Tame Tension at Its Source

Here's what Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City and author of Stress Management for Dummies (IDG Books, 1999), suggests for four of the most common hair-tearing problems for women:

"Work is out of control." "Overloaded people are often lousy delegators and negotiators," Elkin says. Ask yourself: Am I really the only one who can do all this? Is the deadline really written in stone? If you say yes, ask someone who might have a different view. Try to get help or ask your boss which tasks get top priority if you can't do them all on time. That doesn't help? Gauge the downside of missing your deadlines. Often there's more room to maneuver than we think, Elkin says. If you're still in a bind, ask yourself how not to repeat this experience. Maybe you said yes when you should have said no -- or maybe you should reconsider what you really want to be doing.

"My relatives drive me nuts." And maybe they always will. "People are the way they are, and their personal style probably has little to do with you," Elkin says. (In other words, if a relative or in-law is causing you stress, she's probably driving your other relatives crazy as well.) "It takes two to make one feel lousy," Elkin says. Just because others impose demands or try to make you feel guilty doesn't mean you have to play it their way. But don't overlook your role if conflict seems tough to avoid. Check your expectations about how others should behave and ask how you might be driving them crazy.

"Household hassles are overwhelming." It's tough to do it all -- so don't. "Is it so horrible if the bed linen doesn't get changed today?" Elkin says. If you can't bring yourself to trade slovenliness for sanity, enlist help from others in the household -- or, if you can, hire help from outside. If nothing else, try to gain a semblance of serenity by setting aside time each day to do something simple you enjoy: reading the paper, having lunch with a friend or listening to music.

"I'm in a rut." "Stress isn't just about hassles, it's about lack of satisfaction," Elkin says. "Sometimes stress comes from under-doing as much as overdoing." Ask yourself what's absent from your life. Friends? Fun? Stimulation? Try to fill in the missing pieces. Consider doing community work to contribute to something beyond yourself, or taking a course to explore an unfulfilled interest. Build more exercise into your schedule -- and try to include friends for conversation and perspective when you work out.

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