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How to Handle Stressful Situations

A recent study shows that about 80% of us Americans are stressed at work (Nielsen/Everest College). Is that you?

If you're wondering, doing any of the following means you've been stressed:

  • Eat a whole tub of ice cream in one sitting

  • Thrown a stress ball at someone who is stressing you out

  • Significantly increased in gray hairs

  • Can't remember the last time you took a full break/lunch

  • Stressed about stress before there is anything to stress about

Don't worry, we all do this. Whether it be long-term stress due to the economic crises we've been in or something that happens at work that takes a good day and makes it one of the worst, I've been there and I'd like to share a few ideas on how to handle it.

There are five principles we can keep in mind and they spell the word RELAX

  • Recognize Your Stressors

  • Ease Up

  • Look at it Differently

  • Ask for Help

  • Cross Yourself Out


Several years ago we had a rule with our kids that it is mom and dad time at 8:00p. That meant that our young kids needed to be in their rooms and ready for bed by this time. One night, one of my daughters decided to test me on this. She continued to drag her bedtime ritual out. I started to get a little perturbed. It almost seemed like she knew this was a stressor for me, so she kept at it. I kept getting more upset. Then I yelled, "Ande, you have to go to be right now. No more chores, no more anything. Just get yourself into your bed right now!"

"But dad, I don't have my pj's on and I've not brushed my teeth."

"I don't care, just go to bed."

"Fine, then you can pay for all my cavities when I go to the dentist!"

At that, I went to the bathroom, grabbed her toothbrush, put it between my two hands in front of her face, and snapped it in half.

Yup, kids after 8p was a stressor. What stressors do you have? What causes your blood to boil? A coworker that just won't shut up? A failed sales deal? A boss that diminishes? Whatever it is, write it down. Become more aware of what stresses you.


Often the reason we get so upset at our stressors is that we create a lot of fiction in our heads about what might happen. Case in point - I got a voicemail from my mom telling me to call her, it was urgent. So, I did and didn't get a hold of her for several hours. I really got stressed that something major happened to my dad because he had just gone through a mild heart attack. When she finally called me back, I responded "Mom, is dad OK?"

She laughed, and said everything was fine but the call was urgent because Southwest was having a deal on plane tickets and she wanted to know if she could come and see us. Lots of fiction I created in my head that stressed me out. Here are seven ways to ease up on those false beliefs:

  • Take a hike - Literally, get up, leave the situation, and cool off.

  • Use box breathing - Focus on your breathing. Four seconds in, hold for four seconds, release for four seconds, and hold for four seconds. It's like a box of fours.

  • Stop, drop, and roll - Stop what you are thinking, drop all your judgments and false beliefs, then just roll with the situation.

  • Hit something - Get physical and get your pulse up. This increases oxygen, which allows you to think better and calm down.

  • Use positive self-talk - Instead of feeding your brain negative fiction, give it a positive pep talk. You've been through hard things before.

  • Meditate - Dan Rather thought this was a bunch of bull, until he tried it. Now he says it makes him 10% happier. 10 minutes a day, that's all you need.

  • Express gratitude - It is impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time.


I used to have a ball python in my basement. Some neighbor friends decided to no longer come to our house because they were freaked out by the snake. Why? Because belief drives behavior. They believed the snake was dangerous, thus they acted in a "safe" way, even though there literally are no recorded deaths by ball python! Sometimes we get stressed because of how we are looking at it. Great, just reframe your mind and look at it differently. Here are a few ideas on how.

  • Read the Last Chapter - Think about the worst-case scenario and realize that even the worst-case is not that bad. I have a mother-in-law who can't stand to watch the Vikings live. She'll record it, read the last chapter (learn the score), then watch it with all calmness.

  • Reframe your Perspective - Learn about people who have it worse than you do. My great, great-grandfather was dragged out of his home, beaten, tarred, and feathered for his religious beliefs. I have to shovel snow in the winter. I have no reason to complain.

  • Redirect the Stress Energy - Being stressed is actually good for you. It gives you energy. So, instead of freaking out, just use the energy to solve a problem, get stuff done, or exercise.


I know, we often don't like to share our problems with others, but it helps so much. When we go to others for advice and share with them our problems, our brains release oxytocin. This is commonly known as the cuddle hormone that gets released when we are cuddling with our significant other. This hormone actually fights stress, so talk with someone. They probably can help you see this differently, ease up, and give you a solution.


After an extremely stressful day at work, I was arriving home late, walking through my doorway, when my phone buzzed. I looked at it and saw "Help Dan and Pat move." This was the last thing that I wanted to do. I was so tired and so stressed, all I wanted to do was to change into my pj's and veg the rest of the night. Yet, I had committed and my calendar invite reminded me, so I changed into moving clothes and headed on over. Well, no one else showed up, they were not fully packed, Dan kept getting distracted and wasn't much help, and it was turning out to be an awful night. Then, after moving the last box, Pat called me over, gave me a big hug, and told me how grateful she was for my help. Suddenly, all my tiredness and stress evaporated. Why? Because I crossed myself out and served others. Service is a great combatant to stress.

As mentioned, stress is part of all of our lives. I hope that some of these ideas, tools, and stories can help you manage it just a little bit better.

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