Step 4 – Applying stress management techniques

Welcome to the Stress Management Blueprint!

This is a 5 step online course, on how to deal with stress in your life. The course is designed as a series of blog posts, regularly posted to our site. These blog posts will teach you all the steps necessary to actively start dealing with your stress, and live a less stressful life.

By explaining the core concepts of stress, the problems it may carry, and how to best address them, you will be guided through the different steps that you need to know, to effectively learn to reduce the stress you’re feeling in your life.

This is step 4 out of 5 in a series of blogposts designed to guide you through how you best deal with stress. For the other parts of the series, see:

Step 4. Applying stress management techniques

In this part of the Stress Management Blueprint, we’re going to show you some normal ways of applying the techniques you got to learn in the previous step. This will help you in the process of making it fit in to your own life, and give you a clear picture of which technique to use for a specific type of stress. As this is very related to how you live your life personally, the steps in this part of the guide is meant to give you a clear picture, so you can implement it by yourself without any problem. You should therefore not see it as a strict guide, as there is no ”one size fits all” when it comes to stress. We all have our individual ways of dealing with problems, some methods of preference and different starting points, so take the ideas to heart, and make them your own. After all, this is all about you, and making your life less stressful. Now, let’s get managing that stress!

How to change the way you think about stress

The first thing we’re going to start with, is again the mind. Changing the entire way you think about things can sound quite daunting, but don’t let it scare you, it is alot easier than it sounds, and very beneficial. This essentially relates to changing the way you think about stress, which was introduced in the previous step of this Blueprint. We want to change the negative thought patterns into more positive ones. The thought is, to change the reaction you get initially when you are stressed. Instead of viewing your thoughts as evidence that the worst possible thing is going to happen, you should view your thoughts as hypotheses instead. Just because you think something bad might happen, that doesn’t make it true. It very well could go wrong, but is it really reasonable that it will? You need to ask yourself concrete questions, like what evidence are there for my thoughts? Is there other ways of thinking about this, and could I be mistaking? Let’s take a practical example of how this could look:

How am I feeling right now: Not very good, I am very stressed and nervous about my life.

Situation: I am stressed over the future. If I lose my job, I will have no income, I wont be able to pay my rent and I will be thrown out of my apartment. I’ve been getting bad feedback at work lately, and I’m scared that my position might be challenged if I keep this up.

How stressed am I on a scale of 1-10: Probably about 9.

What do I think is causing my stress: Insecurity about the future, lack of self confidence in my professional life, and the demands of other people.

Now, let’s take this entry, and review it. What is causing the problem? The insecurity about the future, and fear of losing the job. Is this really a realistic outcome? If you have been working there for a long while, and always done a good job before, why would you not keep doing this in the future? Would a couple of bad reviews lately change all of the things you have done before? Why would you continue to perform badly, is there any reason to believe that this is the case? Perhaps it is just bad luck, or a temporary thing. Has the feedback really been that terrible? Why only focus on the negative, perhaps you could benefit from the tips you get in the feedback, and learn something from it. Even if you were to lose your job, is it realistic that you will never find work again? There’s a huge step between getting some bad feedback, and being thrown out of your apartment, is the anxiety really justified in this case? Perhaps things have been going bad now, but you could use the feedback to improve, and perform better in the future, thus keeping your job and your apartment.How stressed are you feeling now?

This method is something that requires a lot of time and practice, and that you continuously put in effort to challenge yourself on this front. The absolute easiest way however, to implement this in your life. Is to keep a stress journal, as we’ve proposed earlier on. By keeping this journal, you get a very clear overview into the way you think, and the more explicit you write, the more information you have about yourself. You can then, in hindsight analyze these thoughts, and add a realistic view to them, something that in turn can help you in future stressful situations, keeping a more leveled head. If you want more ideas on how to keep a stress journal, please see step 2 of this Blueprint.

This is the most practical and easy way to implement cognitive change in your life. But keep in mind, it is nothing you have to rush, let it evolve over time.

Exercise: Do you have an entry in your stress journal? Take a minute to review it, and apply this technique to your entry. What thoughts did you have at the occasion? How do you think about it now? Are you still as stressed about it? Do you need to be? Think about it for a while before moving on.
Reconstructing the way you think about stress can be hard, but very beneficial.

When should I use the different coping mechanisms?

Remember the coping mechanisms from step 3? Good! As they’re naturally different, their applications are aimed at different situations. If you can use all of them, this is of course a good idea, if you feel that you benefit from it, but in some particular cases you will have to choose between the methods. It is very dependent on the particular stressor, however there are four basic guidelines to follow when trying to apply a coping mechanism to a problem:

  • Distinguish between which situations you have control over, and which situations you cannot control. This is related to first addressing your stressor, you need to know what exactly is stressing you out. After properly getting an overview of the situation, you can start taking action.
  • When you feel that you can control the situation, use problem focused coping. If there is something you can do to change the situation that is causing you stress, this action should be taken immediately to effectively reduce the stress.
  • When you feel that you can’t control the situation, use emotionally focused coping. When the situation is beyond your influence, and you just have to live with it, focus on taking care of your emotions instead. Try not to worry about things that are out of your reach, and make sure to take care of yourself.
  • Use social support at all times, but only if you’re actively taking other measures of dealing with your stress as well. Be sure of not falling in the trap of ”all talk and no work”, you need active measures to deal with your stress as well, but social support is a great asset in combination with the other coping mechanisms.

Now that you know which guidelines to follow when stressed, we’d like you to try this out. Pick out a stressor that you feel is bothering you, and try to fit it in to the four points above. Which method would be best to apply for your particular stressor? Can you actually solve the problem, or is it beyond your control? Should you deal with your emotions only, or the problem itself too? Is there anyone you could talk to about this, to give you some assistance? Who do you usually go to when you’re stressed, do you have a set person you feel you can open up to, or do you need to find someone you trust? Start applying these things, and then you can start thinking about the actual problem. How can it be solved? Or how can your emotions be addressed? What is making you feel bad, and why? And what can you do about it? Take a minute to think about these things.

Improve your hardiness to stress to cope with future situations.

Live stress resilience

Another practical method you can use for dealing with your stress, is improving your stress resilience through live training. It does however require that you can anticipate a stressful event, and some courage to try this. It functions similar to an inoculation, as it involves exposing yourself to a stressful situation, in order to learn how to handle it better in the future. This is intended to work ”live”, so you have to first put yourself in the stressful situation, try to be relaxed while doing so, and then focus on these three main points:

  • See if your behavior is appropriate in the situation
  • Try to maintain your relaxed state
  • Use positive self talk to help guide yourself through the situation

The idea is, to be constantly self-conscious about how you yourself act in the situation, in order to learn from it, and expose yourself to it a little bit at a time. This way, you can learn from yourself, and try to change the situation for the better, by focusing on remaining calm, poised and relaxed, despite whatever might be going on. It is however crucial that you after the stressful situation, take some time to reflect on this technique. How well you accomplished the three steps, what they practically meant for you, and how you think you could improve for the future. If you don’t take this reflection time afterwards, the risk is that you will not fully internalize the method.

Taking a few moments just to think of your behavior afterwards, will conversely give you a long term learning capability, and the possibility to react this calmly in the future, eventually making it your pure instinct to remain calm and collected. It is of course a far way to go, but if it can help you in your stress management, it is a good thing to keep in mind when you know something stressful is coming up. Look at it like an investment in your own health!

Behavioural interventions

There are also some practical methods of behavioral interventions to take into account when dealing with your stress. This means that you learn in what situations you are stressed, and figure out ways to alter your behavior in these situations in order to reduce the stress. For example, if you know that you always get stressed when you’re driving your car, a good idea could be to reflect on your behavior when driving. You could then alter it accordingly, to what you think may reduce the tension. This could entail always following the speed limits, learn how to take it easy by stop signs and red lights, and not drive on particular routes that are sensitive to you. Basically adjusting or changing the situation and your behavior to the situation, in order to reduce stress.

This works very well in combination with the positive self talk, and could be applied to any type of behavior you feel is consistent when you are stressed. Take a moment and try to think of an example that could apply to you, and think about how you could alter your behavior in this situation to reduce stress. Perhaps there are some very simple means you could consider, which would be good for you in the long run?

Finding a way to relax can help with stressful situations.

Relaxation techniques

We’re going to finish this post off with some simple relaxation techniques. These are not dealing with the stressor itself in particular, but it is always nice to learn how to stay relaxed, and it can be good to practice this for stressful situations, so you know how to go back to this feeling when you start feeling tension coming on. Relaxing the body can be quite hard, and require alot of self control if you’re not used to doing it, so we’re going to show you a very simple technique to practice this at home. Even if you’re not stressed in the moment, it is always beneficial to learn to control your body, and it might help you reach a more calm state of mind in general.

Make sure you have some time to spare, and that you don’t have anything you need to do in the next few minutes. If possible, dim the lights a little bit and put on some calm music if you prefer. Make sure you sit comfortably, and try to clear your mind.Now what we’re going to do, is to go through the entire body, and activate the musculature, just to release it afterwards. This will happen systematically, going from toe to top, and you should only try to focus on the feeling you have in the moment. The feeling of the muscle tensening.

Let’s start with the toes, clench them as much as you can for 20 seconds, and then let go. Feel the muscle going from tense, to relaxed. Think about how different it feels. Then you move on up, to your calves, where you repeat the same pattern. Then move on to thighs, stomach, upper back, arms and hands. Try to tense them all one by one, and then let go. Feel how your body is becoming systematically more relaxed. Imagine the muscles becoming slightly warmer when you let go. And finally finish with tensening your neck, just to release.

When you have gone through the entire body, just sit and relax for a while, and take in the feeling of your body being fully loose and calm. This is a feeling you should strive to remember.

The reason for doing this exercise, a very simple one you can do anywhere as long as you have a few minutes over, is to learn the body the difference between being tense and being relaxed. Once you know the difference, it will be easier for you to identify these states. When you end up getting stressed, you can use this knowledge to stave off the tension, and try to change your body’s state back to being relaxed. When you are fully involved in a stressful situation, just doing this exercise with, for instance your fists, can actually help you regain bodily control. Try this out regularly, and try to keep it in mind when subjected to a stressful situation. It might sound a little bit too easy, but handling your stress doesn’t have to be hard. It just takes time, regular effort and a will to live a better, healthier life. Not for the sake of anyone else, but simply because you feel that you earn it.

Summary of the next steps

5. How handle future stress. In this last step, we will talk about how you can make sure that you continue to actively deal with your stress, and how you can plan your future stress management so that you’ll actively work to transform your stress into something positive.

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