Stress Management

Ways to manage stress are as numerous and varied as the causes and manifestations of stress. Stress may be the single most contributing factor to poor overall health and is at least one of the causes of many diseases and chronic illnesses. In order to utilize stress management techniques effectively it is imperative to have some understanding of stress.

The Stress Process

This refers to the series of factors or events that result in intense emotional or physical stress. The stress process can be stopped at any stage once you have identified it. This will help you minimize stress and avoid its negative outcomes.

  • Preconditions – These refer to the things or beliefs that are already planted in your brain even before you experience a certain situation. Preconditions are results of your past experiences, background, genes, and your health condition.
  • Situation – This refers to the actual event that occurred. Most of the time, you will have a different perspective of what actually happened because your preconditions shape your viewpoint in such a way that your experience differs a bit from that of others.
  • Interpretation – This refers to what you decide to believe about the situation. Because your perspective of what happened differs from that of others, your interpretation of it may also be different.
  • Emotional Arousal – This refers to your emotional response to what you have believed (your interpretation) about the situation. If you have a negative interpretation, then negative feelings like fear and anger will come out of it. If you have a positive interpretation, then positive feelings like happiness and excitement will be the result.
  • Physiological Arousal – Refers to the condition when the levels of your hormones vary, causing faster heartbeat, tensed muscles, and even headache. Both positive emotional arousal and negative emotional arousal result in practically the same physiological arousal.
  • Consequences – These are the results of the emotional and physical conditions that you go through during the entire stress process. If the preceding events are extremely negative, then the consequence may be physical or emotional illness. Preconditions play an important role here. If they are more positive, then you may be able to handle the physiological arousal well enough. If they are more negative, then you might experience physical or mental illness more intensely.

Stress is very complicated to understand and deal with, because there are various kinds of stress. The three types are acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Each type is distinct, has different symptoms, and requires different types of treatment.

Acute Stress

This is the most common kind of stress. It arises from pressures felt in recent events and the anticipated pressures of the coming future. Acute stress, when experienced in small measures, may give a sense of thrill and excitement. However, when it comes in greater measure, it can overwhelm you and make you feel tired.

Examples of acute stress can be recognized in your everyday concerns, like working to meet a deadline and dealing with your childs school problems. Acute stress is short-term, which means it doesnt last long enough to create much damage to your physical and emotional health.

Some symptoms of acute stress include anxiety, irritability, and depression. Physical symptoms include muscle tension, back pain, headache, jaw pain, bowel problems, heartburn, stomach acidity, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation. Acute stress is a common occurrence and may be experienced by anyone. It is normally much easier to treat and manage than the other two kinds of stress.

Episodic Acute Stress

This refers to the frequent occurrence of acute stress. People who experience this may feel like their lives are always in chaos. There always seems to be something wrong. They also tend to demand a lot from themselves, and as a consequence, they fail to meet most of those demands.

People suffering from episodic acute stress are often irritable, tense, anxious, and short-tempered. They appear to be always in a hurry. When other people respond negatively to their irritability, this brings on even more stress.

Episodic acute stress is also manifested by never-ending worry. The affected person seems to see disaster in every situation. He or she is filled with pessimistic thoughts that something bad will happen. This other side of episodic acute stress brings about anxiety, rather than irritability or hostility.

Episodic acute stress has the following symptoms: migraines, tension headaches, chest pain, hypertension, and heart disease. The treatment of this condition is more complicated than acute stress and involves different levels.

Chronic Stress

This refers to the kind of stress that takes a toll on people every day. It can have such negative effects on their body and mind that their entire lives are affected. Chronic stress is the kind that occurs in unhappy marriages, dysfunctional families, poverty, and even war. It occurs when a person cannot see any solution to a problem or any way out of a depressing situation.

Some forms of chronic stress can come from traumatic childhood experiences that become ingrained in the person such that the pain does not go away. These experiences can have a damaging effect on the personality, on the persons perspective of the world, and on his or her belief system, adding constant stress to the individual.

One of the worst things about chronic stress is that those who are affected by it become accustomed to it. They have been experiencing it for so many years they forget it is there. Chronic stress may even start to feel comfortable to some people.

The long-term occurrence of chronic stress wears out the persons physical and mental health. Its treatment is not easy and often needs extended medications, stress management, and therapy. Violence, suicide, stroke, heart attack, and breakdown are some of the ways by which chronic stress destroys lives.

Cognitive Therapy Stress Relief

Cognitive Therapy (CT) is a psychiatric therapy developed by Aaron T. Beck, an American psychiatrist. CT is one of the therapeutic methods in the bigger group of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT).

The therapy is a concise, problem-oriented method that intends to make it easier for patients to recognize and control dysfunctional thoughts, beliefs, and patterns of behavior.

The connection between psychological difficulties and incorrect patterns of cognition and actions can be illustrated by Beck’s original model of depression. He suggested that pessimistic thinking in depression is caused by standpoints and assumptions that come from experiences early in life. These assumptions can sometimes be constructive and inspiring, but they can also be too severely extreme and very difficult to change.

Cognitive therapy as stress management is an extraordinary mental and emotional means of providing suitable instructions and principles to a depressed and damaged state of mind. It helps you think and take actions positively. em>Cognitive restructuring, a vital change in your thinking pattern, is the main goal of both CT and CBT. Cognitive therapy focuses on removing negative thought. It is a fairly effective treatment for many mood disorders, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and stress.

Problems occur when crucial incidents arise that oppose your objectives and beliefs. For instance, the assumption “My worth is dependent on my success” might make you vulnerable to an occurrence such as not being hired for a job.

Once set off by the critical event, the principal assumption can set off involuntary negative thoughts, such as “I am a worthless failure.” These beliefs dampen your mood and increase the possibility of further pessimistic thoughts. Research shows that certain assumptions usually cause additional thoughts based on the your mood.

Conventional psychotherapeutic strategies attempt to measure and scrutinize the history of a stressed person before arriving at definite helpful solutions. However, cognitive therapy generally works in a different way. It directly penetrates into the problem without wasting time studying the history.

The main intention of the cognitive therapy is to improve the present for a brighter and better future.


The main premise of this treatment is to look into your negativism. It seeks to find out how that detrimental thinking pattern is actually making a variance in your behavior and attitude, and therefore making you feel uncomfortable and strained.

The therapy helps you overcome difficulties through recognizing and modifying dysfunctional cognition, as well as behavioral and emotional reactions. It helps you build up the ability to alter viewpoints, identify vague thinking, interact with others in a different manner, and modify actions. The therapy is done through a partnership with your therapist and through testing beliefs.

Treatment may be made up of the examination of conjectures that you make and identifies whether your indisputable thoughts are distorted, unrealistic, and unhelpful. Once those thoughts are confronted, your outlook toward the thoughts is easier to change. After the recognition procedures are done, the therapist tries to weaken the negative link between your mind and body, thus encouraging you to think and act optimistically.

To get a better picture of this process, here is an example of cognitive therapy for managing stress. There are times when a person may get angry for no reason at all. Even a suggestion or a piece of advice may cause the person to feel he or she is being criticized or humiliated. The major task of the cognitive therapist in this regard is to investigate all the circumstances and make the patient understand that the source of anger is not an outside contribution but a product of inner conflict.

Other examples that show the principle of how CT succeeds is this: People may think they are useless and can’t do anything right at work when they often make mistakes. Intensely believing this makes their moods worse than ever.

The problem wont get any better if they react by avoiding activities and just accept their own negative beliefs. As a result, the primary idea of being useless is being reinforced in their minds.

Problem Cycles

In therapy, this example is acknowledged as a problem cycle. The therapist will work together with the clients to change the cycle by focusing on the way the clients think and react to similar circumstances.

This is done by developing more adaptable manners to think and respond, which includes taking some sort of action. When the clients get away from the negative thinking patterns and abnormal behaviors, their depression may be relieved over time. They may become more active, do well, and react more adaptively more often. This can help them to reduce, and sometimes manage, their negative feelings.

Most patients have discovered the cognitive approach is amazingly helpful, and much faster than other methods of treatment. According to a leading organization for cognitive therapy, you can see improvements within 3 to 4 weeks in most cases. It is much quicker than psychoanalytic therapy. Studies show the cognitive approach is very effective in managing stress and when combined with behavioral therapy, it becomes even more so.

Here are some cognitive methods used in therapy:

      – Thorough description and discussion of the cognitive model


      – Journalizing the monitoring of incidents, ideas, and feelings to develop understanding about them


      – Ascertaining links between thoughts, effect, and behavior


      – Probing facts “for” and “against” the assumptions


      – Giving instructions to patients in defying negative thoughts by using questions and rational techniques


      – Studying how to identify dysfunctional assumptions


      – Cognitive practice of handling complicated situations or the use of imagery


      The behavioral factors in therapy may include:


      – Arranging behavioral experiments to analyze illogical thoughts in contrast to reality


      – Rated exposure to dreaded situations in actuality or the imagination


      – Target setting and setting of activities


      – A program of reinforcement and reward


      – Teaching particular skills like relaxation


    – Role playing, coping behaviors, behavioral dry run, and therapist modeling

One lesson in life says dont believe everything you read. This can be associated with the cognitive therapy phrase that reads dont believe everything you think, because your thought may be biased. Cognitive therapy for stress rests on the foundation that its not merely the episodes in your life that bring stress, but the way you think about them.

Relaxation Therapies

Relaxation therapy has been defined as a general term used to characterize various techniques that are aimed to reduce stress, to eliminate tension in the body, and to promote a balanced and peaceful mindset. Relaxation therapies help lower the metabolism and make a person feel relaxed.

During early times, most people engaged in many hours of physical exercise almost everyday; their lives then were also slower. Today, our systems are required to respond to the rapid pace of existence. With everyone being in a hurry, we are exposed to high levels of stress and tension and seem to have a reduced ability to cope with it.

What are the Different Relaxation Therapies?

There are various ways to lessen the damage caused by stress. Increasing ones physical exercise can help, as well as simple steps like taking relaxation breaks and vacations. If these approaches dont give positive results, there are many types of relaxation therapies to consider, some of which were listed below:

  • Hypnosis is used by some practitioners as an aid to psychotherapy. In the hypnotized state you are given curative suggestions that will encourage behavior modification or relief from the symptoms. The major use of hypnosis and relaxation methods are for anxiety, disorders with a strong psychological component (such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome), and conditions that can be adjusted by levels of arousal (such as pain). Some professionals practice group hypnosis that treats dozens of patients at a time — for example, teaching self-hypnosis to prenatal groups as a preparation for labor.
  • Visualization and imagery techniques – involves inducing you into a relaxed state normally followed by an introduction of a visual image (usually a pleasant scene that stimulates a sense of relaxation). These images may come from you or they may be suggested by the practitioner. You may also opt to imagine yourself coping more effectively with the stressors in your life.
  • Meditation practice – centers on cleansing your mind and concentrating on your breath or a particular sound that is repeated. You may, however, try to achieve a state of detached observation. This is a state wherein you are still aware of your surrounding environment but you arent directly thinking about it.
  • Yoga practice – includes postures, meditation, and breathing exercises centered at the improvement of physical and mental functioning. Many people use this practice as a form of mental relaxation and a method for stretching the muscles.
  • Tai chi is a soothing system of exercises that originated in China and is known to improve strength, equilibrium, and mental serenity. Practitioners coach you on how to do meditation, physical movements, and breathing exercises that will improve the flow of Qi, the Chinese term for body energy.
  • Progressive relaxation – is performed by first contracting, and then relaxing the muscles of your body, one group at a time. The contrast allows you to observe the difference between feelings of tension and feelings of relaxation. Some people may opt for progressive relaxation that is tape prompted, because it permits them to clear their minds completely while following the instructions.
  • Deep breathing exercise – can improve both lung function and act as a stress-reliever. It can be done while lying flat on your back, with bent knees, and a relaxed body. With one hand on your chest and the other on the abdomen, take long, deep breaths in succession through the nose. Your abdomen must rise instead of your chest and you should exhale through your mouth instead of your nose. Twenty minutes is the maximum time that deep breathing should be done continuously. After completing the exercise, your body tension and stress should be assessed.
  • Release-only relaxation – focuses on relieving feelings of tension in the muscles where breathing is used as a relaxation tool. To do this, you sit comfortably in a chair and begin to concentrate on breathing, visualizing tension melting away with each exhale. As soon as you have achieved deep and even abdominal breathing, you must begin to focus your attention into releasing the tension from every muscle group, until you feel that your body is free from tension and in a state of complete relaxation.
  • Cue-controlled relaxation – combines factors of deep breathing and release-only relaxation exercises. Cues, such as visualizations or words, are used to elicit immediate muscle relaxation. This is how you do it: You choose a cue and use it repeatedly while doing release-only relaxation exercises until the cue becomes associated with relaxation in the mind. Then, it will start to trigger relaxation automatically even when not in the treatment sessions.
  • Biofeedback – is a treatment where you are taught how to manipulate tension in the muscles by using visualizations, relaxation methods, and various mental techniques. Its name, biofeedback, is related to the signals in your body that are returned, or in other words, fed back to you so you can develop the skill to control them.

As a note of caution, if you are considering relaxation therapy to lessen physical symptoms such as nausea, headache, high blood pressure, fatigue, or gastrointestinal problems, you should consult a doctor first to make sure there isn’t an underlying disorder or disease causing the manifestation of such symptoms.

And for those patients with definite medical or psychological problems, it is best to visit a trained healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate relaxation method and to reduce potential negative side effects, such as relaxation-induced anxiety characterized by heightened physiologic arousal and reactivity.

Most of these techniques are taught to patients one-on-one in a practitioner’s office, but some may also be taught in a group setting. Experts emphasized that the techniques be taught in a setting that is conducive to relaxation, including a quiet room with natural light, soothing music in the background, and the presence of plants, soft colors, a pleasant painting, and a comfortable place to sit or recline. If an instructional video or audio tape is to be used, the appropriate equipment should be available within the venue.

Except for hypnosis, the above mentioned techniques can be learned through a variety of self-taught methods, including videotapes, audiotapes, books, and community classes.