5 Ways to Stress Less
Stress is different things to different people. It’s also different things at different times to the same person. In other words, stress is very individual, and whether something becomes a stressor to you depends on a variety of variables, according to Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.
Specifically, he defines stress as a “holistic transaction between the individual and the potential stressor resulting in a stress response.” For example, being stuck in traffic on your way to work is a stressor. But traffic on a leisurely Sunday isn’t a big deal.
In addition, your response to the stressor also depends on your physiological state. “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit,” Blonna said. Lack of sleep and many cups of coffee can heighten stress, whereas a great workout and a big breakfast may buffer it.
Still, oftentimes, it can feel like we’re powerless to stressors. That we have no choice but to get bothered by traffic, the flu, taxes and bills. But we do have some control over our response to potential stressors, as Blonna said. Here’s how to empower yourself along with how to cope effectively with stress.
5 Ways for Better Coping with Stress
When trying to manage stress, Blonna 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.