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Counseling Services – Dec. 2011

December 1, 2011

The Four Principles of Stress Management
We all know Elmer the camel’s story very well. You may not know his name, but you are aware of his story. And we are all very grateful that he had good health insurance and a good surgeon to help take care of his back. I am sure that there have been times in your life that you can identify with Elmer and empathize with his pain. I am also sure that you can identify the exact straw that broke your back too. It probably wasn’t much different than Elmer’s straw, except that it might have been more figurative. Seemingly small and insignificant, but with real consequences.

Stress can be devastating when it is not handled in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, it is part of life, but it doesn’t have to break your back as it did Elmer’s. If Elmer knew the following 4 principles to handle stress effectively, then he may have avoided such a costly medical bill.

  1. We need to understand that thoughts and beliefs translate into emotions and feelings. Our internal dialog throughout the day is of our choosing. What makes this statement hard to believe is that we are not only thinking every second of the day, but that society has trained us to blame others for our emotions. “You make me so happy.” “You make me so angry.” Both of these are examples identify that we are blaming others for how we feel. In order to be able to put the following principles into action, it’s important that we understand this concept.
  2. Put things into a healthier perspective. One piece of straw may weigh a fraction of an ounce, but a bunch obviously weighs more. If Elmer had the tools to be able to look at each straw as such, one fraction of an ounce, he may have been able to avoid injury. Now let’s apply this theory to your situation. Take stock in what is controllable and what is not controllable. What do you really have control over in any given situation? Reflecting back onto the previous principle, the only thing in life that we have control over is what we think about and how we act. We do not have control over what others think or do. As the wise Dalai Lama once said, “If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”
  3. Be aware of your expectations. Your expectations may be related to those that you have of yourself, those that you have of others, and those that others have upon you. Since you now have the insight into your ownership of thought, then you now have the power to change it. When expectations are not met, we set ourselves up for negative experiences. In Elmer’s case, he may have expected to be able to carry such a heavy load of straw. He may usually be self-critical and feel the need to prove something to himself, thus setting himself up for failure. If you find yourself de-motivated, then look at the language in your expectations. Replace “should” with “may” or “could”. Words that are more inviting and motivating.
  4. Set healthy boundaries. There is nothing wrong with saying “no”. It takes strength for someone to identify their limits, so take pride in the ability to be able to identify yours. If you find yourself, like Elmer, with an overwhelming load of straw because you couldn’t say “no”, assess where that is coming from. We all want to be good helpers, the child inside of us is always eager to be told that they are good at something. But when we don’t know how to say “no”, we get stressed out and angry with ourselves and others.

I wonder what life would have been like for Elmer if he had the ability to read these 4 Principles of Stress Management. These four items are just a few of the ways to change how you think about your experience witch stress. There are also behavioral ways to help supplement the effectiveness of such thought changing concepts. Exercise, eating healthier, and maintaining a regular sleeping schedule are just some behavioral ways to reinforce the effectiveness of the previously suggested thought changes.

Allow yourself to open your mind to at least one of these suggested principles and see if it makes a difference in your life experience.

Article written by Michael Senko, LCSW-C.
Revised and submitted by: Cindy Lerner, Family School Liaison Counsellor (403) 863-2346 cindy.lerner@pallisersd.ab.ca

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