3 Ways to Manage Stress

3 Ways to Manage Stress exploding head. image shows how stress can be destructive.
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How Resilience Makes Your Stronger

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to crash and burn when they are faced with difficult times, and others seem to thrive? Why is it that when adversity presents itself, some people feel forced to defend themselves against hard times, and others will take the same challenge and modify it into an opportunity and pull together their personal abilities to meet it head-on?

Today we are going to look at 3 ways to manage stress and how resilience makes you stronger.

Our personal resilience to stress, though times, change and other adverse events depend on our inner resources. And while you and I do not have any control over these external circumstances, our personality, or our intelligence, we can learn to manage our response.

Circumstance doesn’t make the man, it reveals him to himself.”

James Allen

Did you know that we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for? We are created and equipped to be adaptable to what life throws at us. This article will look into practical tactics and helpful tips that will help you address stress in a variety of circumstances. You can even welcome it as something that can enrich your life.

Why? Because developing a resilient mindset, improves your sense of well-being which results in higher self-esteem, better relationships, and improved business performance.

What do I mean by resilience to stress?

Basically, any positive response to stress is a manifestation of stress resilience!

George Valiant, a respected Harvard researcher, followed a group of 30 Harvard graduated for 30 years and discovered that those who had lived successful and happy lives was their ability to use effective coping strategies as opposed to regressive or defensive responses to stress.[i]

An individual’s response to stress can shift with various levels of intensity, exposure, and durations and can have a definite impact on the body, brain, and soul.

The Harvard Center on the Developing Child has developed a constructive model of the various types of stress responses. They have developed three kinds of reactions to stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. As described below, these three terms refer to the stress response system’s impact on the body, not to the adverse event.[ii]

  • Positive Stress Response is a normal and essential part of healthy development, characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels. 
  • Tolerable Stress Response activated the body’s alert system to higher degrees as a result of more severe, longer-lasting difficulties. This can be buffeted by both an internal attitude as well as supporting relationships.
  • Toxic Stress Response can occur when someone experiences intense, frequent, and/or prolonged exposure to adversity-such as physical or emotional abuse, exposure to violence. Left unchecked toxic stress responses can lead to health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. Research shows that supportive, responsive relationships can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress.

If you see an event as threatening, the body can go into a fight-or-flight response, and over time we learn to avoid these highly stressful situations. When we learn to see an adverse or challenging event as an opportunity for growth, it generates an entirely different outcome.

Always living in the fight-or-flight mode will have long-lasting effects on our body, mind, and spirit. It can, as the Harvard studies show, lead to anxiety, depression, chronic stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Victor Frankl

“In life, our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find it good and bad? In me, in my choices.” Epictetus

“Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.” Ryan  Holiday, The Obstacle is the  Way  (2014)

Our view of stress can be the most critical factor in how we respond to adverse events. We have discussed the impact of living in the fight-or-flight perspective, now let’s take a look at a healthier, more resilient, enduring, and robust path.

I believe there are two healthier, more enduring choices.

First is the challenge-response, which motivates, boosts confidence, and stimulating personal growth.

One of the most exciting trends today is in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the introduction of the concept of Post Traumatic Growth.

For those who have experienced trauma, it is common to feel like life will never be the same again. As evidenced by a growing body of research, though, humans have the ability not to only “bounce back” from trauma, but to yield a positive life on the other side of the traumatic experience. Those who study and practice in the field of mental health refer to this as post-traumatic growth (PTG), defined as positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges to rise to a higher level of functioning.[iii]

When we respond to an adverse event with the challenge-response, adrenaline, as well as cortisol, combine to release energy. The significant difference between the fight-or-flight response and the challenge-response is the positive response makes us focused and allows us to perform under pressure and ultimately improves our outcomes. 

The result of the challenge-response is enhanced concentration, increased, focused performance and more confidence. You feel focused instead of fearful. 

Here are some questions that can help you utilize a challenge-response:

  1. Where do I have control/influence/leverage in the event?
  2. What specific action plan can I take?
  3. What resources do I have at my disposal?
  4. What allows me to know that I can handle this?  This could be previous experiences, the examples of others, faith, any number of contributing factors.

The second positive choice is to see adverse or challenging situations is the tend and befriend response. This response pushes us towards caregiving, increased courage, and strengthened relationships. In other words, this type of reaction can help transform stress into courage and connection. Social relationships are vital resources for managing the demands of responding to stress.

Whether you are overwhelmed by your own stress or the suffering of others, the way to find hope is to connect, not to escape, to engage, not isolate. The benefits of taking a tend-and-befriend approach is that it makes people more caring, and when we care for others, it changes our biochemistry, activating systems of the brain that produce feelings of hope and courage.[iv]

As I close today, let me ask which way do you deal with stress?

Call to Action

You and I cannot control what happens to us, only how we respond. With that in mind, review the following ancient text and ask yourself, how can I apply this to managing my stress?

Take a look at these three pieces of ancient literature and see how you can apply them to any stressful situations that you find yourself in.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT) Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

James 1:5 (NLT) If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

Philippians 4:6-8 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Proverbs 12:15 (MSG) Fools are headstrong and do what they like;  wise people take advice.

[i] Barber, Charles. (Winter 2013). What a Decades-Long Harvard Study Tells Us About Mental Health. Retrieved December 2019: https://www.wilsonquarterly.com/quarterly/winter-2013-is-democracy-worth-it/what-can-decades-long-harvard-study-tell-us-about-mental-health/

[ii] Staff. Toxic Stress. Retrieved February 23, 2020: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/

[iii] Lees-Bank, Adena. (2019, April 19), Posttraumatic Growth, There can be Positive Change After Adversity. Retrieved February 23, 2020: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-thriving/201904/posttraumatic-growth

[iv] McGonigal, Keyy, Ph.D. (2015, May 13. How to Transform Stress into Courage and Connection. Retrieved February 21,202: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_transform_stress_courage_connection

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