How to Cope with Stress without Going Nuts
Most people I know decide to cope with stress when the poop hits the
fan, so to speak. We wait until we've reached critical mass to finally
do something about our stress. Did you know the number one reason for
presentation to an emergency room is panic attack? Often the person
having a panic attack doesn't realize that's what's happening, though.
What tends to happen is the person goes to the ER thinking he or she is
having a heart attack or stroke. Everyone I've ever known who's had a
panic attack has described the attack as having "come out of the blue."
do panic attacks really come out of the blue? Not really. The attack is
the result of an ignored culmination of many stressors in the person's
life. Basically, the person never made time to cope with stress. The
result is the body's calling a "time out" in the form of a panic attack.
The body says, "Okay, you're going to pay attention to me now. Wait
until you feel this!" If you're a connoisseur of stress, as I am, you
know a panic attack is not the only form in which the body lets us know
we need to figure this out and really cope with stress.
until we're suffering? It's better to incorporate ways to cope with
stress when we're doing okay than when we're in a crisis. We never
perform well in survival mode. It's really worth making stress
management a daily routine. Let's delve in and cope with stress head on!
9 Ways to Cope with Stress
The following excerpt from Harvard Business Review
gives us more practical tools to cope with stress in our daily lives.
The goal isn't to do all of these. The goal is to become aware of your
stress and do something about it - train yourself to cope with stress
rather than avoid it. So, just try any of these techniques, and you're
sure to be on your way to gaining control over your stress.
1. Have self-compassion to cope with stress
Self-compassion is, in
essence, cutting yourself some slack. It’s being willing to look at your
mistakes or failures with kindness and understanding — without harsh
criticism or defensiveness. Studies show that people who are
self-compassionate are happier, more optimistic, and less anxious and
depressed. That’s probably not surprising. But here’s the kicker: they
are more successful, too. Most of us believe that we need to be hard on
ourselves to perform at our best, but it turns out that’s 100 percent
wrong. A dose of self-compassion when things are at their most difficult
can reduce your stress and improve your performance, by making it
easier to learn from your mistakes. So remember that to err is human,
and give yourself a break.
2. Remember the “Big Picture”
you need or want to do can be thought of in more than one way. For
instance, “exercising” can be described in Big Picture terms, like
“getting healthier” — the why of exercising — or it can be described in
more concrete terms, like “running two miles” — the how of exercising.
Thinking Big Picture about the work you do can be very energizing in the
face of stress and challenge, because you are linking one particular,
often small action to a greater meaning or purpose. Something that may
not seem important or valuable on its own gets cast in a whole new
light. So when staying that extra hour at work at the end of an
exhausting day is thought of as “helping my career” rather than
“answering emails for 60 more minutes,” you’ll be much more likely to
want to stay put and work hard.
3. Rely on routines to cope with stress
If I ask you to name the major
causes of stress in your work life, you would probably say things like
deadlines, a heavy workload, bureaucracy, or your terrible boss. You
probably wouldn’t say “having to make so many decisions,” because most
people aren’t aware that this is a powerful and pervasive cause of
stress in their lives. Every time you make a decision — whether it’s
about hiring a new employee, about when to schedule a meeting with your
supervisor, or about choosing rye or whole wheat for your egg salad
sandwich - you create a state of mental tension that is, in fact,
stressful. (This is why shopping is so exhausting — it’s not the
horrible concrete floors, it’s all that deciding.)
solution is to reduce the number of decisions you need to make by using
routines. If there’s something you need to do every day, do it at the
same time every day. Have a routine for preparing for your day in the
morning, and packing up to go home at night. Simple routines can
dramatically help you cope with stress.
4. Take five (or ten) minutes to do something you find interesting
there were something you could add to your car’s engine, so that after
driving it a hundred miles, you’d end up with more gas in the tank than
you started with, wouldn’t you use it? Even if nothing like that exists
for your car just yet, there is something you can do for yourself that
will have the same effect… doing something interesting. It doesn’t
matter what it is, so long as it interests you. Recent research shows
that interest doesn’t just keep you going despite fatigue, it actually
replenishes your energy. And then that replenished energy flows into
whatever you do next.
Keep these two very important points in
mind: First, interesting is not the same thing as pleasant, fun, or
relaxing (though they are certainly not mutually exclusive.) Taking a
lunch break might be relaxing, and if the food is good it will probably
be pleasant. But unless you are eating at the hot new molecular
gastronomy restaurant, it probably won’t be interesting. So it won’t
replenish your energy.
Second, interesting does not have to
mean effortless. The same studies that showed that interest replenished
energy showed that it did so even when the interesting task was
difficult and required effort. So you actually don’t have to “take it
easy” to refill your tank.
5. Add where and when to your to-do list
have a to-do list? (If you have a “Task” bar on the side of your
calendar, and you use it, then the answer is “yes.”) And do you find
that a day or a week (or sometimes longer) will frequently pass by
without a single item getting checked off? Stressful, isn’t it? What you
need is a way to get the things done that you set out to do in a timely
manner. What you need is if-then planning (or what psychologists call
This particular form of planning
is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Nearly 200
studies on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time
management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will
complete a task (e.g., “If it is 4pm, then I will return any phone calls
I should return today”) can double or triple your chances of actually
So take the tasks on your to-do list, and add a
specific when and where to each. For example, “Remember to call Bob”
becomes “If it is Tuesday after lunch, then I’ll call Bob.” Now that
you’ve created an if-then plan for calling Bob, your unconscious brain
will start scanning the environment, searching for the situation in the
“if” part of your plan. This enables you to seize the critical moment
and make the call, even when you are busy doing other things. And what
better way is there to cut down on your stress than crossing things off
your to-do list?
6. Use if-thens for positive self-talk
to cope with stress is by using if-then plans to direct them at the
experience of stress itself, rather than at its causes. Recent studies
show that if-then plans can help us to control our emotional responses
to situations in which we feel fear, sadness, fatigue, self-doubt, or
even disgust. Simply decide what kind of response you would like to have
instead of feeling stress, and make a plan that links your desired
response to the situations that tend to raise your blood pressure. For
instance, “If I see lots of emails in my Inbox, then I will stay calm
and relaxed,” or, “If a deadline is approaching, then I will keep a cool
head.” (This is a great way to boost self-confidence, too.)
7. See your work in terms of progress, not perfection
all approach the goals we pursue with one of two mindsets: what I call
the Be-Good mindset, where the focus is on proving that you have a lot
of ability and that you already know what you’re doing, and the
Get-Better mindset, where the focus is on developing your ability and
learning new skills. You can think of it as the difference between
wanting to show that you are smart versus wanting to get smarter.
you have a Be-Good mindset, you expect to be able to do everything
perfectly right out of the gate, and you constantly (often
unconsciously) compare yourself to other people, to see how you “size
up.” You quickly start to doubt your ability
when things don’t go smoothly, and this creates a lot of stress and
anxiety. Ironically, worrying about your ability makes you much more
likely to ultimately fail. The good news is self-belief is something that can be learned. You can squash a brewing inferiority complex.
Get-Better mindset, on the other hand, leads instead to self-comparison
and a concern with making progress — how well are you doing today,
compared with how you did yesterday, last month, or last year? When you
think about what you are doing in terms of learning and improving,
accepting that you may make some mistakes along the way, you experience
far less stress, and you stay motivated despite the setbacks that might
8. Think about the progress that you’ve already made when you're struggling to cope with stress
all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions
during a workday, the single most important is making progress in
meaningful work.” This is what Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer refer to
as the Progress Principle— the idea is that it’s the "small wins" that
keep us going, particularly in the face of stressors.
it’s often not whether we’ve reached our goal, but the rate at which we
are closing the gap between where we are now and where we want to end
up that determines how we feel. It can be enormously helpful to take a
moment and reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far before turning
your attentions to the challenges that remain ahead.
9. Know whether optimism or defensive pessimism works for you.
many of us, it’s hard to stay positive when we’ve got assignments up to
our eyeballs. For others, it isn’t just hard — it feels wrong. And as
it turns out, they are perfectly correct — optimism doesn’t work for
It is stressful enough to try to juggle as many projects
and goals as we do, but we add a layer of stress without realizing it
when we try to reach them using strategies that don’t feel right — that
don’t mesh with our own motivational style. So what’s your motivational
style, and is “staying positive” right for you?
think of their jobs as opportunities for achievement and accomplishment —
they have what psychologists call a promotion focus. In the language of
economics, promotion focus is all about maximizing gains and avoiding
missed opportunities. For others, doing a job well is about security,
about not losing the positions they’ve worked so hard for. This
prevention focus places the emphasis on avoiding danger, fulfilling
responsibilities and doing what you feel you ought to do. In economic
terms, it’s about minimizing losses, trying to hang on to what you’ve
Understanding promotion and prevention motivation helps
us understand why people can work so differently to reach the same goal.
Promotion motivation feels like eagerness — the desire to really go for
it — and this eagerness is sustained and enhanced by optimism.
Believing that everything is going to work out great is essential for
promotion-focused performance. Prevention motivation, on the other hand,
feels like vigilance — the need to keep danger at bay — and it is
sustained not by optimism, but by a kind of defensive pessimism. In
other words, the prevention-minded actually work best when they think
about what might go wrong, and what they can do to keep that from
So, do you spend your life pursuing accomplishments
and accolades, reaching for the stars? Or are you busy fulfilling your
duties and responsibilities — being the person everyone can count on?
Start by identifying your focus, and then embrace either the sunny
outlook or the hearty skepticism that will reduce your stress and keep
you performing at your best.
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to cope with stress as much as I
did. Again, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was a stress-free
life. It takes practice to gain control over stress. The good news is we
can choose to spend our time stressed out or learning and trying new
ways to cope with stress. Please explore this site and the links below
for even more ideas to get you started with practical ways you can cope
with stress today.