LEHI — Learning to turn stress into an asset can improve life rather than damaging it, according to family therapist/relationship consultant Jonathan Sherman.

Sherman spoke at a recent Lehi Community Council family workshop.

People create their own life, blissful or not, by their mind-set, Sherman said.

Handling stress is a learned ability, he said. Unless people learn how to turn stress around it can dominate and hurt them emotionally, mentally and physically. Stress leads to mental and physical illness.

Most doctor visits — some 90 percent — are stress-driven, Sherman said, citing studies by the American Medical Association. Stress causes mental health issues and leads to burnout, he said.

"Perception is our reality," Sherman said, adding that people can choose their own reality and their own expectations.

"It's about choice. It's about taking control," he said. "Perceptions create our reality."

Seven years ago, Sherman said he refused to listen to criticism. He still has understanding, compassion and listens to other people, but before he can assist others he looks out for himself, he said.

"It's really nice to not care what people think," he said. "Criticism is a huge stressor."

Most people define themselves by what they do, by their jobs, but that's unhealthy, he said. He also advised that people not fight stress, which everyone experiences throughout their lifetime "like the waves of an ocean," but instead learn to manage it. To lessen stress, he said, remove the causes.

"It can become our ally when we know how to use it," he said.

Stress levels can range from boredom to anxiety, so some stress is good, he said. However, he advises people to take a break from their activities to avoid breakdowns. Overworking can lead to less productivity, he said.

He also advised people to shift their thinking, adding that a pessimist is better at defining problems but an optimist is better at resolving them. However, research shows that optimists live an average of seven years longer, he said.

Sherman outlines four choices people have in choosing their mind-sets and how they deal with life's issues:

Change the situation

Change the reaction

Be tolerant

Remain miserable

Unlike animals, human beings can be a victim or a creator by what they choose to believe and say. They can say things that make them powerless or they can choose to create their life and the reality they want, he said.

Skills to manage stress include deep breathing, meditation and learning "to be in the moment," Sherman said, which which he also said can be a spiritual experience.

He said drugs and alcohol do not relieve stress. Alcohol is a depressant and "stress and depression go hand in hand," he said.

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