Different Ways to Deal With Stress
What is stress management?
Stress management refers to the use of strategies to reduce stressors and stress levels. It’s not always a deliberate and systematic process, as though we step back and go, “Okay, I’m going to work on my stress today.” In reality, we are constantly engaged in stress management through the different ways that we cope.
I always find it interesting when I ask clients, “How are you coping?” and they answer, “I’m not.” It’s so normal and understandable to feel this way. I do too! The thing to realize is that if you are still living, you are coping. You may not be using the most healthy or effective coping strategies, but you are trying to cope. And you are often doing more than you realize.
Stress management is really just a specific approach for assessing and better dealing with your stress. This approach is often necessary because of the effects that stress, and unhelpful or unhealthy coping strategies, takes on the body and of course quality of life. And this means that you really do need to take a more active role in addressing your stress.
Starting stress management
To start, find some time to sit by yourself and write things out. Yes I know, finding time may be really difficult right now, if you are dealing with numerous stressors, but try breaking up the planning part of this process into manageable chunks.
First, just write out all of your stressors. What are you stressing about? Maybe this is you: You are overwhelmed with numerous projects that are due at work, all around the same time. Your job also involves long hours that are not always within your control. Even though you work a lot, you are still struggling to stay on top of your bills. You just spent a lot of money on new tires but now your car is making a weird noise. You are feeling lonely following a recent breakup, and you were just diagnosed with lupus. All this stress is making you feel tense and restless, and you know your blood pressure has spiked. You feel like you constantly have a headache and you need to drink 3-4 glasses of wine a night just to calm down and fall asleep.
long work hours
restlessness and body aches
Choosing coping strategies
With stress management, you are trying to restore balance in your nervous system, and you want to deactivate the stress response by eliciting the opposite system, the relaxation response. To do this, you need your system to perceive that the threat has diminished. Meaning, you need to believe that your resources outweigh the demands of the situation.
Maybe you do something to address the stressors. What pieces can you try to change? I often ask clients, “Is there room for movement anywhere?” What might be within your control? What stressors might you be able to tackle and address to reduce demands or increase resources? Maybe you can eliminate them by increasing your skills in something, or asking for help from others. Awareness of increased skills and support from others can also change your perception of resourcefulness and how you can handle the situation.
Examples of problem-focused coping strategies:
increasing knowledge or skills
Maybe you need to reassess the actual demand? Have you maybe misinterpreted the level of threat? Or do you have more capabilities and resources than you first realized? Can you handle it?
Examples of appraisal-focused coping strategies:
reappraisal/change of perspective
positive self-talk/coping statements
Maybe some of the stressors can be addressed, and reappraisal can lead to you feeling less overwhelmed. But maybe part of the situation is something beyond your control and now you just need to focus on limiting the impact of the stress response on your system. Maybe you need to incorporate physical or mental ways to elicit the relaxation response even if just for a few minutes every couple of hours.
Examples of emotion-focused coping strategies:
Problem-solving is explored in How To Use Problem-Solving to Manage Stress. How Reappraisal Helps Reduce Stress provides an overview of the use cognitive strategies in stress management, and The Need For Relaxation Strategies in Stress Management goes over physical and mental ways to elicit the relaxation response.