Stress Management & Fostering Resilience
Stress can be both a powerful motivator as well as a damaging hindrance. It all depends on how you use it! When experiencing some sort of pressure in life, we call this stress. Stress is usually the result of some sort of demand in our life, and we experience stress when the demands are high. Stress is the body telling you to act, which means stress can be positive or negative depending on how you use it.
- Why do you get stressed?
- Causes of stress
- Why is it important to manage stress?
- Symptoms of stress
- Chronic and circumstantial stress
- Stress management techniques and stress management activities
- Stress management skills
- Stress management in the workplace
- Stress management plan
- Stress management courses + stress management program
- Common scenarios requiring stress management
- Why do you get stressed?
Why do you get stressed?
When you evaluate a situation, you make a quick judgement as to how it will affect you, how important it is to you, how hard the situation will be to overcome. Often, if that situation is important to you but is difficult to do, this might cause you to feel more stress than if it was unimportant, or not difficult. Stress can be a great thing – it can allow you to take a task seriously, muster up the motivation, work hard and ace it. Or, the stress might be so debilitating that you don’t do it at all.
Causes of stress
There are lots of things that can cause stress, and we call these things ‘stressors’. When the body encounters stressors, it sends out signals to change your mind and body – releasing cortisol and adrenaline, hormones which prepare your body for a fight or flight response. You may experience this as butterflies in the stomach, breathing heavy, sweating, or slight trembling. You become more alert, your muscles tense up, and your digestive and immune processes slow down to get ready for movement. These reactions developed to protect people from short term (usually physical) danger. However, they often can’t be sustained in the long term.
You may have experienced some of these stressors before:
- Working too hard at school or work
- Job loss
- Relationship loss
- Impending deadlines
- Conflict with friends or housemates
These are examples of things that could be experienced as stressful. However, everyone has different stressors according to their mindset, goals and experiences. Your best friend might feel stressed by something that would never bother you, and vice versa.
Why is it important to manage stress?
Stress acts as an accelerator: it will push you either forward or backward, but you choose which direction. With the right set of tools and mental resources, stress can be harnessed to help you reach your goals and avoid depression and anxiety. However, the mismanagement of stress can sometimes lead to anxiety, depression, and be detrimental to your biological processes. Long term stress can speed up ageing, decrease your immune activity (making you more susceptible to diseases), and suppress the brain’s ability to deal with emotional and physical issues, leaving you vulnerable to mental health disorders. Poorly managed chronic stress can also exacerbate any existing conditions, like acne, headaches, sleep issues, and others.
The great news is that the ability to harness stress to motivate us towards achieving our goals can be learnt! We will cover some great tips to deal with stress.
Symptoms of stress
The Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS) is widely used by medical professionals to assess your risk of depression and anxiety and monitor stress symptoms. According to the DASS test, stress is defined as non-specific arousal; including symptoms such as difficulty relaxing, nervous energy, being easily upset or agitated, feeling irritable/overreactive and impatient.
Maybe you relate to some of these:
- You feel unable to stop thinking about all the tasks you have to complete
- You feel sick when you realise how packed your week is
- You find it hard to fall asleep. Your heart races and your legs feel like moving
- You are getting annoyed by little things, or frustrated when you’re interrupted or delayed
- You fidget all the time
- You feel like people don’t understand what you’re going through
Chronic and circumstantial stress
We’ve covered that stress can be motivating or debilitating, but it can also be chronic or circumstantial. Stress often occurs in response to circumstances, and so it tends to be short term and ends when the circumstance changes or is resolved. However, if the circumstances continue into the long term, if the feelings of stress continue long after the circumstances have been resolved, or if the individual tends to experience stress in response to even the smallest circumstances, this is a sign of chronic stress.
For example, you may experience chronic stress in a difficult long-term relationship, while circumstantial stress might be short-term anxiety about giving a speech or meeting a deadline.
Stress management techniques and stress management activities
What can you do to decrease stress? And how can you manage stress and build resilience strategies? Fortunately for us, there are many ways to reduce stress if it begins to affect your daily functioning.
1. Reframe the issue from crisis to challenge
Reframe your source of stress from being a crisis to being a challenge – this perception increases oxygen to the brain and heightens your creative problem solving, reducing negative stress and improving effectiveness.
- If you have a big project that you feel nervous about, trying telling yourself “I feel excited about this challenge!”. You’ll be surprised how quickly you feel ready to tackle it!
2. Organise and streamline your life
Organisation reduces cognitive strain on the brain, freeing up short term memory.
- Make a list of everything you need to get done, the estimated time to complete it, and then plug it into your calendar. The key here is to schedule it in, instead of leaving it on your list.
- Break your first priority task into tiny manageable pieces. Does the first step look too hard? Make it even smaller. Instead of “Write one paragraph”, aim to simply “Write one sentence”.
- Create a specific routine that leads into being productive. For example, your routine could be:
- Make coffee
- Read messages
- Plug into your favourite music
- Work on your next important task
3. Plan your environment
Your environment has a significant impact on your mind, and your stress chemicals are closely linked to how you perceive your immediate surroundings.
- Always keep one plant in your line of vision, to improve creativity and reduce stres
- Keep a picture or video bookmarked of someone you really admire and want to be like.
- Put on the most hype-up music you got
- Go for a run and surf through your tasks on pure endorphins
- Make a cup of decaf tea just the way you like it
- Wrap in a blanket and get cosy
- Clean your whole house and relax in the orderliness
- Light a nice-smelling candle
This is all part of what the PR6 (Predictive Resilience 6 Factor Scale) calls Reasoning. Reasoning involves coming up with creative solutions to problems, which is key to reducing stress.
4. Meditation for stress management
Meditation can counteract the isolation and warped social perception that having a mental disorder can sometimes bring. A randomized clinical trial with 362 participants had them practise three different modules, including a module centred on self-generating loving feelings and prosocial motivation toward themselves and others. Over 6 months the participants practised 10-minute meditations, and results showed increased perceived social connectedness and emotional wellbeing. Nothing changed about their circumstances, but their mindset become one that can better engage with reality in a positive and productive way.
- Since studies show that perceived loneliness is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a cycle, these types of meditations may offer a significant reduction in stress and strengthen social networks (the Collaboration part of the PR6).
5. Yoga for stress management
Yoga works to reduce stress by minimizing inflammation, making your body more resilient in the face of stressors2. Yoga helps release serotonin and dopamine, crucial chemicals for calmness and happiness.
- Some studies have found yoga to be more effective than just relaxation in mitigating the effects of stress3.
6. Games for stress management
Games can be helpful to manage stress. Some easy stress-reducing activities you can play anywhere include:
- Paper toss – throw crumpled up paper into a bin
- Stress balls
- A puzzle
- Clay – make different things out of it while doing something else (like while on a conference call)
- Bubble wrap
Stress management skills
- Self-control – resist caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, late nights, sugar, trans fats, and other things that exacerbate stress
- Exercise as an indulgence – learn to love exercise and the near-miraculous effect it has on your mental well being
- Learn to sleep well – a key focus of the Health domain (PR6), sleep is one the cornerstones of mental wellbeing. In fact, there is no psychiatric condition where sleep is normal. Sleeping well helps your brain process and think through obstacles and concerns, and balances and renews your physiological systems.
- Relaxation techniques – meditation, reappraisal, and breathing all help to communicate to your body that there is no need to be on edge.
- Journaling – research shows that people who identify their emotions and write them down externally begin to feel better from the moment they write it down.
- Time management and good routines – routines help put your brain on autopilot (reducing cognitive load) and time management helps those routines be effective at completing tasks (reducing stressors).
- Resting – biologically, our bodies need to take at least one day off out of every seven, and your brain will release more cortisol (the stress chemical) when it can’t foresee the next day of rest coming up.
It’s crucially important to know the difference between relaxation and recreation. Recreation involves spiking adrenaline; things that are ‘fun’, like seeing friends or going out drinking, will raise adrenaline levels. Relaxation involves reducing adrenaline – doing things like reading a book, journaling, or lying in the sun. Watching movies and tv or using a phone raises your adrenaline, so those activities don’t count as relaxation.
- Practice resilience – increasing resilience is a preventative factor against mental diseases. There are many activities to increase resilience and learn stress management: for example, resilience can be improved by celebrating small wins, using breathing to manage emotional reactions, reading about informal logical fallacies, and many others!
- Communicate & seek support – Know when you should say no to things and not take too much on. Seek support from family, friends or psychologists and talk about your issues. Your support network is the most effective tool you have for stress management.
Stress management in the workplace
Stress in the workplace is often impacted by other people, or by your own ability to negotiate and engage with the workload, making it a complex source of stress to manage. However, with the right strategies, workplace stress can become an important and powerful tool for achieving your goals. However, if the negative stress needs to be reduced, there are many ways to address and change the circumstances in your workplace and in your life.
Stress management plan
Grab a piece of paper and write down the following.
1. Identify triggers.
Write down everything you can think of that has sent you into a stress spiral in the past week. At the end of every day, add anything that happened to stress you out on that day. These could include things like:
- Disciplining your children
- Feeling a loss of control
- Grocery shopping
- Cluttered house
- Work pressure
- Waking up at night from noise
You may find that you have a personality type that is particularly prone to stress from no specific cause. In which case, it’s best to develop a plan around stress management in general.
2. Go through your triggers, and for each write down the answers to these questions:
- What stresses me out about this?
- What are the short-term ramifications?
- What are the long-term ramifications?
- How could this stressor be a good thing? (Dig deep for this one. There’s always something!)
You may decide after combing through motivations and consequences that some of the issues are not particularly important, or maybe even good for you. Eliminate those and focus on the remaining stressors.
3. Decide actions.
You might want to check out the domains of resilience for some ideas on particular strategies for resilience. Brains love plans!
4. Write down all of the good things in your life.
All of them. This is the final step, and it’s proven to reduce stress and increase determination and positivity, reorienting you to have a more holistic picture of life.
Let’s think about an example. Sarah is struggling to both work and afford rent while keeping up with her university workload. When she looks into her future, all she can see is more deadlines, projects, and no rest days in sight. Sarah often cancels on friends to stay in and study, but often ends up watching movies instead to reduce her stress. She finds herself often pulling all-nighters to finish her assignments on time.
1. Sarah’s triggers:
- Fear of failing uni and/or losing her job
- Opening her emails or calendar leads to feelings of dread
2. Sarah’s answers:
3. Sarah’s actions:
4. Sarah writes down everything she’s grateful for and begins to focus less on the stress in her life.
Now she has a comprehensive plan for stress management! With a few minutes of self reflection and strategizing, anyone can begin to develop resilient strategies and learn stress management – skills that protect your mental health for a lifetime.
Stress management courses + stress management program
Driven can provide stress management training by developing resilience. Driven operates through a virtual coach, which takes you through five-minute training sessions every day, focusing on your critical PR6 areas. Driven also provides an immediate toolbox for stress relief.
Common scenarios requiring stress management
Stress and anger management
Stress and anger often go together. Stress increases anger, and anger can sometimes exacerbate stress. Plus, angry behaviour can be detrimental to your relationships, and damaged relationships are a key symptom and cause of stress issues. Anger management is crucial for maintaining a strong network of relationships and for regulating your emotional response. It can be useful to practise diffusing tension with humour, or just pausing for a minute to breathe. If your anger feels out of control, seek help from a professional.
Exam stress management
Exams can be one of the most stress-inducing situations we find ourselves in. However, generations of students have developed strategies for addressing and channelling exam stress. Exam stress is easy to deal with: it simply requires a careful plan with appropriate (and even excessive) rest breaks, and an acceptance that all you can do is your best. Exercise is particularly helpful for exam stress – lowering your stress level, lightening your mood, and giving your brain energy to focus and deal with complex concepts.
Stress management program and corporate training
1 Kok, Bethany E., and Tania Singer. “Effects of contemplative dyads on engagement and perceived social connectedness over 9 months of mental training: A randomized clinical trial.” Jama psychiatry 74, no. 2 (2017): 126-134.
2Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Christian, L., Preston, H., Houts, C. R., Malarkey, W. B., Emery, C. F., & Glaser, R. (2010). Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice. Psychosomatic medicine, 72(2), 113.
3Smith, C., Hancock, H., Blake-Mortimer, J., & Eckert, K. (2007). A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety. Complementary therapies in medicine, 15(2), 77-83.