7 Approaches to Managing your Stress and No, its not just a list of Relaxation Techniques.
Let me start with a bit of background…a prologue, to help set the tone and mood for this read.
So…yes. This WAS supposed to be an article pertaining to stress management strategies however has turned unto somewhat of a mini guide…or just a really long article.
Depends on your perspective.
And so does a lot of your stress!
See what I did there?
I experienced some stress from my thinking and judgement that this article is way too long -fearing that readers will not bother or have time to read it (and a deeper issue with self-esteem and confidence that my writing…sucks-that’s a whole other issue!)
I had options though on how to approach this now stressful situation.
I could have gone ahead and restructured this article. Sure, I could edit and cut out large chunks, redesign it. It would take much more time and then I might not be able to share everything I wanted to or that I felt necessary to make this article of use to readers.
I interpreted this as being quite a stressful thing to do.
So, and a sigh…
I instead decided to reduce the stress I was experiencing by:
- Changing the language I use to describe this collection of thought, advice and information (referring to it as a mini guide rather than an article). Oh, the power of language and label, right?!
- Accepting that I tend to be a little …wordy …and that this is not a competition nor an article for external publication or essay that needed to meet certain criteria.
- Redirecting my focus on my intent-not only to share with others some stress management strategies but have fun doing it!
Ok. I also thought that if I call this an ‘article”, you might have the expectation that it will be a lot shorter than it actually is, which means you might be less mentally prepared thus less likely to read the whole thing. If, however I call it a “mini-guide”, the you might expect it to be longer, thus more likely to prepare mentally for it and give it a read to the end.
In the end I not only altered the demand (yes, self-imposed) but also the way I interpreted the demand and the situation (that I created) and my approach to it.
I had a client (rather more than 1) tell me in a state of frustration:
“How many more deep breathing exercises, meditations and mindfulness walks can I do? These stress-reduction strategies are stressing me out even more and I’m still in the same situation!”
“I spent the last month stressing, worrying and overthinking and I am no better off than I was”
Do any of these things sound familiar?
That’s likely because these actions help alleviate the symptoms of stress but may not necessarily address the stress-inducing event or situation. Stress relief is a part of stress management, but you may also have to address the stressor. Well, not “may have to”, more like “likely have to” …or have to.
First, if you feel stressed, please-do breathe! Mindfully.
And use some relaxation, grounding and self-soothing and other distress tolerance techniques alongside a good personal care and well-being plan. These are essential as they often provide symptom and stress relief and help you regulate your emotions and reactions. They help activate the calming response which helps you see things more clearly and may increase your ability and enhance your capacity to handle stressful events and situations.
(How it came that we need to remind ourselves to attend to a voluntary, necessary behaviour for survival, like breathing, is…. quite sad. I don’t think a cat stops to think, “hmmm…I need to breathe” Although they will notice when they stop. So will you.
Although…. cats are very mindful, especially when hunting prey and grooming, and seem to have mastered the art of relaxation (although this may apply to indoor cats that do not have to kill for food and fight for survival).They also do not experience the cognitive stress us humans do.
There I go again…on a cat tangent!
Bring yourself back the present, Fanie:)
As a Life and Career Coach, part of my work is helping clients work through adverse life events, negative thought and behavioral patterns and challenging situations that evoke a lot of stress, anxiety (often as a reaction to stress), overwhelm and potentially burn out and a host of health-related issues if not addressed.
No matter what a client may come to session with, there is always some conversation around stress and stress management. Whether that be physical, emotional, psychological and/or cognitive stress or a wonderful cocktail of all these.
I therefore decided to collect my reflections and learnings over the years and share with you that I have observed through client success (and my own experiences) are 7 approaches to manage your stress which are not your standard list of relaxation techniques and action planning templates. (Although please use these!)
The approaches can help with both managing the stressor and provide stress relief. This is not a a step-by-step action plan, nor is it an exhaustive list of stress management strategies. You may find that each approach may not suit every situation however can be part of the action plan You do not have to use all 7 approaches. I recommend choosing 1-2, trying them out and seeing how they work for you. What works this time and for a particular situation may not work next time or for a different situation and what works for someone else may not work for you😊
These approaches can help you identify and focus on what you DO have control over and help activate a shift in mindset rather than a focusing on changing things outside of your control, often external events and situations and other discomfort disturbances. These approaches tap into an internal locus of control and a sense of personal agency to work through those challenging event/situation
These approaches might be quite challenging on their own, especially more so in a heightened state of arousal, anxiety and stress, so it is important to do some form of relaxation technique and have a basic personal care plan, so your body’s physiological state is calm enough to address the more complex, yet effective, approaches to stress.
Take a situation in your life at this time that you would describe as stressful.
*Note: I will ask you to refer to this exercise at the end of this article. Guide. You know what I mean😊.
Then ask yourself, can you CONTROL IT? Can you INFLUENCE IT? Or do you have NO CONTTROL OVER IT?
To determine this, Place the perceived stressor (situation) into 3 buckets or categories using Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence.
What can you control, influence and what do you have no control over. There are several diagrams and models you can use The original “Circle of Concern” and “Circle of Influence” is based on Steven Covey’s work. Here is a link to this tool,:
The sooner you figure this out, which also may involve letting go, the sooner you will be able to create a plan of action and design your approach.
Once you know what you are dealing with, you can then figure out what to do about your situation. It is not uncommon for someone to initially think a stressor is “within” their control and then realize “um, no, not going to happen”. A typical example is thinking you can “make someone happy”. Maybe that is your Boss, child, a random stranger, partner. That is not within your control actually, although could possibly be in the “Influence”.
The following 7 approaches can be helpful no matter where you place your stressor
Tip: Save your resources and energy for what you can control, otherwise you just exhaust yourself fighting the uncontrollable.
7 Approaches to Stress Management
1.Use Stress to your Advantage-it is an adaptive function.
Stress is a natural response to demands and pressures, often that we feel we may not have the capacity and resources to handle.
As the feelings of stress are often uncomfortable and unpleasant for many (and the long-term effects of stress can be detrimental), I have found that people will go out of their way to avoid any kind of stress, psychological, physical, emotional.
If, however you start to see stress as not something to be “cured” but a natural response that can help you take action when you need to, you can work WITH your stress rather than wash it down with a whiskey.
Stress management does not mean avoiding the stressor, although sometimes this is an option. Avoidance, as you may have experienced, relieves stress temporarily but as it does not address the actual issue, this often leads to repressed emotions, maladaptive coping mechanisms, creating even more stress and a range of secondary disturbances.
Stress is your body’s way of telling you something. Of telling you something needs to be addressed, something may not be right, and you need to take some form of action.
We can however only take so much so while it is important to use your stress and see it as an advantage or tool to help you get through a rough time, there needs to be a balance and understanding.
Finding the balance between recognizing and acknowledging your stress versus letting the stress overtake you can be challenging in itself. Particularly if you are in a state of stress.
Stress forces us to take action, if used strategically-it there to protect, not just make our lives overwhelming and exhausting.
Think back to a time when you were in a stressful situation How did you react? How might the stress that you experienced actually help you work through the situation? If you reversed things and were not stressed as a result of this situation, what might have gone down differently?
The feeling of stress is unpleasant and one-way Ill share to help you use stress while not feeling so distraught by it is to
increase your tolerance for discomfort. This means learning to tolerate a certain amount of stress.
Yes, you CAN change how you see the uncomfortable situation (is it really that uncomfortable?) OR learn to tolerate this. If you have been living on earth for some time, you likely have experienced stress, and in a way, each time you experience a stressor and practice stress management techniques, you are partaking in stress inoculation! That’s right. It’s kind of like vaccine against the effects of stress, preparing yourself to experience stress, so that you can then work with it and use it to your advantage and not let it, literally, kill you.
I’ll end there but if you would like to read more on this concept:
There is even a specific therapy for this) you can go here:
2. Lean into Acceptance and Non-Resistance
“What you resist, persists” -Carl Jung
Yup. At some point, you need to accept the situation. Especially if it is going to be a long-term, external, uncontrollable situation.
And while you are at it, accept yourself.
What is your reality? Where are things at?
Because you can’t move from a place of resistance, and you can’t implement and generate a solution to something you have not accepted.
As shitty as you feel and think your situation is, the first step is just meeting yourself where things are at. And sometimes that’s rock bottom. By accepting where you are at, you can take down the resistance (roadblock) and start to move.
Once your brain accepts a situation, you are more likely to perceive it as less stressful or not a stress-inducing event
Note that acceptance is NOT the same as thinking your situation is great and no longer resisting does not mean that you are giving up. It’s about coming to terms with what is and accepting that this is where things are at. Great or not.
Yes, you have a lot going on.
That your best today may not be what it was yesterday and may be different from tomorrow and that’s ok
That having some better days than others are normal
By accepting a situation, you let your brain know it is no longer in threat. It may still be stressful, but now you can put your resources and energy into addressing and coping with the situation rather than fighting. This allows you to work WITH not against something. WITH not against yourself.
STOP fighting hat you can’t control
Stop fighting yourself.
Aren’t things exhausting and stressful enough?
3. Try on a Different Perspective: Change the way you perceive a Life Circumstance
The Stressor itself may be a problem. But I bet your judgement and accompanying reaction and perception are making things worse.
I like to use the analogy of trying on a different outfit. Just like trying on an outfit, try on a new way of looking at your situation.
One way to do this is to explore and challenge your current thoughts and thought patterns
For example, I find that client’s experiencing high stress levels also have a lot of the following approaches to life:
Demanding: Placing a lot of demands and unrealistic expectations on yourself.
Tip: Get rid of your “I should’s”. The ones you put on yourself and the one’s you allow others and external influences to put on you. And please, let’s help each other out here: stop “shoulding” on others too.
Awfulizing: Thinking something is a lot worse than it may actually be.
Is it really THAT bad? Really?
Well. It might be.
In which case I am glad you are reading this article and hope you find a strategy that works for you.
To briefly answer a common question I get often, yes, “Awfulizing” is an actual term I did not make it up! You can read a description of the definition here:
Your thought patterns have a HUGE influence on how you perceive and thus react to a stressful situation so it’s good to check in with thoughts and beliefs that may be creating, or perhaps interfering, with your reality.
I once read a powerful quote that said what goes on in there (your brain) are “mind events” not ‘world events!
When you challenge your thoughts, you may find that a lot of your stress is self-imposed, internally created, self-inflicted, and…sometimes, upon reflection, did not have a purpose, only leaving you with unpleasant feelings, thoughts and sensations.
You don’t have to listen to your thoughts-or at least not all of them. You also don’t have to interact, engage or identify with every thought.
One’s level of stress is often influenced by how one perceives a situation. Therefore, by changing your thinking patterns and your interpretation of the event, you may find it is not a very stressful event and/or not as stressful as you thought, contributing to a less arousing emotional reaction and heightened sense of ability to manage the stressor. Therefore 2 different people may be in the same situation however one is stressed and the other is not. Neither is right or wrong.
Some questions I use with clients are:
What would be a different way of thinking about your situation?
Any other way to think about it?
How might somebody else think about the situation?
How might your approach to the situation change as a result of changing how you see it?
4. Explore and Challenge Behaviours and Habits
Check your habits. Habits need to be reviewed from time to time. Effective habits are an excellent way to manage stress as whatever behaviour or thought is habituated there is often less effort needed in certain areas and thus more energy and effort available to handle unexpected or expected stressors.
However, some habits are not healthy and also some that may have been useful at one point in the past may not be serving you well now or is no longer needed or necessary.
This is partly because a constructive healthy habit you established at one time may no longer work for where you are at now. As you start to track and review your habits, you may start to realize that what you have been doing, for a large part of…your life… is carried through the power of habit
This is where checking your habits comes into play.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of something and thought “hmmm. Why am I still doing this?” What function does it serve?
By checking your habits, you can work on eliminating habits that are no longer serving you and creating healthier ones that will serve you. This will make things easier during stressful times as you typically do not put as much thought and effort into something that has been habituated.
What happens then? Demands decrease and you create new space.
Space for other areas in your life. Space for balance, Space for peace. Space for love. Space to carry out your values. Space to breathe.
I want to share an article by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (a great read!) , that is a great place to go to and help you understand, explore and learn how to create and break habits:
5. Take a break from the situation/situations and give your brain a reset
Say what?! Yes, contrary to challenging your thoughts, just get out of there.
Stress takes a lot of mental and emotional energy and can drain us. Thinking about and worrying about the stressor over and over again can not only make it seem worse and frame our reality, seeing it as our life rather than an experience, but you may find that with all that thinking and worrying you are no further along in coping with your situation than you were prior to the 24 hours of thinking about it.
Ever had a situation, went to bed and then seemed to have “figured out” a solution after a good sleep? Or maybe you went for a run and all of a sudden you get a “light bulb” moment, seeing a whole new approach to your situation?
Staying up all night in thought often doesn’t do anything for the situation except lead you to more mental suffering, exhaustion and therefore less ability to manage the stressor.
When I have a client trying to work through a stressful situation, one thing we implement into their approach is taking a mental break -a complete break, and exploring how using extra-neural resources – tapping into the environment around you, your body and focusing on your senses (touch, feel, smell, sight) can actually help, and on other “beings” and forms of life (people, animals, plants).
Step outside of yourself. Separate yourself from the situation. The situation is not your life, it is your life situation at this time. You are not your situation.
It can be hard to just “take a break” from the situation and I encourage scheduling time for this into your day as a reminder that its break time.
If you find this challenging, you can try asking yourself:
1.Is there anything I can do about it? And right now? If there is, go do it.
2. If not, work on #1 and use those stress reduction techniques to help soothe and provide distress comfort.
As you may have experienced, worry often feels like a mental marathon only you just end up at the same spot, possibly further behind and exhausted.
Your brain can continue to problem solve even when you re not consciously thinking of the problem.
Ok, so I had to bring in this concept into this article somehow and I think it fits nicely in here.
Huh?!! Says your brain. Or at least mine sure did. I first read about this in a psychology today article.
“Non-neural cognition” is the process by which cells other than neurons engage in information processing and rudimentary cognition”-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-neural cognition
Yes, this involves thinking outside of the brain.
Annie Murphy Paul’s research you can start here (there is also a book!):
Here is an interesting article, “The Extended Mind and Thinking Outside the brain” that includes a conversation with Annie Murphy Paul:
Relying solely on your brain to figure out and work through a stressful situation or event may be limiting your ability and you may not be maximizing the resources you have to work through a situation.
Annie Murphy discusses 3 ways to do this including using the outside environment, our bodies and other people. To read more, her book is called: “The Extended Mind”.
I like to believe that the brain does not have all the answers.
But it does create most of your problems.
The solution may indeed lie elsewhere….
6. Be mindful of and Embrace Impermanence
Sure, it can be frightening, sad…yet calming, and relieving. It is also part of the trilogy of positive psychology (pervasiveness, permanence and personalization) and Buddhism many 3 marks of existence! Totally for another article but here’s a link in case you wanted to veer this way:
No matter what you are experiencing, by reminding yourself that it is not forever, as nothing is, can provide some relief and comfort. Things may still be challenging for some time, but you can guarantee it won’t be forever.
Now is not forever.
Now is not a summary of your life or who you are or how things are going to be.
It is just now.
It is a moment that becomes the past. And you don’t have to stay behind with it. Tomorrow too will become now and then the past. There is nothing so stressful that has prevented you from being where you are today otherwise you would not be here reading this article. That is evidence that you have done it before, and maybe, you can do it again.
7. Watch your language and labels!
No, I am not talking about swearing or using foul language, although, for some this has been helpful while for others it feeds the stress more negative energy so use your discretion.
I admit. Releasing a few words that my grandma would frown upon (but my Dad would be proud of) has helped me in moments of acute stress!
A single word or phrase has a huge impact on your perception and judgment, affecting the way you see and experience your reality.
So, when faced with what you perceive as a stressful situation, stop and ask yourself:
Is your situation:
An inconvenience or a catastrophe?
Disturbance or Disaster?
Why does this matter?
Well, you are more likely to believe you can work through a disturbance than you are a disaster, an inconvenience more than a catastrophe.
You may be more likely to see a catastrophe as temporary, turning into an inconvenience (usually after some deep breathing) both of which are temporary
While you don’t want to magnify your situation, you also don’t want to minimize it either.
Sometimes, yes, it might be closer to a catastrophe or disaster. Making sure you validate and acknowledge your emotions as well as getting support and resources is essential.
Other times, it may feel like a catastrophe in the moment, but when you take a look back, you likely realize it was an inconvenience.
Remember this for next time you find yourself in a catastrophic state:)
Magnifying and minimizing are examples of cognitive distortions and here is a link from therapistaid.com with a whole list!
You may wish to read them through and see if you can catch yourself in any (or all?) of them. These cognitive errors often create stress and make any stress you already are experiencing worse.
Post-Reading Reflection Exercise
I hope you find these 7 approaches to managing stress helpful. You do not of course have to use all 7. Some may work for you, others may not. Some may work for you in certain times and in other circumstances not.
Now let’s put things into action.
We are going to go back to the start where I had asked you to use the “Circle of Influence” to place your selected stressful situation of choice and out it into 1 of 3 areas , what you feel you can influence, what you feel you have control over and what you feel you have have no control over.
- What area did you initially place it in?
- After reading this article, did this change at all? Would you keep it where it is at or place it in a different category? Why or why not?
- Choose 1 approach from the 7 listed above (can be a part of an approach) that you feel might help you manage your stressful situation
- Try it out!
- Evaluate: How did that work for you? Not work for you? What did id do / not do for you?
If it didn’t do anything, might there be another approach you might like to try?
I hope you found this article and accompanying exercises helpful.
No matter what approach you take on, please remember that these approaches are to be coupled with stress relief. Together they can help you manage your stress so you can live a healthy, balanced life, whatever that may be for you.
I may have a lot of professional (and personal!) experience and education on managing stress, but I also know that YOU, as the reader, are an experienced receiver of stress and know what works for you and doesn’t work for you. One strategy is to actually go back to what has worked for you in the past.
I hope you do not have to use stress management strategies all the time. These approaches however can be practiced and habituated and may become easier as you move along in this life.
I wish you a safe and fulfilling journey ahead and look forward to any comments or contributions you may want to add.
Post note: Yes, you may have noticed a few grammatical and syntax errors peppered throughout this guide.
I have high respect for quality, not so much for perfection. Do I need to cater to these errors? Yes. (a stress-inducing but beneficial demand).
But, I gave myself a gift, the “gift of imperfection”. Just seeing how I like it. I can always return it.
If you want it’s on sale now. Just e-mail me and I’ll tell you about it:)