Understanding and Managing Stress

By Lena Smith, Ph.D. Candidate, M.A., LBSW

As human beings there are shared experiences which tie people together. Everybody feels joy, sadness, struggle and adversity in one way or another. One of those shared experiences is stress. No man or women lives a life without experiencing it. It comes in many forms, under many circumstances and it can usually be recognized, but stress can also come to people under a veil. Understanding stress is the first step in being able to manage stress.

But no two people experience stress in exactly the same way! Stress is defined as “the exposure to a stressful event AND the reaction to that stressor”. Therefore, stress is based on the individual’s perception of the event that is occurring. There are many words people use when describing “stress”, but a few of the most common include:

  • Guilt
  • Hopeless
  • Worthless
  • Sadness
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Exhausted

Stress can cause illness and chronic stress has been shown to be the most destructive to health. Stress produces biological reactions that “age” the body. The key is understanding how to replace unwanted chronic stress with normal levels of daily stress that can be managed.

There are four types of coping strategies or styles that people can use to combat stress. Think of these as tools in a tool box. You may want to use one type of strategy for a stressful situation you are facing, but you may also consider other strategies to increase your ability to manage your stress. Coping strategies and social support are the most common buffers to negative outcomes of stress.

Try to use a combination of coping strategies when combating stress:

ACTIVE COPING: Includes Seeking support; Seeking assistance in making plans; Organizing resources.

EMOTIONAL/RELATIONSHIP COPING: Includes Using empathy and compromise; Practicing good communication skills

COGNITIVE COPING: Includes Computer based learning; Disease education; Books and newsletters.

SPIRITUAL COPING: Includes Prayer or meditation; Acceptance; Pastoral care and counseling.

One of the most basic interventions for combating stress is in the increase of “everyday” pleasant activities or daily joy. Make a deliberate effort to identify what brings you joy and try to slowly increase those activities on a daily basis. Examples of everyday joy include:

  • Exercise
  • Music
  • Praying
  • Pets
  • Reading
  • Hobbies
  • Socializing with Friends/ Neighbors
  • Gardening
  • Bird Watching
  • Daily Relaxation
  • Shopping
  • Humor

Finally, in order to better manage the stress in your life, the following tips are suggested:


  1. Develop a plan of personal aspirations for short and long term goals.
  2. Be nice to yourself.
  3. Develop a system of time management.
  4. Develop a game plan for your career or work life.
  5. Reduce what stress you can in your daily environment.
  6. Take time away from work to be with family and friends.
  7. Be realistic in your expectations.
  8. Pay attention to your physical health.
  9. Get plenty of sleep, eat correctly and exercise.
  10. Stay socially connected.
  11. Develop confidants.
  12. Develop a sense of spiritual support.
  13. Fill your life with humor.
  14. Stay flexible.

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