Stress is a peculiar thing. For some people it can be extremely tough to handle. For others it's what keeps them going. I've read articles about good stress and bad stress, and I'm sure we all know individuals who seem to thrive under pressure.
It all depends on personality and attitude. If you think of a task as an ordeal, it probably will be. If you view it as a challenge, it is quite a different experience. We all remember cramming for an exam or a presentation. For some of us that is pure agony; for others it is exhilarating.
The most critical element of stress management is to know thyself. For instance, know how you'll react to certain situations. The better you know your stress threshold, the better you'll be able to cope with problems. Think about the times you've been stressed. What did it feel like? Did you see it coming? What was your response? How did you affect other people? You are the only one who has the answers.
Another part of the stress-control equation involves recognizing the stresses you routinely face. It's even a good idea to write them down. Then when you have time to reflect on them you can think about creative ways to counter those stressful situations. And don't try to be tough. The truth is that a heavy load carried for a long time will wear anyone down.
It's also important to think about any recent changes in your life. Maybe you lost your job or are battling a chronic illness. It could even be something terrific like being promoted or having a child. You can find stress just about anywhere, and it's important to identify it so you can begin to cope with it. Maybe that means counseling. Maybe it means cutting back on some of your commitments. It all comes back to knowing yourself and facing up to what you have to do to ease the pressure.
If stress is beginning to get the best of you, the best advice I can offer is this: Decide to change your approach to life. Face up to who you are and what you stand for. Know your limitations. Stop being a perfectionist and give others the room to be human, too.
Exercise can be a great deterrent to stress, even if it's only a 20-minute walk. Or search for alternatives, such as painting, singing, dancing or even bird-watching. It's really what you enjoy the most.
When all else fails, try these three R's for effective stress reduction: rest, relaxation and relationships. Learn to slow down and take a breather. Keep a sense of humor about yourself and life. Try to spend lots of time with family and friends. Being together with those you love can be the best stress antidote there is.
Editors note: This is a reprint of a letter from Oct. 25, 1999. Lauer underwent successful hip replacement surgery last week. He will resume his column soon.