Stepping Back from Stress in Challenging Times

 In Change, Character, Communication, Conflict, Goals, Relationships, Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem

Many of us have big demands on our time, or other things that cause us to feel stressed.  Going to work, taking care of children, meeting financial responsibilities, making sure our home is clean and in good repair, and providing support for the people in your life.

Also, things that are  happening in the world over which we have no control  can cause huge stress and fear.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor and business and life coach, I see many people who are struggling to keep up with everything that their families and society expects of them, and also deal with outside situations at the same time.

One of these people is Kellie.  She’s a single mother who works, has young children, is involved in volunteer activities and helps her aging parents.  As a result, there is never enough time to get everything done, and she is overwhelmed and massively stressed.

Kellie came to me for coaching because she recently lost her job.  She said that this situation has added to her already stressful life, and she wants to learn how “to step back and take a breather from her exhaustion, worry and fear.”

Kellie said that she is trying to stay focused and do what’s necessary to accomplish all she is committed to, find a job, and still have time to take care of herself.  She’s discovered that by the time she’s met all her commitments she isn’t able to fit herself into the mix.  As a result, she feels stressed and is becoming more exhausted all the time.

Whether you are male or female, single or in a relationship, I’m wondering if this sounds like you.  Is your busy life creating a sense of overwhelm and causing you too much stress?

Although we may not enjoy being stressed, we all know that stressful situations are part of life.  At times some stress is even a good motivator.  It increases your adrenaline and gives you the extra boost to keep moving and accomplish things.

The Problem

The problem arises when you are in “stress mode” most of the time.  Because stress increases your adrenaline so that you are ready to “fight or flee,” your body can “burn out” if you are in this state too often.  We all know that excessive stress can lead to heart disease, digestive problems, depression, mental confusion and exhaustion.  It can also cause a weakening of your immune system, which opens the door to many other illnesses.

You experience stress from three sources: the environment and current situation, your thoughts and your body.  The environment exposes you to time pressures, performance standards, uncontrollable situations, noise, crowding, relationship demands, and various threats to your safety and self-esteem.  Your body may experience illness, aging, or other physical changes to which you must constantly adjust.

Your thoughts interpret all that is going on and tell you how to feel about what is happening.  So, your feelings are determined by your thoughts, and if you think things are out of control, you will feel terrible and afraid.

Of these three, your thoughts are the most important, and fortunately, controllable.  Situations don’t come with emotions attached.  You assign emotions based on your perception of what is happening.  Five people in the same situation will usually create five different levels of stress for themselves, depending on the story and interpretation they attach to the situation.

We have all heard about people in extraordinarily stressful circumstances such as war, concentration camps or natural disasters, who managed to define the situation for themselves in such a way that they could cope and come through relatively unscathed.  You may also know people who are continually “stressed” about life because they turn every little thing into a big drama.  Each of these people has made a choice about how to react to the stressors.  Which of these sounds like you?

Change Your Perceptions

One of the most effective ways to deal with stress is to be aware of your perceptions.  Notice what you’re telling yourself about the situation. When I first met Kellie, she described her situation as hopeless.  She was telling herself that there was no way she’d find another job, she would soon deplete her savings, wouldn’t be able to support her children and could possibly lose her house.  Her message to herself was making a difficult situation even more stressful, and making her feel awful and afraid.

What Kellie learned is that if she changes her perception from doom and gloom to success, and tells herself, “there is a job out there for me, it will all work out well and I will be fine” (which is probably the truth), she can significantly decrease her stress level and relax so she can function well, stay healthy, and move ahead with her job search.

Kellie realized that the way she deals with stress is a behavior she learned as a child.  She was raised in a drama-oriented family where everything was a big deal.  Consequently, she unconsciously creates drama in every situation.  People from this kind of background often become addicted to the adrenaline produced during stress, and can become bored and depressed when things are too calm.

If Kellie sounds like you, you may want to ask yourself if you are a person who thrives on stress.  Ask yourself if your life is really traumatic, or are you just telling yourself it is. See if you’re focusing on all the terrible things that could happen (but haven’t and probably won’t), or are looking at the reality of where you are now.  Have you filled your head with negative talk and hopelessness, that either causes you to be depressed or create a high adrenaline level?

Ways to Deal With Stress

Some of the things you can do to deal with stress are:

  • Look honestly at your perception of the situation and frame it in a positive light. Be optimistic and live in the present, finding the beauty of the day, the warmth of a blanket, or the love of the people in your life, instead of focusing on the current situation or fears about the future.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day. Walking, swimming, weight training, just being outdoors, etc. will increase your endorphin level and decrease your stress.
  • Take time to relax your entire body and mind with yoga, meditation or relaxation techniques. If you don’t have time during the day, the minutes before you turn out the light at night are a good time to quiet your mind.
  • Re-evaluate your time management and determine if you are packing more into your day than is realistic. Do you really need to do all you are doing? Organize and simplify your life.  Delegate whatever you can to others, so you lighten your load.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. When you are stressed you tend to hold your breath, which depletes the oxygen supply to your brain. Make sure you are breathing regularly and deeply.  If you sit quietly for 5 minutes and concentrate on breathing slowly, it will calm and relax you.  It also helps to smile.
  • Take time for personal pleasures. A warm bath, walk in the park or chat with a positive friend will work wonders.
  • Be aware of the stories you’ve created around the situation in your life, and see how true they really are. Are you reacting with worry and fear to something that isn’t real or hasn’t happened?  If so, let it go and create a more positive story and self-talk to go with it.

Once Kellie realized that she has the power to choose how stressed or unstressed she wants to be, she was able to calm down, focus, take control and move ahead with her life.

Modern life can be unpredictable and overwhelming if you let it, but it can also be calm, enjoyable, fun and relaxed when you put some thought into creating it the way you want it to be.  Which will you do?

It’s something to think about.

(For a free worksheet on relaxation techniques go to our website at and click on Resources)

Please comment so others can benefit from your wisdom and experience. 

Sandy is now offering a FREE Coaching Call, so you can see what Coaching is all about.  Please email her at and put FREE Call in the Subject Line.  She will get right back to you to schedule your call. 

For FREE worksheets on ways to empower yourself, see the Resources Page on our Inside Jobs Coach website.  Also be sure to check out our Books and Programs page. 

If you’d like to bring positive changes into your life, we have the perfect thing for you.  Check out The Rapid Power Pack, and begin to create the life of your dreams. 

If you would like to feel more confident and believe in yourself, check out The Confidence Pack, which contains several powerful worksheets to guide you and an amazing hypnotherapy session to strengthen your belief in yourself.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Joyce E Peterson

    I have found that reaching out to others less fortunate than myself is therapeutic and rewarding. While my life has been turned upside down in many ways – no church services, laid off from employment, restricted physical contact with others – I am looking for creative and sometimes old-fashioned ways to maintain relationships, i.e., ZOOM and letter writing. Making a schedule for myself that gives each day purpose, remembering that GOD is in ultimate control, and getting out in my yard/garden has brought peace to my life in this time of chaos. My husband works from home so the frustrations that I have are – when to run the vacuum and when to unload the dishwasher (both noisy jobs LOL). I have high positive expectations for our future. I look forward to the next chapter!

    • Sandy Abell

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Joyce. It is an interesting time for us all. So glad you have a home to vacuum and a dishwasher to unload. Many people don’t have those things. I agree that our future will be good.

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