Stress, in of itself, is quite the abstract concept. We can all have slightly different understandings of it, which makes it difficult to agree on what it is, and how to manage it effectively.
Within Health Psychology there are many models and theories based around stress, which are as detailed as they are varied. They help us to understand the different concepts behind stress, from the physiology to the subjective experiences of it. But in order for us to reach solutions to stress management, it’s probably better that we take a simpler approach.
We can take 3 different perspectives on stress, which can give us ideas on how to manage it effectively. Depending on which perspective you are focusing, different management techniques can be created…
A stimulus-based perspective looks at stress in relation to the amount of things going on in your life that are stressing you out. The life events that cause suffering, or the little things throughout your day that get on top of you.
For this perspective the solution comes by eliminating the amount of these things that we experience. For example, making changes to our work structure, so that our job isn’t so stressful. This perspective is often where individuals have the least control, and yet is the most effective when thinking about what it is that usually stresses us out (with work being top of the list for most people!)
A response-based perspective looks at stress as the internal feelings we have in response to stressful events. This can come in the form of anxiety, inability to sleep, or a tenseness throughout our bodies.
For this perspective the solution comes by using techniques that help to relieve those symptoms, and focuses on calming the bodily responses to stress. These techniques are particularly useful for ‘in the moment’ stress, including relaxation and breathing exercises. For example, training in calming breathing techniques can be used for when you need to take a moment to pause and bring down your stress levels. Other ways to relax the body (i.e. muscle contraction and relaxation) can also be used, and you should find solutions that work for you. Personally, I like a nice hot bath!
An interactional perspective looks at stress as our own abilities to cope; how we as individuals interact with the things that stress us out. Being an individualistic perspective, this allows for us to understand how different people respond to stress in different ways, and how we all have different coping levels to stressful situations.
For this final perspective the solutions comes from receiving training to help us believe in our abilities to overcome stressful situations, and increase our mental resources for future stress. One of my favourite ways of doing this is by using Mindfulness as a way to focus the mind, and give us greater ability to cope with stress in the future. Other meditations are available.
So how do I know how to manage my own stress effectively?
When determining what’s the best course of action, it is important to know where the stress is being sourced from, how your body is physically reacting to it, and how much you believe you are able to cope with the stress. Explore your options, talk to health professionals, and soon you’ll be able to manage stress in the most effective way for you!
For the Psychologists…
Most of the information from this article was sourced from this brilliant textbook referenced below, useful for any new Health Psych students:
Marks, D. F., Murray, M., Evan, B., & Estacio E. V. (2015). Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice (4th ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.