Stage 3: Preparation
The third stage of change occurs when you start to organize what you've learned about how to handle your problem into a personalized plan for making change. The plan is further developed as you go about making any preparations necessary for carrying out the changes.
In this stage, you need to decide how to make your desired changes occur. In the case of stress management, this comes down to selecting appropriate methods for reducing your stress. Make a list of the methods that you believe will be most personally useful for you to try, taking into account your strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Then, create a second list containing any equipment you may need to implement those methods. Perhaps you need to obtain a DVD with relaxation exercises to serve as a guide for your practice. Or, you may need to alter your schedule in order to create a standard time for relaxation practice. If you plan to take classes or work with a personal instructor or therapist, you may want to shop around to find one who you like spending time with. Anything that you need to accomplish in order to fulfill your stress management plan occurs during this preparation stage.
Stage 4: Action
Actual behavior change starts for the first time during the action stage. At this point, your commitment to change has been made, your plan of action is set, and your preparations are completed. It is now time for you to implement your plan. If you've planned well, this should be a relatively simple matter of doing the things you've said you would do, such as progressive muscle relaxation, massage, exercise, time management, guided imagery, conscious eating, etc.
Make sure to monitor your progress by keeping a diary, and by charting your practice each day. Monitoring does a few things for you. It helps you visualize your progress and thus serves a motivational purpose. Your chart also helps you stay on track, and thus serves an organizational purpose. It can also help you to understand how your change program efforts interact with the rest of your life. For instance, viewing notes about what is happening in your life during times when you fail to make progress on your plan helps provide information about what to do to prevent similar lapses in the future. If you find that you are not practicing your stress management routine during times when your work is particularly intense, you may need to adapt your routine to fit into smaller chunks of time (e.g., while on work breaks).
Stage 5: Maintenance
At this stage of change, stress management techniques have been incorporated into your daily life, and your goal changes from one of implementation to one of maintenance. It will sometimes be necessary to revisit earlier stages so as to alter your current routine to respond to life changes. For instance, if you change jobs and your commute gets longer, you may need to alter the frequency and times you spend working on relaxation exercises. If you lose your job, and need to work on getting a new one, you may need to alter the types of stress management techniques you practice. Maintaining a positive perspective with regard to your unemployment through the practice of cognitive restructuring exercises may become a higher and more realistic priority than making time for a new hobby or vacation.
Your task now is to move from a general understanding of the five stages of lifestyle change to a very specific one; one that will help propel you into the healthier and less stressed lifestyle you want to achieve. In order to best do this, think about developing a personal plan for how you can best add regular stress prevention exercises to your life, and then executing this plan to make it a reality.