Reducing Stress: Welcome Thoughts for the Over-Involved


Maybe you are one of those people who are trying to do more and more in less and less time. You take on too many responsibilities. You rush to achieve everything and feel guilty for achieving nothing. You can’t even relax at home without feeling restless. It seems that everyone is doing more than you are doing and doing it better. Still, you are determined to compete successfully and be perfect in all things.

So why do you feel so frustrated?

Some of us who display this pattern of behavior seem to be engaged in a chronic struggle with ourselves, with others, with time, and with life itself. One moment we feel proud because working harder than anyone else “proves” that we are worthwhile and important people. The next moment we realize that we are just “spinning our wheels,” trying to move in all directions at once.

Predictably, the results of this quick-paced, highly stressed way of living are ulcers, heart attacks, irritability, and an inability to be tender and loving. Too often we keep ourselves so frustrated and upset that we seldom really listen to the broken sentences of a little child or notice the spring flowers beginning to bud.

How well do you handle stress?

What is the cost of going in all directions at once? Is it worth it? To find out how well you handle the frustrations in your life, ask yourself the following questions adapted from a test created by Dr. George S. Everly, Jr., of the University of Maryland. They are meant only as a guide, a tool to raise the level of your awareness. Simply add or subtract the number of points indicated in each question. The results are designed to focus your attention on areas of concern and are not meant to be definitive in any way.

1. Give yourself 20 points if you feel that you have a very supportive family.

2. Add 15 points if you feel that you lead a righteous life.

3. Add 10 points if you actively engage in a hobby or form of recreation.

4. Add 20 points if you practice some form of relaxation technique (like progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, imagery, etc.) each day.

5. If you are within 14 pounds of your ideal weight, add 15 points.

6. Subtract 15 points if you are experiencing strong financial disagreements with someone.

7. Add 10 points if you do something during the course of the week that is enjoyable and just for you.

8. Add 10 points if you regularly participate in church or social activities that you enjoy.

9. For each nutritionally balanced meal that you eat during a week (fresh fruit and vegetables included, and easy on the sweets!) add 5 points.

10. Subtract 20 points if you feel that your life is filled with envy, jealousy, and/or competition.

11. Add 10 points if you have some place in your home where you can relax and be alone.

12. Subtract 5 points for each day of the week that you take medication to help you sleep.

13. Subtract 10 points for each day during the week that you take a chemical substance to reduce anxiety or stress.

14. Subtract 10 points if you are frustrated by interruptions of your daily activities.

15. Every time you exercise for over 30 minutes during the week, add 15 points.

16. Each time you bring work home during a week, subtract 5 points.

17. Subtract 5 points for each day during the week that you have a strong disagreement or argument at home or work.

Scoring: If you scored above 75 points, you should be able to handle most of the frustrations of daily living. If you feel inadequate, it may be that you are setting your goals a little too high.

Scores in the 50 to 75 range are average. However, you may find particular situations quite stressful and difficult to control. Review the questions to see where you can improve.

Generally, a score below 50 indicates an inability to handle anything but low levels of anxiety. You would do well to consider some of the following suggestions.

How can you control your frustrations?

If you are busy and frustrated at the same time and not experiencing the peace and joy the scriptures talk about, perhaps you should slow down for a moment and think about your daily activities. Don’t pity yourself and remain discouraged, but look for ways to break out of these uncomfortable moods.

1. Make peace of mind a family affair. Let the family suggest some appropriate ways to relax. Take the time to enjoy reading, walking, exercising, or playing games with family members. If you become so busy that you get “guilt feelings” about your family, perhaps you should change your pace and make peace of mind one of your first family goals. When you do, money, prestige, and other people will not control your life. And interestingly, you may find that peace of mind leads to increased personal and financial success. Start having a regular, weekly activity with members of your family that you can look forward to.

2. Praying does wonders for relieving some frustrations. The scriptural suggestion is: “If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful.” (D&C 136:29.) Spending a few quiet moments in a peaceful setting is a relaxing experience, and praying for help in overcoming depression is especially important.

3. Eat, sleep, and exercise properly. Ideally, it would be nice to start the day with a good leisurely breakfast and walking to work, enjoying three deep breaths of fresh air—instead of grabbing a thin slice of toast, rushing to finish breakfast, and then maneuvering to get onto the freeway.

Get enough sleep. Sleeping poorly for a night or two won’t hurt you—but don’t lose several nights’ sleep over a distressing situation. As the Lord has said, “Retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” (D&C 88:124; italics added.)

A balanced, restrained diet is also very important; and if you need exercise, find something enjoyable and do it moderately. Walk, run, hike, lift weights, swim—it doesn’t matter much what you do if you do it naturally, regularly, and have fun. Sweat a little and make the pulse rate increase, but above all, exercise peacefully and relaxed.”

4. Don’t be disappointed because you can’t do everything. And don’t compete against everybody and everything. If you try too hard, you will surely lose the most important race of your own life—the race toward peaceful and joyful living.

When you feel agitated about not completing all you have to do in a given day, ask yourself, “Who will even know or care in a hundred years?” That’s one way to separate the things that really matter from those that don’t.

You can’t do everything and you can’t change everything the way you would like it to be. So stop evaluating your success in terms of the personal or material success of other people. Instead, learn how to (1) do one thing at a time and enjoy it; (2) cooperate instead of compete—combine your resources and talents with those of other people, and obtain recognition and rewards by enriching the lives of others; (3) treat yourself after a successful effort with:

  • an evening walk

  • a hot bath

  • a great salad

  • relaxing music

  • a hug

  • a good cry

  • an apology

  • some humor

  • a two-hour vacation

  • playing a game

  • fiddling around with a gadget

  • listening, really listening

  • (Note: These stress reducers can be used anytime.)

We have never been required to run faster or labor more than our strength and means (see D&C 10:4), but we are required to be diligent and pray always. My personal hope is that we will take an honest look at ourselves. If we don’t like what we see, then let us plant a seed of change and try an experiment in joy—today.

As I finish writing this article I can feel my mind Free and easy Relaxed and peaceful And my heart Is filled with joy.

Eric Stephan, father of seven, is professor of interpersonal communication at Brigham Young University and a Sunday School teacher in his Provo, Utah, ward.