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Making the Most of Stress

Being a parent or an educator has to be one of the toughest jobs ever invented --  to not only be on top of your own life, with all its trials and tribulations, but also stay focused on your role as the children's primary/secondary influencing force. 

We want to be the best we can be; we want to help children learn how to become independent and make good choices in life; we want to achieve our goals and help the kids meet theirs; we want to be there when we are needed, step back when it is appropriate, and just listen when that is the best thing to do. Wonderful goals, but slip into this process conflicting time schedules, appointments, differing of opinions, different learning styles, priorities, personalities, and the need for independence and a sense of belonging, and you have the makings for some 'big time stresses'!

So how DO we cope with all this? How do we keep from becoming stressed-out, overcome with anxiety? 

First of all we need to know what stress is!

I like to think of stress and anxiety as two different things. 


  • a good thing
  • an indicator that changes are happening
  • a preparation for action
  • physical cues


  • a not-so-good thing
  • an indicator of fighting/denying change
  • always ready for action but no action comes
  • spinning your wheels
Anxiety --a good thing, you say?? Yes, anxiety is a good thing! 
It is actually a vital component of survival, of motivation, of reinforcement.  
I called this page "Making the Most of Stress", but that was just to get your attention. 
It is actually "Making the Most of Anxiety" that I will be focusing on. 
Stress is what we want to avoid.


The following chart indicates where anxiety comes into play and when we head into the stress zone.  


The Comfort Zone

I want to point out the wonderful middle section called "the comfort zone".  Oh how we love our comfort zone.  It is safe and secure; it is the known; it is routine.  Regardless of what type of environment we live in -- including abuse -- that is our comfort zone.  We know what to expect.  We know what will happen next, what the effects of different actions will be, and how others will act in any given situation. But throw an unknown factor in there, a change in the patterns, and we hit the anxiety level. 
We know many tricks to keep in our comfort zone, and so do children.  Let's look at a situation where the adult reacts with "yelling" when a child (let's say "Tom") behaves in a way the adult (let's say "Mary") feels is inappropriate. 

Tom does something "wrong". Mary yells. Tom yells back. Mary sends him to his room.  

Now let's say that Mary takes an anger management course and decides to stop yelling at Tom. How does this affect the "comfort zone"?

Tom does something "wrong". Mary is uncomfortable but doesn't yell. Tom is confused, anxious -- this is NOT the comfort zone!  He yells anyway. Mary continues to ignore it.  He yells louder.  Tom knows what to expect and he wants it to happen.  He yells again, waiting for Mary to send him to his room.  Mary still ignores him but is getting very stressed (anxious but doing nothing about it).   Tom continues to yell and throws in some slamming of doors, stomping of feet, and anything else he can think of to get the routine back to normal.   Mary finally has enough, yells, and sends him to his room. 

The comfort zone: safety, known, routine.

oops... it was pointed out to me that I was focusing too much on the negative!  So, on the flipside of our "sandbagging attempts to move out of our comfort zones", here is why we need to stay IN our Comfort Zone!

The Comfort Zone is where we get to live.. to explore, to learn, to become experts, to practice, to enjoy life, to coast, to laugh, to fit in, to belong, to know who we are, to perfect,  to relax, to build relationships, to let our hair down, to unwind, to build our self-esteem, to be proud of ourselves... to love life!

The Comfort Zone is not a place we want to avoid, however, we, as members of the human species, do need the rejuvenation stages and the growth stages as the cycle of life revolves.

The rejuvenation and growth areas of our lives are short-term, temporary states as we progress through our lives, moving from one comfort zone to the next.
Each comfort zone we hit, we should enjoy to the fullest, but remain ever aware of the need to grow and the need to reflect.


Anxiety, as stated above, lets us know that we are at a point in our lives where change is going to happen, has happened, or is needing to happen. Our bodies give us clues to let us know that it is ready! We may get sweaty palms, or start to pace, or tune out the world. 
Everyone's anxiety cues are different. To be in control of stress, one must be able to tell when they are being anxious-- be aware of the cues.  What are your anxiety cues? Ask your family and friends. Ask the kids! They may know the signs better than you. Write them down; post them on the fridge.  This is very important knowledge and the key to stress control. 
Now, knowing the cues is only half the battle. Just as we are good at keeping in the comfort zone we are also very good at hiding or ignoring the cues. Upset stomach? Take some antacid.  Tuning out the world? Grab the tv controller. But these are avoidance tactics and leave you spinning your wheels. 

What I want to do is change the chart above and remove the stress zones.
Anxiety --cues regarding change. But what change? Let's look at the revised chart.

Rejuvenation ANXIETY




 New opportunities; new challenges; new awareness; new understanding. That is growth. Change is important. Without it we would be in a cave somewhere eating vegetation or raw meat.  But growth means stepping out of that comfort zone and that can be "stressful" -- if we avoid it, deny it, or fight it. Fighting growth can make us on edge, easily agitated, and avoiding it can plummet us down through the comfort zone to the other end of the chart.


At the other end of the spectrum is rest, recouping, planning, recharging, refocusing.  This also is very important.
Without it we will burn out or walk in circles without a plan of action. We will give and do and give and do until we have nothing left to give or no energy left to do. People who avoid the rejuvenation fall into states of depression. 'Their lives aren't going anywhere; they are failures; nothing ever changes; life is hopeless.' 

Anxiety tells us that we are ready for rejuvenation or growth! So how do we know where we are headed and what to do, so that we avoid jumping into the stress zones?

Making the Most of Anxiety

Ok. Let's get down to the nitty gritty!  What to do? What to do!!! 

  1. Listen to your body: recognize the cues
  2. Stop what you are doing; take time to reflect
  3. Identify the cause of the anxiety -- are you  dealing with change in your life, or wanting one? are you worn out, needing a break? are you just needing time to refocus, to figure out where you stand?
  4. Plan-what do you need, to move forward or to rejuvenate yourself? what is really going on? why has your comfort zone been thrown in a loop? how are you going to deal with it? 
  5. Delegate, negotiate, reiterate, contemplate, communicate, activate, but don't procrastinate
Simple, huh?? 

What are the pitfalls to making this work?  Well again, we know many tricks to sandbag our attempts at growth and rejuvenation. (Remember: we LOVE our comfort zone!)  And on the other hand, we lack some of the skills to controlling our lives.  Life does not come with a manual.  But it does come with experience, and boy have I had experiences!! When we take the time to sit back and reflect on things, we do indeed learn some important things about life. This page is about what I have learned.


Whose Problem Is It ? Choose to Not Choose Living In the Past
  • Let other people own their own problem--the choices, the responsibilities, the consequences (that does not mean that you are not there to help them through it, but it is their issue to deal with)
  • give advice and opinions but allow them the right to make own choices 
  • with children, know when it is appropriate to take control (safety). You cannot make a child learn; you can provide him with the tools. You CAN stop a child from running into traffic.
  • accept their choices as theirs and make your new choices accordingly.  So often we stew over their choices, berating them, judging them.  But their choices were the best they could make with the information they had AT THE TIME, with their knowledge from past experiences. their skills, and their mood / personality etc.
  • assess the situation and your needs of the moment and make a conscious choice of action -- which may be not to do anything, but that is still a choice
  • making a choice means staying in charge, being in control 
  • in any given situation you can choose to 
    1) live with the situation as is and continue to be upset about it;
    2) live with the situation as it is but change your perception of it;
    3) make changes which includes providing information and tools to others so they can make new choices; 
    4) walk away from the situation -- leave it in the past



  • once you have made a choice and acted on it -- let it go (learn from it, but do not rehash your decision, beating yourself up over it, if things didn't go as planned)
  • when you make a choice, it is the best choice at that time, in that given situation, with the information you had at that given moment, with the knowledge of previous experiences, in the mood you were in at that moment, with the amount of sleep, amount of other issues in your life
  • acknowledge that we don't typically choose to make a bad choice -- unless it is to sabotage ourselves and/or keep us in our comfort zone (and why DO we want to stay there, if there is a chance for rejuvenation or growth? That is a question we also sometimes avoid asking ourselves!)
  • know that you made the best choice you could and can make difference choices in the future
  • but about the past?? it was the best you could do, it was meeting your needs; you weren't ready for anything different; learn the lesson and move on.
  • celebrate the experiences of the past, the wisdom that you gained and the growth that you have made because of and/or since the events


A co-worker isn't pulling their weight.  They know how to slack off and not get caught, spend way too much time at the water cooler, leaves tasks for others to complete, and goes home with the same pay cheque as you. What do you do?

We can name-call, gossip or complain with the other co-workers or family members. Yes, we can do this, but I would guess that the anxiety we feel over the situation will quickly turn to stress! Looking at the pitfalls above, what can we do to "Make the Most of Anxiety"?

Whose Problem is it?

  • is it your problem? or is it that person's and their boss?
  • do you really need to concern yourself with their actions?
  • is knowing that YOU are doing a great job and are respected by others more important to you than what people think of someone else?
  • is it your responsibility as a team member to ensure everyone is onboard and doing their best?

Choose to Choose

  • REJUVENATE... take some time to look at the situation and determine a plan.  What are your goals, what do you need to accomplish them?
  • TAKE ACTION -- which might include talking to the person, then talking to the boss, ignoring the person's behaviours and focusing on your job, not participating in the gossip.  Consider how to do what you choose to do and what the consequences of these actions will be. Are you willing to deal with the consequences? Do you have back-up plans in place?
  • Know that your actions may not achieve the goals you desire.  Everyone has the right to make their own choices.  Let them.  Then make new choices.  (ex. the boss sides with your co-worker. He* can do that.. that is his* right. Now you have to decide how you are going to handle that.. go above his head? talk to him? leave?)

Living in the Past

  • LET IT GO... if things seem to get worse because of your choices, know that you did what was best at that moment in your life.  Make new choices.  Move on. Learn from your action. Be proud of making a choice, taking a stand (regardless of what that is). 

There is nothing in life that you HAVE TO DO
 except make a choice!

Once it is a choice, then you have regained control. 

  • You don't HAVE to work, you choose to work -- enjoy it

  • You don't HAVE to take the kids to the dentist, you choose to take them --be proud of it

  • You don't HAVE to cook meals, you choose to cook -- take pleasure in it

  • You don't HAVE to bring in a pay cheque (you could go live off the land) -- be thankful for it (unless you WANT to live off the land.. then make some choices!! Do it!



  • allow yourself to feel anger, resentment, frustration etc. TEMPORARILY.. then do something about it!
  • live with no regrets (make a choice and follow it through, knowing you can change your plans down the road)
  • when things seem overwhelming, it is time for rejuvenation
  • watch the self-talk (you don't HAVE to, no one is MAKING you, you aren't the ONLY one who can etc.)
  • when the roller coaster of life is a dropping to the bottom, climb off at the top and wait for it to come back up -- rejuvenate, take control by making conscious choices, know that it WILL get better again
  • delegate, negotiate, reiterate, contemplate, communicate, activate, but don't procrastinate... make a choice!

copyright 2000 Debbie Roswell
The above info is my own personal perspective on life--and not meant as a replacement to professional help. 
Only you know your situation, your personality, your past experiences. But DO do everything you can to enjoy life!!

Any more ideas?? Please share them!