By Michael Proctor

With the sustenance of the Thanksgiving holiday in our hearts—and under our belts—we are ready to shift into high gear for the next celebration, party or event. Although we go through this every year, planning to accomplish a long list of tasks, taking on extra responsibilities, filling up our social calendars and depleting our finances, most of us are still learning how to do it without succumbing to stress.

Inevitable as it may be, stress provides the opportunity to renew the imagination, to stretch ourselves. This stretching can lead to growth—emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. Stress can be a positive motivator with a built in reward system. Exercising our stress response may be as important as exercising our cardiovascular system or immune response. We need stress, up to a point. Stress is not a disorder. It is our physical, emotional and biochemical responses to stress which may bring us out of balance and into discomfort, illness or disease.

Have you noticed how many different responses we have to stress? When we are not managing stress well, we might feel anger, frustration, anxiety, lethargy, giddiness, or any number of other emotional responses. Initially, stress responses may increase physical strength and mental acuity, but unmanaged chronic stress may compromise important physical and mental functions.

There is no lack of information about stress management techniques and practices; the difficulty for many of us is in finding what works for our personal situation and then actually using those methods on a regular basis. I like to think of stress management techniques in two basic categories: proactive practices and behaviors (healthy lifestyle), and quick results (immediate response—sort of like first aid).

I will not get into the proactive category of stress management in this short article, but instead will focus on some quick relief ideas. I’m not skipping over these things because they are less important; practicing lifestyle and behavior changes is a process that can last a lifetime. We mostly know what changes we want or need to make in order to be able to manage stress—sleeping well, eating well, exercising, managing time, engaging in spiritual practice, hobbies, and so forth. The more you practice proactive stress management, the better your “quick results” methods will work. Journaling is one proactive practice that will serve the purpose of helping you keep track of what your challenges are and what stress management techniques bring you results.

What are the “quick results” methods? There are plenty of possibilities! Practice different things to discover what works best for you in different situations. Some stressors can be “walked away from” and some cannot. Sometimes stress is unrelenting and other times it comes in manageable intervals. So it is good to have a variety of “quick results” methods ready, and equally important to recognize the stressor for what it is.

Whatever the events that bring you together with family and friends this winter, pay attention to the kids, who recognize stress long before adults do, and very often know what to do about it…if only we’d let them