Dear Michael:
I feel so stressed out much of the time.  I guess I am a “type A” person.  My previous job was stressful, so I got a new one, and it’s just as bad.  I just bought my own condo and the financial obligations of that are stressful.  Plus all my old furniture is ugly and I need new stuff, but don’t have the energy to even start looking.  Last of all, I just started dating someone new and I don’t know if it’s good or I should leave.  How can I feel less stressed out all the time?
Overstressed in Ocean Beach

Dear Overstressed:
It sounds like you’re going through a lot of high stress situations (new job, new home, new relationship) and are feeling it.

The bad news first: there is no living without stress.  No matter how wealthy, handsome, secure or confident we are, our life will be difficult, unpleasant, irrational and unreasonable at times.  So, how do we handle this inevitable stress?  How do we let it not control us?

The good news:  there are lots of ways to lower your stress quotient.  Here are a few that I share with my clients:

Awareness of Self: what kinds of people or situations stress you out? These are your stress triggers.  Know them so you can take preventative action when stress comes knocking on your door.  I ask my clients: when you notice a situation is starting to trigger you, what can you do to stop the stress from having its way with you?  Where in your body does stress/tension/worry show up?

Check in with your Body: take a moment, close your eyes and imagine you’re in a situation that would really stress you out.  Notice how your body responds.  For many of us, our shoulders and neck get rigid.   Often we “stuff” our anger/frustration in our stomach.  Our jaws tighten and our back may start to tense.

Get some physical exercise: On work days, exercise before you come to work, during breaks, at lunch or after work.  Anything is good: take a walk around the building during a break.  During your lunch hour, take a brisk stroll or do a 30-minute circuit at your gym or swim in the pool.  In your non-work hours, do something fun and/or relaxing, like playing with your kids/pets, yoga, mediation, prayer, being in nature, listening to music you like, do a little gardening or reading.

Limit your caffeine and sugar intake: you’ll have fewer emotional ups and downs.  Too much alcohol messes up deep sleep patterns and can make you easily irritated/upset the next day.   Notice what foods make you sleepy or groggy and which ones leave you alert and energized.  Before you leave for work, eat something for breakfast, it’s not good to go to work on an empty stomach.  You’re more likely to be moody and let a difficult client or colleague get to you.  All day long: drink lots of water: it gets electrolytes to your brain and helps you think more clearly.

Stop thinking (and obsessing on) stressful thoughts.  Here’s a little sample of cognitive therapy to lower your stress,  it’s called “thought replacement”: Imagine a situation where you had to deal with a really awful person/situation (here, it’s a work situation):  1.  Notice your thought (“All the loony clients are calling me today”), 2. Stop thinking that thought (think “Delete”, “Erase” or “Replace”), and 3. Substitute another thought in the same vein that is positive or at least neutral (“I can handle a few crabby clients.  I’ve done it before, I can do it again.”)

Need an instant vacation from your worries?  Try this stress reduction visualization: Close your eyes and visualize the most peaceful place you’ve ever been.  What it was like?  the climate, the colors, the air, the smells.  Really get into it with all your senses…feel as if you’re actually there…and RELAX.  This place is your IRP (Ideal Relaxation Place).  It’s a secret weapon against stress…it’s always with you because it’s in your mind.  You can use it any time you need to escape.  If you have 10 seconds, you can go there quickly.  If you have 20-30 seconds, even better.  That’s all you need.  You can use it when a client is screaming at you, your partner is in a really bad mood…you know!  Take 10-20 seconds and visualize yourself in your IRP while you answer the phone, calm down the hostile client, sit and listen to your partner vent about whatever’s bothering her/him.

If you don’t sleep well, you’re likely to be stressed out, not thinking as clearly and vulnerable to people pushing your buttons.  To help get a good night’s sleep, avoid intense exercise or eating within 3 hours of sleeptime.  To keep your mind peaceful and your dreams pleasant, don’t watch TV news or read newspapers right before sleep.  Physically all tensed up?  A hot bath with epson salts forces your muscles to relax. If you wake in the night with worry thoughts, do the cognitive thought replacement exercise or go to your IRP to relax your mind and body.

Everyone’s stresses are unique.  You’ve got a new man, new job and new home.  Identify what stresses you out and head it off at the pass.  Know yourself, maybe it’s not a good time to take on a new relationship.  Take good care of yourself, don’t expect to refurnish your new home in one weekend.  Be realistic and use your IRP and whatever other techniques you find to keep your stress under control.  We really do have a choice in how we respond to stressful people and situations.  This column offers you some tools to help you in this process.  If you want more stress reduction tools, contact me at