Nobody escapes stress, but some fortunate people seem to be able to negotiate the shallows of life with apparent ease. They take setbacks in stride and don't waste their time or inflame their arteries by flaring up unnecessarily. They enjoy loving relationships and supportive friendships.
While their talent for living may seem mysterious, it's actually arnatter of skill. Like the musician who knows how to draw lovely music from a violin, they know how to bring happiness and harmony to themselves and others.
These people have skills that put them in control of their emotions and relationships. Fortunately, these skills can be learned—at any age.
THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING IN CONTROL
Research conducted over the past three decades has shown that psychological stress increases the risk for heart disease and other major illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Higher mortality rates are particularly linked to hostility which can manifest as a cynical mistrust of others, a low threshold for anger and/or a high level of aggression.
New finding: A study recently published in the American Heart Journal found that coronary- bypass patients who underwent a training program to increase control of their emotions showed significantly less depression, anger and stress, along with more social support and satisfaction, compared with healthy people who received no training.
The trained participants’ pulses slowed, and their blood pressure reacted less to stress after the training—clear signs that they were taking strain off their hearts. These factors remained unchanged or worsened in the other group.
You can't deal with stress properly unless you recognize it. How to cope when a negative situation arises...
Step 1: Ask yourself, how important is it? The goal is to know how to separate trivial situations that are outside your control from those that are worth getting worked up over.
Helpful: Step back and decide whether you should allow yourself to react to a setback, annoyance or obstacle. Is there anything you actually can do about it? Is it important enough to go to the mat over?
Step 2: Change your reaction. If your evaluation of the stressful situation tells you that it's not that important, practice turning off the negative thoughts and calming the bad feelings.
Helpful: When you're alone and feel irritated, tell yourself to STOP! in a sharp voice. Repeat the command silently when stressful situations arise in public.
During a calm time, write a list of topics that make you feel good when you think about them—a beloved relative...a pleasant vacation spot. When you're stressed or upset, close your eyes and picture items from your list.
Step 3: Take action. If your analysis leads you to conclude that the stressful situation is worth acting on, take positive steps.
Helpful: Problem-solve in a systematic way. Define the problem...list possible solutions... make a decision...and implement it.
Example: Max was not comfortable driving at night. When he found out he had a book club meeting scheduled for 8 pm in a neighboring town, he at first became anxious. After considering his options (having a friend pick him up and drive him home...not going at all), he settled on calling a taxi.
Intimate relationships, friendships and pleasant encounters with coworkers and acquaintances provide social support—a buffer against life's difficulties.
You can improve your relationships by being considerate, treating others with respect, offering help when needed, etc. One of the best strategies is to become a good listener. People appreciate you and like you when they feel heard and understood.
To improve your relationships, practice these skills...
- Keep quiet while others are talking. Suppress your desire to add information, ask questions, give advice or steer the conversation to yourself. Limit your input to the occasional nod or "Uh-huh." If your mind wanders, refocus on the other person's words. Your turn will come...wait for it.
- Use appropriate body language. To show interest, maintain a relaxed but attentive facial expression. Relax your shoulders, uncross your arms and lean slightly forward.
- Repeat what the other person says. Before you comment, summarize what you think you heard, focusing on facts or feelings.
Example: "It sounds like you had a great time with your grandkids last weekend."
- Be open. This doesn't mean you must change your mind, only that you're receptive to the possibility. When your mental attitude is open rather than rigid, it shows. You may even learn something useful.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Several years ago, a University of Washington study found that marriages last longer when positive communications (compliments, affectionate touching, smiling, sharing enthusiasm) outnumbered negative ones (criticism, nasty looks, withdrawal) by a ratio of five to one.
Use the same principle in all your relationships—make a conscious effort to distribute five times as many compliments as criticisms.
Most important, apply the five-to-one ratio to yourself. Overwhelm negative self-talk ("I'm unprepared...my nose is too big...their house is nicer than mine') with positive messages.
Helpful: List your five best traits and count five of your blessings. Also, become aware of your five biggest self-criticisms and pledge to stop them.