Having a terrible day, week, month, year? How can you survive it and maybe even grow from the experience? Just like a muscle gets stronger when it is put to work, so a person must go through difficulties in order to get stronger. But some people seem better at that than others. Learning to handle stress is essential to becoming a productive and happily functioning adult that can have healthy relationships and safe boundaries. People who cannot deal with stress usually resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, the opposite of life skills. Life skills help you reach your goals, feel confident, make progress, form relationships, protect yourself, stay healthy, and be successful at a job or business.
Look around at the people you know. Which ones are doing well and which ones aren’t? How do they react when life gets complicated? Who is able to handle added stress and who isn’t? Which one are you? Do you need to improve your life skills?
Two Fictitious Examples
Roberta goes to work every day and does her job without complaining. She likes her job and is liked by her coworkers. Her boss considers her dependable and trustworthy and she has been promoted based on her work and personal skills. She is asked to do extra work sometimes and understands that is the nature of working, it will have busy days and slow days. On the busy days, Roberta makes sure to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, get up and stretch, and remind herself that things will slow down again and she is capable of handling this workload. If she needs more time, she discusses it with her boss. Her coworkers appreciate that she is doing her part. After work, she goes home to relax, does some stretching, eats a healthy dinner, takes a hot shower, reads her Bible, then gets a good nights sleep in order to be ready for the job tomorrow. On the weekends she spends time with friends, goes for a run, and goes to church. She enjoys reading, cooking, and volunteers when she has time. She feels blessed and thankful.
Horace works at the same place. Horace is not happy at his job and lets everyone know it. He tells everyone he is underpaid and overworked. Yet he doesn’t change jobs. When given extra work, he loudly proclaims that it is not his job and he’s not getting paid enough. He doesn’t want to get fired or quit, so he drinks extra caffeine, eats more donuts, and frets and worries which causes him to take even longer to get it done. He also annoys his coworkers by his complaining which causes them to dislike him, so he feels persecuted even though he brought it on himself. After work he goes to a sports bar, gets drunk, takes an Uber home and falls asleep on the couch with his phone in his hand. The next day he has to retrieve his car from the bar so he shows up late to work unwashed and feeling hungover and wonders why his life is so terrible. On weekends he spends more time drinking, sleeping , watching idiotic TV shows, and eating fast food. He has no plans for the future. He thinks life has dealt him a bad hand.
These two people are the same age, came from the same town, are the same race, both have college degrees, and were in the same situation, but had different emotional reactions to stress and different outlooks on life. Roberta was able to respond appropriately to difficulties. Horace did not have important life skills. He had unrealistic expectations and incorrect beliefs about life. His main goal was to avoid anything but the most basic responsibilities because he had no faith in himself and no desire to get stronger. He told himself he was fine with this way of life, but he tried to be invisible , collect his paycheck and escape from real life as much as possible. He did not feel proud of himself and had trouble thinking about the future. Horace will become more and more miserable if he doesn’t change some things.
Realistic expectations are essential to every situation in life. Sometimes the best idea is to have no expectations of others and focus on ourselves and what we can and should be doing. If things are not going well, see what you can do about it. Every situation is different and sometimes the solutions are very difficult, but looking at it realistically is always better than running away. Stress can happen at work, school, in volunteer organizations, family, clubs, etc. Learning how to handle it is a critical skill.
Do this, not that. The following are just a few things that can help you be more successful, healthy, and deal with stress more effectively. The more you practice, the easier it gets!
Habits and Expectations
- Realize that life will include stress. Don’t expect it to be easy every day.
- Trust yourself to handle it and develop the ability by gradually doing more difficult jobs. Don’t expect people to only give you easy tasks. Take on the ones that help you grow and be proud when you do well!
- Take on reasonable risks after careful evaluation. Do not let fear of failure stop you from trying something new.
- Pay attention during training or instructions and take notes. Don’t zone out or be on your phone when you should be learning how to do something.
- Realize that what you put in your body, food, drinks, alcohol, drugs, has an effect on your mind. Don’t think that you can get away with abusing your body and not pay for it later with difficulty thinking, making decisions, depression, anxiety, and illnesses.
- Practice healthy habits such as exercise, prayer, adequate sleep and rest, and spending time with friends. Don’t isolate yourself, stay up late, live off caffeine, and forget about your spiritual self.
- Remember that your actions and words can affect others. Stick to helpful, honest, constructive suggestions. Do not blame, criticize, judge, or gossip.
- Seek information when you are not sure what to do. Don’t be afraid or too stubborn or prideful to ask for help.
- To take responsibility for your actions. Do not expect others to do it for you.
Perspective and Emotions
- Do be thankful. Don’t be ungrateful.
- Say “Thank you!” “I’m sorry.” “How can I do better at this?” “What can I do to help?”
- Do change your perspective when things look impossible and look for something good about the situation. If nothing is good, try to look for ways to change things. Don’t give up and don’t get stuck in the moment. Things will change or you will change.
- Do be honest with yourself. Are you doing your part? Are you part of the problem? Don’t refuse to admit when you’re wrong. Don’t be overly sensitive. Forgive yourself if you are the problem and do what you have to do to fix it.
- Do listen to criticism. Do not take it personally. You are not a bad person, but you may have to do things differently.
- Stay focused on the task when you are in it, but leave it when you are done. Do not obsess over mistakes or what other people are doing.
- Focus on what you can do. Do not focus on things you have no control over.
- Make plans, lists, and goals. Do not expect to be successful without knowing what you want to accomplish.
- Learn what you need to know whether by training, self-study, classes, or mentors. Become an expert on things you need to be an expert on. Do not expect to be paid for being an expert if you are not one.
- Understand that life is not fair. But do not become a victim of your own refusal to do what is necessary to help yourself.
- Try, fail, try again. Do not quit!
Skills and Values
- Do learn financial skills, including investing, insurance, and business skills.
- Do build credit by getting a credit card and making regular on-time payments. Do not use payday loans or borrow money from friends and family.
- Do make a budget and include a savings plan. Do not spend more money than you make.
- Do learn how to cook healthy, affordable meals, snacks, and desserts. Do not eat junk food every meal.
- Do be a life-long learner. Do not think you know enough already.
- Study the people you admire. Do not automatically assume that they were lucky or had success given to them.
- Read biographies of successful and influential people from the past and present. Watch inspiring documentaries. Many famous and important people have overcome extreme obstacles . Many successes happened only after multiple failures.
- Practice the virtues of patience, forgiveness, kindness, understanding, courage, and generosity, honesty, loyalty, respect, and humility. Do not be lazy, vengeful, impatient, dishonest, selfish, prideful, stingy, fickle, or mean-spirited.