Things I DIDN’T Learn in College: Part 6 – Steps I Use to Cope With Stress

by Ron Haynes

All stress is not bad. The human mind needs to experience some stress just to stay focused and sharp. I’ve read recently where some university studies have shown that the only completely stress free people in the world are dead. Wonder how much that study cost?

I know I will never rid my life of stress completely (at least not until I’m pushing up daisies). I also know that too much of anything is bad: stress, work, leisure, peanut butter, broccoli, video games, potentially even (gasp!) money. The key is to cope with, or better yet, to control the stress in my life. I don’t always succeed in controlling it and sometimes I feel that IT controls ME, but there are a few tips I’ve learned that help me control stress and avoid that burned out feeling.

1. I try to determine why I’m in a hurry. Who placed this deadline on me and why? Many times, I place deadlines on myself that are unreasonable and then I wonder why I’m stressed about it. Other times, there truly are time specific deadlines that must be met, but in reality, I have to ask, “What would happen if this deadline wasn’t met?” Many times deadlines are artificial, made up just to keep the machine humming along and score points with the boss. I control stress by determining what really is a deadline.

2. Develop a support group. My support group consists of like minded people who are in similar situations that I’m in. By bouncing some ideas off them, exchanging rants, exchanging encouragements, and just having someone to talk with makes a massive difference in my stress level. It makes a difference in theirs as well. I control my stress by talking with people who understand what I’m going through.

3. Eat good food. Since the first of the year, when I was stressed about being overweight (wonder whose fault?), I’ve taken pro-active steps to better control what I eat. I’ve made a conscious decision to only eat fresh food in moderate amounts. I refuse to eat anything processed unless it’s a homemade smoothie in a blender, and I have tripled my vegetable intake. My stress level has gone down as has my weight by about 22 pounds.

4. Sleep regularly. By getting regular, consistent amounts of sleep, I am better able to control my stress. My body knows what to expect at 10PM (sleep) and it knows what to expect at 5AM (wake up). Sleeping in on weekends is out of the question for me because it causes my body to wonder what’s going on. It’s like it says, “Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t the pattern I’m used to.” That causes stress for me.

5. Exercise. This is my weakest area. I need to develop the habit of consistent exercise. Several years back I was regularly exercising for an hour every morning and my stress level (and overall physical condition) was much better than it is today. I’ve got some goals I’m trying to accomplish, but I soon hope to be controlling my stress very soon through consistent exercise.

6. Seek privacy. You may be totally different and I can respect that, but I need peace and quiet. I feel stressed when the TV is blaring, the dog is barking, the kids are shouting, the cat’s meowing, the phone is ringing, the microwave is beeping, the washer is running, the dryer is spinning, my Blackberry is vibrating, my email is dinging, etc. You get the visual (or auditory) image? I don’t think I’m the only one who will admit that when all these things are going on, then add on a boss’s artificial deadline, two of my real deadlines, a funeral to attend during an important meeting with a client, and yep, the old stress-o-meter is at full capacity. During times like these, I have to find somewhere quiet to think and sort everything out. Sometimes that place is my car with the Blackberry turned off. I simply must control these stresses in my life by using a peaceful and quiet setting to my advantage.

7. Enjoy a hobby. For me, blogging and sharing my life and ideas with you is a very enjoyable hobby. I also enjoy trout fishing, relaxing with friends on a Saturday evening, building a birdhouse with my son, and growing a small vegetable garden. Hobbies take my mind off the stressful events in life and help me keep my sanity.

8. Focus on one task at a time. Far too often, I violate my own rules for managing multiple priorities and try to juggle too many things at once. I find I am better able to cope with stress if I concentrate my efforts in one area at a time rather than spread myself over a multitude of projects. Military leaders will focus their efforts along the enemy’s weakest point to achieve a breakthrough. I find that I’m able to better cope with stress if I also focus my personal efforts in one area at a time.

9. Avoid body chemistry changing items. Those would be caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. If I’m under a lot of stress, the last thing I need is something fiddling around with my body chemistry. I have enough going on without making things worse, and potentially causing me to make a critical mistake.

10. Use imagery. I personally imagine things going well. I imagine the praise and recognition. I imagine kicking back on the beach with my feet in the sand and the sound of waves crashing. I imagine the crisp mountain air on Keystone mountain in January, snow covered evergreens, the powdery snow, and the thoughts of an exhilarating run down a ski slope. Imagery is a powerful tool in my kit. I use it to help me cope and control stress.

11. Practice deep breathing. Try this: take a deep breath . . . hold it . . . take in just a little more air . . . take in just a little more . . . then let it out slowly and under control. Repeat this exercise and few times and you might find, like I did, that increasing the amount of oxygen in your lungs will feed your brain and help you cope with stress. We don’t do enough deep breathing in our culture. Give it a try.

12. The best technique — reject perfectionism. That’s right, I reject it. Nothing in this life will ever be perfect so I decided to do everything to the best of my ability and then stop. Learn, yes. Adapt new lessons, yes. Continually tweak and refine and fret, NO. I tell myself, let it go. This applies to a lot of things: arguments with family members, the little thing s that other people do that peeves me, the way certain people drive, the memo I have to send to all my employees. Let it go. If you’ve done your best, be satisfied. Evaluate. Learn. Adapt, and try again next time to do it better.

BONUS TIP: Recognize and accept stress by thriving on the energy. Use that energy to drive you onward toward your goals.

EVEN BIGGER BONUS TIP: Check out Jeff’s post at My Super Charged Life on how hebeats stress and improves effectiveness.”

How you cope will be totally different but please share it with me. Even though this is a relatively long list, I could always use some more tips!

[tags] cope, stress, burnout, 12 steps[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Jeff@My Super-Charged Life

Ron – I like #1 above. I know I often create my own stress my pressuring myself when it really isn’t necessary. I also think that breathing exercises can be particularly helpful at reducing stress. These are all excellent ideas.

I did a similar post a couple of weeks ago called, 10 Things I Do To Beat Stress and Improve My Effectiveness. You might want to check it out.


Jeff@My Super-Charged Life »
Hey you wrote a great post on this same subject. I wish I had remembered when I wrote this one, but I linked to yours. If we both follow our own advice, we should be pretty relaxed by now, don’t you think? :)


Ron: I also find it hard to keep exercise in the stress-reliever mix. Part of the trouble for me is consistently finding an hour during the day. So I try to break it up. When I need a break, I do push-ups right in my office. Or I grab my weights and do a few curls. I’d even like to put a spinning cycle in my office. Then, I could get some cardio too, and maybe even read while I spin along. Now all I need to do is make more of those fitness mini-breaks to get in decent shape!


Hello Ron,

Found your blog through blogpost.

The list you posted is both positive and negative (in a good way) for me.

It was positive in the sense that it reinforced some of the things I’ve been doing.

It was negative in the sense that it confronted me of those things I had not done yet.

Thank for a helpful post.


Footholds For Favorable Outcomes


I would definitely say that having a schedule–not just wake/sleep but also eating and exercise–helps a lot! Also, eating about the same amount for each meal….

Andy Wood

‘Scuse me for sounding like a preacher (imagine that), but having some sort of spiritual component – prayer, meditation, etc., is also helpful for me.

Also, I have a collection of music that just makes me smile, if not laugh out loud. I read something somewhere about laughter and stress reduction. Reading about it wasn’t nearly as much fun as laughing at something, though.

Great stuff, Ron!

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