Twelve Steps to Less Stress (Delaware Coast Press)

If nothing else, events of the last month have increased stress levels for many people. Road closures and damage from Sandy the Annoying Storm, the passions surrounding last week’s presidential election, and the commitments of the upcoming holidays all remind us that stress is part of the price we pay for living — and it’s here to stay. The challenge is how to manage it. Though helpful lists can sometimes be stressful themselves, I hope this one isn’t. Keep the lid on unnecessary anxiety with these twelve suggestions:

1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Think before you say ‘yes.’ You’re not doing anyone any favors if you agree to something just to be nice. If you’re unable or unwilling to follow through, just say ‘no.’ You’re not obligated just because somebody asks. It’s a lot nicer to tell the truth and not mislead others. By being true to yourself, you’re also being true to them.

2. Take deep breaths throughout the day. Try it! Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat as necessary. You’ll be amazed at the calm that the extra oxygen can produce. And the pause can remind you of the importance of living in the moment even as you pursue your day-to-day responsibilities.

3. Set realistic expectations. Most stress comes from within you. Expecting yourself to do more than you can will trigger unnecessary anxiety. Allow time and energy for unexpected events.

4. Strive for competence, not infallibility. Competent people make mistakes all the time. They recover from them, learn from them, and move on. Depressed, anxious (and therefore overly stressed) people fume over their mistakes. It’s a waste of time and energy.

5. Don’t always try to prove to others that you’re right. Your view of yourself and your understanding of your virtues are what count. It’s hard enough to do things for yourself and those important to you, much less worry about what everybody else thinks. Trust me: People have their own lives and their own problems and aren’t paying nearly as much attention as you think they are.

6. Take a break. Even a 10 minute walk can help. Smokers have it right — not the smoking part, of course — but the few minutes away from the office or the normal activity can clear the mind.

7. Don’t let resentments build. Handle them while they’re still small and easy to deal with rationally. Ask yourself, ‘If the situation were reversed, how would I want to be told that someone resents something I did?’ Then say it that way. It’s not as hard as you think. It’s true that you should let some things go, but you don’t have to let everything go.

8. Prioritize: Do the most important things first. Pick your fights. You are entitled to guiltlessly decide which people and activities are more important than others. If you don’t prioritize, your life will become more stressful. You don’t have to be a martyr, and others don’t have to be your servants.

9. How you think determines how you feel. Strive for realistic optimism. Hope for the best, expect the best — and always have a back-up plan just in case things don’t work out.

10. Allow yourself extra time when going places. It’s a win-win. If there’s an unexpected delay, you’ll still be on time. If there isn’t, you can take life a little slower. You’ll be more calm, collected and less stressed.  That’s a good thing.

11. Treat those you love well. Respecting those you value is a form of self-respect. You chose your partner and/or the other significant relationships in your life. If you treat these people poorly, what does that say about your attitude toward yourself and the choices you make?

12. Exercise frequently. Regular exercise, based on your doctor’s recommendations, doesn’t need to be elaborate. Even a daily walk can do wonders for your mind. The whole endorphins thing really works. The feelings of well-being brought on by exercise will help you detach for a while and live a happier life, both mentally and physically.