By this stage, I suspect you have already worked out what to do about some of your stress situations. It may take time to put your plans into action. If you have enough to work on you might like to leave this site and do what you have to do, otherwise you may overload yourself with information. That may add to your stress! Come back when you are ready to move on or are stuck.
However, if you are not sure what to do next and you need further guidance carry on reading. This page gives a list of techniques that you could try. It is a long page. It will take 20 minutes or more to read through. However, you may be side-tracked:
- You may be reminded of a stress you had not thought to include in your list. If this happens stop, reflect on the stress, go back to the Prioritize Problems and Focused Attention pages and analyse this new stress.
- Occasionally a particular technique will grab your attention. Stop and reflect on how you can make use of it. Search for more information on this site or use a search engine in the internet. Take time out and practice what it suggests.
It may therefore take a few days to work through this page. There is no hurry. Take your time. Keep an open mind and learn what you can. Some things may prove not to be as helpful as you first expected. No matter. They still may be useful later. For now, move on to another topic.
The following list of techniques that are useful in managing stress is arranged in alphabetical order. The list is not exhaustive but includes techniques that are commonly used. Some are generally helpful while others relate to specific situations. Try them out. Reflect on what you learn and work out which technique you will use in which situation. A few are developed in more detail in other modules and you will notice some repetition – but then, some things need to be repeated!
Some techniques appear to be contradictory – for example compare ‘Clear the Decks!’ with ‘Holding Strategies.’ The first recommends giving priority to a new stress while the second suggests a delay until there is time and opportunity to devote to it. This illustrates that all the techniques are only suggestions not rules to follow. Every situation is unique so a technique will be appropriate on one occasion but not on others. You are in the driving seat so will have to analyse each situation and decide which technique to use.
Plan how you are going to do this next stage.
It will take at least 20 minutes and probably more like 2 hours to include time for reflection and exploring some of the suggestions so how about doing those relaxation and breathing exercises from Before Facing the Storm before you start?
Maybe even go for a walk,
Do the exercises,
Get a cup of tea.
Pen and notepad ready?
Let me say this gently but clearly. Stress is not always someone else’s fault. Read that again to make sure you have got it. OK? You have to accept responsibility for your stresses. Your stresses are your stresses, no one else’s. Other people may have had a hand in causing your stress but it is still you who are stressed so you have to take responsibility for coping with your situation. This is about an attitude of mind. There is nothing to learn, just something to adopt but once you have accepted responsibility you are well on the way to coping.
Maintain a balance between the different aspects of life: eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise, cultivate good relationships with family, friends and God, work hard and make good use of your free time, etc. If you cultivate good habits when life is going well it will be easier to keep them up during times of stress.
‘Look on the bright side’, ‘Count your blessings’ – there is truth in these clichés. With the stresses and pressures of modern life it is all too easy to be so obsessed with failure and full of fear for the future that sight can be lost of the good things that are happening so – count your blessings! Think through or even make a list of all the people, experiences and things you are grateful for – it will help to keep the difficulties of life in perspective.
CLOCK-WATCHING – NO LONGER!
Have you noticed that you keep checking the time, even every few seconds? If you wake in the night is your first thought to check the time? It is easy to get into this habit but it fulfils no purpose and it can exacerbate the sense of time pressure. Get rid of all but essential clocks and watches. Move them out of line of sight. Turn the face away from you at night. If you need to be alerted at a specific time, e.g. to get up, to take tablets, to collect children from school, to watch a specific TV programme, etc. then set an alarm, get on with something else and ignore the time until the alarm goes off.
CENTRE OF PEACE
In the busyness and pressures of life, it is helpful to have a place to go to where you can find peace, calmness and rest, even if it is only for a few moments. It might be your favourite chair, a seat in a park or somewhere out in the country. This can be an activity rather than a physical place. Walking in the country or pottering in the garden are options and for some, knitting, embroidery or doing Sudoku can suit. For a mother of young children perhaps the only option is to sit in a locked bathroom.
Another option is to use your memory and imagination. You can then go to your centre of peace without anyone noticing! This may be a place you have visited and associate with happiness and peace or perhaps it is a place you can only visit in your imagination. What is your choice? Maybe you will develop different centres for different circumstances. Make a habit of using your centre(s) of peace even when you are not especially stressed. You will then find it easier to slip into ‘peace mode’ when you really are stressed.
CLEAR THE DECKS!
Sometimes a new stress is so overwhelming or obtrusive it dominates your life demanding your full attention. Yet other stresses, cares and responsibilities still need attention. You will need to stop and make an assessment, hand over responsibility for some issues to other people, close down others for the time being, let everyone know you are engaged and cannot be disturbed – then deal with the new and urgent problem. Sort it out or at least contain it before you return to your more usual way of life.
You may feel personally responsible for the tasks given to you but should you accept that? Why not consider handing over some of your responsibilities to others? It may initially create more work as you will have to train and supervise them but subsequently it can free you to concentrate on more important tasks that make better use of your skills and time.
DRAW A PICTURE
If an incident, perhaps something in the distant past that is only half-remembered, keeps bothering you, draw a picture to express both what happened and how you felt. Expressing the feelings aspects are important so be creative. This gets over the problem of trying to find ‘the right words’ to say something that seems unsayable. It does not depend on artistic skill.
Then you need to consider what to do with the picture. Again, be creative. You may need to keep it in a safe place so you can bring it out from time to time for reflection or adding to. But do not let this get out of hand. If all it does is engender negative emotions so you get depressed or angry it is no longer healthy. Stop!
- Does it have a message you would like to share with someone?
- Should you post it with or without an explanation or would it be better to show it to them and explain what it is about?
- Do you need to share it with a trained counsellor or even a trained listener?
- Should it be destroyed?
- It can be torn up and thrown out with the rubbish but would it be more emotionally constructive to ceremonially burn it?
This can be a helpful tool to help you move on from a painful memory. It can be a step toward obtaining closure from a particularly painful episode. It does not mean you forget what happened. Rather, it means you are beginning to free yourself from being bound and obsessed with a bad experience. You may need to repeat this exercise a few times even for the same memory. You will receive further help if you share your story and its emotional impact on you with an empathetic listener or a trained counsellor.
FACE YOUR FEAR
Avoiding situations because of fear or taking alcohol or drugs to help cope are not good strategies. It is better to face fear! Name it, examine it, talk about it to someone you trust, think about what life would be like without the fear and when you are ready start planning how you are going to deal with it. Fear of failure, the future, rejection, intimacy, success, taking responsibility, conflict, sickness, death, loneliness and change are common problems. Sometimes there is a reason for the fear but they may be irrational. One fear leads to another so do not be surprised if you have a variety of fears.
Do you tend to panic or freeze when afraid? Do not fight it. Allow the feeling to wash over you. Let your body relax. Breathe slowly and gently. It will pass. You will survive. Once you have done that numerous times you will have learned how to cope with the feeling of fear so now you can begin to deal with the causes of your fear. Make a list and put them in order – the least fear-inducing up to the greatest fear. Start at the bottom of your list and meet whatever it is that makes you afraid. As your confidence grows and you start to overcome some of your fears, work through your list until you can cope with your worst fear. It may take ages but somewhere in the process make your mind up you are not going to be controlled by fear (and other negative emotions) but rather be positive. Be hopeful. Work to your strengths. More information is in Uniquely You/Facing Fear .
FORGIVE – EVEN THE UNFORGIVABLE
If you hold a grudge against someone who has hurt you, you hurt yourself emotionally and spiritually, and it can lead to physical symptoms too, so forgiving the perpetrator of your hurt can lift a huge burden of stress. Forgiveness is for your benefit. It is not necessarily for the benefit of those who have hurt you – they may know nothing about it. Forgiveness is not a one-off event. You need to keep on forgiving whenever painful memories recur, and they will. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. As God has forgiven us in Jesus, so God calls us to forgive others – and he gives the will and grace to do so. For more information see Moving Forward/Forgiveness .
GRIEVING TAKES TIME
We often think of grieving as happening after death but any significant loss will cause a grief reaction. This is normal – it is not an illness or anything peculiar – but it does take time and drains energy. It takes at least a year to work through a normal grief and inevitably it will be much longer if it is complicated (eg divorce or uncertainty about whether or not the loss will occur as when redundancy is threatened). The first phase of shock, anger, numbness, denial and blame takes maybe 4-6 weeks. The second phase of despair, sadness, loss of hope, guilt and loneliness takes maybe 6-15 months. The recovery phase when life returns to a measure of normality and plans can be made takes at least another 3 months. The phases merge and it is possible to relapse into grief even years later (though recovery from a relapse should be much quicker). Give time for grieving to take its course and do not ask too much of yourself during this time. More information is in Uniquely You/Grief .
Do you tend to overeat when you are stressed? You will not suffer any long-term adverse effects if this is temporary and you make an effort to return to your usual healthy eating habits. However, be wary if your stress is prolonged or your clothing becomes tight. Obesity is a risk factor for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease and has an emotional and social burden too. Which means more stress!
Be practical. Do not buy food you will be tempted to snack. If you must have cakes, sweets, biscuits and such like in the house for the sake of others keep them in a closed box that you never open and other people are responsible for restocking. Is your snacking associated with a favourite chair, television programme or time of day? Move the furniture round, sit somewhere else, use catch up TV programmes or other changes in your habits to break the cycle of dependency.
Sometimes a new stress comes suddenly and with everything else going on, you know you cannot do anything about it. You may tend to panic or refuse to acknowledge the problem. Neither is helpful. In such cases you need to adopt holding strategies. This means you acknowledge the stress and accept you cannot resolve it, at least in the immediate future, but you take steps to reduce its impact and contain it until you have the resources to cope.
Can you delegate the problem to someone else?
Or would it be better to pass on other problems so you can give this new problem your undivided attention?
Ideally, discuss the new situation with those who have an interest in the situation and see if you can work together to develop a strategy to help.
LAUGHTER – THE BEST MEDICINE
Laughter and having fun with friends is an antidote to stress. It relaxes muscles and distracts the mind from worries. It can ease pain and it becomes harder to be irritable with family and friends. The more open and full the laughter the better – just smiling, tittering or mocking does not work. Some people are naturally cheerful so cultivate their friendship. Make a joke out of your embarrassing social blunders. Have happy photographs and funny posters where they will catch your eye. When you are feeling down the tendency is to huddle up in a corner and feel sorry for yourself while you brood over your hurts. Instead, watch a funny film or listen to a comedian especially in the company of friends. Work creatively to develop this aspect of your life because the benefit to yourself, family, friends and colleagues is significant. Please do not wait until you are in trouble and then start scratching around trying to put this advice into practice. You need to plan what you will do and have it all ready for when needed. So, stop right now, plan what you will do and get it ready. Yes, NOW! Not tomorrow or ‘later.’
LEARN TO RELAX
Relaxation does not just happen; it is a skill that can be learnt. This is best done when you are not too anxious so you can concentrate on the learning exercise. Three simple techniques are easily learnt. Keep practising and they will come more easily when you really need to use them during stress. You will find different techniques will help in different circumstances.
Lie or sit in a comfortable position when you know you will not be disturbed for 15-30 minutes. Starting with one foot, tense and then relax the muscles ten times. Do the same with the leg muscles and then the hip and then do the same with the other leg. Repeat these movements with the arms one at a time, tensing and relaxing the hand, elbow and shoulder muscles. Move on to the neck, back and buttocks and end with the abdominal muscles. Enjoy the sense of relaxation, if you are still awake! These exercises will ease muscular tension and also benefit you emotionally.
While sitting comfortably breathe in deeply and slowly; hold it for a few seconds then breathe out slowly. Repeat the process a few times and do it whenever you feel tense. If you feel dizzy or faint stop straightaway as you are overbreathing and are losing too much carbon dioxide. You will recover within a few seconds.
Sit or lie comfortably and think about something positive and helpful. Christians favour meditating on Bible passages. If this is new to you start with Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) or Matthew 6.9-13 (the Lord’s prayer). Read the passage slowly and repetitively savouring each word and phrase. When you are experienced you can do this at any time using words you have memorised.
Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Matthew 6:9-13, The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
When concentrating on the particular job in hand it is tempting to ignore bodily discomfort – but this will only add to your distress.
- If your chair is uncomfortable, adjust it or change it.
- If you have backache because of a poor posture stop what you are doing and do some back stretching exercises – and then keep doing them every 40-60 minutes.
- If you need to go to the bathroom then go – a full bladder disturbs your concentration and focus.
- If you have a headache do something about whatever is causing it. If that is not possible stop and do neck exercises, change your posture and take paracetamol.
- If you have an itchy spot do something helpful like applying moisturising cream or loosen tight clothing but do not scratch as that will cause more damage.
A five-minute break now can save 60 minutes spent undoing errors caused by your distraction.
LIVE BY FAITH
Belief in God means more than an intellectual acknowledgement that God exists as Creator and Ultimate Authority – it means committing your life to God. The Bible calls this ‘living by faith.’ It means giving control of your life to God and trusting him, whatever your circumstances might be. It sounds simple – and it is – but it is very difficult to do day by day and problem by problem because part of our humanity is the desire to be in control. One example of the way the Bible expresses this concept is,
‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.’
MAKE LISTS AND USE A DIARY
You cannot remember everything you have to do so make lists and delete what is completed. Plan your day and week. Set aside time for each activity. Anticipate your requirements so you have the resources readily available to complete each task.
MUSIC HAS CHARMS
When agitated about some hard-to-resolve problem listen to some favourite music – provided it is not too loud or fast! Music has the ability to slow down the heart rate, lower blood pressure and calm your mind. It may even help you think more clearly and perhaps help you think of a way of solving your problem!
It is all too easy to keep revisiting a stressful situation and just worry about it. When you are busy it drops to the back of your mind but when you have a spare moment it pops back into your conscious thoughts and your mind goes round in circles. This is not helpful. Instead, you need to give the situation some concentrated time and thought. Set aside time when you plan to deal with it. Examine the situation, think through the different options, make lists, discuss it with a close friend. You may find that after all, it is not as big a problem as you feared. If however, it is still a problem needing attention, at least you have measured it and almost certainly will have developed some ideas about coping with it.
Sometimes you have to be as blunt as that! You may be under pressure at times – or feel you are under pressure – to say ‘yes’ to everything:
‘my job depends on it,’
‘it will get me noticed,’
‘I want them to think well of me,’
‘if they ask me to do it they must believe I can do it,’
and so on.
Saying ‘yes’ may be an indicator of self-doubt, fear or insecurity while saying ‘no’ is more likely to be an indicator of self-control and self-confidence. However, saying a blunt ‘no’ is not usually advisable! It is vital to learn how to say ‘no’ in a positive way:
‘Thank you for asking me but let me think about that before I respond as there is … and … to consider.’
‘I would love to but can we discuss when and how as I have … and … responsibilities so need to pace myself?’
Knowing what to say on the spur of the moment is an art that can be developed and, as usual, this depends on careful preparation and practice.
Striving for perfection is soul destroying whether it is to do with personal appearance or doing a task or bringing up children! Do your best. Then relax and be satisfied. Do not fret about being flawless.
Think of life as a race. Sometimes it is a sprint and you have to move fast but at other times it is more like a marathon or a steeplechase. Each calls for a different pace, a different attitude and different skills. Make time for rest periods, training and for reviewing your goals. Accept that you, like everybody else, cannot do all you would like to do or all that you may be expected to do or perhaps what you think others expect of you. Set goals that you have a reasonable chance of achieving. Review your goals from time to time, discard some, change the way you are trying to achieve some goals and set yourself some more.
This is more than giving God a shopping list of our needs. Prayer also includes thanksgiving and worship. A key Bible passage to guide us in our prayers is,
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all human understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
There are two key messages here.
- Look for something(s) to be thankful for as it helps to keep anxieties in perspective.
- Hand over your problems to God – and do not take them back again!
God is much more able to carry your troubles than you are. It is then you will enjoy God’s peace. It is beyond all human understanding because you can experience it in the middle of all your troubles. It is not dependent on the relief of your anxieties.
When you sense that you are inundated with problems make a list of all your problems, both large and small. When complete put them into groups such as:
- After all, this is not really a problem.
- This needs to be dealt with but it can wait a while.
- I cannot influence this so must leave it to others.
- This is urgent – I need to do something NOW!
Deal with them one at a time. Give most attention to the more important problems although you may gain a sense of encouragement by sorting out small and easily fixed problems. From time to time revisit your list – add more, delete some and reclassify others. For more information go back in this Getting Started module to Prioritize Problems, Helping Fred and Following Fred.
Do not wait until stresses hit you in the face before you do something about them. Anticipate trouble. Take precautions. Think ahead.
PUT IT IN WRITING
Do you sometimes find your mind is going round in circles and up and down dead ends? You can waste hours chuntering on about a problem. When this happens stop and start writing about it. Sometimes this may be a list of pros and cons or ‘what ifs’ that help you clarify the problem and the implications of doing something about it. On occasion, writing a letter to someone who has abused you or caused a significant hurt can be very helpful. Describe what happened and express your hurt even if you have no intention of delivering the letter. That might be counterproductive and cause more harm or the person concerned may be long since dead or even unknown. The point of the exercise after all is for your own benefit. What you do with the letter once it is written may be therapeutic. It could be burnt or torn into fragments and thrown into the wind (though that might result in a fine for littering)!
Set aside 10 minutes to do nothing – absolutely nothing! Set an alarm so you do not need to keep checking how time is passing. Sit still and quietly. Do not close your eyes as you may nod off. Notice what is happening around you but do not get involved. Let your thoughts wander but if they cause you to be agitated or worried make yourself pass on to other things. Try to do this regularly and you will then find it easy to slip into a quiet mode when sitting in a traffic jam or standing in a queue. This helps to counteract the sense of busyness and haste that can easily permeate your life.
When you develop a friendship or work with someone or a group of people there are stages you and everyone else involved go through in developing the relationship. Bruce Tuckman described the following stages in 1964 regarding group dynamics but they relate to all relationships.
|Stage 1 Forming||Saying hello, getting to know each other. Everyone is on their best behaviour.|
|Stage 2 Norming||Finding areas of mutual interest, working together.|
|Stage 3 Storming||Learning to cope with each other’s failures and irritations.|
|Stage 4 Performing||Working together as a team, taking account of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.|
When difficulties develop, you may become stressed and may tend to despair and want to give up. Wait! It does not have to result in the ending of the relationship. Think about the stage the relationship is in and then start to develop some strategies that have a chance of saving the relationship or at least stopping further deterioration.
The first thing may be to discuss this model with the group and compare notes to check everyone sees the group as being at the same stage.
Please note that applying these principles to a romantic relationship will be a passion killer. They are too intellectual and task focussed. Keep them for colleagues and friends.
REFLECT AND REVIEW
Even when everything is going well take time to review your life and activities. Perhaps do this annually.
With every proposed change in life there will be benefits and drawbacks, advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and restrictions, costs and profit etc. so it can be confusing trying to work out the best way forward. Coping with this is stressful so get organised! Make lists of all the relevant points in two contrasting columns. This helps to clarify your thinking and may make it easier to make a decision. It does not always work though, as you may find the amount to information you gather is too much to handle or there are too many variables. You may then have to go by intuition – decide by what feels right even though you cannot explain it. Even in such circumstances your analysis may well be helpful later when you work through the implications of the changes you have introduced.
‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, so the saying goes and it is true. All doctors have the experience from time to time of a patient who when leaving, expresses thankfulness for a helpful consultation – and all the doctor has done is listen! Just talking through the problem helps understanding, improves perspective and ideas for dealing with the problem come to mind. By the way, it does not have to be a doctor you talk to. Anyone will do provided they just listen and DO NOT give you their opinion or start telling their own story!
If you are in the role of listener do not take control to help you understand the story. That is not the point. Instead, just respond in ways that encourage the talker to develop the story – it is for their own benefit, not yours. Nod, umm, smile if it is funny, shake your head or tut if it is sad or shocking. If you really need to speak to assist them tell their story ask open questions such as,
‘What happened next?’
‘Who else was there?’
‘How did that make you feel?’
SLEEP ON IT
Trying to resolve a problem when tired at the end of the day is not helpful. A good night’s rest will refresh you physically and emotionally. It is important though that you do not take your problems to bed with you. Leave them in the living room. The bedroom is for sleep. Further information is in Uniquely You/Insomnia.
Self-sufficiency may be fine when everything is going well but during difficult times, having the support and help of people who care is a major benefit. Support networks do not just happen. They need to be cultivated. This is about friendship. It works both ways of course – if you want friends to care for you, you need to be a friend and care for them.
When you find yourself going round in circles take a break. Go for a walk, jog, visit the gym, do some gardening or even house cleaning. Physical exercise really does help you to relax. It will take your mind off your problems and perhaps, when you least expect it, some helpful thoughts will occur.
TRUST IN JESUS
‘Come to me,’ said Jesus, ‘all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’. Jesus cares and wants to help and strengthen you so you should ‘come to him’ by developing a relationship with him through prayer and reading the Bible. Even if you are in the habit of praying and reading the Bible, you may find that the pressures of time and the distractions of your worries result in your times with Jesus being neglected. You will have to work at this and ensure that quality time is devoted to building your spiritual resources.
WORK TO YOUR STRENGTHS
It is all too easy to concentrate on weaknesses – and these are often what are highlighted in a work performance review or in a domestic argument so tend to catch your attention.
How about focussing on strengths?
What are you good at?
What do you enjoy doing?
Are they recognised by others?
Are they appreciated?
Spend some time reflecting on your strengths. Can you develop these or use them more? Do not neglect the areas where you are weak but keep this in perspective.
The above list of techniques has been compiled over many years. I am grateful to the many who have shared their ideas and experiences either personally or when attending a Stress Management Course and so have helped to build this list with its emphasis on practicality and adaptability.
Is there more to add?
Is there anything you would like to add to the techniques already listed?
What other techniques have you tried that you would like to share?