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Coping With Stress
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The best way to beat stress is to work it to death

You're summoned to the boss's office. A major client insists that a project be completed within two hours. It normally takes four. "It's critical, you're told. We could lose the account." You feel your heartbeat quicken and your muscles tense. You get angry.

"Who does he think he is," you mutter under your breath. "He probably doesn't need it until the morning anyway." You're unaware of the rise in blood pressure or the release of stress hormones into your bloodstream or even your sharpened senses as you react negatively to this unrealistic demand. You are aware of the panic in your stomach as you recall the other unfinished projects that are due today as well. Your appeal is hopeless since the boss never heeds your complaints, and you slam the palm of your hand against a filing cabinet as you round the corner to your office.

Frustrated as you shuffle through the papers on your desk, you snap at your assistant when she asks if there is a problem. You immediately regret it, but the mood has been set and you bark out instructions as you continue the search for the data needed to tackle the project.

You're well aware of the negative aspects of stress. It weakens the immune system, raises cholesterol levels, accelerates hardening of the arteries and disrupts the digestive system. But how are you supposed to relax when you're pressured by an unreasonable client, an inflexible boss or an impossible deadline?

Hold on a minute. You're not supposed to relax. The "flight or fight" response that you're experiencing is not under your control. It's a product of your automatic nervous system, which regulates the release of adrenaline, blood pressure, heart rate, hand temperature etc. It's an automatic response to perceived danger. If it were someone chasing you with a butcher knife, the response could save your life. Your increased strength and heightened awareness could get you out of danger. The adrenaline is used up as you take action.

But with the unrealistic deadline, you're not engaged in much activity. The excess adrenaline causes you to feel terrible. You experience palpitations, dry throat, trembling. You're nervous and upset. You weren't meant to feel the adrenaline; you were supposed to be too busy to feel anything.

Relaxing is not what you should be trying to do. Relaxation is something you acquire when you're not under stress. It's preventative medicine, so to speak. It makes stress easier to handle. What you need now is stress management. You need to take control of the situation, change your attitude, be assertive and accept life's challenge.

Your behavior, when faced with the stressful situation, was inappropriate. You reacted with anger, hostility, pessimism and dismay. Anger is the most damaging stress-related personality trait that precedes a heart attack. A long-term study of graduates, for instance, showed that 20 percent of those exhibiting high hostility were dead by age fifty. This compares to only 4 percent of those in the low hostility group. A study of Harvard graduates revealed that those with the most negative attitudes at 25, suffered the most serious illnesses in their forties, fifties and sixties. It has also been observed that chronic complainers get sick a lot.

On the other hand, a positive attitude, laughter, and assertiveness are healthy attitudes. Combine healthy attitudes with action and you have stress management. The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, look at it as a challenge. Don't worry about the prospect of not completing it on time. Worry is simply fantasizing about failure before it happens. Take a positive approach and look at the bright side. You can't do the impossible, but if it happens to be possible, you have a chance to shine. The important thing is to be active, take control and be assertive. Activity dissipates the adrenaline, and along with it, the worry and ravages of stress.


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