Guest Column

The ABCs of Stress

by Tom Krause

I once was asked to deliver a commencement address for a nearby school district. As I sat in my office at home preparing my speech, I found myself agonizing over the text. I wanted to say just the right words to these graduating seniors and their families on this special occasion.

Then my 5-year-old stepson wandered in.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I’m stressed out!” I replied. “I am speaking at graduation tomorrow night and I am worried about it. ... Would you like me to speak at your high school graduation someday?”

“No,” he replied. “You’ll probably be dead by then.”

Load of Bricks
Stress is a part of life we all deal with. It is the body’s reaction to everyday demands. Headaches, ulcers, gastric pains and fatigue are all symptoms that stress has crept in. Stressors in our lives become a burden that weighs heavily on each and every one of us.

I refer to stress as wearing a backpack full of bricks. The more we learn to cope with stress, the more bricks we can remove, making life’s walk lighter.
The following is a helpful guide to help reduce stress.

• A — Always Keep Things in Perspective.
Life is messy. Nothing is perfect. My grandfather used to say, “Without messes there are no successes.” Avoid perfectionism. Trying to hold on to perfection is a waste of energy. When problems seem large, try to keep perspective on their overall importance. Avoid generalizations such as “bad things always happen” or “we will never improve.” Remember that things are not as good or bad as you think they are.

• B — Be a Respecter of Time.
Time is a huge stressor for most people. Feeling like you don’t have enough time to get everything done leads to a frustrating feeling of loss of control. Worry about deadlines leads to overwhelming fatigue. A recent human resources survey found most people would choose an additional day off over a pay raise.

When it comes to time management, organize, eliminate and prioritize. Make time for rest, recovery and fun in your day. Nobody functions well when tired.

• C — Create Space.
Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to get away from it for awhile, allowing time for decompression and reflective thought. Like the old farmer said, “If you plow the same field everyday, the only thing that grows is resentment.”

People need space apart from their worries. The more stress you are under, the more space you require. If you don’t think space plays a factor on stress, try going to the shopping mall at Christmas time. Fighting all the crowds shopping in the stores just wears you out and raises your anxiety level.

In my hometown of Boonville, Mo., an old Indian burial mound sits high atop the Missouri River bluffs. From that mound one can see for miles the river bottoms below. I liked going there as a kid to just sit and enjoy the view. It was so quiet and peaceful up there. Looking down at those bottoms below helped keep things in perspective for me.

If you feel as if life is closing in on you, create space. Find your own special place to find peace. Go for a walk, a drive in the country, anything to just get away from your worries.

Finding a way to get away may produce new solutions to old problems. When you feel as if you are butting your head against a wall, get away for awhile.

Whatever techniques you use to relieve stress, always keep in mind that there is nothing more important than your health and happiness. Be nice to yourself.

Tom Krause is coordinator of health education in the Nixa R-II School District, 205 North St., Nixa, MO 65714. E-mail: tkrause@mail.nixa.k12.mo.us