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Stress Management

Stress – A Problem for All Ages

Stress Management Coping With Everyday StressorsStress Management article and exercises excerpted from Optimal Well-Being for Senior Adults, Vol. 1 by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Kathy A. Khalsa, CPC, OTR/L and Coping with Everyday Stressors  by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

We live in a world fraught with stress. Stress has many sources and can bestress  generated from within a person through self-imposed thoughts and feelings, while others stressors come from the environment: Stress is completely age tolerant. Our reactions to stress might be different as we get older, but it is out there waiting to pounce.

Stress generated from within a person ‒ Stress can be self-imposed through low self-esteem, anger, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, perfectionistic tendencies, jealousy and hostility. For example, people who are perfectionistic often bring stress upon themselves by being too careful and worrying about tasks being perfectly accomplished.

Stress generated from the environment – Stress can be felt from the results of environmental catastrophes such as severe storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and acts of war. For example, people who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives after a hurricane find themselves struggling to meet their most basic needs.

Stress generated from conflicts – Stress can be the result of situations in which people are faced with an incompatibility with people, needs, demands, opportunities or goals. For example, a person who does not get along with a co-worker will experience stress on the job.

Stress generated from daily hassles – Stress can be the result of minor irritating annoyances that occur in daily life. Some of these daily hassles may be losing keys, car breaking down, waiting in long lines at a store, waiting for appointments, and getting stuck in traffic. For example, a person having to sit in traffic going to and coming home from work will experience stress.

Stress generated from economic factors – Stress can be the result of economic factors such as losing money in the stock market, not having enough money in retirement, growing inflation, and amassing too much debt. For example, many people have to work later in life because of a lack of enough money to live on in retirement. People may struggle with overcrowded housing, inadequate heating or air-conditioning, dangerous neighborhoods, etc.

Stress generated from changes in families – Stress can be the results of changes in the family such as parents’ separation, divorce, blended families, loss of loved ones, change in residence, birth of a child, adoption, changes in health of family members, and caring for aging parents. For example, people who are forced to care for aging parents often feel guilt, and are stressed because it takes time away from work and other family obligations.

Stress generated from changes at work – Stress can be the result of changes on a job, loss of work, changes in a role played at work, uncomfortable physical demands in the workplace, a lack of safety, interpersonal demands such as an abrasive supervisor or co-worker, and having too much work to complete. For example, a person who must work with an abrasive supervisor will feel uncomfortable most of the work day. In order to successfully deal with all of the various types of stress, people must find creative ways of coping. The exercises that follow will help you manage your stress and move forward to lead a happy, healthy life.

The stress experienced by seniors is greatly impacted by past lifestyle choices and the tools we have learned to cope with our stress. Stress Management – Past and Present will help clarify those skills that work well and those that do not.

Stress Management – Past and Present

The lessons we learned in our past inform us on how we manage stress now. Answer the following questions in your journal or discuss them with a friend. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

In your past:

  1. Think back to your childhood. How did the adults in your life manage their stress?
  2. As a child or teenager, how did you manage your stress?
  3. What is a memory from your childhood or teen years when you managed stress in an unhealthy way?
  4. What is a memory from your childhood or teen years when you managed stress in a healthy way?

In the present:

  1. What was one way in the last month that you managed stress?
  2. When you are at home, what is one stress management activity that is immediately accessible?
  3. Who is one person in your life, who can support you in managing stress well?
  4. What is one goal or boundary that you can set to assist you in stress management?

How did the lessons you learned in your past inform how you manage stress now?


Physical Distress Symptoms

How you move and hold your body tells a great deal about your level of stress and physical wellness.  Look at the list of stress symptoms below. Which of these do you exhibit and when do you find yourself experiencing them? In your journal list the symptoms and write about when and with whom you experience them. Write about how you might overcome this. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

Foot tapping (impatience)

Tight, hunched shoulders (anxiety or frustration)

Tightly folded arms (anger or disappointment)

Sagging shoulders (fatigue)

Biting nails (anxiety or worry)

Frowning forehead (worry or fatigue)

Clenched teeth (stressed)

Biting or Licking Lips (nervousness)

Downturned corners of mouth (disapproval)

What other physical distress symptoms do you exhibit? Write about those as well.


Stress Relief A to Z

Good coping skills are a must to handle the stress we all experience. On the left you will find a list of skills. In your journal write what you would do, following the A to Z pattern. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

Stress Relief A to Z


Your Own Stress Relief A to Z Suggestions


Avoid negative people. A
Be yourself. B
Change your thought. C
Don’t think you know all the answers. D
Exercise often. E
Feed the birds. F
Give someone a hug. G
Hum a joyful song. H
Invite a friend to dinner. I
Join others when invited. J
Keep a journal. K
Look up at the stars. L
Make duplicate car or house keys. M
NO! Just say it with no excuses. N
Open a door for someone. O
Pet a friendly dog or cat. P
Quit trying to fix other people. Q
Repair things that don’t work properly. R
Stand up and stretch. S
Take a shower. T
Use time wisely. U
Visualize yourself relaxing. V
Walk in the rain. W
X–plore a new idea. X
Yak with a friend. Y
Zoom into a healthy restaurant. Z

To download a digital copy of these stress management worksheets, click here.

LAUGH! Using Humor as a Stress Management Tool

Laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh…

Don't Get Mad Get Funny - Laugh

Expressions such as, “Oh, just laugh it off” or “Don’t be such a sour puss” don’t make me smile. They make me more annoyed than I was before someone tried to lighten my load. Furthermore, I often snap back with something pithy such as, “Great! What other trite expression can you offer?” Not helpful to anyone. Leigh Anne Jasheway in Don’t Get Mad Get Funny offers a path to find healthy laughter that actually works.  The following is excerpted from her book.

Finding Your Funnybone

Before you can begin to use humor as a stress management tool, you need to understand some things about your sense of humor and your ability and willingness to smile, giggle, or laugh so hard it hurts. Everyone has a different sense of humor and unless you are attuned to yours, you will end up missing many opportunities to use your humor skills to deal with life’s little unexpected miseries.

A recent study reported that the average American five-year-old child laughs out loud around four hundred times a day, while the average adult laughs out loud only fifteen. Young children are truly hedonistic – when something is no longer fun, they stop doing it. We adults call that a short attention span.

A boy laughs while readingReaching adulthood does require a degree of buckling down and getting serious. Let’s face it – there are things we have to do whether we want to or not. But so many of us have lost the sheer capacity for fun, joy, and laughter that even when we have the opportunity, we miss it.

Many adults face a debilitating disease that has never been medically diagnosed: humor impairment. Humor impairment is the inability to find humor even in situations that are funny to most other people. My personal term for this state is constipation, because if you can’t release your emotions through laughter, you emotional and spiritual systems are “backed up”.

Your level of humor constipation is often a result of the environment in which you grew up. If laughter was always present in your family, your ability and willingness to laugh with others is probably great. On the other hand, if, like me, you grew up in a family where laughter was frowned upon, you will probably find it more difficult to express humor in front of others.

But, as with any other behavior, you can change. I grew up in a family where expressing any type of emotion was seen as a sign of immaturity. As a result, I was a most serious child, preferring Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath to the daily comics. I married a man who believed that neither laughter nor tears were acceptable or desirable. Today, however, I make my living teaching laughter and comedy and performing as a stand-up comic. My background has truly taught me how bleak and unhealthy a life without humor can be. (By the way, I still love Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath, but now they rub shoulders on my bookshelves with books by Dave Barry and Rita Rudner.)

Take this short quiz to determine how willing and able you are to laugh at life and its foibles.

Your Laughter Profile

  1. During an average day, I laugh out loud, snicker or giggle:
    1. Once or not at all
    2. Two or three times
    3. At least once an hour
    4. Constantly, I’m under medication
  2. When I am alone and read, see, hear, or think something funny, I:
    1. Smile to myself
    2. Laugh out loud, but look around to see if anyone saw me
    3. Laugh out loud and find someone with whom to share the funny thing
    4. Take a cold shower
  3. In the past year, I can remember:
    1. At least one time I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    2. At least two to five times I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    3. More than five times I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    4. I can’t remember – what was the question?
  4. When I’m around other people, they laugh and joke:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. I never hang around other people, they might laugh at me!
  5. When faced with daily crisis (the dog peed on the rug, I missed the project deadline again, my daughter needs brownies for school NOW!) I respond with a laugh:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Only if it’s someone else’s rug, deadline, or child
  6. I do things intentionally to make myself laugh:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. That might hurt!
  7. The people I spend most of my time with:
    1. Leave me feeling drained and depressed
    2. Don’t really affect my attitude
    3. Make me laugh a lot
    4. Usually steal my lunch money
  8. I can name:
    1. One thing that almost always makes me laugh
    2. Two things that almost always make me laugh
    3. At least three things that almost always makes me laugh
    4. My closest relatives
  9. I laugh at myself:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Only when I’m not in the room
  10. I do silly things on purpose (wear strange buttons, make funny noises, and do things to see how others will respond):
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. No one ever notices
  11. When I hear people laughing at work, the first thing I think is:
    1. I wish I could get paid to goof off
    2. I wish I knew what the joke is
    3. How wonderful that they’re having a good time, I think I’ll join them
    4. That it’s Saturday and I shouldn’t even be here

How to score your laughter profile

Give yourself the following points for each letter: a=0 b=1 c=2 d=3. Then add them up to obtain your total score.

If your score is less than 5, you are suffering from humor malnutrition. Someone probably told you “Grow up, get serious!” and you did. In order for you to find the humor in daily events, you will have to start slowly – first by convincing yourself that humor is an acceptable emotion and one that is healthy when used regularly.

If your score is from 6 to 15, you occasionally have a good laugh, but your life lacks humor regularity. Remember, laughter is like exercise – you have to do it regularly to get the full benefit. Use it or lose it! You’re good at expressing humor when you find things funny, but your goal now is to try to find humor in those things that usually make you angry, annoyed, or irritated.

If your score is from 16 to 20, you are humorously fit! Not only do you approach life with the right amount of humor and benefit from it, you also probably make other people’s lives more enjoyable. You should become a friend and role model for people around you who need the healing power of humor yet who don’t seem to be able to use it in their lives.

If your score is from 21 to 33, you’re downright silly, aren’t you? Don’t stifle those childish instincts! Sure they told you in school that the class clown would never go anywhere in life. But they were wrong! Look at Chris Rock! He’s taking it to the bank.

Click here for a printable version.

Your Humor Compass: Where do you find the funny in life?

Now that you have a better idea of your ability and willingness to use humor on a daily basis, it is important to understand the kinds of things that you find funny. After all, just as our taste in food or art varies, so does our taste in what is and is not funny to us.

An important note here: You do not necessarily have to laugh out loud to find something funny. One of my best friends and I went to a movie together a few years ago. I laughed so hard I couldn’t see through the tears. She sat there quietly. Afterwards, she said the movie was one of the funniest she had seen in years.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine the types of humor that you will be able to use to most effectively manage your stress.

  • Do you laugh more at the physical or slapstick humor you find in the Three Stooges, I Love Lucy, Perfect Strangers, and The Mask, or do you prefer verbal humor, or do you enjoy both?
  • Do you have a strong sense of humor ethics? In other words, do you find certain specific types of jokes to be offensive rather than funny?
    It is important for you to understand the types of humor that distress you rather than tickle you. They may include stereotypical jokes, put-downs, or humor about certain subjects that are too close to your heart for you to find them fanny at present.
  • Do you like jokes that focus on things you have in common with the comedian?
    Studies indicate that many people do prefer humor that speaks to their own personal experience, which means that we often prefer comedy from people who are similar in age, race, or gender.|
  • Do you like topical humor, jokes that build on current events?
    Late night humorists are scheduled to appear on television after the news to help people cope with the negative images painted during the evening newscast. If this type of humor is appealing to you, you can try, yourself, to find humor in your local newspaper and nightly news report.
  • Do you like wordplay and puns?
    An interesting thing that I have discovered is that different types of humor appear to be more or less popular in different parts of the United States. When teaching humor classes, I have noted, for example, that people from the Midwest tend to enjoy the humor of puns more than people from other areas of the country.
  • Do you prefer humor that stands on its own, or do you like props and gimmicks?
    Some people find Gallagher extremely funny (for those of you who don’t know, he’s the guy famous for smashing watermelons on stage). Others think he’s just silly.
  • Do you regularly find humor in things that aren’t necessarily meant to be funny?
    For example, do you make jokes about commercials, billboards, medical forms, or warning labels on food packages?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you identify the types of humor to seek out, as well as the types of humor you yourself may attempt in order to reduce your stress and have more fun in life.

Stress Management Classics to Use Everyday

Time-Honored Classic Stress Management Techniques
Yes or No?

The Huffington Post ran an article by Kate Bratskeir, their Food and Health Editor, in April of 2013. She asked Dr. David Posen, and  Dr. Kathleen Hall, if the old stress management techniques still work in today’s more more highly charged environment. Are their some that might not work so well today?

According to Ms. Braatskeir’s article the following methods still have their place in the stress buster lexicon:

  • Squeezing a stress ball
  • Letting yourself have a good cry
  • Letting loose on the dance floor
  • Talking it out
  • Shouting It out
  • A good, old-fashioned time-out
  • Breaking something
  • Writing an angry letter that won’t be seen again
  • Taking a deep breath
  • The pendulum (collision balls) swing
  • Exercising

As you can see, many of these are similar to one another…talking, shouting, writing an angry letter for the shredder are right down the same alley. Letting loose on the dance floor, squeezing a stress ball, breaking something, and exercising take advantage of the release of endorphins that exercise produces. Crying, a time-out, watching the pendulum swing are less involved physically, but can engage you mentally. Few professionals would cross these activities off their list of effective coping tools.

In honor of these traditional methods here is a favorite coping exercise from Donald A. Tubesing, PhD’s series “Structured Exercises in Stress Management  Vol 3”.

Eight-Minute Stress Break
Participants learn a 15-step stretching routine that can be used any time of the day.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of exercise as a stress management technique.
To stretch all the major muscle groups.

Group Size
Unlimited, as long as there is sufficient space for everyone to move freely.

Time Frame
10 minutes

CD player and peppy music.

1)  The trainer briefly describes typical benefits of stretching and exercise as stress management techniques:

  • Stretching and vigorous exercise both help discharge accumulated physical tension from the various muscle groups.
  • The increased flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles usually stimulates an increased energy level.
  • Both types of physical activity provide a distraction from emotional or mental strain.
  • Stretching and exercise are effective preventive measures for dealing with stress by systematically letting go of tension before it accumulates to unhealthy proportions. These techniques also are effective in crisis situations to relieve the physical effects of stress.

2)  The trainer turns on the music and participants join in as he/she demonstrates the Eight-Minute Stress Break routine which can easily be incorporated into a busy schedule.


  • Choose only a few exercises to teach during this presentation (eg, all upper body stretches). Then sprinkle the other routines throughout the remainder of the session.
  • To model how this skill could be used in real life, teach the whole sequence at once and then sprinkle repeat performances as mini stretch breaks during unexpected or particularly stressful moments in the remainder of the learning experience.
  • If the course is several sessions long, go through the sequence once at every meeting in order to entrench the routine in participants’ minds.
  • After Step 2 hand out the list of 14 stretches. Ask people to identify their favorites and make a list of those they especially want to use in the future and the situations where they most need to!

Eight-Minute Stress Break Stretchers

The 360 Stretch

  • Begin with your body relaxed, arms and hands loose at your side. Pull your right shoulder up and with one smooth movement, bring the shoulder back and around, making a complete circle.
  • Repeat this same circular motion with the left shoulder.
  • Continue stretching one shoulder, then the other, 5 times each. The reverse the direction, using alternate shoulders, 5 times each. This should loosen up your neck, back, and shoulder – place where most people store tension.

Starfish Stretch

  • Begin with your arms stretched overhead, slightly bent, eyes turned upward.
  • In a single motion, open your hands, spread your fingers wide, and reach up as high as you can. Hold that position for a few seconds. Then close your fists and lower your arms, with elbows bent. Rest a few seconds and then repeat the starfish stretch/rest sequence 10 to 15 times.
  • For variety, stretch to the side.

Snow Angels

  • Allow your arms to hang loose at your sides. Begin to loosen your wrists by shaking your hands, allowing them to flop as freely as possible.
  • Continue to shake and flop as you slowly raise your arms to the side and up until your hands touch overhead. Then allow your arms to gradually drop, still shaking and loosening the wrists.

Tall Grass Stalk

  • Extend your arms out in front of you.
  • While concentrating on your shoulders, slowly sweep your hands and arms to the side and back, as if pushing tall grass out of the way.
  • You should feel a pull along your shoulders and arms.
  • Stretch your arms out again and “stalk” for 10 more steps.

Bunny Hop

  • Put your hands on your hips and hop twice on your right foot. Now hop twice on your left foot. Continue these double hops, alternating feet and adding a side kick or a cross kick on the second hop.
  • Continue hopping and kicking for 30 seconds, varying your tempo and kick height.


  • Start by getting centered, feet firmly planted, knees slightly bent.
  • Lift your right knee up towards your chest, slap it with your left hand and then lower your leg and stretch it to the side, toes pointing outward. Repeat the hoe-down lift 3 more times and then try the left leg for 4 counts.

Cloud Walk

  • This is a slow step, rolling from heel to toe, one foot at a time, gently stretching the legs and feet. Your whole body should be relaxed.
  • Pick up the tempo of the heel-toe roll until you reach a slow jog, raising your feet slightly off the floor at each step. Continue at this pace for 30 seconds.


  • Start with your legs slightly apart.
  • Dip your body into an easy knee-bend and then spring back to the upright position.
  • Continue to bend and spring back for 30 seconds, adding rhythmic arm swings as you increase your pace.

Arch Stretch

  • With knees slightly bent, join your hands comfortably behind your back.
  • Slowly arch your back, letting your hands and stiff arms pull your shoulders and head down toward the floor.
  • Hold for 5 counts and then relax, allowing your head to fall forward and your shoulders to curl toward the front.
  • Repeat 7 times.


  • With feet shoulder width apart and knees bent, put your hands on your hips.
  • Keep your back straight as you twist your shoulders and trunk to the right 3 times and then return to face forward.
  • Now twist to the opposite side for 3 counts and return to the center.
  • Continue to twist for 8 sets.

Body Bounce

  • With feet apart, arms at your sides, bend sideways at the waist, stretching your hand down to your leg as you straighten up.
  • Repeat the stretch and bounce to the other side. Do 5 body bounces on each side.
  • Now add your arms to the stretching movement. With your left arm, reach up and over as you bounce to the left 3 counts.
  • Do 5 sets on each side.

Sneak Peek

  • Stand straight with your neck, shoulders and back as relaxed as possible.
  • Tilt your head to the left. Now slowly roll your head so that your chin falls to your chest and then comes up as your head tilts to the right. Now look back over your right shoulder, hold the pose and then relax.
  • Repeat the stretch, this time starting with your head tilted to the right and ending with a sneak peek over your left shoulder.
  • Do four peeks on each side.

The Wave

  • Stand straight with your arms at your sides, palms facing out.
  • As you take a long deep breath, slowly (4 counts) raise your arms up over your head. Now, as you exhale slowly, bring your arms back down, palms facing downward (4 counts).
  • Repeat this languid wave 6 times.

Hang Loose

  • Time to shake out your body.
  • Flap your arms, twist your wrists, shrug your shoulders, jiggle  your legs, shake your feet, flex your knees.
  • Bounce your booty until your whole body feels tingly, loose and relaxed.

How we manage stress is passed on in families

What causes most depression: genetics or experiences?

A hint to the answer comes from the comparisons of depression and schizophrenia rates worldwide. Schizophrenia is found in approximately 1% of the population no matter the culture. Depression varies dramatically culture to culture suggesting it could be contagious.

Consider the following and see if you think depression is spreading:

  • The World Health Organization says depression is the fourth leading cause of human disability and projects by 2020 it’ll take over second place.
  • The average onset of depression is the mid-20s. It used to be the mid-30s.
  • According to clinical psychologist Michael Yapko, long-term studies show depression intensifying one generation to the next, “Today’s parents are the largest depressed group raising the fastest-growing group of depression sufferers.”
  • We’re four times more depressed than our parents; ten times more so than our grandparents! And this is not due to greater awareness of the illness.

Since depressed people experience far more difficulty socially than do those not depressed, could they be spreading the illness? They have:

  • More family and marital arguments;
  • Less relationship satisfaction;
  • Greater unhappiness;

Even though you can be genetically vulnerable to depression, the greater cause is learning, mostly from our families, how to manage what goes on inside our heads, including our:

  • Explanatory style (the meaning we attach to life experiences);
  • Cognitive style (thinking);
  • Coping style (how we manage stress);
  • Problem-solving style;
  • Relational style;

Families model their thinking, feeling, and relating to others, passing on these patterns to other family members.

Yapko also reports a near-perfect correlation between parents’ explanatory style and their child’s. When your child asks you why something happened, your explanation represents your style of thinking including your belief of what caused it. “Why can’t I take tennis lessons, Mom?” “It’s a waste of money since you’ll never be coordinated.” Mom attributes the cause to the child’s clumsiness. And her permanently negative attribution communicates nothing will ever change.

Yapko says these routine interactions happen multiple times daily, imperceptibly shaping the child’s beliefs about himself and his world. They influence how he filters risk-taking, his own potential, whom he blames when things go wrong – and – his vulnerability to depression.

Additionally, the child who learns to make global assumptions that life events are beyond his control experiences greater helplessness and hopelessness, ingredients for depression. He’s more likely to perceive himself helpless about his happiness, competence and relationships.

Studies show these interpretation patterns are established early on. In one study, 8 year-old children were asked how they’d respond if shopping with their mother and suddenly finding themselves separated from her. The anxious children produced scary scenarios of never finding their parents and being adopted by strangers. The nonanxious kids said they’d ask the store manager to make a P-A announcement. Free of their peers’ anxiety, they’d think their way through to solving the problem.

Which patterns of perceiving are you teaching your kids?

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Create a stress safety net for your kids

You can’t prevent your kids from experiencing stress (although many “helicopter parents” try their best) but there is much you can do to help them learn to handle it.

All kids need to feel safe, secure and loved. A 35-year study that followed 87 Harvard College men into middle age found the healthiest at age 55 were those who said their parents were the most caring. The young men who said their parents were less loving, and especially those who saw their parents as unjust, were most likely to have illnesses like heart disease and hypertension by age 55.

Parents are the main anchors in children’s lives. When kids feel cared for and loved, their moment-to-to-moment stress is reduced lowering their stress hormones thereby improving immune function, setting the stage for a healthier adulthood.

So, talk to your children. Find out if they feel loved. This isn’t about buying them stuff. It’s about accepting their perceptions of their relationship with you as the truth and acting in a way that your children may experience you as fair and loving.

Just as a trapeze artist can practice new moves with more confidence and less fear knowing there is a safety net below to catch her if she falls, so, too, can children take new risks, try new stress management behaviors, when they know they have a safety net to fall back on when something goes wrong.

Build a stress safety net for the kids in your life. There are six components (adapted from my audio program “Teaching Kids how to Manage Stress):

1. Parents as role models;

2. Unconditional love;

3. Values;

4. Hope and optimism;

5. Problem-solving;

6. Personal responsibility;

If you have a mostly loving relationship with your children you can begin immediately to teach them stress management skills.

However, if you have a distant and distrustful relationship, you’ll need to concentrate on establishing a loving and trusting one first, before they will be open to you teaching them the skills that will follow in future articles. Concentrate on creating the safety net for the next months. When more trust evolves, then you can teach them how to think and how to problem solve.

We don’t normally think about teaching someone how to think. Yet your stressors begin and end with your thoughts about them. Your thoughts represent your beliefs, the underlying source of much stress. Your thoughts trigger your emotional reactions, which dictate your behavioral reactions. For example, your 15-year-old is nervous about a Spanish test. He knows he’ll do terribly (his belief). He tells himself, “I’m so stupid. I’m going to flunk this test.” (Belief/perception communicated through his thoughts.) He feels great anxiety and fear (stress emotions) and feels sick to his stomach (the fight/flight hormones wreaking havoc on his body.)

As a parent how should you handle this? Tell him how smart he is? Confirm that he does poorly in Spanish? Over the following weeks we’ll explore how you can help him handle this and many other challenges.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.

Physical Stress Reduction

Stress skills are as varied as your stressors, but so far we’ve only talked about mental ways to combat stress. What about physical symptoms of stress? Shouldn’t they have physical stress skills to go with them? Yes! One of the key aspects of physical stress skills is exercise.

Exercise skills are an important part of taking care of yourself. They increase your strength, stamina, and energy. Your body works best when it is used regularly, just like a car. If it sits too long, it begins to rust. However, be sure you’re willing to exercise consistently or you can do more harm than good. It’s easy to get over-zealous and hurt yourself. Instead of starting off by running five miles, start with one and work your way up. If you feel exhausted an hour after exercising rather than energized, you’re going too hard. Spend at least five to ten minutes warming up before you start and an equal amount cooling down afterwards. If you don’t think regular exercise is something that you can schedule in, then at least try to stretch your muscles every day. If you need motivation, try exercising with a friend or two. If you use exercise as a de-stressor, you may get more out of it if you do it alone to burn off some steam. If you’re using it as an energizer, then spending time with friends will help.

  • What kinds of exercise for you want to do?
  • What kinds would be healthiest for you?

Faith and Surrender as Outlook Skills

Faith means many things. It isn’t necessarily belief in religion, but rather a type of trust. It is a trust of things you cannot prove or explain. You trust your friends will come through for you, or you trust gravity. There are many kinds of faith. It allows you to tap into a source of strength beyond yourself. It is what you know and believe to be true when your mind can’t prove it otherwise – the final extension of perception. Superficial faith isn’t any help, but deep faith can help you with stress that comes from the most painful parts of life. Allow tragedy to grow faith in you. Don’t run away from reality because it hurts. Hardships bring new insights. If you want to further develop your concept of faith, ask others about what they believe. Listen. How is it different from yours? How is it similar? Do not try to sell your faith to them; there are no right or wrong answers. Be polite and respectful; open your mind and learn.

Faith helps you surrender —accepting what is now and moving on from an outdated past or a distant future. Understand that things change and will continue to do so. Learn to live within your limits and make the best of what life has to offer. Surrendering is not defeat. Don’t let yourself worry needlessly over something you can’t control in the distant future. If you cross that bridge before you have to, you pay the toll twice.

Laughter: The Best Stress Buster

Our minds have an amazing gift; imagination and the ability to laugh are perhaps the greatest talents we have. Laughter relieves tension and gives you a new perspective. It allows you to see yourself as separate from your stress. I’m not suggesting you drop your life’s work and try life as a stand-up comic, but try laughing at the quirks in life rather than letting them stress you. You don’t have to try to be funny, just enjoy life’s inconsistencies. If you think about the details of your life, you’ll notice things about it are pretty funny. Example: cleaning my kitchen results in the dishwasher in pieces in the living room. Was it frustrating at first? Yes. Is it funny in retrospect? Yes. Tell others about them and they’re sure to get a kick out of it. You can change complaints into jokes – something everyone will enjoy more. Or, use your imagination; paint silly pictures in your mind when you need to snap out of a bad mood. Picture a man walking down the street. He’s wearing an expensive three-piece suit, marching with dignity through a rainstorm. Over his head, he holds an umbrella, except it’s missing the cover; there’s no cloth or plastic, just bare metal spokes. He’s wearing a blue tie that’s bleeding dye all over his white shirt. Now change his suit pants for shorts, tall white socks and cowboy boots. He meets someone on the street. What does the other person look like? What happens next?

Turn Your Holiday Traps into Holiday Treasures

Holiday Traps or Holiday Treasures
From Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits
By Donald Tubesing, PhD, MDiv & Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD

Do eagerly look forward to the holidays? Does your creative, not to mention spiritual, energy expand?

Or are your holidays filled with too many “shoulds” that exhaust you?

Take this assessment to identify your Holiday Traps and Holiday Treasures so you can continue the treasures to reduce your holiday stress and change the traps that add stress to your already too-busy life. Circle true or false for each. If it’s difficult to decide, estimate which answer would be 51% true of you.

1.    You lose control over your activity calendar saying “yes” to all invitations and requests. Each carries a “social obligation” burden and can overwhelm you. Or the opposite, you sit at home waiting for someone to include you, which doesn’t happen so you’re all alone again.

True                      False

2.    Gift giving is a creative activity for you. You excel at looking through your receivers’ eyes to select something very appropriate for each. You enjoy the planning, shopping and the wrapping of each gift, as well as their appreciation of your choice.

True                      False

3.    You live far away from your family of origin and cannot make it home for the holidays and will deeply miss your family’s holiday traditions. How depressing. OR You and your new mate both have your own treasured holiday traditions. In an attempt to make you both happy you work hard to meld them together, which is more confusing and exhausting than it is comforting and enjoyable. Why does he have to have potato pancakes on Christmas morning? Why can’t he give that up?

True                      False

4.    You love to decorate your home for the holidays. All of the festive sights, smells and sounds energize you. You love hearing from loved ones far away through their cards and can hardly wait to visit and celebrate with those closer to home. It’s all so magical and loving.

True                      False

5.    You give the gifts you hope to receive, while at the same time fear you won’t get what you want. You want so many things and can’t prioritize your preferences. You tend to measure others’ love for you by how many gifts and the expense of each they give to you.

True                      False

6.    You love the busyness aspect of the holidays because it fills you with a sense of purpose and worth. All of the social gatherings reconnect you with your support system that you hold dear. Plus, the extra commitments help you appreciate the solitude and silence when they return.

True                      False

7.    You dread gathering with your family of origin for the holidays knowing that the same old conflicts and pressures will reappear. Your older siblings treat you like you’re still their little sister while your parents trigger everyone’s defenses just like they always have. What a pain!

True                      False

8.     Making the holidays perfect is important to you. Your house, the food and the gifts must be memorable and appreciated. But every year you feel let down when reality doesn’t match your Madison Avenue expectations. You expect yourself to feel loving, joyous and peaceful but find yourself feeling lonely, sad and discouraged.

True                      False

9.     One of the many reasons you so enjoy the holidays is that they allow you to get back in touch with your childlike past imbuing the festivities with magic and meaning. You love all of the sights and sounds and the comfort they bring you. You enjoy celebrating your heritage and affirming the love that connects you no matter what has transpired.

True                      False

10.  The holidays allow you to get in touch with the meaning in your life. The rituals and traditions stimulate spiritual reflection and centering as well as a sense of playfulness, excitement and wonder. You know the traditions can help you through the difficult times even when your feelings don’t quite match the occasion.

True                      False

Scoring directions

Check out whether your “true” answers indicate a trap or a treasure.





Santa Claus Trap Item #5 Santa Claus Treasure Item #2
Activity Trap Item #1 Activity Treasure Item #6
Tradition Trap Item #3 Tradition Treasure Item #10
Life Script Trap Item #7 Life Script Treasure Item #9
Magic Trap Item #8 Magic Treasure Item #4

1. Santa Claus Trap to Santa Claus Treasure

Gift giving can be fun but can become a major holiday hassle; it takes time when you’re stretched thin already and in today’s economy who can afford them? To help move you from trap to treasure answer these questions:

  • What kind of gift giving would be meaningful to you and to your recipients?
  • What would help your heart and soul – and theirs – feel refreshed?

Give meaningful gifts:

  • Make a gift instead of buying it;
  • Give your time and attention in some way;
  • Don’t just give tickets to an event but go along and share the experience;
  • Give a gift of affirmations, memories, thanks;
  • Donate blood, give groceries to a food bank; give an exhausted mother an afternoon of child care, or help a neighbor in need.
  • Put yourself on your gift list, too. Treat yourself to a gift that’s perfect for you.

Also, learn to ask for what you want. Don’t be a closet hinter. If whoever it is you’ve hinted to in the past hasn’t gotten it, what makes you think s/he will this year? Don’t expect others to read your mind. Speak up. For example, if you’re lonely, ask someone to share your celebration – or ask to participate in theirs. If you need time alone in the middle of all of the holiday togetherness, say so.

Helpful hint: if you can’t get what you want, want what you get; it’s much more satisfying than wishing for the impossible.

2. Activity Trap to Activity Treasure

It is startlingly easy to get caught up in the Activity Trap over the holidays. You have your own expectations of yourself and of others, as does everybody else.

Start by listing all of the things you want to accomplish before and during the holidays then cross out the unnecessary activities.

  • Identify your top priorities and make time for them, even if that means something else gets tossed out. Remember, if everything is a priority then nothing is.
  • What energizes you? Do more of these activities, while doing less of what drains you.
  • Do your unpleasant tasks as quickly and painlessly as possible, then reward yourself. Refuse to suffer.
  • Keep for yourself the activities you enjoy, even if they aren’t essential or could be done by others. You need them. They nurture you.
  • When you’re being a slave, lighten your load. When the guests arrive use this great idea from a workshop participant:

Before anyone arrives, write down all the little jobs it takes to host a wonderful gathering on small and colorful, festive pieces of paper. Fold them and put them into a bowl.

As your guests arrive invite them to draw one task from the bowl and agree to take on the responsibility. Present this idea in a cheerful way.

Include everything you can think of: set the table, recycle empty cans and bottles, clear the table for doing dishes, bring out after-dinner coffee, etc.

Then observe how virtually everybody enthusiastically jumps into their assigned job and enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie this creates. If anyone resists they won’t for long when they see how willingly everyone else participates.

You can also turn obligations into energizers by creatively updating them. Any new approach can energize you.

  • Instead of sending out holiday cards, write a compliment to each friend rather than a history of the past year.
  • Surprise some people on your list with a brief, long distance phone call.
  • Fill out your holiday cards at the library, a favorite restaurant or someplace enjoyable to you.

3. Tradition Trap to Tradition Treasure

Some traditions are worth continuing, others definitely need to be pitched, while still others can be tweaked and made better.

  • Which tradition from your past would you like to resurrect? Maybe it’s singing holiday songs before dinner? Or attending a religious ceremony together. Or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Make sure participating in this tradition lifts your spirit versus depresses you with yet one more obligation.
  • Ask friends about their traditions and adopt an appealing one for yourself.

4. Life Script Trap to Life Script Treasure

Do you feel trapped in the roles you play in life: the always giving mother, the always providing father, the always good little sister or brother?

Be aware that when you return to your family of origin for any reason, not just for the holidays, that it is interestingly common for all to revert to the roles they each had during those years. Big brothers boss more; little sisters please more, etc.

Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. Don’t feel what you “think you should feel” or “wish you felt.” Trying to deny or manipulate your feelings, or act contrary to them only distances you from yourself. Not that you need to confront everyone who’s upsetting to you at the moment of upset, but if you would more frequently tell people how you feel about what they’re doing in an assertive fashion, more conflicts would be resolved more quickly.

Which situations or people trigger your regressions the most? Prepare for these by creating a mantra to say to yourself before, during and even after your gathering. For example, let’s say your Uncle Sid is a boorish man who loves to argue politics with anyone who will accommodate him. When he picks on you your automatic reaction is to get defensive and loud. Follow these three steps to respond to him the way you want:

1.    What is your goal? For example, to avoid getting negatively hooked by Uncle Sid

2.    To achieve this goal how do you need to be? Calm, relaxed, accepting of him and gracious no matter what he says.

3.    Affirm this over and over again. “I’m calm and relaxed, accepting and gracious.”

Repeat this to yourself a hundred and more times before you’re with him, deep breathing as you do. This will prepare you. While you’re in his presence repeat it to yourself again. When you feel you’re getting hooked, repeat it in your mind again over and over while slowly deep breathing.

5. Magic Trap to Magic Treasure

There are no perfect holidays – for anyone. If you think others experience them then you are experiencing the Magic Trap. Magical thinking tends to be all or nothing thinking. Everyone is perfectly happy all of the time or they’re miserable. It’s never that stark.

Which holiday expectations do you have that go typically unmet? Unmet expectations are often unrealistic to begin with; no one could satisfy them. So, for example, if you want everything to be perfect the day of your holiday celebration it’s your expectation that’s your problem. Accept what is. Realize that your need for perfection can cause the very problems you later feel depressed about. Those around you can feel your too-high expectations and rebel. Learn to accept each person as he or she is. Don’t expect behavior from them that they historically haven’t shown. So if your brother is always late for the celebration, let him be late. Don’t take it personally. Accept that this is a part of him for whatever his reasons.

Which holiday expectations fill you with joy historically? If it’s planning and obtaining everyone’s gifts and you do this throughout the year, do it and enjoy it.

The degree to which you turn your traps into treasures will be the degree to which you lower your stress and truly enjoy the season.

From  Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits by Donald A Tubesing, PhD, MDiv, and Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD.

Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits