08/15/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2014

A Better Relationship With Stress

Rosanna Bell via Getty Images

Everything in life is a relationship.

Stress was my husband I wanted to divorce but still loved, and I was not ready to sign the documents. It was complicated.

On one hand, stress has made my hair fall out, given me migraines and sent me into sleepless nights where I would awaken tangled amongst tumbled and rumbled sweaty sheets. There was a good amount of insomnia and anxiety ridden dreams in which I problem solved in my sleep and woke up with my whole left side numb. Not so great.

I am wired such that when I am bored, uninterested or intimidated to begin a task, I go unconscious until the last moment, right before the due date or until I am called out (usually by my staff, embarrassingly enough) on my lack of attentiveness. Procrastination is a nifty asset because at the 11th hour, the pressure-panic alarm sounds off in my head and stress alerts my body to charge into action. My brain commands her soldiers Adrenaline and Cortisol to rush forth in a panic attack that over rides my disdain to get the job at hand done, propels me out of my lazy stupor and carries me through to completion. Stress the Commander and Motivator!

Stress would motivate me to think and create, but then I wonder, could I be just as creative and propel forward without it? What are the consequences of being a stress... enabler? These are entire other conversations to be had.

What I have learned: Nothing is worth having your whole left side go numb from grinding teeth in one's sleep.

First of all, everything I needed to know about reducing stress was taught to me by my rescue horses. For nine years I had the pleasure of learning the language of horses -- and then facilitating Equine Therapy for cancer patients, youth at risk and people with special needs. Communicating with horses and interpreting their reactions to humans, taught me that I had to be in the moment with them, or they really would not want to "partner" with me. I had to be a clearing house of good energy and stress free in order to gain their trust. This was the premise and foundation of my work when I had my therapy ranch.

But all this good work and peaceful way of being was deeply tested after I had to leave the ranch due to economic challenges in 2009. I then purchased a tutoring business. All the "hats" I had to wear in my new business were the same as those at the ranch, except there was no "horse hat" and therefore no horses to keep me grounded.

My first year in business as a success driven entrepreneur was a stress fest. I worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week and jumped through hoops to please clients and worked tirelessly to create a dazzling reputation for myself. Customer service was the priority and I answered calls around the clock, calling prospects back within five minutes to ensure a greater chance of retaining them as my client. I became a fireman responding to the station alarm sounding and moved with first responder like velocity to answer calls immediately or the opportunity would go up in flames, so I thought. If I missed the call (heaven forbid), it was returned under the magical five minutes.

My kids had many pizza dinners thrown at them that first year. I barely worked out and did not take ANY time for myself, let alone come up for air. I became the no. 1 salesperson in the United States very quickly. But what was the price I paid? I was constantly tired, flabby, got sick a lot and had angry children.

My ah-ha moment came on a Sunday afternoon at my daughter's dance recital. I was texting a client for the umpteenth time when my 16-year-old Annie looked at me in disgust and said "MOM, can't you ever be in the moment?" Clearly, my client's needs took precedence over watching Annie and her dance team's performance. I had become Robin Williams in Hook (before his many ah - ha moments in that movie). I had forgotten the lessons learned from my beloved rescue horses.

Eliminating stress is a process. I don't claim to never get stressed. I have to remind myself to conjure up the below thoughts when I begin to feel that familiar wave of anxiety about to swell:

1. I Know in my heart and deep in my bones (and try to always remember) what is really important... my loved ones and my relationships. (And health, of course).

2. Money is great, not having it is a tremendous source of stress, but it is not the most important thing in life.

3. Stress is worrying about the future or being upset or depressed about the past, it is deactivated by living in the moment unless the present is an exacerbated circumstance.

4. Enjoy the process of everything and not focus on the result.

5. Time was invented so we don't have to do everything all at once (Good Boss, Bad Boss, Robert I. Sutton).

6. Remember how to eat an elephant... one bite at a time. (How Do You Eat An Elephant?, Bill Hogan) Break seemingly overwhelming tasks or projects up into pieces and deal with them one at a time.

7. Take time for yourself, take care of yourself... the below is what I do to calm my soul:

  • Spend as much time as possible with the people I love most - my kids, family and friends.
  • Exercise -- Tao Bo (kicking and punching set to music-- the best!) weight training and hiking work for me. Exercise is essential!
  • Get a dog! I have a lovable, adorable pug named Vinny -- he is a constant source of love, companionship and exercise. And bless his little pug heart, he is ALWAYS happy to see me. (I am NOT a dog person. I just fell in love with him).
  • Express myself creatively -- I cook and love to create a meal for myself or for loved ones. My fav is making a dinner that presents well and is delicious and healthy. After a long day of business I find that chopping vegetables with a big sharp knife is a wonderful way to release stress. (Geena Davis in the Long Kiss Goodnight). A bottle of chardonnay is mandatory while cooking.
  • LSD -- My drug of choice: Laughing, Singing, Dancing (alone, with friends, in the shower, whatever and where ever, as much as possible and off key singing is beautiful and who cares if the guy in the car next to you thinks you are crazy or look ridiculous).
  • Writing and journaling.
  • Spend time by myself when I am feeling overwhelmed and need to retract from life and recharge.
  • Say "maybe" if I am not sure I can commit to something and request a "by when" I need to give my final response.
  • Read to learn, grow and be transported somewhere else (I am reading 3 books at present).
  • Spend time in nature or at least looking at something green or flowery daily. Gazing at my garden or looking out of my window at the treetops actually counts.
  • Say "no" when I need to.
  • Set boundaries regarding work (i.e. stop at 6:00, take Sundays off -- have a life!).
  • Get enough sleep.
The bottom line: Take good care of yourself and stay in the moment as much as possible (thank you Popcorn, my Palomino mustang and best coach ever). I am not saying I have this all down perfect, or that I am a Buddha -- I am a work in progress. But at least stress and I are on amicable terms now. And we do have a better relationship.