It is more and more common to hear expressions such as “I am stressed” in my environment.. Stress is so ingrained in our society that we sometimes use such comments as “wild cards” to describe a certain activation of our emotional system when we are very busy.
However, it is convenient to understand what we mean when we talk about this matter because it is more complex than we initially think.
In general, the stress response consists of an immediate and intense reaction, which involves the general mobilization of the body’s resources and which occurs in situations which involve significant demands on the person facing a task or a challenge, a risk ( real or imagined) or even the possibility of material or personal loss. The stress response includes a set of physiological (what I feel), cognitive (what I think), and motor (what I do) responses to.
Adaptive stress and maladaptive stress
The stress response itself doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, in many cases we are talking about an adaptive response that allowed the species to survive and not become extinct.
Just as feeling anxious in certain situations is vital in coping with a threat, stress can be a tool in overcoming daily demands.
However, when this reaction occurs very frequently in a context where there is no real danger, it can lead to the depletion of resources and lead to the emergence of problems of various nature. In this case, stress is not helpful and we would therefore speak of an inappropriate response..
How to act in the face of stress?
Once we conclude that physiological, cognitive and motor responses are intense, lasting over time, uncomfortable and interfere with our daily life, we can act on several levels:
1. Techniques for changing stressful situations
They aim to change the environment in which the person is. The goal would be to modify environmental conditions in order to reduce stress, such as maintaining an adequate temperature indoors, controlling noise or avoiding the consumption of substances that activate the central nervous system (caffeine, nicotine, etc.). Likewise, he would try to generate stimuli that promote responses incompatible with stress for example, music, light, taking breaks or even strategies like relaxation.
2. Time planning strategies
Sometimes, stress arises due to lack of planning. As Pagès (2000) underlines, managing time means deciding how much time to devote to the available time. This decision should be based on the importance or value placed on each task or activity. An order of priority or a hierarchy of tasks should be established, depending on the importance of each. Depending on the priority given to the tasks, the planning of the activities should be established.
More precisely and above all the planning of daily schedules. First of all, you have to tackle the urgent and important tasks. Then, important and non-urgent tasks Then, those which are urgent are not important. Finally, the non-urgent and non-important.
3. Cognitive techniques
Psychology has strategies for changing thoughts which are very helpful in dealing with stress. In this sense, it is important to work on the following questions:
- Analyze perfectionist and self-demanding thoughts. Remember that we are imperfect and with limits. We can’t do whatever we want, but what we can.
- See the usefulness of certain thoughts: Does it help me to be constantly worried about what to do? Does this help me to be more efficient? Does it help me be happy? …
- Analyze the should: Why should I do this? What if I don’t do it now ?: Changing “I should …” to “I would like …” or “I would rather …” (produces less guilt).
- magnification. It is desirable to prevent dangers as much as possible, but without exaggerating the imminence of their appearance. It would be like seeing a ferocious tiger appear in our house, where there is a harmless kitten.
- Differentiate possibility from probability. Learn how to calculate the probability (from 0 to 100, for example) that the worst will happen if we do not meet the set goals. Sometimes we confuse something possible with very probable when it doesn’t have to be.
- Knowing / learning to say “no” to those activities or tasks which are not a priority for oneself.
4. Behavioral techniques
It is vitally important to divert attention from enjoyable tasks that distract the person as a stress management strategy. Reward tasks that “disconnect” the person. For this reason, a weekly schedule of rewarding tasks can be done.
5. Relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are the best strategies for dealing with stress. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the classic deactivation techniques that generally work the best.
Currently, fighting the stress of “mindfulness” is a good method of choice over stress, because simultaneously combines deactivation strategies such as meditation and thought control.
In short, psychology has powerful tools that have been shown to be effective in dealing with stress. All of these techniques are explained in many scientific publications and training such as the one offered by Psychological Training in its Stress Control Techniques Practical Course to provide useful strategies for dealing with one of the most common emotional issues of the 21st. century.