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ANTI-STRESS TIPS FOR MEN AND WOMEN

Here are ways for women to defuse stress, taken from "The Female Stress Syndrome," by Georgia Witkin:

Talk to your female friends. They can offer empathy and support you won't find anywhere else.

Learn to say no to your kids without feeling guilty; to your spouse without justifying yourself; to your parents without defending yourself. Learn to say no graciously, not tentatively. To your boss, give explanations, not excuses.

Set priorities. You can't make all your commitments priorities, so make fewer commitments.

Give yourself the freedom to change your mind; reassessing is a mark of flexibility, not instability.

"The Male Stress Syndrome," by Georgia Witkin, suggests these ways for men to defuse stress:

Cultivate a support network of people you can talk to when you're under stress. Some possibilities besides your mate and friends: parents, older kids, siblings, colleagues, clergy, physicians.

Learn to express your anger without losing control or alienating the important people in your life. Second, be specific about the incident that has upset you. Third, if the other person offers an explanation, shut up and listen to it. If the other person offers an apology, accept it.

Substitute low- or no-stress behavior for high-stress behavior. For example, substitute sit-down meals for sandwiches on the run; swap a hobby -- any hobby -- for working overtime consistently; substitute a non-competitive sport such as jogging for one of your competitive tennis matches.

Recognize the limits of your power. Men are brought up to value control, which can be a major contributor to stress. Realize that you can't control other people, including spouses, children and employees. Above all, you can't control events.

And here are some suggestions for ways both men and women can handle stress:

Get physical -- walk, swim, play tennis or racquetball. Any sustained, rhythmic, self-regulated physical exercise not only uses up the extra adrenaline that stress stimulates, it also increases your sense of control, distracts you from your stressors, gives you a sense of accomplishment and leaves your muscles relaxed.

Monitor your nutrition and get enough sleep.

Reorganize part of your world: Clean out your wallet, rearrange your kitchen drawer or tool chest. Part of the brain will register the results as an increase in control.

Set up a soothing environment for your body and your mind, whether it be a warm bubble bath, a steamy shower or five minutes of shut-eye in the sunshine coming through the office window. Take mental vacations from daily details, such as browsing through a bookstore or planning a construction project -- bookshelves, a deck, a toy box, whatever.

Learn self-hypnosis techniques for instant, quick relaxation.

Learn to play. Join your kids in the back yard for a game of softball; do crossword puzzles; play games like backgammon for distraction, games like cards for socializing and games like Scrabble for self-improvement. Play games with teams if you enjoy the camaraderie or one-on-one games if you enjoy competition. Give yourself permission to celebrate victory if you win and to demand a rematch if you lose.

Learn to laugh. Laughter lights up our faces, relaxes our muscles, lowers our sense of vigilance, restores our objectivity and enhances hope.

Use the "as-if" technique: Behave as if everyone would be delighted to treat you just the way you want to be treated. By making this assumption -- instead of your usual pessimistic assumptions -- you make it easier to ask for favors without defensiveness. You also teach others that you see yourself as worthwhile and entitled to positive treatment; flatter others by making requests, not demands; and reinforce reactions in others that will reduce, not increase, your stress.
-- Loraine O'Connell

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