"I’ve had a rotten day. I feel so stressed!"

If you’ve ever said these words, you’re not alone. The only people not experiencing stress are those in the cemetery. The good news is that the amount of stress we experience is not so much determined by what happens to us as it is by the way we react to it. Stress is not all bad. It can be a catalyst to a better life. A certain amount of stress motivates us to grow and mature.

Suppose, for instance, you were involved in a car accident. The amount of stress you experienced would relate to how you reacted. A relatively calm reaction would cause less stress than if you were to go over to the other driver and blow up. We all relate to stressors differently, and what may be a major stressor for me may be only a minor one for you.

The primary issue around responding effectively to stress is directly related to a person’s coping skills, which come from emotional intelligence (EI).

The definition of emotional intelligence is made up of five disciplines.

  1. Understanding your emotions
  2. Managing your emotions
  3. Understanding the emotions of other people and having empathy
  4. Motivating yourself
  5. Handling relationships successfully
Emotional intelligence (maturity) can help a person process painful or upsetting circumstances as they come up, so that the effects don’t pile up and evolve into stress–because denying our feelings can have a debilitating effect on us.

Going back to the car accident example, the person with low emotional intelligence would have uncontrollable anger with the person who rear-ended her. The person with high EI would be aware of her anger or fear, sit back in her car seat and take a time out by checking in and acknowledging her upset emotions. Stress, in essence, is nothing more than accumulated, unexpressed emotions that have become unmanageable.

This month’s health tip on dealing with stress is easier said than done. But if you’re serious about health and want to become the kind of person who does not carry all life’s burdens on your shoulders and face, determine and make it your goal to achieve a less stressful life. Learn how to let things go and not sweat the small stuff by increasing your emotional intelligence. Once you learn to put stress in its rightful place, you’re on the path to experiencing higher levels of joy, your body’s greatest healing medicine. But to find more joy, you have to get past stress first.

Stress Reduction Strategies
  • Write down all the things that you feel are causing you stress.
  • Determine which stressors are self-inflicted and which are not under your control. Ask a friend if she will listen empathetically as you express your fear, anger or sadness. (Welcome and learn to listen to feedback and advise.)
  • Commit to becoming aware of and stopping self-sabotaging behavior.
  • Begin working through a process of forgiving those who have hurt you. The inability to forgive is by far people’s largest stressor.
  • Having a stress-free life is an illusion. If you’re running from stress, stop and face it. It’s usually not as bad as you think!
  • Commit to reading one of the following books: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman or Breaking the Grip of Dangerous Emotions by Janet Maccaro.
  • If you’re struggling to implement one or more of these stress reduction initiatives, seek professional help.
  • Learn the three greatest stress relievers: laughing, exercising and crying.

About the Author

Vic Lebouthillier is a managing partner with Columbia Group, a business consulting service that works with businesses to help increase teamwork and interpersonal dynamics. Comments are welcome at vickl@hotmail.com. To view other related articles, please s