Coping With Stress

By Rose K. Gantner, Ed.D., NCC
Senior Director, Health Promotion, UPMC Health Plan

At different times in our lives, we all must deal with stress. The causes of stress and people’s reactions may differ, but the coping mechanisms and psychological techniques can really help you to “thrive” rather than just “survive.”

There are healthy ways to deal with stress. First, you should evaluate the situation and determine what is manageable in your circle of influence and strive for “emotional ability.” You can learn to Stop – Pause – Think and Act rather than React.

Remember there are always options and ask yourself if the rewards are worth the stress level you are experiencing. Like a standard shift on a car, that has several gears, pace and times yourself; downshift when necessary rather than always being in fifth gear. Ask yourself, “is this situation critical, important or nice to do?” You can get through any situation if you set realistic expectations and give yourself a realistic time frame to complete a task. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as it is a sign of strength and not a weakness; don’t be shy to say “no thanks” to a task, if other important priorities and time constraints prevail.

Various techniques exist, and it is important to add laughter and humor to defuse a situation and don’t always take yourself too seriously. It’s good to find a quiet area, decompress, and practice some simple breathing exercise, or visualize that you are in your favorite vacation spot, such as the beach or the mountains. Physical exercise is the best anti-depressant and will always reduce your blood pressure and heart rate. Do try to walk every day for 30-45 minutes.

How can I know if I have stress?

Everyone has stress — it is whether the stress is mild, moderate, severe or extreme. Mild stress helps us perform better and creates feelings of joy and excitement. When stress is perceived as a threat or potential danger, and more severe, then our brain and hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) can influence our body and mind.

The symptoms of stress may be physical, psychological, behavioral or cognitive:

Are there psychological techniques you can use to cope effectively?

Yes. Try these:

What does it mean to be resilient?

Life is full of ups and downs that can produce stressful events or circumstances. What’s important is how you manage the stress.

How? You can start by trying to be like bamboo. Bamboo trees are able to withstand fierce storms by having the ability to bend and bounce back from the wind. A more rigid wood will always fall victim to storms. Bamboo trees can survive in parts of the world where wind storms are frequent because bamboo trees are more resilient. The goal is to remain flexible, adaptable to the situation, and find healthy strategies. Learn to hit your own Reset button to bounce back and re-group.

The first step in becoming more personally resilient is learning to forgive, both yourself and others. It is vital that past failures or disappointments are put aside so you can live in the present and start to add a new chapter to your life that is more rewarding, positive, and successful.

How important is stress management?

De-stress for a healthy lifestyle

Breathing exercises to help relieve stress

Sitting in a chair:

  1. Uncross your arms and legs, close your eyes, and relax your muscles.
  2. As you inhale, imagine that your belly is a big balloon that you’re slowly filling with air.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  4. Take two to three slow and deep breaths, and maintain a nice breathing rhythm.
  5. Repeat entire process four times.
  6. Open your eyes, re-adjust and notice how you are more relaxed and feel balanced.

It’s good to practice this exercise a few times daily.

Back to Articles / Blog