Stress is the natural and normal reaction to events that occur on a regular and on a less-frequent basis. When we fail to control stress or cope with it, we may experience distress. When we handle it well, when we use stress to give us the drive we need to compete and to succeed, then we experience eustress. There is the “good stress,” for example, that a bride experiences on her wedding day and the “bad stress” that we experience when things get out of control.

A related problem is burnout, which we usually associate with work. If our jobs are causing an ongoing deterioration in our ability to cope, if they are causing mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, then we may be experiencing burnout. The good news is that we can recharge our batteries and restore optimism. But if we are unwilling or unable to rejuvenate, then the cumulative effect can be very damaging indeed.

One way to judge if you are a candidate for burnout is to ask yourself:

Are my expectations too high?

Am I constantly seeking perfection?

Do I have trouble admitting problems?

Have others mentioned the possibility of burnout to me?

Am I too idealistic?

Stress takes its toll on us in various ways. And when the stress is prolonged or too intense, it ultimately has a serious effect on both the mind and the body.


1) Stand in a doorway and press your palms against the doorframe on both sides. Hold your breath and keep increasing the pressure–you’ll feel warmth rushing to your face, head, and neck. Hold as long as you can. Release. Inhale deeply. Repeat three times.

2) Shake one hand, then the other. Then, with your mouth hanging loose, shake your head like a rag doll. Shake each leg. Then hop, shaking the other foot. Then jump and wriggle your pelvis and through your arms all around every which way. Make some noises while you’re at it. Keep this up for at least one minute.

3) Write yourself a letter of encouragement. Acknowledge your fears, your good qualities. Express confidence in your abilities and accomplishments. Write what you would most like to hear about yourself. Reread this letter whenever you need encouraging words.

4) Nose-write. Pretend your nose is a pencil. With definite, exaggerated motions, write your first and last names in capital letters.

5) Laugh for two minutes. Start by just saying, “Ha, ha, ha.” Keep doing this until you’re really laughing. This takes a lot of energy and causes you to relax many involuntary muscles. It also steps up oxygen consumption and circulation.

6) Self-massage. Imagine your hands are a magic healing and tension-relieving tool. Breath slowly and deeply as you massage yourself. As you inhale, feel your breath flowing directly to the tense places in your body. Try to “see” your fatigue, soreness, discomfort, tension, and worry escaping through every pore.

7) Recall one pleasurable sensory experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. It might be something delicious you ate, something beautiful you saw, something moving you heard. Describe what gave you pleasure to others. See if you can make them vicariously experience your experience.

8) Drop your jaw suddenly. Breathe in as you do so. Shrug your shoulders and rotate them fully–back, front, up, down, in generous smooth circles as high, wide and gorgeous as you can make them. Then bring your shoulders back to normal position.

9) Begin by placing your lips tightly together as if you were going to say the letter “P.” Blow outward to let your lips ripple continuously like a little motor. Or, keep uttering the letter “P” over and over, faster and faster. Now sing, going up and down the scales, making the “P” sound each time. Very soon, your lips will be loose–a vital condition for relaxing facial muscle and reducing jaw tension.

10) Imagine a scene with some person doing something of great grace and beauty. It might be a child petting a kitten or a ballerina doing a pirouette. It might be a fisherman casting a line or a nurse blanketing a newborn baby or a teenager polishing his very first car. Now translate that image to movement, as they do in the practice of tai chi.

11) Flex your fingers and then get them to work on your face, neck, scalp, and ears. You’re going to pretend your fingers are vibrating, magic fingers, moving fast and furiously all over your head to push doubt, worry, fear, and stress away.

12) Lean back while holding on to a desk or table. Make your fingers face forward, put your head down, bend your knees a little, and let your body slump, as if your bones were liquid. In hale. Then arch your back, move your head back and stretch. Straighten your legs. Press your toes against the floor. Do this for a count of foul and feel the stretch in your back muscles. Try moving your hands farrther apart and then closer together. Stretch, exhale, bend your knees and get aback to the starting position. Repeat these steps at least four times.


The Japanese have a word for “death by overwork.” It’s “karoshi,” and if your job leaves you exhausted and stressed on a regular basis, it may be time to make some changes. As you take steps to move from distress to eustress–in small and large ways–be guided by the wisdom of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “The field of consciousness is tiny. It accepts only one problem at a time.”


  • Dr. Marlene Caroselli is the author of 60+ books, the most recent of which ("Applying Mr. Einstein") will be released by HRD Press in 2020. You can reach her at [email protected].