Stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can serve to motivate, energize and even save your life. But when there’s too much of it, it can lead to physical pain and disease.

Stress is especially common in the workplace. Because expectations usually are dictated by another party, work can inherently carry a fear of failure. That stress if further aggravated by most people’s need for a predictable, consistent paycheck, leaving them feeling trapped and without options. This sort of protracted stress can disrupt even the most even-natured among us.

But you can take steps to minimize the stress and keep it at a reasonable level. The first step is identifying the source of the stress and recognizing your reaction. For short-term situational or circumstantial stress, you can respond with simple relaxation exercises to get you through the crisis. Deep breathing, meditation or spiritual reflection are all effective in helping you disengage and regain perspective and focus.

Physical exercise is also very effective, both for short-term and long-term stressors. Exercising during your lunch break can help you temporarily leave — both mentally and physically — the source of the stress. Furthermore, 30 minutes of exercise performed three or four times a week releases a lot of emotional and physical tension that sometimes gets repressed.

For long-term stressors, put a plan together. Prepare the plan when you’re away from the workplace and after performing some of the stress-relief tips mentioned above. The plan should identify the problem, how it has affected you and how it has been a deterrent to your health as well as your job performance. It should then address positive ways to communicate the problem with the appropriate people. Be sure to include talking points — messages you want to convey that are framed in logic and reason, not emotion. Practice these points, so you can anticipate how the conversation may play out and how you may respond effectively to the other party’s comments. Remember you are trying to resolve a conflict, not establish the superiority of your own position.

For virtually any kind of stress, journaling is an invaluable and convenient management tool. It’s something you can keep in a notebook at work or on your computer at home. You can jot down things quickly or take a more narrative, exploratory approach. Journals provide a way to reflect and identify your feelings and give them a healthy outlet.

If after employing these techniques your situation remains intolerable, you may need to evaluate whether your job is worth the stress. Switching jobs may mean a pay cut or perhaps relocating, but it may also mean the difference between health and disease.

As published in the March 2004 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.