How to Take Control of Your Stress

05/03/2015 11:16 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2016


Most of us have an instant physical reaction to the sound of our cell phone dinging, marking the arrival of a new text message or e-mail or anticipating a phone call from someone who needs us. If you are a Millennial, chances are you want it all: the job, the relationships, the lifestyle. Social media, while at first seemingly helping us spend less time connecting with friends now has turned into a competition for posting the funniest, most adventurous, most exciting photos more often than our "friends" do. We sometimes wish we could move to an island with no cell reception or internet, no responsibilities, and no way to be reached by anyone expecting or demanding something from us.

What you are experiencing is stress and overwhelm and it's luckily something that can be managed, transformed and turned into something that you are in control of!

Try following these to stop overwhelm and the fight or flight response.


One of my friends carries the stress of a pre-historic male who has to defend his family against three saber-toothed tigers and a group of mammoths every day. Back in the day, stress and the fight or flight response that followed promoted the survival of those men. Laurence Gonzales, journalist and writer describes the emotional processes of fighter pilots in his book Deep Survival and observes that, "Evolution took millions of years to come up with emotional responses. It has not yet had time to come up with an appropriate survival response for Navy fighter pilots on quarter-mile final, trying to land a 50,000-pound stovepipe on the heaving deck of a ship (Laurence Gonzales "Deep Survival" page 36)."

The 20th century comes with its own set of threats that cause our own set of emotional responses

While you may not be a fighter pilot, you still experience stressors like money, family, friends, relationships, health, and career or life events like deaths, births, moving, divorce and other changes. Stress response such as feeling threatened can also be triggered by feelings of lack of time, money, energy, patience, intelligence or support of others. We are a fast-paced culture that is obsessed with instant gratification, instant access and instant response.

Stress is defined as...

... the body's physical response to a perceived demand or threat. Wikipedia describes stress as "typically a negative or positive condition that can have an impact on a person's mental and physical well-being." There is good stress that generates energy to meet your goals, like excitement, and there is unhealthy stress that taxes your mind and body. When repeatedly confronted with bad stress it turns into chronic stress that will take an emotional and physical toll on you. And because each of us is unique as to what stresses us and how stress shows up physically, mentally and emotionally. That is why children raised in the same household can have completely different memories about the family and events that took place.

Most stress is imagined!

That doesn't mean you don't have stressors in your life or that you are a drama queen who makes things up. It means that what drives your emotional reactions about what happens to you, moment to moment, is a result of your past programming, judgments, and memories. You've learned, through association and modeling on past behaviors by your family members and friends, how to cope with stress in your life.

Dealing with stress by reliving the past

My friend's mom used to relive her stressful moments over and over. If she got in an argument with a neighbor, she would first share her frustrations with her daughter and then all her best friends and finally with her husband at the end of the day, reliving that moment emotionally and physically in her mind and body each time. Her mother lived in the past. To my friend, this became an acceptable way of dealing with stress.

Dealing with stress by anticipating the future

Her father on the other hand would take an argument he'd have at work and not hold on to it by reliving the story. He instead thought of all the consequences that argument could have. He would get stomach aches just from the anticipation of having to face that person the next day, possibly having to discipline them or even fire them. He lived in the future. This also became another acceptable way of dealing with stress.

The great news in all this is that your stress response is a learned response, so you can unlearn it and replace it with a response that serves you better!

Most of your learning came early in life from significant people who most likely had no idea what they were teaching you. If you are tired, forgetful, emotionally and physically drained, not sure how to manage everything that's on your plate, then your learned beliefs are not serving you right now, because they are limiting your perception of yourself.

Your mind doesn't know the difference between real and imagined stressors

When you imagine the pain of losing someone close to you, your body will start to react as if it were really happening right now. Go ahead and close your eyes and try it. My friend told me she caught herself driving down the interstate, preparing herself for her next appointment, when someone in the lane next to her attempted to change lanes, without looking, and almost hit her. She reacted quickly, getting out of the way, while the other driver realized his mistake and swerved back in his old lane. Traffic resumed uninterrupted, no harm was done. But instead of acknowledging that, while it was a close encounter, nothing happened, she relived that moment over and over in her mind, including all physical reactions, adrenaline rushing through the body, mind racing through any possible outcome had she not reacted as swiftly as she did. Her body and mind would remember this incident as if she had actually had an accident. Now, every time she drives she is cautious, tense and always on alert.

Now, instead of remembering a stressful situation, close your eyes and focus on the happiest time of your life and recognize that your mind will redirect your body to experience what it remembers of that time, all the warm and cozy feelings that made you feel save, happy, appreciated, alive.

What we imagine is "true" for any situation, determines how we feel about it

It is not the events in your life that cause you to be stressed out, it is the perception you have and the meaning you put on those events that start the fight or flight response in your body. You walk into your workplace and a coworker makes a sour face at you. She turns away without acknowledging you and you are dumbfounded as to what you could have possibly done to her that she so rudely ignored you. Truth is, your co-worker was probably in the middle of creating her own meaning and beliefs around an event that happened before you even got there and her sour face had nothing to do with you.

This is were your power and control comes in. You can choose to believe that her action had something to do with you or that it was completely unrelated to you. The optimistic choice is the one that serves you better, because it puts a more positive meaning on the event.

Explore what your beliefs and perceptions are about common stressors and replace them with positive ones


Rather than having limiting thoughts that there is not enough of something, tell yourself that there is an abundance. Instead of getting stuck on details look at the big picture. If you struggle with perfectionism and over-thinking, focus on the positive possibilities and outcomes and accept them for what they are.

Realize and acknowledge when you project a made-up story from past experiences onto a present situation, otherwise adrenaline and dopamine will be running through your body non-stop for no good reason.

An example would be limiting beliefs about your finances. You might think you can never get ahead, something always comes up that you have to pay for when you finally have some money saved. There is never more than just enough (lack of vs. abundance).

Clear that belief and start seeing yourself as being able to create wealth in your life. Sit down and close your eyes. Imagine yourself with plenty of money, happy, having everything you desire and yet blessed with what you have now. Start appreciating everything that you have and start thinking about how wealth can serve you and others.

Ask yourself what about having more than enough money gets you excited? Ask how you can be of greater service helping others. Being with this vision will raise your energy level and start drawing different experiences to you that will support you reaching your goals.

So, believe it!

You get to decide how you want to perceive your world, rather than just react to situations. You are in charge of your own perception. You are not an innocent bystander controlled by your emotions. Change starts with you and you get to decide whether the old beliefs and perceptions still serve you or if you should clear them and make new ones up.

Use your unlimited imagination to create new perceptions supporting your peace of mind, happiness, health, wealth and success.

Marilyn O'Malley is a certified life coach and trained at The Coaches Training Institute. As a Transformational Expert with over 5000 hours of working with highly sensitive and creative entrepreneurs and professional clients, Marilyn specializes as a Tapping Into Wealth & Success Coach and has over 30 years experience in the health profession. For more information visit

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