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Got Stress?

Stress is part of the human condition - it happens to and in all of us. But what can you do to better navigate it when stress hits?

First, let's understand the four types of stressors a little better.

1. Time Stress: Time stress is experienced as the lack of time needed to finish what you need or want to do. This type of stress is commonly encountered in the workplace, such as meeting project deadlines and client expectations. Other examples might be when you're preparing for an upcoming exam or working overtime to meet project goals at work. Time stress can make people rush, leading to decreased quality of work and interactions. Here are some coping strategies for managing time stress:

  • Make a to-do list. Consider including the amount of time necessary for each task. Once you’ve developed this list, plug the information into your planner or calendar to plan your project over time.

  • Chunk your larger tasks into a series of manageable bits. Sometimes a task can seem more difficult when seen as a whole and appear easier when broken down into pieces.

  • Work at your peak hours. Understanding your body’s rhythms and working when you have the most energy can be a big help. And don't forget to take breaks; working while exhausted can create more stress. Plan breaks in your schedule to prevent feeling overloaded.

  • Say no. Being assertive when you are too busy can prevent chronic time stress. Do not be afraid to turn down or delay other commitments when you have too much on your plate already.

2. Situational Stress: Situational stress arises when you face a situation in which you feel powerless or out of control. Unlike the other types of stress, this one is more likely to come as a surprise or "out of nowhere." Here are some coping strategies for managing situational stress:

  • Learn conflict resolution skills. Learning skills such as non-violent communication and effective listening can help you defuse aggressive situations while understanding the needs of others.

  • Understand your body's unique physical manifestations of stress. Your body will let you know when you feel stressed,with symptoms such as an increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or sweating. Learning to recognize and counteract these physical symptoms and calm down by using relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing.

  • Practice grounding. Grounding is a practice you can use to calm yourself down. Examples of grounding activities include bringing your attention to your surroundings by naming the objects around you, naming the colors you see, or reading words backward. You can look up many different grounding exercises or make up your own.

3. Anticipatory Stress: Anticipatory stress is related to events that have yet to occur. For example, you are stressed because of an exam you have next week, or a first date on Friday night. Here are some coping strategies for managing anticipatory stress:

  • Make a contingency plan. Imagine all possible outcomes and make a plan for them. This can reduce your anxiety about the unknown and help prevent failure.

  • Practice positive expectancy. Sometimes the way we think can influence how events unfold. Practicing positive expectancy (while not holding to tightly to expectations) can both reduce this type of stress and potentially influence events in your favor.

  • Prepare yourself. Doing what you can to prepare ahead of time can help boost your confidence during your anticipated event.

  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help you stay connected with the present moment. The more present you are, the less energy you will spend trying to control the future (which is futile!).

4. Encounter Stress: Encounter stress is brought on by other people, perhaps a difficult client, a moody partner, an angry stranger in traffic, or a new social experience. For example, you are adjusting to a new supervisor at work or are at a party where you don’t know many people. This stress often surfaces when you have had too much interaction with not enough downtime. Here are some coping strategies for managing encounter stress:

  • Know your limits. Understanding when you’ve had too much social time will help you carve out time for yourself to rest and recharge.

  • Communicate clearly. Expressing how you are feeling can help you set boundaries and feel heard. It can also set the pattern for the same kind of communication from others, helping you connect more authentically.

  • Take breaks. If you feel overloaded with social interaction, perhaps during a day of meetings, try taking a walk or practicing deep breathing during your time in between.

Now that you understand different types of stressors, there is a formula you can use to help create a stress management plan for each type.

Here is the formula to create your stress management plans:

  1. Recall a recent memory when you experienced this kind of stress. Briefly describe the situation.

  2. Describe what the stress felt like in your body and what emotional reactions you had.

  3. What other experiences tend to trigger these feelings for you?

  4. In the above experience, how did you cope (positive coping and negative coping)?

  5. How effective were your coping strategies for reducing the stress?

  6. What skills will you need to cultivate and use next time you experience a similar type of stress?

The choices we make to manage stress heavily influence all areas of our lives; health, well-being, and even our safety. Preparing ways to healthfully navigate life’s unpredictable, yet inevitable, stressors is a strategy for success!

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