Feeling stressed is a normal part of life. Knowing how to effectively manage stress can be challenging. The stress response, or fight or flight reaction, is the body’s natural response to an environmental threat. The stress response involves activation of the sympathetic nervous system causing the body to physically and mentally prepare to either fight against or flee the threatening situation. The stress response can be an adaptive reaction, in that it lets you know you need to react to danger. Problems occur if you do not manage your stress effectively causing negative emotional and physical consequences. In modern day life, the stress response can be triggered when you sense a threat to your identity and your values. People often describe feeling stressed about work issues, relationship difficulties, financial problems, and balancing life’s tasks.
The stress response is a natural reaction to perceived threats, yet experiencing the stress response over time can cause many mental and physical health problems. Although you cannot completely eliminate experiencing stress, you can learn to manage stress in a more healthy, adaptive manner. The two general ways you can manage stress are using problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. In problem-focused coping you change the nature of the stressor itself. Sometimes changing problems in your environment is not possible. Fortunately, there are healthy coping skills that can be learned and implemented to effectively turn off the body’s stress response.
In emotion-focused coping, the goal is for you to cope with stress differently so that the effects of the stress response on your body will decrease. Some examples of emotion-focused coping include meditation, massage, exercise, yoga, altering negative or distorted self-statements, changing your perception of the threat, seeking out social supports, engaging in fun hobbies, and relaxation skills training.
Learning relaxation skills is an effective and simple way to begin to manage your stress. You can start implementing an exercise called deep breathing. First find a comfortable quiet place and get in a relaxed position either sitting or lying down. The skill involves taking a long deep breath so that the stomach expands. Hold the breath for a count of 3-4 seconds, then slowly exhale. Work on focusing your thoughts only on your breathing and remind yourself to relax. Start by doing this exercise once a day for 10-15 minutes. Deep breathing is a way to induce the body’s relaxation response and turn off the stress response. When practiced often, you will feel generally more relaxed. To learn more about relaxation skills and other ways to manage stress you can reference a self-help book on stress reduction. If you think your feelings of stress have become too overwhelming, you may benefit from seeking psychotherapy to help manage your stress.