How To Deal with Stress

LonelyWomanDear Annie,

While helping others deal with stress is important, what do I do if I am the stressed person? It seems like I have so many issues to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I've been seeing a counselor and am on medication but I still get so stressed out at times that it makes me physically ill. Do you have any suggestions? ~ Overwhelmed with Stress

Dear Overwhelmed,

I gave you that name because that is where you are right now. Once your life and body get overwhelmed with stress it is a different challenge than preventing or just maintaining a calmer state-of-mind. Your body is likely - literally - overdosing on cortisol, the stress hormone. So the first thing is to work to remove as much of this from your system as possible. Which means intervention now, prevention later.

So for intervention you are already doing some excellent things! Finding a good counselor to help you process and work through some of your stress and taking medication that can keep your body from absorbing so much of the stress in the first place will both help. Another excellent addition would be to learn and practice mindfulness mediation every day. You can get a CD to help you or go to a class to learn it. Even 10 minutes of mindfulness and breathing exercises daily can help lower your cortisol and assist you in recovering from this very bad case of stress.

From there you want to tackle this bug from two directions:

1. Reduce the number of stressors. What stressors can you reliquish from your life right now. Sometimes we have expectations that need to be rethought. Do you have a lot of 'shoulds' running around in your head? If so, talk to them and see which ones are willing to give you a break. Also work at getting better at asking for help with those obligations and reasonable expectations that life does demand of you. Though not in an 'I'm sick and you need to help' way but in an 'I'm strong but I can't do it all myself' way. Finally, take time for yourself to keep stress from overwhelming your system again. This might mean finding your joys, taking a walk, investing your time in something meaningful for you, or shutting the door to the world for 15 minutes to relax.

2. Change your relationship to stress. Challenge how you see your life and what you define as stressful. This is where you are looking for some AHA moments.

Oh - my son just dumped all the cheerios on the floor that I just spent a half an hour cleaning. Oh that's right - my house won't look clean again for about 20 years! And I guess that floor was still hungry! Well here's a lesson I hope he learns quickly. Now how can I help him?

The bills are really piling up! How am I going to manage??? OK - first let me take stock of what I do have. Good support. A roof over my head. Now remember - stress isn't going to help me here. I need creativity and some good advice! What are some good ideas? Who can I ask for solutions?

Working with your counselor and other wise people you trust is really going to help you. When you find yourself stuck, think of someone you know who handles stress better and ask yourself - what would So-and-So do here. But also don't forget to ask yourself about your own strengths! You have many I can already tell. One is that you aren't just sitting on your butt wallowing in your cortisol. You are out there seeking solutions. That's how you found me!

Now keep it up and you will keep going in the right direction. And before you know it you will start to see that payoff.

Good luck and feel free to check back in to share your successes, ask further questions or give your own advice on what helped.


Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Speaker, Author and Private Practice Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan who has great compassion for people in stress. She is available for consultation and to answer your questions. You can contact her at