By Rev. Dr. Curt Keller
A reality of life is that very few people have become adults and gone through college without having developed some ways naturally to deal with stress. In younger years we may have been very physically active or perhaps had a nice set of friends that we talked with on a regular basis. We may have taken time to escape or our rooms and listen to music we liked. Most often we have developed some behaviors that helped us deal with problems of life that helped us. As we grow we have a tendency to move away from what helped us in the past because our live situations change and our life patterns change. Then when stress builds we may be at a loss on what to do to deal with it.
The first step we should take is to look back at what helped us deal with stress in the past. Then ask yourself if it is possible to do these things in the present. If getting high was how you handled stress as a teenager, then it is probably not a good stress release today. However, if you exercised in the past and that helped, perhaps adding that exercise into your daily routine today would be helpful. If you were a cross country runner, you may not want to run as far, but you may find adding a run several times a week helps. (Exercise helps our body create chemicals in our bodies that help with stress.) If you have not exercised in a long long time, you will want to be sure that you do so in a healthy way and not do too much causing physical harm. Perhaps you dealt with stress by talking with friends. (Conversations with friends help create chemicals that help with stress.) Do you have friends with whom you can talk without constantly talking about problems? If not, can you begin developing some? If you are married, you probably have a built in stress reliever that you may have forgotten about. Most people get married because they enjoy spending time with someone. After some years a marriage and children coming along, spending that enjoyable time with the spouse might dwindle to very little or to nothing. Make sure that you and your spouse can spend some fun time together on a regular basis. This should be a convenient easily accessible stress reliever.
Look back at what has worked in the past and see what you can do from that list today. The strength in tapping into what worked in the past is that it not only has a proven track record in reducing stress, it is something that you are more likely continue. When we add something completely different to our life, we may not be as likely to continue doing it. For instance if you read that gardening is a good stress reliever, which it can be, you may decide to start gardening just to find out that you really do not enjoy it and then it simply adds to stress, rather than reducing it. And it will be something that you will not continue.
(Rev. Dr. Curt Keller is pastor of Peoria Forrest Hill UMC and a licensed marriage and family therapist)