12/21/2010 04:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Six Simple Steps to Temper Tension

Stress is our second skin which wraps around us from tension from our work, our families and friends, our own fears. It feels like concrete poured into the back of our necks, inching our shoulders up to our necks, or weights pulling on our lungs shortening our breath. Headaches pound; bellies ache; flu descends. The classic triggers of stress are one or all of the following: death or serious illness of our loved ones -spouses, kids, parents, friends; disrupting moves of residences or work; and constant worry about jobs - finding and keeping them. If you have a job, your workload rises and raises recede. If you don't, you live in terror that you won't find one. And some of us carry worry as a habit.

While you can't escape, you can learn to cope better with stress.

1. Seize control in small ways. Baby steps ensure some little successes. Feeling out of control, we go ape. So, work against that. Make order when you can. Make your bed. Straighten up your desk. Throw away unnecessary papers and junk that surrounds you. Get neater. If you call it "beauty and order" instead of doing chores, you can find yourself breathing a bit easier. It leads to the next projects.

2. Practice positive thinking. It sounds corny, but it pays off to remind yourself frequently of your talents and successes and kindnesses. It takes many repetitions to fight against the tormenting voices in our heads that scream failure and defeat. Repeat that you are a loving person, that you do fine work, that you matter. And you are and you do!

3. Stop the habit of perpetual worry. Whenever you dive into the "what-if's" of catastrophe, take a simple test: Rank the events that are bothering you in order of their severity and assess the probability of their happening. Review that list a month later for a reality check. Soon you will become adept at recognizing these worries for what they are - imaginary.

4. Prioritize. Don't do it all. Don't even try. Make a list of what you have to do and put it in rank order. If you are working too hard, see what must be done this week, what can be delayed, and what can be delegated. That holds for household tasks too; make them a shared responsibility with those who live with you or hire cleaning help. If you can't do that, put on a soundtrack that lets you sing out loud and move to the music for an hour, no longer.

5. Get Support. If you are taking care of a relative who needs constant care, find a support group for leads on services that might be available to provide help and relief for both of you. If you don't have a job, start a Strategy Group of a few others to meet regularly, once a week or month, to encourage each other and make deadlines so that you actually pursue what you are hoping for. I can send you a list of how to set up a Strategy Group if you email me or ask in the comment box.

6. Get Help Yourself. If you don't relieve your stress, you might end up with serious health problems. Learn what relaxes you. You might go to a spa, a physical therapist's treatment, or take advantage of inexpensive massage school's students. Step up your exercise with a buddy or at a gym. Dance by yourself or join a group. Meditate alone or along with a tape. Make time for it every week. Don't let yourself down.

Stress is not a one-time event. Get better at dealing with it.

Make your luck happen!

Dr. Adele is the author of Skills for Success and Launch Your Career in College. Visit her website,