Ultimate guide to stress management
Stress management
Erwin van den Burg
Stress management
26 min

The definitive guide to stress management

26 min

Stress management is a useful skill to have to protect your health and to live a happy and productive life. Stress management techniques can reduce stress instantly, or reduce chronic stress in the long term. You can apply them most effectively by following the nine steps to good stress management.

Step 1: Understanding stress

The first step towards effective stress management is also the most overlooked one. Stress management starts with getting a solid understanding of what stress really is, why it is there, and what it does to your mind and body. If you know what stress is all about, it will be easier for you to understand what is happening to you, why you feel the way you feel, and why your body and brain do not seem to function normally. Extending this further, you will also understand what you have to do to successfully cope with stress, and keep the motivation to carry your stress management strategies through until your stress has ceased to exist.

There are several ways that scientists and psychologists have defined stress. Although there is some variability in the various definitions of stress, they have in common that they are based on external pressure that is difficult to handle. In fact, the term “stress” to indicate the pressure we experience almost on a daily basis was taken from the concept of mechanical pressure and stress that physical structures have to withstand in order not to bend or break.

Stress management is all about handling pressureHandling external pressure is a core concept of stress. This is what differentiates stress from anxiety, which is related to abnormal worrying that arises from within yourself.

The external pressure or problems that you have to solve are known as stressors. When you encounter a stressor, your body will try to deal with it the best it can. While your body is doing that, it will function differently from what it usually does. It will activate processes that make it easier for you to deal with a stressor, but at the same time will slow down other processes that are not directly needed for this. When this is happening, your body is in a condition that we call “stress”. Thus, stress is a condition of the body, not a disease, that helps you to handle pressure imposed by others.

Stress is a condition of the body, not a disease.

Stress is therefore first and foremost a good thing. Isn’t it wonderful that your body can adapt itself to help you solve problems? So, why is it then that stress has such a bad reputation, considered to be a danger for our health?

The answer to the latter question concerns situations in which stress lasts too long or becomes repetitive. If your body remains in a condition of stress for too long, the processes that are not immediately needed to deal with a stressor remain suppressed for a longer time than is good for health. Also, other processes may remain active for too long, such as increased heart beat and blood pressure. In these cases, the cure (the condition of stress) may become worse than the illness (the stressor), one might say. This is when stress may lead to disease, both physical (like cardiovascular diseases) and mental (such as depression and burnout). It is therefore important to limit the duration of stress. Stress management techniques should mainly target this chronic, long-lasting form of stress, and not the acute form of stress. As we said, stress is extremely useful to solve problems as they arise, and you should not try to reduce your problem-solving capacity!

Step 2: Recognizing when you are under stress

As we mentioned earlier, your body functions differently when you are in a condition of stress than how it would function when you are calm. This is to make it possible to deal successfully with a stressor.

The changes you may notice in your body when you are under stress are caused by particular physiological changes in your body. These are known as stress responses, or stress reactions, and are brought about by stress hormones. The stress responses help you to deal with stressors, so that you can adapt to, or overcome these.

You may notice that your heart starts pounding. This is a frequent symptom of sudden stress, for instance when you see a car coming towards you at high speed. The accelerated heart beat is caused by adrenaline (known as epinephrine in the United States) that is released as a result of a very fast stress response. The increased beating of your heart makes sure that more oxygen is delivered quickly to the muscles, so that you can jump away before the car hits you. Adrenaline will also make you breathe faster to increase oxygen uptake, and make you sweat to cool down your body temperature that is elevated when you are in a condition of stress.

The combined effects of adrenaline on the heart, lungs and muscles make an active reaction to a stressor possible. This is in biology known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, and comes from the predator - prey concept in stress research. The idea is that animals and our ancestors living on the savanna were exposed to predators, a particular class of stressors indeed. They can either fight the predator or run away from it to save their lives, hence the “fight-or-flight” response. Some animal species rely on their camouflage, and will become completely immobile (the freeze response), until they realize the predator has localized them, often seconds away from a deadly attack. They will then switch to the flight response.

Immobility may be a symptom of stressSome animal species, such as this nightjar, rely on their camouflage, and will become completely immobile (the freeze response), until they realize the predator has localized them, often seconds away from a deadly attack. They will then switch to the flight response. Image: Charles J. Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons

In our modern human society, a fight-or-flight response that was useful on the savanna may not be as useful in the office at work. However, the stress responses that early humans had, have not changed over tens of thousands of years. Simply fighting or fleeing is inappropriate to deal with a stressor, like a demanding boss or a tight deadline. Nevertheless, the stress responses will still help us to deal with stressors by enabling us to adopt an active approach, and to specifically focus on the stressor at hand.

You may also feel paralyzed when you are under sudden stress. Your muscles tighten so much that even ordinary walking becomes difficult. All you want to do is just stay put and hide from everybody else so that you are not confronted anymore with the stressor. This is known as the “freezing” response. This is similar to what cats do, for example, when they stare into the lights of an upcoming car. Instead of jumping out of the way, they become completely immobile.

You may also find that you lose your appetite when you are feeling tense. This is because the body makes energy in the form of sugar available from stores in the liver. In this way, there is no need to seek food, and you can directly deal with the stressor without losing time. The liberation of sugar is another effect of adrenaline, and is supported by another stress hormone, cortisol.

Another symptom is loss of sleep. Your brain stays in the "alert mode". Your mind is going over the problems that you dealt with during the day, or the problems that you anticipate to occur the next day. There seems to be no way for you to find your "shut down" button. To make things worse, a lack of sleep makes you more vulnerable to stress, so that you will feel stressed even more. You enter into a vicious cycle that you really need to break out of so that you do not feel stressed all the time. This form of stress, known as "bad stress" or "chronic stress", is dangerous for your physical and mental health.

If you experience feelings of depression, get sick more often than you used to, have lost libido or feel chronic fatigue, you could very well be in a condition of chronic stress. This is a condition where the stress responses have not been efficient enough to allow you to deal with a stressor successfully. In this case, the stress becomes chronic. Especially the stress responses that are mediated by cortisol keep on going. The same can happen when many stressors present themselves in a short period of time. Your stress responses do not have the time to switch off for a period that is long enough to bring your body back to a resting state, recovering from the stressful period.

The problem with the symptoms of stress that we have mentioned here is that they are not specific for stress, and can occur during sickness as well. It is therefore important that you evaluate, alone or with help from others, whether you feel tense or nervous. Try next to link this to certain situations in which you felt that way, and when the signs of stress appeared. This brings us to the next step in stress management: knowing the causes of stress.

Step 3: Knowing your causes of stress

Are you feeling tense? Do you have difficulties falling asleep? Do you have many physiological stress symptoms? Changes are that you are in a condition of stress! At times, the causes of stress are extremely clear to you. At other times, you may be lying awake in your bed at night, wondering about what happened that day that makes you feel alert and tense.

For stress management, it is important to know what the causes of your stress are. This makes it possible to target stress management towards the stressor, and hence to reduce or end your stress.

Psychologists and biologists have identified a great number of possible stressors. We have roughly divided them across social and personal stressors, and include the following:

Social stressors

  • Work-related stress. Although different studies give different percentages of employees suffering from stress, the estimated 30% to 60% of people experiencing different forms of stress at work shows the importance of the problem. In fact, stress at work is the number one cause of absenteeism, and often has a long (months to a few years) period of recovery. Stress at work is therefore extremely costly to companies.

  • Relationship stress. Arguments with your partner, parents, or kids might make you feel more stressed. It can be considerably more difficult if you share a residence, so that you cannot escape from stressful family situations. Even if you are not directly involved, issues inside your family or household might still make you feel uncomfortable and stressed.

  • Environmental stress. Less favorable neighborhoods, characterized by low socio-economic status, insufficient presence of institutions (schools, medical care, cultural places), and high crime rates and substance abuse, increase the risk for the development of chronic stress.

  • Discrimination stress. If you are discriminated against on a constant basis, you are at high risk of developing chronic stress. Discrimination you may experience can be because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.

  • Traumatic events. Traumatic events can lead to long-term stress, known as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It has been estimated that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD among Americans is about 7%. PTSD is caused by traumatic events such as war, rape, terrorist attacks, robbery, or natural catastrophies.

Personal stressors

  • Poor health stress. Your stress level may rise when you are diagnosed with a new illness, when the consequences of an existing illness aggravate, or simply when your health deteriorates when you age. Even if you don't experience any health issues personally, a family member or friend may be dealing with an illness or disease. That too may make you feel more stressed. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that more than half of caregivers feel stressed by the amount of care that they have to give to their loved ones.

  • Emotional stress. It might be stressful to feel like you can't relate to someone, or that you need to communicate your emotions but are unable to. Depression and anxiety are only two examples of mental health conditions that exacerbate emotional stress. Effective stress management requires both the treatment of mental health issues and healthy emotional outlets.

  • Financial stress. Financial debt is a well known stressor. You may experience severe stress due to credit card debt, unpaid rent, or a lack of ability to support your family or yourself. Psychologists say that financial stress is something that almost everyone can relate to in this society, where so much emphasis is placed on what you have and what you can afford. Almost three-quarters of Americans, according to the APA, report that their financial situation causes them stress in their daily lives.

  • Major changes in life. Major life changes that can be stressful include losing a loved one, changing jobs, moving, and sending a child off to college. Even good things like changing jobs, retirement or getting married can lead to a lot of stress. These signal the beginning of something really new, and it is normal to feel stressed about this.

Thus, when you are ruminating in bed about why you are feeling stressed, think about these broad categories of stressors. Did you get into an argument with your boss, and were you reminded of your debt by the credit company that day? Which one made you feel more tense? Or are you disturbed by both? Finding this out is an important step in stress management. Therefore, we strongly recommend keeping a journal, in which you write down the event that gave you stress, with whom you were during that moment, and the impact it had on you. Note also the possibilities you see to deal with the stressor that you identified. If you have an idea of what to do, then the stress will likely not become chronic, and you will consequently not develop stress-related health problems.

Step 4: Knowing yourself

Why are some people feeling stressed when they are stuck in a traffic jam, and others are not? Or perhaps you are stressed when you have to discuss your work with your boss, but your colleague does not seem to care? What stresses you out, does not necessarily mean it stresses somebody else out. In the same vein, stress management techniques that do absolute wonders for some may be without any effect for others. Everyone of us is different, and will respond differently to identical situations. Therefore, to understand better what the causes of your stress are, it helps to know how you feel and behave during potentially stressful events. The same applies when you are looking for things that help you lower your stress levels.

This is where personalities come into play. Part of your personality is genetic, inherited from your parents. The other part is learned, based on experiences throughout life. Resilience and vulnerability to stressors depend on age, gender, intelligence and personality traits, such as hardiness, self-esteem, optimism, having control, self-efficacy, hostility, negative affectivity and social inhibition.

Psychologists consider four aspects to understand the relation between personality and stress:

  1. Chosing or avoiding places or conditions that are linked with specific stressors. Do you go back to stressful places, or do you think back about stressful events, or are you more likely to avoid these places and thoughts? The choice is yours! You will choose on the basis of your personality traits and earlier experiences.

  2. The way you interpret a stressful situation and how you evaluate your own abilities and capacities for active coping with the stressor. Can you analyze the situation quickly, and what is your assessment of the potential danger (or threat or problem)? Do you think you can actively deal with the stressor by fighting (confronting yourself with the stressor) or fleeing (avoiding the stressor)? Or perhaps you feel paralyzed (freezing response)?

  3. The intensity of the stress responses to the stressor. Does your heart race, or just slightly accelerate? Do you panic? Are you losing sleep over it? Do you feel a knot in your stomach, or do you hardly notice anything?

  4. The choices you make to deal with a stressor. Do you seek social support from friends? Do you seek distraction? Do you analyze the problem and then try to solve it? Perhaps you decide to do nothing, thinking that the stressor will pass all by itself with time?

What is interesting is that there appears to be a great deal of consistency in coping strategies that somebody will choose to deal with the stressor. This is to say that the situation in which a stressor presents itself has hardly any influence on your decision of how to cope with stress. Rather, your personality traits and life experience are the determining factors. These factors may include negative emotionality, extraversion, sense of humor, persistence, fatalism, conscientiousness, perfectionism, and openness to experience.

So, what then makes up a stress-resilient personality? One characteristic that you may have guessed is the ability to cope in stressful situations. The stress reactions of our body and mind serve to deal with a stressor. If they help you out, fine! The stress will soon stop. But if they don't, then the stress will persist and may become chronic. Other characteristics include:

  • Staying engaged in activities and social life

  • Being flexible to unexpected changes in life

  • Having the ability to seek social support

  • Having the mindset to see stressors as challenges (see below)

  • Taking care of yourself (body and mind)

  • Being optimistic

  • Having a sense of humor

  • Some include to this list certain esoteric aspects, such as living in harmony with nature, developing spiritualism and seeking true sense

The tolerance threshold to getting stressed out is different for each of us. However, it is important to note that even if you score high on all the characteristics of a stress-resilient personality, you may still experience chronic stress. There is a limit to the stress levels a person can bear. Everyone exposed to prolonged stress is at risk of experiencing failure of their adaptive or coping capacities, and may therefore fall prey to stress-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, burnout, or depression.

Now it is time to get back to your stress journal you started in the previous chapter. List coping strategies that you envisaged when the stressor presented itself. Write down if they gave relief or not. Also, make a separate page in your journal where you note characteristics about your personality traits and experiences that you think are relevant for your way of managing stress. You could base yourself on the four aspects psychologists use and that we mentioned earlier in this article, and on the personality traits we listed above. There are still other ways of writing this, which are based on further characterization and classification of personality types. We will work this out further in a dedicated article on how to keep a stress journal.

Step 5: Change how you think about stress

Stress is typically related to negative emotions and thinking. After all, when you are stressed, you typically don’t feel well. And if stress is prolonged, you may even get sick because of it.

Although this negative thinking is understandable, it is not necessarily justified. In the first chapter of this article about understanding stress, we have mentioned that stress is in essence a good thing, enabling you to overcome problems. So, wouldn’t it make sense to think positively about stress?

Research has shown that people who think positively about stress, and take stressors as challenges rather than as problems, are not so much bothered by stress as people who are negative about stress. When you take a stressful situation as a learning experience and a chance for personal growth and development, you are much more likely to actively look for solutions to solve the problem. Such an active attitude can give a sense of being in control over the situation. And having control is important to reduce stress, as well as anxiety and fear that often come with stress.

The way you think about stress depends on your personality. Especially if you have many characteristics of negative emotionality, you will find it difficult to think positively about stress. But when you are more of an optimist and open to new experiences you will almost naturally take the stressor as a challenge. You will realize that stress itself may not be pleasant but that with an active approach and a positive mindset stress relief is within reach.

Thinking about stress in a positive manner is a great stress management technique. So what can you do to change your thinking if you are primarily negative about stress? Here are a few tips:

  1. Take a stressful situation as a challenge.

  2. Think of what you can do to deal with the stressor actively.

  3. Try to envisage what your life will look like when you have successfully dealt with the stressor. That should motivate you to go ahead and work towards a solution.

  4. Surround yourself with positive-thinking friends. Their advice and optimism may inspire you to change your negative attitude towards stress to a positive one.

  5. Talk with people who have lived through a similar stressor as you. Try to learn from their experiences, the solutions they may have found, and how they feel now that they are no longer stressed.

  6. If necessary, seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Together you may find out why you think negatively about stress. Is this because of negative emotionality in general? Or is it linked to a particular stressor?

  7. Realize that your experience is growing when you overcome problems. With experience, solving similar problems will be easier for you, and your stress levels will therefore be lower.

  8. Be proud of yourself once you have resolved the stressful situation, and treat yourself with a small reward.

An additional technique to change your negative outlook on stress is to evaluate the way you describe yourself during a stressful situation. You can phrase your thoughts in a positive manner by giving a spin to your negative way of expressing yourself. So instead of saying “I have never done this before”, you can say “this is a nice opportunity to learn something new”. Or rephrase “this will never work” into “I will try to make it work”. You are basically saying the same thing in these examples, but with a different outlook. If you are aware that you are expressing things negatively, practice changing the wording to something positive, and do this on a daily basis or whenever a negative phrase comes to mind.

You will probably not be able to change your negative outlook into a positive one overnight. But with practice and perseverance you will likely succeed in thinking more positively about stress so that you can deal with stressors in a constructive and active manner.

Step 6: Manage stress as it occurs - breathing slowly and deeply

If you have read until here, you know that stress is essentially something good, and that you should look upon it as such. However, as good as stress may be, it can also be inappropriate at times, or even paralyzing (as in the freezing response we mentioned earlier). For example, you may get stressed when stuck in a traffic jam. This is understandable, but in terms of stress inappropriate. This is because your life is not in danger, and stressing out over the loss of time does not make you go faster. Or you may show freezing behavior when you have to see your boss for a difficult discussion. This does not help either, because freezing would limit your abilities to conduct the discussion properly. Thus, stress can be counterproductive at times. How can we then reduce stress quickly when stress is not needed or counterproductive?

One proven stress management technique to reduce stress instantly is deep and slow breathing. You may recall that your breathing accelerates when you feel stressed. This is because your body wants to absorb more oxygen that will then be transported to the muscles for immediate action (fight-or-flight response) or for excessive tightening to reduce movement (freezing response). When you force yourself to breathe slower and deeper, you are actually counteracting the increased breathing evoked by stress. You will thus tell your brain, if you want, that it should slow down with the stimulation of stress responses.

Slow and deep breathing will calm you down instantly. You will feel the stress disappearing on the spot when you are in your car, stuck in a traffic jam. You will stop feeling paralyzed when you have to see your boss for a difficult conversation.

This form of controlled breathing is a good stress management technique when you suffer from intense, acute stress. It works against the acute stress responses elicited by the brain. Whereas slow and deep breathing does work in the short term, it has hardly any benefits when you are under persistent, or chronic stress. If you have ever been stressed over a long period of time, you will have noticed that you are breathing normally most of the time. Breathing exercises will then be of little benefit, and other stress management techniques are required to get your stress levels down.

Step 7: Stress management techniques to build stress resilience

Being able to reduce stress in the short term, not to say instantly, by breathing exercises is one thing, but being able to prevent stress from happening is another. You can achieve this by several stress management techniques that all can help to become more resilient to stress.

The Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis (known as Juvenal in English) already said almost two thousand years ago in one of his satirical poems (Satire X): “Mens sana in corpore sano”. In English, this translates into “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, and this certainly applies to stress resilience.

A healthy mind in a healthy bodyThe Roman poet Juvenal. By S. H. Gimber - Wikimedia Commons

Psychologists and biologists have shown in many scientific studies that a healthy lifestyle makes it easier to deal with stressors. At times, this can even lead to the absence of stress during a stressful event. Instead, you would be able to think about a stressor in such a way that you recognize the problem that you have to solve, but without having negative emotions and feeling stressed about it.

Some healthy habits that you could adopt are the following:

  • Getting enough sleep. Your brain is very active as you sleep and rest. It processes the day's events, creating memories and clearing your thoughts of any irrelevant and unimportant information that may otherwise be distracting. It is therefore important that you get enough sleep. You will be able to think more clearly, control your emotions better, and to suppress impulsive behavior. As your emotions are better balanced, you will be able to make better decisions in life. These decisions include the ones you will make to deal with a stressor.

  • Eating healthy. Eating healthy food is at the basis of both mental and physical well-being. Human beings are omnivores. This means that we thrive best on food that includes both meat and plant-based products such as vegetables, fruits and cereals. Of these, meat is the least important. Eating meat twice per week is sufficient to cover our needs. Vegetables and fruits contain many vitamins and fibers, which we need to protect our health and promote digestion. Cereals, rice and potatoes give us the energy in the form of different sugar-containing substances that are slowly being broken down to glucose. This fuels the cells in our bodies. Healthy, balanced meals make your body and brain function better, making you more resilient to stress. 

  • Taking time for yourself. A healthy lifestyle includes reserving periods of time that you can do things that are not related to work. The idea is to disconnect from work, so that you can recharge your batteries. During a working day, you could have lunch away from your computer for example, or have a 15 minute coffee break with one of your colleagues. As a rule of thumb, you should not work in the evenings, during the weekends and while being on holidays. These periods of time are for your family, and give longer breaks away from work. This keeps your mind fresh and prevents you from getting a burnout and improves the quality of your social life, in your relationship at home and with friends.

  • Practicing yoga and mindfulness. With yoga and mindfulness, you will have meditation techniques that you can apply to stay more calm when you find yourself in a stressful situation. Yoga helps to relax and stretch your muscles, so that you go against the muscle tightening that may happen during stress. With mindfulness, you will learn to live in the present moment and not attach emotions to negative events that might have or will happen to you.

  • Exercising. Regular exercise does absolute wonders. It is one of the best stress management practices you can do. Exercise is quite particular, as many of your body’s stress reactions are switched on when you do sports or are hiking in the mountains. This is because your body has to adapt to the physical challenge of exercising, including accelerated breathing and increasing heart beat frequency. Paradoxically though, the stress reactions due to exercise seem to protect against the negative effects of stress. This is because exercise changes the chemistry in your brain so that you are feeling good, during and after physical exercise. Exercising improves mood, and increases self-confidence.

All of these stress management techniques help you to stay calm when you encounter a stressor. This makes it possible to deal better with the stressor, and, as a consequence, your stress levels will remain low. However, there will be situations in your life where you will feel stressed anyway. This is normal and you should not fight this. As you will remember, the stress reactions in your body help you to cope with stressors. Stress is after all a positive thing! The idea behind stress management techniques is that they will assist you in stressful situations, so that you will not get paralyzed (freezing behavior), aggressive (fight response) or defensive (flight response). In other words, stress is good, but should not be too strong. Stress management techniques that build stress resilience are excellent to keep stress within reasonable limits.

Step 8: Stress management techniques to cope with stressors directly

Reducing stress and building resilience are obviously good things to do to manage your stress. But there is a problem: they do not make the cause of your stress disappear. Even if you master breathing exercises like a pro, and even when you may have increased resilience through yoga or mindfulness, the stressors are still there. A nasty boss, too high a workload, or tensions in your relationship could still put you in a condition of stress. You may be able to better deal with the stress, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if there are techniques that help you to deal with stressors more effectively? After all, if you manage to find solutions for the problems that give you stress, you will not be stressed anymore.

Fortunately, there are plenty of stress management techniques that help you to eliminate the stressor. The nice thing about these techniques is that stress responses and the stress management techniques we discussed earlier help with this. You will feel more calm when you are in a stressful situation, and therefore you can think and analyze the situation better. This is the basis for the more advanced techniques to effectively deal with stressors.

Here are three techniques that you can apply directly after having identified your stressor first in step 3.

  • Discuss your problem from your own perspective. State first what you have observed or experienced, and then the effect this has had on you. By discussing the problem from your perspective, the other will not feel offended.

  • Before entering a discussion about your stressors, have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. A lower workload? A better balance between private life and work? Another role in the company? More equality in your relationship? Always be prepared!

  • Take action. Research has shown that taking action will restore your sense of being in control. Being in control lowers stress and anxiety. Entering a discussion is taking action. Other examples are negotiating, searching for another job, getting someone to help you with financial problems, and so forth.

It is extremely rewarding when you can solve your problem by applying these techniques. You will learn from the experience, so that you know what to do (and what not to do) next time a similar stressor arises. This will boost your self-confidence so that you will become more stress resilient. Also, even if you did not manage to cope with a stressor 100% satisfactorily, you will still benefit from the fact that you took action and tried to get back in control.

Step 9: Seeking help if stress does not stop

There may be stressful situations in which you may not be able to find a solution to lower your stress and successfully deal with the stressor. In this case, the stress responses and the strategy you chose had not been adequate enough to manage your stress effectively. When this happens, your stress may become long-lasting, or chronic. Chronic stress is known as bad stress, because it may lead to physical and mental disease. The stress hormones that continue to circulate in your body are responsible for this. They are absolutely useful in acute and sudden stressful conditions, but in the long term, they do more harm than good in a continuous effort to adapt your body to the stressful conditions. It is thus very important to prevent getting into a state of chronic stress.

The obvious thing to do is to seek help if you do not manage to reduce stress by yourself. Family members, friends or colleagues you can trust are the persons to go to. Seeking social support serves to things:

  1. You may find distraction from your problems, so that your stress levels are lower for a short period of time. You may feel reenergized after a social event, ready to take another shot at your stressor. However, seeking distraction may also lead to avoidance. You will stop looking for solutions, and the stress will accumulate over time. It would be good if you could write down in your journal how you feel after a social event, and what that does to your stress management.

  2. You may find someone who has a solution for your problem. Changes are that others may have had the same problem as the one you are having now. You can thus benefit from their experience. It is therefore a good thing if many people from your inner circle know about your problem to increase the odds of finding somebody who can advise you what to do. You would have to tell as clearly as possible what your stressor is, and what you have already tried to deal with it.

If seeking help and social support do not lead to a solution of the problem that causes stress, and your stress starts to become chronic, you can consult stress platforms such as Stressinsight. Good platforms provide information and stress management techniques that are based on scientific findings and demonstrated beneficial effects that are backed by psychological insights. Many stress gurus you may find on social media platforms and through searches on google promote the latest miracle to releave your stress once and for all, but usually these miracles turn out to be next disappointment. So, look for reputed platforms that are hosted by expert organizations that may help you on the basis of proven scientific facts and concepts, and not on hypes and emotions.

Finally, if you find yourself unable to get out of stress by doing several of the stress management techniques we discussed above, you should seek professional help from a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Together with them, you will analyze what your stressor is precisely and assess why the things you tried did not reduce your stress. Psychiatrists and psychologists will also take your personality into account. This is to see why you experience a particular situation as stressful. Your personality may also reveal why the stressor has occurred. For example, if your job is to negotiate business deals, but your personality trait “agreeableness” might prevent you from signing a deal that is good for your company. You are too gentle and put too much value in the personal relationship with the negotiation partner. You may thus become stressed about negotiating as most of the benefits go to the other party. Somebody else, who finds him- or herself in the same position, may have no problem getting a good agreement because of a different personality.

Taken together, the nine steps to effective stress management will allow you to reduce your stress, and prevent chronic stress and the diseases this may lead to. It is important to start at the beginning, so that you understand what is happening to you when you experience stress. This is a crucial step that is overlooked by many, if not all, stress coaches. Also, we hope you realize that the nine steps work together, and allow for a systematic analysis of your stressors and the stress you experience. Normally, you will be able to manage your stress effectively without consulting a psychiatrist. However, if you feel you are stuck in your stressful situation, find help as soon as possible. Preventing chronic stress is much better than recovering from it. Chronic stress will likely lead to disease, including cardiovascular problems and depression. It can take months to years to get over these. Fortunately with our definitive guide to stress management, you will likely not get into this situation.

If you become a student of our "Surmounting Stress" program, you will have access to information on stress and stress management that is based on scientific research and psychological insights. They will help you to still better cope with stress. The risk that you will develop chronic stress will thus be even lower. And if you already are in a condition of chronic stress, our community and our course "Surmounting stress" will help you to understand what is happening to you and what you could do to reduce your stress.