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Ask Dr. Elia: Stop, look and ponder

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These days, it seems like the word "stress" is as common as "hello." So many of us refer to ourselves as being stressed out. Whether it's our finances, our kids, our elderly parents or our careers, it all seems to come back to stress. What causes this modern-day epidemic?

The answer lies in the mismanagement of stress and the long-term neglect of our needs. Long-term exposure to stress can either make us physically sick or lead to emotional and mental breakdowns.

How do we change our mindset from dealing with crises all the time to taking charge of our lives? We need to stop, pay attention, and then ponder and meditate on the direction of our work, our family and every other aspect of our lives. These are key steps to successfully managing our overall stress levels as well as the overall happiness of our lives.

I've had quite a few business executive clients who work too many hours and don't take time for themselves. They become so overwhelmed that their lifestyle is more reactive crisis management than crisis prevention. When doing executive coaching, I frequently ask the following question: When was the last time you actually took a day or two off to contemplate the direction of your life, and by this I mean time that might traditionally be considered as nonproductive? For example, when have you not gone to appointments, meetings, closed any deals, answered any phone calls or returned any e-mails but instead just sat, asked yourself long-term questions, then pondered and meditated about the direction of your life (or the direction of your company, family or relationships)?

The typical push-back is, "I can't afford to take a day off!" And I immediately respond, "You can't afford NOT to take a day off! Your life is out of balance, and, believe me, if you keep this up, eventually your productivity (as well as other even more important considerations) will go downward."

Remember the old analogy about someone spending much of their life climbing to the top of a ladder? When they finally get to the top rung of the ladder and can see the world around them from a higher perspective, they realize that the ladder they have spent all these years climbing is leaning against the wrong building.

It is the same for us as individuals. To effectively manage our stress, we need to occasionally ponder the direction our lives are taking. The result might be that you'll make a necessary course correction. This may not only add quality years to your life, but it will also add balance and perspective. As a result, you'll be a better spouse, employee, parent, friend and, ultimately, a better and happier person.

Your most vital relationships will get the benefit of the best you, including (and especially) your relationship with yourself. It's time to take a life time-out, even for just a day, and see the benefits of learning to manage your stress rather than allowing stress to manage you.