PUBLISHED: 4:48 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Live in the now to minimize stress
Today, I'm stressed. I'm finding that I have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. I feel overwhelmed by my current workload and am worried about disappointing people to whom I have committed my time and energies. And to top if off, the holiday season is here. This stress is affecting my sleep patterns. I find myself waking at 3 in the morning unable to go back to sleep because my mind will not let go of events of the day or pending projects. Usually, I fret for a couple of hours before I fall back into a fitful sleep only to wake for the day feeling groggy and tired.

I believe that, at some level, stress is experienced by most everyone. Stress is what you experience when the responsibilities and demands placed on you at work or at home are beyond your ability to cope. A fast-paced environment often leads to stress (Healthy Weight for Everybody, Mayo Clinic, 2005). Symptoms include feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, distraction, excessive worry, and internal pressure. In most cases, these symptoms are very minor and don't last very long. Some stressors you can control; others you can't.

Small doses of stress can be beneficial as they help give us increased energy and alertness, even helping to keep us focused on the problem at hand. As the level of pressure gets too great, stress eventually surpasses our ability to cope with it in a positive way ( At this level, people often describe themselves as being stressed out, burned out, or at wits end. Recently, I spoke with a dear friend who described herself as "having a meltdown."

One technique for controlling stress is through controlling your mind. His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Live in a Better Way, 1999) wrote that mental training is crucial for good health. Meditation is a good technique for training the mind as it encourages you to slow down, sit quietly, and be in the present. Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now, 1999) maintained that stress is caused by being "here" but wanting to be "there," or being in the present but wanting to be in the future. Stated another way, stress is caused when you project to the future instead of act in the present. When you recognize this, you can prioritize your duties and responsibilities and begin to take the necessary steps to handle the situation that is causing your anxiety.

Of course, the best treatment for stress is to prevent getting into situations that are

likely to overwhelm your ability to cope. This may not always be possible because the stressors may come from outside sources that are beyond your control. The Mayo Clinic offers these strategies for reducing daily stress:

• Get plenty of rest. Sleep gives you the energy to face the next day.

• Eat properly and exercise regularly. Physical activity helps relieve emotional intensity.

• Be positive. Spend time with people who have a positive outlook and sense of humor.

• Organize your day to avoid conflicts or rushing around at the last minute. Delay or delegate any work that's optional.

• Simplify your schedule. Prioritize, plan and pace yourself. Deal with only one thing at a time.

• Ask a co-worker, friend or partner for help.

• Create a change of pace. Make no plans for an entire day. Read a good book or go to a thoughtful or uplifting movie.

• Do something good just for yourself or for somebody else.

• Don't feel guilty if you're not productive every minute of every day.

• Learn to accept things you can't control.

I read once that if you can't turn off your mind and stop the worry, don't fight it - embrace it instead. The trick is to set aside time to do nothing but worry. Here's what you do: Set a kitchen timer for a specified length of time. This can be whatever length you desire: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour. Then, worry. Think about the situation, consider all the issues, and weigh all the possibilities. When time is up, let it go. You've done your part by allowing yourself time to worry. Now, move forward.

Now that I've faced my stress head-on, I'd like to share with you my horoscope for the week: "Though you might initially be pushed to the limit trying to accomplish what needs to be handled, you will succeed. Do not underestimate your abilities" (Hooligan, Nov. 2-8, 2006).

That helps. I'm feeling more positive and less anxious. Just to be on the safe side, however, I think I'll do something good just for me: simplify my schedule and take time to be totally unproductive.

Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.