What Are Some Common Techniques For Stress Management?
Updated October 15, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
When stress begins to take its toll on us, friends, family members and coworkers like to chime in about stress management. Stress is such a part of our everyday lives that it would be the rare individual who couldn't relate to feeling overwhelmed by it at one time or another. When you are suffering, your friends may seem to know all the answers. Yet, most of them have problems with stress themselves at times.
How do you know if your friends' solutions will really work for you? You can learn the most common stress management techniques used by therapists to help people cope with stressful situations. You can work with a counselor to learn those techniques in greater detail and depth. You can practice them in therapy sessions and later, in your daily life. Then, you can put the stress management skills you've learned to work to bring you the stress relief you need.
What Is Stress Management?
When events around you trigger that age-old fight-or-flight response, you naturally feel stress until you can leave the situation or do something about it. Modern life presents us with many such challenges in daily life and during any traumatic events we may encounter.
So, what happens when we do not have any options? We can't run away, and there seems to be nothing we can do to solve the current problem. If we don't find a way, we feel distressed in the moment and may develop both physical and mental problems in the long run.
Stress Management Definition
So, what is stress management? Stress management encompasses a variety of techniques used to prepare for stressful situations, cope with events as they happen, and deal with their aftermath. In short, they help us stay calm and clear-minded. They improve our functioning during life's greatest challenges and through the ordinary stresses that may come up every day. Although you may not practice the full spectrum of stress management techniques, the complete stress management definition includes them all.
Stress Management Tips
Sometimes a few simple stress management tips can make all the difference in your ability to cope with everyday stressors. Try these suggestions to help you manage your stress on your own or with the help of a therapist.
- Get the right amount of sleep - Too much sleep may put you behind the curve and make your day harder, but too little stress may set your nerves on edge.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and sugar - Coffee, nicotine, and energy drinks keep you tense and make it very hard to calm down when in a stressful situation. Alcohol may seem to make you feel calmer at first, but the overall effect is poorer functioning. When you aren't at peak performance, challenges seem even more stressful. Too much sugar can boost your energy too quickly and then send you into a crash later. This can make you feel sluggish and unable to manage small tasks.
- Get physical - Exercise helps relieve tension. If the thought of going to the gym makes you cringe, try taking a long walk.
- Get into nature - Research shows that being in a natural environment improves the body's functioning and decreases stress levels.
- Have a heart-to-heart with a friend - Talking to a friend can help with stress management two ways. First, it gives you a chance to release tension that has built up during the day. Or, you can talk about other things to distract yourself from the stress.
- Take a class or read a book about time management - When you manage your time effectively, your day seems less rushed. Tasks seem easier to accomplish, and your schedule really is more manageable.
- Don't say 'yes' to everything - Saying 'no' sometimes can keep you from overbooking yourself on too many tasks. You may need help learning to say 'no' if you feel obligated to do everything that's asked of you. Or, if you are afraid people won't like you when you say 'no,' building up your self-esteem can help you feel confident enough to say 'no' when you need to say it.
Stress Management Activities
If simple stress management tips don't work, you can learn more advanced techniques and try them in stress management activities. You can learn them by reading books, watching videos, or going to a class. Or, you can learn them in affordable therapy sessions through BetterHelp.com.
- Deep breathing exercises - Breathing in a slow, controlled way can help your body handle stress better. At the same time, you can focus your mind on your breathing, which reduces your attention on the stressors. Breathing techniques include belly breathing, breathing and holding, and breathing slowly and steadily while counting to a specific number.
- Meditation - Regular meditation can result in a lower baseline of stress. You start out feeling very calm, so that when stressors come, you end up at a lower net stress level. Learning meditation takes time, and people usually need to follow guided meditations at first. You don't have to eliminate all thoughts from your mind. Instead, you can notice thoughts and then let them pass by without holding onto them.
- Guided imagery - You can find guided imagery recordings or work with a counselor who practices this stress management technique. The guide's slow, gentle voice keeps you grounded, and the narration they provide allows you to lose yourself temporarily in a pleasant imaginary world where stress doesn't exist.
- Stress journal - Start a journal where you record your thoughts about stress and stress management, both in general terms and in terms of your own stressors.
- Mindfulness - Mindfulness means being aware of your environment as well as your actions within it. Try focusing on the sights, sounds, sensations, aromas, and tastes present with you in this moment. This keeps you present in the here-and-now as you allow your worries about the future and regrets about the past to fade.
Stress Management Group Activity
- Deep breathing - You can participate in stress management group activities that include a component of deep breathing. Many yoga classes begin and/or end with deep breathing exercises. The group leader gives the instructions, telling you when to breathe in, when to hold, and when to release the breath. Many other types of group activities begin the same way.
- Popping a straw - This is a group exercise that releases built-up tension. You simply take a straw, twist it until a bubble forms in the center, and then have someone smack the bubble to pop it. The loud noise startles the group members, providing a sudden burst of relief. Or, you can just have a bubble-wrap popping party!
- Passing cups of water - Everyone stands in a circle except the group leader, who stands aside to give directions and fill cups. They fill the first cup half full and give it to a group member who passes it clockwise around the circle. More cups are added; then some cups filled three-quarters full are added. The group naturally begins passing the cups faster. At some point, the leader suddenly yells 'Stop!' Everyone tries to stop as quickly as they can, and water tends to go everywhere, releasing more built-up tension.
Developing A Long-Term Stress Management Strategy
The above methods are only a few of the many stress management techniques that have been used in a variety of settings. To put some of them to use in your life, you need to develop an overall stress management strategy.
Learning About Stress Management
Start by learning more about stress. Find out what causes it, how it affects your mind and body, and how managing the stress can improve your life. Gather a list including every stress management technique you find online, hear from friends, read about in books, or learn from your therapist.
Think about what you're already doing that reduces your stress. Then, look for areas where you can improve. For example, you might be involved in many physical activities that lower stress. You identify that you aren't changing the way you think about your challenges. If this is the case, cognitive behavioral therapy with a focus on stress management may be your missing ingredient.
Practicing Stress Management Techniques
It doesn't do much good to know about stress management techniques if you don't put them to use. Many of the techniques may not seem natural to you at first, but with practice, you can learn how to get better results. A therapist can function as a leader and observer, giving you instructions to help you improve your use of techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
Which of the Following Statements About Stress Management Is True?
The following three statements illustrate misunderstandings about getting help for stress management. What do you think? Which of the following statements about stress management is true?
'No One Needs Help Managing Everyday Stress'
Since everyone, or at least nearly everyone, encounters stress in their daily lives, it's easy to overlook the devastating effect it can have. If you mention getting help with stress management, someone you know may indicate that you need to take care of the problem on your own. They may tell you to 'buck up and face it like an adult.' Or, they may say that 'only people with serious problems need to see a counselor.'
The truth is that everyone is different. What might seem easy to someone else may seem harder for you to handle. This may be due to your genetic makeup, your upbringing, the number of stressors in your life now, or a combination of these factors. Don't base your decision to get help on someone else's idea of what you need. You know better than anyone else whether you are equipped to handle the stress you're under. So, this statement is decidedly false.
'All You Need After a Traumatic Event Is Critical Incident Stress Management'
Aside from the usual stresses at work, at home, in traffic, and nearly everywhere we go, some of us also experience traumatic stress after a life-threatening event. Psychologists came up with the stress management debriefing to try to help people soon after such an event happened. This simple interview or group session allowed people to express their thoughts and feelings about the incident. It was used for people who had experienced a single traumatic event. Later, the name was changed to Critical Incident Stress Management as it grew to include techniques designed to minimize the risk of long-term disorders like PTSD.
However, once the research reports began to roll in on critical incident stress management, the organizations who had at first embraced it withdrew their support of it. As it turns out, this method, intended to reduce stress, in fact had the effect of increasing it. Researchers believe that the reason is that it called greater attention to the event and forced many people to share things they wouldn't have otherwise shared about themselves and their experience. A long list of national and world organizations has said explicitly they do not recommend single-session CISM. Successful stress management interventions following single-shot critical incidents typically require longer-term treatment. So, this statement has never been adequately proven to be true.
'Help Is As Near As Your Closest Internet Connection'
You can get help learning how to deal with stress through the Anxiety and Stress Management Institute or some other mental health facility where stress management is taught. However, such a program may tie you to a specific location. It can take time to get there and more time to keep up with an intensive program.
The truth is that you don't have to go somewhere else. People put off getting help with stress management for a variety of reasons. Maybe you feel going to therapy would increase your stress rather than reduce it, because you would have to fight traffic to get there or attend therapy in an unfamiliar place. Perhaps you worry about the cost of therapy, especially if your insurance has a high deductible.
All of these challenges can be solved with online therapy through BetterHelp.com, a platform where you can connect with licensed therapists who offer counseling via your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. If you guessed that this is the true statement, you're right!
You can identify your stressors, find out if your friends' stress management tips can help you, learn a new stress management skill or several, and develop long-term stress management strategies, and do it through the internet. The cost is as affordable as a typical insurance copay, and you can get the ball rolling right now. Why wait, when you can start on your journey to a better life today?