33: Improve your stress management by correcting any perceptual disturbances that cause you to over-estimate the challenges or threats you face, or under-estimate your resources to handle the challenges or threats.
• Stress tip #34: Count and keep track of all of your resources for handling stress, including all the people and things that can be supportive and helpful to you. When you count them up and keep track of them, it makes you more aware of how many resources you really have. People who know they have many resources for handling stress are not as stressed out by challenges and are more stress resistant.
• Stress tip #35: Conduct a stress inventory on a regular basis to find practical solutions to your stresses and remind yourself of the control you can have over stress.
• Stress tip #36: Improve your overall ability to see your life and yourself clearly. If you can see your life clearly, you will know if changes are needed to make your life manageable. If you see yourself clearly, you know what you are capable of handling, what skills you need to work on, and when you need rest, support, or help from others in order to keep things in balance.
Pulling It All Together
• Overall stress tip: Build your overall stress management strategy not from a single thing, but from a wide collection of many things both large and small, frequent and occasional, stress reducing and relaxation inducing. The more parts you add to an overall strategy, the more flexibility and durability you create to your stress management approach.
Copyright yourceus.com, Inc. 2001