Sam was driving home from work. The same old tapes were playing in his head. How much he hated his job, how overworked he was, and how he couldn’t stand this commute one more day. Traffic started to back up and Sam could feel his blood start to boil. “I can’t believe I have to do this every single day. I have wasted 10 years of my life sitting in this traffic. I hate my life!”
Sam can’t quit his job. He has 2 more years on this project and then he’s done, but if he doesn’t get a hold of his stress level, he may be done a lot sooner than that. His problem isn’t unique. He’s over worked, underpaid, and stressed, and he hasn’t done a thing about it. He’s miserable.

Why doesn’t he get help? Why doesn’t he try to reduce the stress in his life? Because he doesn’t even notice how bad it is.

Here are some indicators of stress overload Sam missed that could have possibly helped him if he were paying closer attention:

Sleep problems
Change in appetite
Poor concentration
Performance dip
Uncharacteristic work errors
Angry outbursts
Alcohol or substance abuse

Unfortunately, what finally got Sam’s attention was a heart attack. When he came to me for counseling, he was ready to start paying attention. Here’s what we came up with to help him de-stress.

Change your response to stress
The most important thing we need to realize about stress is our reaction to it. Changing your response to stress involves learning to calm yourself by practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques. I taught Sam how to do a body scan to keep himself relaxed

Think this not that
Sam’s negative internal monologues were only ramping up his stress level. He learned to notice how all the negative things he was telling himself were only causing him to be more miserable. He said he never realized the connection between his self talk and his mood. Sam was instructed to play relaxing music, or listen to a book on tape during his commute time. He learned to replace his negative self-talk with positive counterstatements that helped him feel better

Exercise is the best medicine to relieve stress. It releases happy chemicals in the brain. We needed to get Sam moving, so we set some goals around his needs. We made these realistic so he could stick to it. We devised an action plan with next steps to help him each week

Take a powernap
Sam committed to take his lunch hour each day instead of working through it. This was his time to wind down, practice relaxation, take a walk, or take a 20-minute powernap

Release emotions
Sam kept everything bottled up. He needed to learn to let things out. To do more of this (talking) and less of that (stuffing) he needed to find someone, after he finished counseling, that he could be accountable with to talk about his stressful emotions

Like Sam you may be unintentionally stuck in some bad habits that are contributing to your stress level. De-stressing isn’t hard it just takes intentional effort. Start today to protect yourself from the ill effects of stress in your life. Develop a plan and stick to it!

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Author's Bio: 

Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and Consider This. Her show airs on several radio stations as well as the Internet. They can be downloaded from or heard on Women’s Radio Network, as well as iTunes at Heartline Podcast. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in Counseling Today Magazine, Thriving Family, and Christianity Today, Kyria. Her book Shattered: Moving Beyond Broken Dreams releases in September 2013 by Leafwood Publishers. Follow her at, on FB and twitter @heartlinepod.