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Self-Esteem Is Key to Helping Women Control Stress

September 15, 1989|MARY MAUSHARD | The Baltimore Evening Sun

BALTIMORE — Carol Price was having lunch at the Belvedere Hotel. She had just taught three hours of a women's workshop on stress and had asked the maitre d' in the John Eager Howard Room for prompt service so she would have time to check out before the afternoon session.

In a very few minutes, an amiable waitress brought the food.

Price thanked her.

"Oh, it's all cold food. I didn't have anything to do with it," replied the waitress, shunning the compliment.

It was a stunning example of what Price had been preaching: how women need to overcome their inability to accept compliments and to think well of themselves. This tendency to play down accomplishments and abilities is a failing that in many women brings on stress, perhaps the malady of the '80s.

"Why couldn't she just say, 'Thanks, I'm glad I could help,' " Price said, recounting the incident for the afternoon session.

It happens all the time, she said. Someone says your dress is beautiful; you say it's old. Your boss comments on the thoroughness of your report; you reply, "I hope so" instead of "Thanks, I worked hard on it."

"Men have been given permission to know they are OK; you have also been given permission to know you are OK," Price told the 200 business and professional women who paid $48 each to attend the session sponsored by Career Track, a Boulder, Colo., company that specializes in inexpensive training workshops.

'Believe We Are Valuable'

"When we believe that we are valuable, we have far less stress," said Price, who then spent much of the day showing and telling women how to recognize their value and, thus, raise self-esteem while lowering stress.

"We're not going to talk bad or good, we're going to talk comfortable and uncomfortable," she said of habits and life styles.

When a person is comfortable with herself and the choices she makes, her self-esteem is high and her stress usually low, added Price, who has been giving training workshops for five years. Before that she taught elementary school, did counseling and managed the office of a group of gynecologists. She has a master's degree in criminal justice and has taken graduate courses in counseling.

Price lives in Reddington Beach, Fla., but travels about 40 weeks a year teaching workshops. Not all are on stress and not all are exclusive to women.

Nor is stress.

Men don't necessarily have less stress than women, but "they have more avenues to get it out than we do," Price said. Stress, she said, comes from two emotions: anger and fear. Anger is the acceptable male emotion, fear the female.

So it is in controlling their fears that women conquer stress.

Easy? Not necessarily.

First, women have to want less stress in their lives.

And they don't?

Many women do not really want less stress, contended Price. "Your stress is chosen, nurtured and heralded, like a first-born child. You like it," she told the workshop. "We advertise our level of stress as being our reason for living. We wear stress like a badge of honor."

But there are other, healthier symbols of self-worth, such as control, calmness and competence.

"The key to surviving, and thriving on, stress is control," Price said.

Controlling Stress

She described controlling stress as a three-stage exercise that can become a way of life: Preparation, process and maintenance. Price dwelt on preparation: "allowing the body to be in its best form" to deal with stress.

This preparation stage relies heavily on the power of positive thinking: building and reinforcing a good self-image. It begins with physical readiness achieved through good diet, exercise, sleep and relaxation habits and includes two mental techniques, which she called visualization and affirmations.

Visualization is a process of seeing oneself, mentally, achieving a goal or mastering a difficult situation. Basketball players, for example, might repeatedly visualize themselves making perfect free throws, so that when they stand at the foul line they can make the basket.

Affirmations are positive, present-tense statements that a person repeats to herself often. Price, for instance, advocates saying these four things every day:

"I am competent."

"I am attractive."

"I deserve respect."

"I own this day."

Inherent in the last statement are choice and control, which everyone needs to exercise, Price said.

Controlling Your Life

"Every act in your life is a choice," she said. "The time has come for you to start owning your life . . . You own it for what you choose to be. If you don't take ownership, let me make you a promise: someone else will. And they do it through guilt and they do it through demands. When it's your day, you choose how you live it; when you don't choose it, they choose how you live it and then you meet their demands.

"Affirmations make or break you. It's just that simple."

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