Stress Management Techniques – Start here

When discussing stress management techniques and interventions for reducing stress, the body and mind is commonly separated. This allows us to focus our stress management techniques at either psychological tricks and techniques for reducing stress, or pure physical stress management techniques for helping the body physically relax and de-stress. As the body and mind obviously is closely connected, focusing on either of the two aspects is going to have an effect on the other.

When separating the body and the mind, we focus on two separate aspects of our stress. When using psychological stress management techniques, we focus on how we think about stress, and when using purely physical stress reducing methods, we focus on making the body physically relax. In this article, we will explain how you can help reduce stress by using both psychological and physical stress management techniques. We will also discuss why and how this works.

Psychological stress

Psychological stress is characterized by how we, as human beings, think about stress and stressful events. This means that regardless of what the actual stressor is (don’t quite know what a stressor is? Read our article about stressors and finding your causes of stress here), big or small, there is often a difference in how we think about the stressor, depending on who we are as a person. Some people find flying extremely stressful, while others experience no stress what so ever.

How do we deal with psychological stress?

When using psychologically focused stress management techniques, we focus on identifying negative thoughts, and dealing with them. This could for example mean actively challenging the irrational thoughts we might have in a stressful situation.

If you are prone to catastrophic thinking in stressful events, challenge those thoughts.Is it really reasonable that your entire life will fall apart if you do not get this job? Is it reasonable that you won’t do well on the upcoming exam, even though you always have done well before?

What stress management techniques are there for reducing psychological stress?

Naturally, there are lots of different stress management techniques for dealing with psychological stress. Here, we will discuss two of the common stress management techniques, focusing on two different parts of the mind and our thinking. First, there is a technique that addresses changing how we think about stress.

Secondly, there is a technique that focuses on using positive self-talk, that focuses on talking to ourselves and using our inner dialogue to actively change how we are thinking about the stressful situation when we are in it. Both of these psychological stress management techniques will be discussed below.

Changing how we think – Reducing psychological stress before it happens

The first method reduces psychological stress by identifying, and if needed, changing, how we think about stress. It is very similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which you can read more about on this excellent resource about CBT). Before we further discuss how and why this actually works, lets do a short crash course in how the technique works, by showing you a way of using it:

  1. Try to think about a stressful event that has happened to you recently. Close your eyes and try to re-live the situation and bring back a little of the original feelings of stress you had in the situation. Write down shortly what the stressful situation or thing (called stressor from now on) is. How does it makes you feel, and what do you think of it? Use simple words to describe it, like “insecure”, “frustrated” or similar. Where you feel you can, write a sentence, each briefly describing why you think you feel like you do. Also, rate how stressful your feeling is on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is not stressful at all, and 7 is a very intense feeling of stress.

    Example

    Incident: My boss questioned my weekly report.
    Feelings: insecure (rating: 6 out of 7 in stressfulness), frustrated (rating: 5 out of 7 in stressfulness), mistreated (rating: 4 out of 7 in stressfulness)
    Explanations: 
    Insecure: Why would my boss question me? I know my report was correct.
    Frustrated: I feel frustrated because I don’t understand why I am questioned.
    Mistreated: It feels like I am the only one ever getting questioned on these things.

  2. After you have compiled your little list, put it away for just about a day or two, to clear your mind. The idea here is to come back to your stressful thoughts with a clear and refreshed mind, which will allow you a different view of your problems. Think of the classical “sleeping on it”-technique for dealing with things.
    After you have let it rest, go back to what you’ve written down again and look at it.

    The problems that the stressor causes you, is there any reasonable way to turn these problems into possibilities? Is it possible you have misinterpreted the situation? Are you putting too much emphasis on something?

    Attempt to bring clarity to your feelings and thoughts by carefully analyzing them, asking yourself whether they are reasonable or not, and if you can change them. Do they have to be problems? How much does it actually matter that your boss questions you once in a while? If it is in fact unreasonably much, what can you do to change it?

  3. Do this at least once a week. Also, practice to actively remind yourself of how you’re thinking about your stressors. Are you obsessing about work again? Well, how are you obsessing? Can you change how you are thinking? If you can change how you are thinking about what causes you stress even just one out of ten times, that is a huge victory and step towards a less stressful and better life.

Now, for the why’s and how’s. Why does this stress management technique work? Shortly, it works because if you realize that you are thinking in a specific way, you can take measures to change that. When you change how you think about something, you will eventually change how you feel about it. And, needless to say, when you change how you feel about something to the better, you will experience less stress.

It is not easy, it does not happen over night, but it is something you can actively do. By using this type of stress management technique to reduce psychological stress, you can actively take charge. This is beneficial not only in the sense that it will with time help give you positive effects, but you are also actively working to improving yourself and live a better life. That is a nice thought in itself, right?

Using positive self-talk – Reducing psychological stress when it’s happening

The second stress management technique that reduces psychological stress is actively using positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is just what it sounds like – you talk to yourself in a positive and soothing manner. This might sound a bit odd and something you might be a bit reluctant to do, but bear with us. It is very effective.

Stress management techniques are, in addition to usually being separated by mind and body, used in two separate ways – to prevent experiencing heavy stress before it happens, and to actively reduce stress when it is happening. Changing how we think, as explained above, is a way to reduce psychological stress before it happens. Using positive self-talk is a way to reduce it when it is happening.

The way this is done is by simply talking to yourself. Confront your thoughts and feelings when you are in the moment. Lets take the example of public speaking when breaking it down:

  1. You are about to speak in public. You are experiencing stress, mostly by your catastrophic thinking. Among other equally catastrophic thoughts, you might think “I am going to make a terrible performance, and people will hate me. I will probably get booed off stage, and get publicly critiqued”.

  2. Start talking to yourself and your thoughts to calm yourself down.

    Example:
    “I usually perform pretty well though, don’t I? Even if I’m not the best, I’m certainly not so bad that I will get hated. I have done just fine before, and I will do just fine again. Nothing is different this time, compared to the tens of times I have done this before. In the extremely odd event that I’d get publicly critiqued, which I by the way have never experienced anyone getting, I can use the critique I receive as a way of improving myself.”

    Just talk to yourself. Confront every negative thought you have, using your inner dialogue. You don’t need to talk out loud, but actively discuss with yourself.

This does not mean that you’re actively trying to deceive or fool yourself, you’re still keeping a realistic view of things. However, putting emphasis on the positive side, and being rational about things, will help you stave off the irrational emotions that sometimes get you stressed. After all, what you are telling yourself is in fact true!

Talking positively to yourself is a great way of taking charge of your thoughts, in the moment. It takes some practice, and like the rest of the stress management techniques presented on this page, it’s not something you learn over night. But if you dedicate yourself to actually learning the method, it can be a powerful tool in learning how to handle stress, right in the moment.

Physical stress

Physical stress is different to psychological stress. However, the stress management techniques used for dealing with physical stress can, like the stress management techniques for reducing psychological stress, be split up in two types. There’s techniques to handle physical stress before it happens, and there’s techniques to handle physical stress when it is happening. We will discuss two commonly used stress management techniques for dealing with physical stress below.

Meditation and similar methods – Reducing physical stress before it happens

To help prevent intense physical stress from occurring in the first place, there are stress management techniques you can use to help relax the body regularly. The two perhaps most popular methods for reducing physical stress this way, is meditation and mindfulness. We will not go into depth on either of these stress management techniques, as there are other excellent resources available for that on the internet.

What we will say though, is that one of the most important things you can do to deal with stress, is doing something that helps reduce physical stress regularly. Whether this is meditation, yoga, mindfulness or anything similar, it is crucial that it becomes a part of your routine, and that you do it as often as you can, and feel you need. As with all stress management techniques, you need to practice and perform the technique regularly in order to fully benefit from it.

This is both due to actually learning the technique properly, but also because having a routine and habit of actively dealing with your stress will help handle stress by itself. It will lend you the hope of making things better, additionally to the actual function of the techniques. So, remember, continuity is very important when using stress management techniques.

If you want to read more about how to reduce physical stress using meditation, you should look at this excellent page about meditation for that.

Relaxing the body – Reducing physical stress when it’s happening

This is perhaps the most straight forward of all the stress management techniques here – we are simply going to teach the body how it feels to be relaxed, and how it feels to be tense. Why? Because when you are stressed and physically tense, you will be able to figure out that this isn’t how the body is supposed to feel, when it is relaxed. Sounds basic? It is.

When we are stressed, we automatically tense our muscles. This can be explained as the body prepares for combat. You can probably remember countless occasions where your shoulders, neck and back have hurt after a stressful situation, without you necessarily knowing why.

What stress management techniques like this, aiming to reduce physical stress, does, is to acknowledge this tension, and reduce it by using a set technique. This technique is just as basic as the reasoning behind it – you simply practice fully tensing your body, and then completely relaxing.

The classical way to illustrate this is to clench your fists as hard as you can for about 20 seconds, then let go. When you let go, focus on relaxing every part of your body. If it helps you, go through every part of your body mentally, making sure it’s relaxed.

Example of practicing relaxing the body

  1. Clench your fists as hard as you can for about 20 seconds. If you want, you tense as much of your body as you can at the same time.

  2. After the time is up, relax your body completely for roughly the same amount of time.

  3. If you want to further enhance the exercise, try mentally focusing on each part of your body, making sure it’s relaxed. For example, think about your feet and calves, and then slowly progress up your body until you finally reach your neck and head. You can even imagine your muscles getting warm as you relax them, which is a technique commonly used in relaxing.

The point of this exercise is to teach the body how it feels to be tense, and how it feels to be relaxed. When you have done this a couple of times, try doing it in a stressful situation. You don’t need to tense your whole body, but try clenching your fists for a little while, and then focus completely on relaxing.

This is is one of the stress management techniques that will allow you to reduce physical stress as it is happening to you, so try to make use of it regularly!

Stress management techniques – where to go from here

As previously mentioned, when talking about stress management techniques, it is important to remember that you need to practice and use them regularly to get the most out of them. In this article, we have tried to go deeper in to what stress management techniques there are, what they do, and how you can use them to your advantage. Our final words for you is: remember to practice this actively. If you want to learn how to handle stress, you need to actively work to become better. Make dealing with stress in different ways a habit, and you will see results!

Further reading

If you are interested in further reading on stress management techniques and how to reduce both psychological and physical stress, we have a few suggestions for reading: