Sailing Through Stress


It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.

– Hans Selye, Renowned Stress Researcher Endocrinologist


Stress is like the wind. It is always around us, sometimes heavy, sometimes light. Sometimes we fear it may blow us over. And it can, if we let it.

But stress, like wind, can be harnessed. It just involves trimming our sails; cutting our tasks into just the right shape that we soar, balancing our load so that we move with grace.

How is this done? Three “simple” steps. The quotes are there because, though these steps are indeed simple in writing, in our American working reality where “more than eight in 10 employed Americans are stressed out by…their jobs” they are more of a discipline to practice than a list to check off.

Trimming our sails is vital to our wellness long term as “occupation stress increases the risk of heart attack…accelerates the aging process, raise[s] women’s risk of diabetes” and the poor coping habits that go into managing stress like overeating, excessive drinking, lower frustration tolerance and worry can damage our daily lives (Huffington Post, 2013).


Sailing Lessons

Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.”

– Bill Phillips, Author


Just Say No

New projects and positive regard are great at work, they are a sign that we are a valued team member. If we have the time, saying “Yes” is vital to success and growth in our careers. Saying “No” to such offers should always be done with tact and gratitude and also in such a way that it highlights what we are already doing because it brings the chance for re-prioritization of our duties. Perhaps that new project is more important than what we’re doing now, if so, then the boss will make it clear and clear the way for it to get done without added stress. Sometimes saying “No” is best done without ever using the word “No” in favor of sentences that start outwind-clip-art-RTG6keagc copy “Thank you for considering me, I’m currently working on…” and seeing where the conversation takes us.

Breathe Deep

The vagus nerve runs right through the center of our chests, under our breast bone. When we’re stressed that nerve gets plucked like a guitar string and TWANG! We’re nervous. But conversely, if we control our breath, calm “vagus nerve signaling” activates our brain’s “circuits for resting.” Deep breathing “increases feelings of optimism and decreases feelings of depression, anxiety and overall stress” (Korb, 147). A great trick is to breathe so deep that our chests fully expand so that it’s almost felt in the vagus nerve. It’s a reminder that what we’re feeling is purely a bio-electric stress response and not actually deadly.

Do It Early

This sail-trimming technique works with everything to reduce stress. It can begin at home by setting the alarm just five minutes earlier and leaving the house earlier, but it also translates to projects, meetings and even paperwork. If we begin early and maintain momentum then we never have to feel the stress that the time is running out, the deadline is approaching and we’re not going to make it.


John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College and spokesman for the annual Work Stress Survey cited above said that workers polled are “still weary and stressed out from years of a troubled economy that has brought about longer hours, layoffs and budget cuts” and that “Americans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but anxiety among employees is rooted into our working lives, and it is important to understand new and better ways of coping with the pressure” (2013).

If we can trim our sails and harness the stress, what can feel like painful pressure or racing against the wind can actually give us the energy for a joyful ride toward new horizons.





Alex Korb PhD (2015) The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. New Harbinger, Oakland, CA

Huffington Post (2013) Work Stress On The Rise. Healthy Living. Retrieved from:

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