Everyone experiences stress at some point or another. Some may say, “oh it’s not that big of a deal, just calm down,” but unfortunately, it’s not easy, or even possible, to just “destress” on command. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to help cope with stress, and make it easier to handle.

Things to remember…

  • Although feelings and thoughts can be scary or frightening, they are not dangerous or harmful themselves.
  • What you are experiencing very well may be an exaggeration of your  normal bodily reactions to stress (especially if you are prone to panic attacks)
  • Do not fight your feelings, or try to “wish” them away. The more you are willing to face them, the less intense they will become.
  • Do not add to your panic by thinking about what “might” happen. If you find yourself asking “What If”, tell your self, “So What!” Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy called this “Musterbation”.
  • Most of what we worry about when we catastrophize never ends up happening
  • STAY IN THE PRESENT! Notice what is actually happening to you as opposed to what you think might happen.
Ways we can cope with stress
Try using positive affirmations. These are statements that affirm our belief in our ability to manage the current situation. I to post positive affirmations under my “happy thoughts” tab. Feel free to check those out, and also see these other examples below…
“I can tolerate uncertainty for short periods of time. The situation I am in is only temporary and it will soon be over. My motto is ‘this too shall pass’”
“I am doing the best I can. I allow myself to be imperfect and the mistakes I make are merely learning experiences. I am willing to learn new things throughout my life.”
“I am resilient and resourceful. I have MANY strengths but when I need help, I can draw upon others strengths and explore new options.”
“I will continue to feel fear but instead of being paralyzed by fear, I can allow it to motivate me to try new things. When I work through my fear and keep moving, I can build confidence in my abilities”
Also, it’s important to ensure we are using accurate thinking. This is assessing what is realistically going on in a situation, not minimizing or exaggerating, but taking the situation at face value. Put the situation in perspective! Ask yourself…. what is the worst case scenario? (pessimistic thinking) What is the best case scenario? (optimistic thinking) and what is the most likely scenario? (accurate thinking). Accurate thinking involves making an assessment of the most likely scenario. look at how things have turned out in situations in the past that were similar. Often times outcomes fall in between “absolute perfection” and “complete failure.”
Slow things down! When we experience racing thoughts, or begin catastrophizing about situations, we are not able to look at situations in an objective manner, and we lose the ability to see what the consequences of some of our reactions may be. If we can pause for a second, and slow down, we can think about and see the situation more clearly. This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of meditation and mindfulness. It requires you to slow down, and just look at the facts! But how do you slow down? Here are some tips…
  1. remove yourself from the situation
  2. practice deep breathing and relaxation
  3. go for a walk
  4. take a bubble bath
  5. meditate
  6. pray
  7. use humor to deflect tension
  8. pay with your pets
  9. discuss the situation later when feeling calm

One thing I have often found with patients who smoke, is they explain when they are stressed, and the need to go calm down, they go outside and smoke. One of the reasons people use this so often as a coping mechanism, is because you’re leaving the situation, and you are taking deep breaths. You don’t take quick shallow breaths when smoking a cigarette, you breathe slow and deeply. Well, there are 2 things on the list right there. Not that I am advocating smoking, I believe you can do these things without smoking a cigarette, but this is sometimes one of the reasons people with anxiety have such a difficult time stopping smoking.

Lastly, believe that most of the time, the intentions of others are good. Avoid cognitive distortions, making assumptions, blaming others, etc. If you want others to respect you, you must demonstrate to them what you feel respect looks like, and believe that they want to be helpful to you. I you blame and attack others, they will automatically respond defensively and not want to help you. I have found that often times we do not realize how we have “trained” others to act towards us. If we are sick of people always coming to us to “fix” their situations or help them (as one example that has come up in previous therapy sessions), then we me must display to them how we are not always able to do so, maybe by saying “no” once in a while. Here are some examples of things we can tell ourselves to create more healthy core belief systems…
  1. If I look for other’s strengths, I will find them. If I look for others’ shortcomings, I will find them
  2. Allowing myself to appear vulnerable is the first step towards establishing intimacy. Sharing my vulnerabilities allows others to share their own.Intimacy is based on trust. The person who pretends to be perfect, cannot be trusted.
  3. I choose to be responsible for my own behavior, but I cannot chose how others behave towards me. I can persuade, over guidance, and hope that others will respond to me favorably, but other people’s behavior is not my responsibility.
  4. I look for “win-win” outcomes, rather than “win-lose” or “lose-lose” outcomes. In other words, I strive for outcomes in which I get my needs met and the other person gets his or her needs met as well. “Win-Win” outcomes are about cooperation and compromise, not about competition.
I hope some of this information will help you “chill out” in the future. This is just the tip of the iceberg of techniques for handling stress. What stress techniques have worked for you? And which of these do you think can help you in the future?
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.
Chill Out: Tips for coping with stress
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