Wellbeing / Stress management

Coping with stress: Taking it one day at a time

No matter how tough things are, you can get through it. I’m living proof of how coping with stress is possible.


I’ve had a number of ups and downs in both my business life and my personal life. Let me share a couple of the biggies.

In the late 1980s I was involved in a property syndicate that went bad and as a result I was asked to honour a $2.8 million personal guarantee that I’d signed.

I felt physically sick and could actually sense my blood pressure rising at the thought of trying to fulfil this debt. The fears and negativity that flew around in my mind at the time were completely immobilising.

Thankfully, I remembered a simple technique I’d learned from Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Carnegie suggests living in what he calls “day-tight compartments”. In other words, focus only on what you can do to get through the present day. Don’t spend any time or energy at all on the things that are out of your control. Just take one day at a time.

As time goes by and you get stronger again, you can start to focus on longer term issues, but when you are in the thick of it, chunk it down into day-tight compartments.

This method of coping with stress worked well for me, and I survived this time. Eventually, I even thought to myself “If that’s the worst life can throw at me, I’ll be fine from now on”.

"Don’t fight the battles that you can’t win. The only battles worth fighting are those with an outcome you can influence."

Little did I know what was coming.

Want more articles like this? Check out the stress-management section.

In 2005 our beautiful 16 year old daughter Beth took her own life. While we eventually got to the bottom of what led Beth to make her decision, we’ll never understand how she could imagine it was the only solution.

For weeks and weeks our grief was overwhelming, but we survived by setting short-term goals, often only an hour or so apart. Gradually we were able to extend this back to a whole day at a time. Now we’re at the stage where we can make plans that extend months and even years into the future.

In my experience, when you’re in a tough situation, this three-step formula for coping with stress can help get you through:

  1. Identify what the worst outcome could possibly be, but don’t dwell on it
  2. Accept the worst, then
  3. Do everything in your power to improve upon that outcome.

Don’t fight the battles that you can’t win. The only battles worth fighting are those with an outcome you can influence.

We all need some stress to motivate us, but everyone has a different coping threshold. Your personal threshold will change from time to time, depending on what’s happening in your life.

Every now and then, assess how close you are to your own personal threshold, and when necessary make any changes to your daily activities that will help move your stress levels to more appropriate levels. Working just below your stress threshold will lead to long-term success, rather than burnout.

Do you have any tips for coping with stress of your own to share? Please add your comments below.

Peter Fehon

is a Business Coach with a difference. He has run his own Accounting Practice for 30 years, and has been coaching people all that time. He is now teaching other Accountants to do the same.


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