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Developing a Personalized Stress Prevention Plan

Harry Mills, Ph.D., Natalie Reiss, Ph.D. and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 12th 2016

Stress prevention takes the idea of stress management to a level beyond typical stress management. The common approach to stress management is reactive in nature. People go on with their lives as usual, occasionally getting overloaded with stress and, at that point in time (and that point in time only), pulling out a stress management or relaxation technique, using it to gain some relief and then going on about their merry ways. Stress prevention can't work if it is pursued in such a reactive manner. Instead, effective stress prevention strategies require people to change their lifestyles so that they take proactive steps to avoid stress and enhance their health every day. A commitment to daily practice of stress management techniques is required. It is not enough to think about stress management techniques; they must actually be performed. In this final section of our stress management document, we address the critical question of how people can best make and then sustain this important lifestyle change.

hand making a listChanging your lifestyle is seldom an easy thing to do, even when it is in your best interests. When trying to create desired change, the tendency is to jump into the deep end and try to hold yourself to a rigid set of new lifestyle rules that aren't comfortable, and which don't allow room for unforeseen circumstances or backsliding. People manage to make it work for a while through sheer willpower, but ultimately, something tends to trip them up. When this happens, people tend to revert back to the way they behaved before; retreating towards older habits that give comfort in the moment, even if they are harmful in the long run.

Talking a more deliberate, graduated approach towards lifestyle change can make the difference between success and failure. A graduated approach to change allows for people to more fully develop their motivations, and to prepare adequately for failures and relapses, thus reducing the chance that they will completely derail the change process. In the discussion that follows, we present a formalized version of the stages of change people pass through en route to creating lasting lifestyle change so as to better help you think through and structure your own change process.

Stage 1: Challenge

Motivation is critically important to the change process, serving as both foundation and fuel. It is the basis upon which people set their change efforts, and also the the wind that fills their sails, propelling them forward through the stages of change. All change efforts start with motivation. Motivation is driven by challenging events that upset people's status quo and comfort and which cause them to become aware of problems. Before there is awareness of a problem there is no motivation. If we are content with our lives, it doesn't occur to us that anything needs to change.

In your own life, you can probably think of a few key stressful events that have challenged you and caused you to become aware of life problems, which have also motivated you to learn about stress management. Perhaps you have felt overwhelmed about making a presentation at work. Perhaps you find yourself repeatedly fighting with your spouse or children. Perhaps your doctor says the aches and pains you have been experiencing are caused by overwork or anxiety. Perhaps you have had a heart attack and are worried about not being around to see your children grow up. There are innumerable ways that you can become challenged, and thus motivated to pursue lifestyle change.

Stage 2: Awareness

In the second stage of change, people take steps to expand their awareness of the problems they are facing and how to handle them. If you are reading this article, you probably have already reached the awareness stage of change. You are aware that you have an issue or problem and have started to seek out information about how to manage it. For instance, you have chosen to read about stress management and the impact of stress on your health and performance. You may decide to supplement what you learn here by attending a seminar, taking a class, or reading a book on the subject of stress management. The awareness stage of change is very important as it strengthens the foundation for your future change efforts. Learning more about how your body and mind reacts to stress and what can be done to correct these problems will make you more effective at planning and carrying out your own process of stress management change.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

anxiety/stress - christina - Apr 14th 2009

I am in a marriage where my husband and I are incompatible. We met later in life, he had had a career and can be charming but quite an actor. I educated myself to degree level, afte having two broken (abusive) marriages and three children. When i met my current husband, he seemed so charming, so interested in me, and I was vulnerable, going through a divorce after twenty years.He had been married but was separated. He said his wife was 'diifficult'. He admitted to having other women, and wrote poems to one of them. I had always dreamed of someone writing poems for me. This husband never did, he said he could not do it any more. He still writes, he has outside interests and so on. He cannot perform sexually anymore because he had prostate problems and could not manage viagra or anything else. He is 17 years older than me. I never get cuddles, or reassurance. He does not want to go on holiday with me, he avoids any sort of emotional conversation, or confrontation. I really loved him and wanted to be with him whe we met, 16 years ago. But, he had a get out if thats what he wanted, a few weeks after we met, I thought this is too soon, so I told him we should not meet again. He waited for me for an hour in the street, and wanted to be with me - so he said. Then we began living with each other. He wanted to come to ireland. He was an only child and his mother was getting old. So I agreed. Now, I am stuck, with a man who does not love me, I feel so insecure and lonely and do not know what to do. I had therapy a few years ago, and it helped with a lot of issues. But, this is different. I am stuck because I am too old to get a job now, and I live with this man who treats worse than someone he has just made friends with. We talk about books the news, the cat and that is about it. He contacted an 'old flame' four years ago, just after his prostate trouble. He kept in touch with her. I found out by accident and he was such a coward he looked me in the eyes and lied, again and again. He said they never met. She was the one he wrote the poems to, and I hate her, and I hate him for hurting me. He was horrible when I tried to talk to him about this, and he just wil not discuss his emotions. He is buttoned up and simpyl says 'I do not like confrontation'. I have to stay because of financial considerations but it is driving me crazy. I suppose I want him to say he loves me, but I know that this will never happen. I feel disappointed and hurt and angry and do not know what to do. I think your articles are excellent. Wish I lived in America, might get some help there. There is very little help here, for me. I just see my life drifting away till I die. thank you.

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