John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Coping with stress

Stress (part II)

There is no single strategy for coping with stress that will fit all situations, but maybe one of the following items will give you some ideas of things to try:

1. Learn to say “no.”
2. Learn to quiet your body and mind--breathing, meditation, yoga, whatever.
3. Open up--talk to a friend, family, clergy member, or therapist.
4. Go on an information diet. Unplug from the internet, turn off the TV.
5. Refine your time management system. GTD anyone? Covey?
6. Face what you’re trying to avoid.
7. Walk, ride, lift, or swim. (Exercise helps your mind, not just your body)
8. Find your spiritual center. Church? Nature? Vocational calling?
9. Let a few things slide.
10. Get a massage.
11. Eat something crunchy.
12. Take a frequent breaks.
13. Instead of working more, try working less.
14. Dare to sleep in.
15. Lose yourself in music.
16. Take a day trip. (A fresh venue)
17. Stressful situation: Is it a threat? Or challenge? (Perception is everything)
18. Examine your assumptions. (Hint: see absolutist thinking)
19. Pet a dog or a cat.
20. Find something that makes you laugh (or at least smile)

In part I, I said that a simple definition of stress is when demands exceed resources.

Coping with stress will almost always involve variations on the following three strategies: (1) Change the demands (e.g, problem solve); (2) Improve or manage your resources (e.g., time management methods); (3) mitigate the effects of the stress response (e.g., learn a formal method of relaxation). The strategies you deploy will depend heavily on the situation, but problem solving is almost always our first line of defense for coping. In others words, we try to do something about the situation: fix it, resolve it, eliminate it, work around it, whatever.

The rub, however, is that eventually we’ll encounter stressful situations that we can’t do anything about. When that happens, we have to shift strategic gears and begin to do something to lessen the effects of stress. There are countless ways of doing this, but they’re all designed to do the same basic thing: quiet the stress response. (For instance, there are reasons why alcohol and dogs never seem to go out of style. For better or worse, people use both to help them cope.)

Of course, if we can’t change demands, sometimes we can boost our resources to meet those demands. Maybe we go to a seminar on GTD (Getting Things Done, by David Allen), or maybe we try get more sleep or eat better. Or maybe we decide to unplug from the constant flow of information that is clamoring for our precious attention. Interestingly enough, our ability to cope with stress fluctuates over time. If we’re short on sleep, heatlh, or energy, for instance, our coping ability drops off significantly. Some resources are more harder to improve than others.

Are there people who cope better than others? Yes. What do they know that the rest of us don’t? I’ll take a shot at answering that in part III.