As a college graduation gift, I gave a friend’s son a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble Bookseller. He earned a mechanical engineering degree and will work as a rocket structural engineer.
He sent me a nice handwritten thank you note (which few people do these days) and said he plans to use it to buy a book that other structural engineers recommend. The book is Roark’s Formulas for Stress and Strain.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a formula for handling the stress and strain of life?
Many health issues would resolve or be easier to manage if life stressors would just go away. Three fourths of the patients treated by primary care physicians have problems aggravated by emotional, social, or behavioral issues.
Life’s interruptions and disruptions won’t disappear, but you can make them less of a strain on your time, energy, and resources. There’s usually no quick fix but 5 steps can lessen their impact.
I’m learning the value of these steps now as I deal with the stress of a foot fracture that is not healing as expected. I’m now facing surgery to correct it, and a longer convalescence than I expected. For someone who is used to being active, this prolonged inactivity stresses me both physically and emotionally. These 5 steps were already a part of my life, but consciously choosing them now helps me cope with what would otherwise cause frustration and sadness.
5 steps to manage life’s stress and strain
1. Create and maintain a routine and schedule.
Having a plan for your time helps you feel more in control of your life. Resist the tendency to become socially isolated or avoid activities you usually enjoy.
Times of crisis, loss, or illness may leave you feeling disconnected and adrift, but having a schedule provides structure and connection. When you are busy, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.
2. Recognizing and reaching out to social supports
Your family and friends are your first line of support during times of stress and duress. It’s nice if we don’t have to ask for their support, but their lives are busy too, so don’t be hesitant to ask for help if you need it. If they don’t call you, call them.
Other sources for help include your healthcare professionals; don’t be embarrassed to share that you need social and emotional support. Your doctor can help you identify and get connected with community resources.
Look for help from your or your spouse’s job, your religious community, organizations you belong to, your school, and online resources for support- educational sites, forums, support groups. Although not as personal as face to face support, these are helpful if you are geographically isolated or mobility is difficult.
3. Reframe by refocusing on the positive rather than the negative.
Recognizing and emphasizing the positive in life makes the problems less overwhelming and distressing. Look for something to be grateful for, or that brings a little joy into your day. It may be as simple as flowers blooming in your yard, your favorite tea and sweet, a funny story in a magazine.
Remembering and observing happy events, occasions, and celebrations can also be sources of renewed joy.
Norma, a woman facing terminal illness, reframed her crisis by finding joy in small things, like jigsaw puzzles, new foods, and a “good perm”. Read more about her at
4. Stay active mentally and physically
Physical activity doesn’t have to be a chore, boring, or expensive. Many things can be done at home or in your neighborhood-walking, bicycling, cardio, yoga. If exercise isn’t your thing, try dancing, gardening, swimming.
If your physical mobility is limited, try something stimulating mentally-sewing, crafts, games, puzzles, writing, cooking are just a few possibilities.
5. Nurture your inner self
Sometimes we need to withdraw from outward activities and stimulation for times of quiet rest and reflection.
You may find help from mindfulness, meditation, prayer, devotional reading, music, journaling, or a combination of these approaches.
Breathing exercises can lessen anxiousness and tension.
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In this post, a retired nurse blogger uses gardening for both exercise and mindfulness.
“But what I like most about gardening is how I can get lost in the moment of whatever I’m doing; whether it’s planting, weeding or pruning. It truly is a togetherness of body and mind.”
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