Keeping things simple a good way to escape stress

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You don't have to be a Buddhist monk or develop an Indy driver's nerves of steel to cope with stress brought on by hectic schedules, ever-increasing demands at work, or the challenge of balancing family and work life. Concentrating on a few basics will increase your resiliency to stress.

It boils down to being "good to yourself" in the most basic of ways, according to Lyle Miller and Alma Smith. The U.S. psychologists devised the "Vulnerability To Stress Scale," a short questionnaire that measures people's ability to cope with stress.

Being generous or good to yourself doesn't mean spending lots of money on clothing, food, or entertainment. As fun as that sounds, it won't help increase your ability to cope with stress. The answer is, focus on the simple things, as highlighted by Miller and Smith's questionnaire -- your health, your home life, your spirit, your money, and your time.

YOUR HEALTH

We can be a lot more generous with ourselves by caring for our health. And the process needn't be complicated. For example, making sure to eat at least one hot, balanced meal every day will help you handle stress, as suggested by Miller and Smith's survey.

However, instead of following this simple guideline, many people put pressure on themselves by believing they must start an ultra- healthy gourmet cuisine regimen that requires an exhaustive search for the perfect ingredients. Keep it simple (unless gourmet shopping and food preparation is your particular way to unwind).

And missing a bit of sleep won't hurt you as long as you aim for seven to eight hours of sleep at night for at least four nights per week. Being resilient to stress means getting some rest.

Other simple ways to ameliorate stress include exercising twice a week until you sweat, and limiting cigarettes to less than half a pack a day if you have to smoke. It's always a good idea to quit, of course, but if that's not going to happen soon, the simple solution is to cut down a bit.

Drink fewer than five alcoholic drinks per week and you'll be better equipped to deal with whatever comes your way during the week. If you are unable to follow this basic guideline, get help.

Limiting yourself to less than three cups of coffee, tea or cola a day is another way to increase your ability to handle stress. Many times, when talking to people about stress, we ask them about how much caffeine they consume each day. People are surprised to find their stress levels increase with caffeine use. If you love coffee, try decaffeinated beverages after you've reached your three-cup limit.

If we maintain our basic health (that includes an appropriate weight, as well as dental and medical care) we can better withstand the curveballs life can throw at us. People who stay in good health are better at handling stress.

YOUR HOME LIFE

Having a relative upon whom you can rely is a good way to ward off stress. According to Miller and Smith, sharing your feelings with a close friend when you are angry or fearful can help, too. Giving and receiving affection regularly -- whether you cuddle a spouse, partner, child or pet is important. Being part of a social club or engaging in social activities is good for stress reduction.

Keep communication open at home, talk about chores and schedules, and try to plan how to get things done around the house with family members, roommates, or your partner. Perhaps this is easier said than done, but in the long term if you nurture even just one positive relationship, you'll be happier and less stressed.

YOUR SPIRIT

Some people gain a tremendous amount of solace from religion, but coping well with stress doesn't necessarily entail joining a religious group. Miller and Smith note that being sure to cultivate an optimistic outlook most of the time is one way to reduce stress.

Play is crucial too. Do something fun at least once per week, whether it is an organized sport, dancing, or an art class. That increases our capacity to handle stress. If adding something like this to an overloaded schedule is impossible, think about finding something to look forward to once a week since that can make a difference too.

YOUR MONEY

Identify your basic expenses, avoid spending more than you earn, and watch how little stress you feel when you can stay out of debt. Be sure to have enough money to cover your basic expenses, and take a moment to ask yourself how the purchases you are tempted to make will ultimately lower your stress level. Stress can become a reason to shop for things we don't need when we believe purchases will bring relief. And buying things we probably could do without won't decrease stress.

YOUR TIME

Time is precious when you are stressed. According to Miller and Smith, making sure that you have a bit of quiet time is important in keeping perspective. Rushing from one thing to another may be sustainable for awhile, but eventually you will be unable to maintain the pace. So remember to rest after these kinds of "sprints." Make time to sit for a moment, refrain from over- scheduling and allow yourself to take a break.