For nearly two decades, I have worked with many clients who want help in improving their stress management skills. The common notion is that they want me to help them cope with all that their stressful lives bring. The sleep issues, increased alcohol intake, appetite fluctuations, anxiety, depression, the list is long.

Let’s take a different angle when talking about stress. Why don’t we look at our life overall? Why do we try the top-down approach, basically forcing every coping skill or medication out there to handle a life that we have created? We are in charge of what we allow in our lives and what we do not. We make the decisions of what job we go to every day, who we surround ourselves by, if we bring in activities that create joy, our thoughts, and perspectives. We are in charge of our lives.

“It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” _Brene Brown

Let us look at a few areas that help create the foundation of where high stress levels grow and talk about how we can structure, strategize, and create lives where stress cannot grow.

Life Structure. Have you set yourself up for success or stress? I encourage you to take an inventory of how you structure you days. Have you continued to say yes to work late and miss going for evening hikes with friends or hitting the gym after work? Perhaps you have found yourself in a marriage that depletes your positive energy and outlook on life. When we talk about life structure consider if your career, education, marriage, friendships, family members, pets, where you live, how much you vacation, how much free time you have, and hobbies are bringing you stress or joy.

Operate within your limits. I often see people add more and more onto their plates and then simply say they “should be able to handle it all.” The word should is dangerous and self-defeating. It leads us to a place that is not authentically where we want to be. Take inventory of this area. Are their areas where you are operating outside of your bandwidth? What would be like if you offloaded this? Live a life in which you know exactly what you should be taking on and what you should leave out.

Deal with it. Rather than try to endure or survive stressors that come from how you have structured your life, why not simply deal with them? Take the time to find a career that is aligned with your passions. Lean into your marriage and work on the lingering issues that cause you stress. Consider distancing yourself from a toxic friend or family member. Allow time to rejuvenate, so that your mind and body maintain resilience.

Once we have handled what causes our stress, it will change form and we feel more empowered in our lives. We will feel like we can handle things with greater ease as the stress diminishes. My point is simply this, stress is telling us something. It tells us when we are out of alignment. These three simple points will assist in total life empowerment and alignment that reduces stress.