Feature Archive

Stress, Coping and Balance

Feel Less Stress

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Most of us know that it's best to keep our stress level in check, but sometimes, like our weight after the holidays, it creeps up on us despite our best efforts. Pamela Edwards, MD, psychiatrist and director of the adult psychiatry clinic at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), recently talked about stress, coping, and balance at the OHSU Women's Health Conference in Portland, Oregon.

"Stress is a mental and physical state resulting from the perception that the demands on oneself are greater than one's ability to meet the demands," Edwards says. Think of your capacity to deal with stress in terms of a bucket, she suggests. There is a limit to how much the bucket can hold. It is impossible to have an empty bucket, or zero stress, but try to limit your bucket's contents to one-half or two-thirds full. That way, if an emergency situation arises, you have some reserve to help you deal with it.

Coping With Daily Life

To cope with day-to-day stress, learn the principles of time management, Edwards suggests. Use calendars and lists. Prioritize important tasks. Be realistic about the time you need to finish jobs. Leave room in your schedule for unexpected demands.

"Come up with 10 ways to say no," Edwards advises. Learning how to say no helps keep your stress bucket from overflowing and protects you from stress overload. "Whenever you're in a situation where you'd really be better off saying no, you can just pull out one of these 10 ways to do it." Once you get the knack of saying no, it gets easier, she says.

Finding Balance

It's essential to get enough sleep. Studies have shown that Americans get about an hour less sleep per night today than they did in the 1950s. Edwards also points out that we work an average of five to eight hours more per week.

"You've probably heard that exercise helps diminish stress," Edwards says, "but that doesn't mean you have to join a gym and do aerobics." You can do that if you want, she says, but just being more active in your day-to-day life can benefit your health almost as much as a regular aerobic workout.

There are other ways to minimize stress:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Minimize your intake of caffeine and alcohol, and don't smoke.
  • Keep current on your health screenings (such as for cholesterol, breast cancer, or prostate cancer).
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, tai chi, massage, stretching, abdominal breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Also, incorporate more enjoyable, pleasant activities into your life, and allow them to replace the more stressful activities.

"Managing stress is an ongoing process," Edwards says. "You have to be vigilant about it." Perhaps one of these approaches will help you feel less tired, less mentally cluttered, and less stressed overall.

Originally published June 1, 1999.

Updated and medically reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD, on Feb. 25, 2002.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:41:12 PM