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The voice of stress is gnawing and incessant. It screams one minute and growls angrily the next. It is a self-inflicted demon which constantly demands that we make the tough decisions. And stress won’t leaveus alone – until we fight back or surrender.

Joseph Gill, a San Jose therapist, says the only real way for individuals to combat stress is to take the offensive, to custom-design a program specifically to combat stress in their lives.

There can be no blanket cure for stress, says Dr. Gill, director of the Counseling and Consulting Services in San Jose, because everyone has different problems and varying abilities to handle the ones, which result in stress.

“Stress is caused by pressure to do something, to make a definite decision about something, “ says Dr. Gill. “Stress is saying, ‘If you don’t move, I am going to charge you so much anxiety that you are going to be miserable. Now, you make a choice, then I’ll let you go.’ “

Gill says the first step is designing a personal stress program is to understand that stress is the natural, unavoidable and often necessary reaction to how everyday challenges of life and work. However, when we allow stresses to pile up beyond our level of tolerance and our ability to manage it, they can take a significant physical and mental toll.

As a matter of fact, medical professionals say half of all illnesses – including heart disorders, kidney disease, peptic ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, depression, anxiety and even cancer – can be traced to stress.
Gill is pleased stress is getting a great deal of attention from health – maintenance organizations, corporations and mental health professionals, but believes that in this high-stress era, personalized stress management must be the next logical step.

“Stress is much more noticeable now because of the times, ” says Gill, whose theories are contained in his new book, “Personalized Stress Management: A Manual for everyday Life and Work” (Counseling and Consulting Services Publications, $26.00). “Everyone is under pressure. This is an age of cut and cram, an age of convenience, where we have to do a lot more things in a shorter period of time. Stress is here and it’s only going to get worse,”

Gill says practicing in Silicon Valley has brought him an increasing number of clients suffering from a virulent new brand of high-tech stress, which ultimately affects local companies in terms of high rates of sick leave and job burnout. Highly intelligent people who know a great deal about complex computer technology, he says, know little or nothing about how they can handle something affecting them directly. By the time they come to him, their stress has them in a state of panic.

“We have lots of social conditioning that keeps us acting in a socially acceptable way, “explains the soft-spoken Gill. “But in times of crisis and panic, when the pressure really gets on, we resort our primitive means of coping with problems, which are to strike out or to collapse from exhaustion. “

Gill, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor and graduate of San Jose State University, says he knows stress because, “For many years I was passive and indecisive, “ both symptoms of stress. As he began studying stress and using concepts gained in private practice and workshops, however, he came to see that anti-stress regimens must be tailor-made. He believes we must graphically identify the things that cause stress in our lives and make some concrete decision, which addresses those problems, and go with that decision.

“By merely making a choice, you take control of the stressful problem and that relieves the stress of trying to figure out what to do, “ says Gill emphatically, “Even if you decide to make an active choice to do nothing about it right now, you are still in charge. That will relieve your stress, “

Before anyone can set up a personalized stress management program, he or she needs to become familiar with two preliminary sets of information. According to Dr. Gill’s manual, those are:

- A good explanation of what stress is, including a physiological and psychological anatomy of stress, and instructions about how to assess one’s personality and how it can be affected by stress.

-A repertoire of skills, which can be directly applied to stress. These include physical exercises (similar to yoga), mental exercises (meditation and deep breathing) and conflict-resolution skills to get one into what Gill calls “stress-ready condition.”

Then, setting up an actual personalized stress management program takes six steps:
1) Mental conditioning;
2) Organization and time/energy assessment;
3) Goal assessment for each aspect of life;
4) Decision and planning;
5) Plan implementation; and
6) evaluation.

The first two are preparatory steps, while the latter four show how to carry out the personalized stress management program.

“Mental conditioning” includes self hypnosis, medication and other mental preparations for “psyching yourself up” to have a positive outlook on life and problems. This helps us believe we are in command.

“Organization and time/ energy assessment” is a method of charting a week’s time so one knows exactly how much time and energy goes into each general segment of life. In the book are charts when which filled out, measure time and energy for privacy, home life, career, social activities and miscellaneous time.

“One of the many reasons people are unable to relieve their own depression or recover from burnout is that they are unable to locate the source of strain, “ Gill writes. The organization prepares one “to identify and work with sources of stress in an organized manner, and in accordance with the limits of time and energy available. “

Implementing Gill’s personalized stress-management program is done by applying each of the last four steps to aspects of one’s private time, home life, career, social activities and miscellaneous time.

Consider for example, an important aspect of private time, sleep. Now, using Gill’s formula, see how your level of stress is affected by the amount of sleep you get.

--Goal assessment: A list of questions in the book allows you to gauge how important sleep is to your ability to cope with stress (The time / energy assessment charts have already measured your current of sleep.)

--Decision and planning: After you find out what you need either more or less sleep to cope with stress, use the workbook section to write out sleep goal’s, obstacles to those goals and specific steps you will take to overcome the obstacles and achieve your goals.

--Plan implementation and commitment: Write down the date you will put the sleep plan into effect and sign the book’s “commitment contract” in front of a witness. The contract is a self-promise that you will follow the plan.

--Evaluation: After you have been on the program for a while, compare your desired sleep harts against the original time / energy assessment charts in order to measure your level of progress. If your program for sleep is working, then you will continue that plan or upgrade it if you wish. If it is not working then you will write out new strategies.

Gill explains the complete personalized stress management program is in force when this step – by – step plan is written up for every aspect of life and assiduously followed.

“Once your personalized stress management program is together and running smoothly, you don’t have need for making lists and seeing how you spend your time,” says Gill. “Once the plan is in motion and you feel in control, then, like in any organization, you don’t have to keep going back and looking at the blueprints. It becomes an automatic part of your personality.”

In the end, Gill says that anyone with a smoothly working personalized stress- management program will be in good mental and physical health, and will be able to cut away from one aspect of his life and go energetically to the next. He will feel good about life and work, because he is confident he has tools to handle any stress that comes along.

“I’ll promise you one thing,” says Gill. “Everything smells and feels good, because you get a chance not to be so focused and concentrated in such an intense way in life.

“You get a chance you look at your environment--You get a chance to let go.


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