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Published On: Wed, Apr 19th, 2017

Cope with Stress: Take charge of the situation

We are all faced with everyday situations that we experience as extremely stressful. Stress can be understood as our combined physical, cognitive and emotional responses to situations that are perceived as threatening or challenging. While we all have developed different ways for managing stress, the underpinning feature of any approach to stress management is developing an awareness of the situations that stress us and the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that serve as our response.

I recently emphasized the importance of developing an awareness of yourself – your bodily response, thoughts and feelings – as the underpinning basis for coping with stress. I have also focused on one avenue of coping with stress which involves addressing the situational aspect of the stressful experience by simply avoiding it, and explored different strategies for avoiding the stress precipitating the situation entirely.

But what about situations that you simply can’t avoid?

photo ijmaki via pixabay

This article focuses on how you can more effectively manage stressful situations that you have no other choice but to experience.  You may find yourself in an otherwise satisfying, well-paying but highly stressful job or you may be struggling with the stresses of raising young children. While both these situations may indeed be experienced as challenging and even threatening at times, they are not situations you necessarily want to avoid.

So, while you may find yourself in a situation that you don’t want to or can’t avoid, there is a level of control that you can exert over the situation. In other words, where possible, you can start to manage the stress of the situation by exerting active control over the situation itself. This approach to stress may sound quite counterintuitive. After all, stress is something that just happens to you. You couldn’t possibly impact on the situations that cause you stress. You are simply a victim of circumstances. Or are you? Once you start to exercise the muscle of self-awareness, you will notice that there are indeed many aspects to the stressful situations that you find yourself in that you can modify.

Let’s look at some specific strategies for coping with stress by altering elements of the stress inducing situation:

Structure situations to minimize stress

Notice the aspects of your environment that stress you and attempt to modify them so as to minimize the stressful impact that they have. If the morning routine with your kids is particularly stressful, try waking up 15 minutes earlier so that you can have some ‘me time’ and take care of some tasks before the kids are up. Structuring situations to minimize stress might mean delegating part of a demanding work project to a colleague. Find ways to restructure the stressful situation so that stress can be minimized.

Take charge of your time

Poor time management is a leading cause of stress. When you feel stretched beyond your capacity and chasing the clock, it becomes very difficult to keep your cool and stay calm. However, if you ensure that you don’t overextend yourself and plan in advance, you can greatly reduce the amount of stress you experience. For instance, in planning appointments, always factor in travel time, down time or catch up time between meetings.

Don’t be afraid to say what you feel

Bottling up your feelings and not expressing your emotional needs can be a significant cause of stress. So, when someone or something is getting to you, speak up and convey your concerns in an open and respectful way. For example, quietly tolerating a relationship with a highly critical friend generates negative emotions and is a breeding ground for stress. Speaking up and expressing your unhappiness with the way you are treated by this friend could go a long way to reducing the stress of this situation.

Be more assertive

Don’t be afraid to take a proactive approach to life. By dealing with problems directly and doing your best to anticipate and prevent them, you can significantly reduce stress. For example, if you have a deadline you need to meet and a colleague keeps on coming over to you to chat, state up front that you can’t talk right now but would be happy to chat after you finish your work.

Try out these strategies that involve real changes to the way you manage and structure your life, as well as shifts in your communication style, and notice the difference in the amount of stress you experience. While stressful circumstances are by no means always in our control, you may be surprised by the liberating possibilities that this approach to stress can generate. You are not a victim of circumstances in which you must simply tolerate any situation thrown your way. Rather, you can exercise control over the situation and modify it so that the experience of stress is greatly reduced or even eradicated.

Author: Stacey Leibowitz-Levy, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly-experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. Dr. Stacey has wide ranging skills and expertise in the areas of trauma, complex trauma, anxiety, stress and adjustment issues. Stacey enjoys spending time with her husband and children, being outdoors and doing yoga.

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