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Turn around your Stress - From Stress to a Streamlined Life

By Edward D. Goodman, Ph.D.
Life Coach [See Profile on the "Coaches" tab on this web site.]

Are there ways you can learn to handle your stress instead of your stress handling you?

One large part of the answer is our reaction to stress or "perceived" stress. What may be extreme stress to one person may not be stressful at all to another.

In my experience, many successful people have learned, not just to "cope with stress," or "manage" stress, but to thrive on what others perceive as stress. What seems stressful to others they see as exciting opportunities to be addressed with a feeling of competence. They enjoy the challenge.

Although our culture seems to take stress for granted, many of us do not realize how much stress we internalize; we laugh when we say, "Don't give me an ulcer." Because we take stress for granted, it operates inconspicuously, but has grave effects. Failing to handle stress well, limits our lives in many ways.

In his outstanding book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky, a recognized authority on the physiology of stress, summarizes some of the scientifically proven negative effects of stress on the most essential process of our lives:

Stress damages:

And that is a very short list! High levels of unremitting stress can rob you of optimum health, happiness, wealth and loving relationships. It is a primary setup for anxiety, depression and insomnia. It trickles down in families from adults to children and infants.

So, what do we do? We often try to "self-medicate." Many of these "stress relievers" and escape activities just carry fuel to the fire:

Fuel to the fire:

Stress is everywhere:

It is woven into the fabric of our existence. Here are a few examples. You can no doubt add many more sources of stress:

And even worse, all of these stressors compound each other, and to paraphrase Shakespeare, they grow by what they feed on.

How do you know when your stress is out of control?

When we overuse these escape strategies, we may encounter a progressive loss of ability to cope. That can set the stage for anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

What easy steps can we take control stress?

Stress relievers:

Step 1. Understand that it is our own beliefs and thinking about events in reality that determine our responses.

Perhaps the most disabling belief about stress is that it occurs outside of ourselves in the 'real world' and is put upon us by someone or some situation. This then 'makes us' release stressful chemicals in our body, feel immense pressure and a sense of being overwhelmed.

But outside stressors do not make us feel stress within ourselves. As the Greek philosopher, Epictetus (55 AD) said, "Men [human beings] are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things."

That is, it is not the events that happen outside of ourselves that determine our feelings and physical reaction. It is our expectations and beliefs, our self-talk, regarding those events that determine our reactions.

Step 2. Cultivate an attitude of leisurely efficiency. That may seem paradoxical. How could you have a feeling of leisure while acting efficiently? Practice having a feeling of calm, leisurely confidence within while you are behaving in a fast, effective way on the outside.

Creating a feeling of stress, strain and pressure is not a necessary or useful way to generate focus and effective action, and it has the unwanted side effect of increasing stress and fatigue.

Step 3. Exercise regularly. Even short walks will stimulate your body and clear your mind. Vigorous exercise reduces stress and increases brain efficiency, as well as increasing physical and mental endurance. It may promote an increase in neuronal growth in the brain, even in brains damaged by excessive use of alcohol. It is known to improve depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.

Step 4. Set aside time every day (at least 20 minutes) for quiet, calming reflection, prayer, meditation or listen to a guided imagery audio program.

This may the most valuable time that you spend.

Step 5. Take frequent stress breaks during the workday. If you are sitting in front of a computer many hours a day, get up and walk around for a few minutes every 45 minutes, and take a longer break every ninety minutes.

This breaks up the stress cycle, clears your mind and can increase productivity.

Are there other powerful and effective steps that we can take to turn stress around?

Yes. Other methods can be individually tailored to help you by an experienced life coach. A coach can help you implement any of these techniques with consultation, encouragement and accountability. Some additional stress relieving ideas will be discussed in a later article on this website.

Imagine how good it will feel to meet and exceed all of your responsibilities, moving fast, effectively and competently on the outside while feeling a sense of calm, confidence on the inside!

References for this article:


Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky (2004) Henry Holt and Company.

10 Simple Solutions to Stress, by Claire Michaels Wheeler, M.D., Ph.D. (2007) New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guy to Wellness, by Edward A. Charlesworth, Ph.D. and Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D. (2004) The Random House Publishing Group.


Aaron Levin, Could Exercise Regenerate Alcohol-Damaged Neurons? Psychiatry News, Dec 2006; 41: 20 - 27.

Joan Arehart-Treichel, Benefits of Exercise Reach Deep in the Brain, Psychiatry News, Nov 2003; 38: 35.

The Epictetus Quotation:

The Epictetus [Greek (Phrygian) philosopher, (55 - 135 AD)] quote is from The Enchiridion (c. 135 AD), as translated by Elizabeth Carter from the writings of Epictetus' student, Arrian.

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