The Art of Relating

Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW

Good Stress Management Skills Equals a Less Stressed Life

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Self-improvement is an extremely broad concept that provides many opportunities and presents numerous areas in which to inject change. As I have worked with clients through the years I have frequently heard that all too common complaint regarding stress. In my humble opinion, most stress can be viewed in the framework of balance. In other words, stress equates to being out of balance. The majority of stress that people complain about is somewhat self-induced. Stress management tends to center on the attainment of three specific life skills that include assertiveness, time-management and decision making. A lot of stress is felt when these skills are not as highly developed as one would hope.

A lack of assertiveness contributes greatly to internal stress. Stress is created when you feel you can’t stand up to another and let them know how you really feel. Stress is created when you think someone will ask something of you and you don’t know how to say no. Stress is created when you don’t feel heard because you do not yet have your own voice. I have heard more stories than I care to remember of people committed to all kinds of things they don’t really want to do. Now that is definitely stressful. So, practice saying no in the mirror if you feel that is necessary. Also, when faced with setting a boundary deliver your “no” in a non-threatening, diplomatic manor and don’t get off of the subject. You don’t have to justify yourself if you don’t want to do something and it would be easier not to go there in the beginning stages of learning this crucial life skill. Never being able to say no is simply too far out of balance. In addition, this inability to say no often leads to difficulty with time management.

Time management is a life skill that often needs fine-tuning for many of us. Too many obligations equate to being out of balance and therefore in a state of stress. This skill requires a concerted effort to look ahead to your weekly and monthly commitments. If you have found yourself repeatedly over-scheduling, then try this simple trick. When someone asks you to do something tell him or her, “Let me think about it and get back to you”. As a matter of fact, try doing this even when you know you will accept the offer, as it provides more opportunity for practice. Then, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to commit to this thing. If you don’t, then don’t. Either way, be diligent about making your decision the next day and getting back with the person. After all it is not right to keep people waiting either. Your ability to successfully manage your time will result in having more energy to beef up your problem solving skills as well.

Many people have a hard time with the skill of decision making and ultimately problem solving. Some find themselves agonizing for long durations about having to make seemingly simple decisions. How many of you find yourself asking others, “What do you think I should do”? I always tell people to imagine a scale. On one side of the scale imagine putting all of the possible pros that might result from choosing a particular path regarding your decision. On the other side of the scale put all of the potential negative consequences of that same choice. How do they really weigh out? When I do this with clients and then ask, “Is there really a choice?”, they often get a big smirk because it is painfully obvious which way their decision should go. This may seem somewhat simplistic relevant to the agony you are facing with your decision, but believe me it helps. It removes the ability to fool yourself and puts all facets squarely and honestly out on the table.

In short, the inability to be assertive, manage your time and effectively make decisions creates quite a bit of stress due to the lack of balance you are achieving. Take some time this month to not only shore up your stress management skills, but to comprehensively look at your life and ask if something is out of balance. Are you doing something too much or too little? If you are then you probably have some stress around this issue. Work this year to achieve the balance that ultimately results in having more energy to put into those goals and lists you have simply stared at year after year.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Therapist and Relationship Coach in private practice. Call today to schedule an appointment (314-374-8396).