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The Secrets I Learned to Managing Stress

Stress ball with a smiley face

Photo credit: Flickr – J E Theriot

By Edna M. Esnil, PsyD (Member, APA Committee on Women in Psychology)

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when you have to confront a stressful task or situation? As a practitioner, I work a lot with clients who are stressed and overwhelmed.   I experience stress too. On both a professional and a personal level this is one topic I am passionate about!   April is Stress Awareness Month, so this is a good time to talk about how we can help ourselves when we are stressed.

I must confess that I actually experienced writer’s block when I began to write this stress blog post. I started to feel stressed! Many thoughts ran through my mind like –“I should cover current, cutting edge, evidence-based research that addresses stress.” I realized I got lost within the belief that I had to perfectly integrate the science into this blog. I spent several hours being stuck and mindlessly looking at the stress literature.

Research tells us that this is a common experience for those under stress.   That everyone experiences stress and up to a certain level it can be helpful. Yet, stress can negatively impact one’s normal daily functioning or health.

In fact, 80% of workers feel job stress; and about half report they and their coworkers need stress management help. Annually, job stress costs US industries over $300 billion according to the American Institute of Stress.

This experience reminded me of a Buddhist simile that I learned from my meditation teacher.   The simile of the arrows brings awareness to three types of arrows that come our way. The first arrow is the type that life brings us. The second brings self-judgments and criticisms, and the third brings judgments and criticisms we think others will place on us. The first arrow (what life brings) is mostly outside of our control. All others are self-inflicted! The important message of the simile is to become aware of what meanings and power we give to the arrows.

On the one hand, high expectations and standards can be a good thing. But these can lead one to lose sight of the big picture or important questions. So I started again: What are the purposes of this blog?   I stopped looking at the literature and I started to brainstorm. My first thought was that I would share a little of the stress I experienced thinking about this blog post, and what I did with that.   My experience shows that no one is immune to stress, no one is perfect, and we all experience stress many times daily. Managing stress is a daily effort for all of us.

What helps me to manage stress?

These are some stress management efforts I aspire to integrate daily:

  1. Identifying which stressors help me succeed (good stress) and which block my success (bad stress), then managing the stress that blocks my success.

  2. Identifying which stressors I can control and those that I can’t and finding appropriate resources for support.

  3. Being aware of where in my body I hold stress.

  4. Being mindful of the suffering we add to our lives (i.e., what stressors or responses to stress have I self-inflicted?)

  5. Acknowledging my stress (i.e., how am I feeling?)

  6. Using self-care stress management techniques that work for me (i.e., review my list of daily self-care wishes or helps).

  7. Prioritizing daily self-care and making efforts to take action.

  8. Accepting that daily self-care is hard work and challenging.

  9. Honoring time for self-care.

Where can you find more information and more help if needed?

The strategies listed above are just a few stress management tools. Reaching out for more help can be important to find the unique strategies and tools that work best for you. Here are a few resources for more information.

The APA’s Psychology Help Center has a lot of information on stress and what you can do about it.

Also, adults are not the only ones affected. APA issued a press release in February based on research from APA’s Stress in America survey that shows that stress among teens rivals that of adults. APA has conducted this survey annually since 2007.

If you need more help with stress, talk to a psychologist or other health professional. You can find a psychologist in your area with our Psychologist Locator tool.

What about you?

During this Stress Awareness Month, I am going public and committing to one stress challenge to help improve my health. Specifically, I aim to reinstitute a consistent sleep/wake cycle, so I can experiment with making more time for self-care preferably in the morning. I promise to post on the forum my experience with this commitment.

I now turn to you –  what are you going to do for yourself this Stress Awareness Month? We are interested in finding out from you:

What stress management tips work for you?

Do you have daily self-care goals? What are they?

Connect with us this Stress Awareness month and tell us what one habit will you commit to work on to improve your health?

We look forward to hearing from you!


Dr. Esnil is a licensed Counseling Psychologist in Menlo Park, California.  She assists with teaching a weekly TEAM psychotherapy seminar at Stanford University. Prior to opening her private practice, she was a training director at a University Counseling Center.  She enjoys providing psychotherapy and training/consultation for therapists.  Currently, she is a member of the APA Committee for Women in Psychology and the CPA Public Education Campaign.

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