When trying to manage stress, Richard Blonna, Ed.D — a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More — said that many people mistakenly look for a Band-Aid approach. They look for one approach to work with all stressors in all situations at all times.
But realistically you can’t rely on one technique. For instance, diaphragmatic breathing is an effective stress reliever but you might not want to use it in a certain situation because you’re feeling self-conscious and don’t want to bring attention to yourself, he said. Similarly, while Blonna is a big believer in meditation, he said it doesn’t work if you’re stuck in traffic, since it’s dangerous to close your eyes.
Instead, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” he said. Stress is complex, so your approach to coping with it has to be “broad-based and adaptive,” he said.
Years ago, he developed five levels of strategies for coping with stress or the “five Rs of coping model.” Each level has multiple strategies.
As a health educator, Blonna knows the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially for stress management. He said that “reorganizing your health” and “develop[ing] hearty habits” provides more energy and builds coping resilience. For instance, exercise not only improves physical functioning but it also helps your brain work better and process information better, he said.
In fact, maybe you “won’t even get stressed in the first place.” Blonna aims to get at least 30 minutes of cardio four to five times a week. As he said, physical wellbeing isn’t “merely your health insurance, but [your] basic defense against stress.”
What your mind tells you “about a potential stressor determines whether it becomes an actual stressor,” Blonna said. He gave the example of a student who’s terrified of failing a final exam. He keeps focusing on how he isn’t smart and will do poorly, instead of focusing on the things that will help him do well on the exam, such as meeting with the professor, scheduling a study session with others and studying for the final. The goal is to get over your negative thinking and accept that while you may not be an expert in a certain subject, like in this case, you can still try your best and do what you can to learn the material.
Our scripts from the past also can turn potential stressors actual ones. They can stunt growth in the very areas that we value. From the perspective of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), Blonna said, we carry mental and emotional baggage about past events and experiences. When similar experiences come up, these old scripts lead to negative self-talk. Take the idea of a new relationship, he said. This can be a potential stressor if other relationships didn’t go well. While you’re very interested in this person and you value relationships, old images of past failed relationships, self-doubt and negative scripts keep coming up.
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