Stress and Some Simple Solutions
By Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.
Causes of Stress
Your body is brilliant. When faced with a threat it prepares you to fight or run away. This process is called the
“fight or flight” response. The fight or flight response was very effective in pre-modern times when physical
threats, such as encountering a bear while hunting for lunch, were more common. The problem is that in modern times
physical threats are not the only danger. In fact, psychological threats are much more common, such as becoming
upset by a challenge at work or an argument at home. These emotional reactions to situations trigger the fight or
flight response so that in many individuals it is set off several times a day, and each response often lasts much
longer than your body can easily handle. This creates wear and tear on the body. According to research conducted by
the Mayo Clinic, the end result is that your body is more susceptible to health ailments such as infections, high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, depression, insomnia, and memory impairment.
How to Calm the Stress Response
There are many things that can calm the stress response when it is triggered. Often, with practice, these
techniques can even help you avoid the flight or fight response from being triggered in the first place.
Breathe. The parasympathetic system has the important role of calming the body down by initiating the relaxation
response, once a threat has passed. Consciously breathing by taking deep, slow breaths, helps your parasympathetic
nervous system do its job. Breathing can slow down your thoughts and give you more clarity. It also helps you to be
more focused in the present moment, instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
Make-up a reason that feels good. Humans are meaning-making beings. We like to have reasons for why something is
the way that we perceive it to be. That is why your mind automatically makes snap decisions and judgments about
whether a situation is “good” or beneficial, or “bad” and a threat. Often your assessment of a situation is not
based on actual facts, but on how you feel emotionally at the time. Therefore, many of your interpretations may be
needlessly upsetting and thus enhance stress. Instead, when interpreting and judging the implications of a
situation, look for ways to interpret a situation as being advantageous, instead of a problem. For example, If your
boss is grumpy, instead of worrying about why your boss is grumpy and thinking, “What if she is grumpy because I
did something wrong?” Make up a reason that feels better, such as, “Maybe she didn’t sleep well last night.” This
is a much more palatable thought and less stress provoking.
Learn to say no. Doing something for someone when you don’t want to, because you believe you will feel guilty if
you say “no” to them, is not a healthy foundation from which to offer assistance. Instead, saying no when you don’t
want to do something or don’t have the time to do it can be an empowering experience. The result is that you reduce
your stress and build your self-respect.
Ask for help when you need it. Many powerful and successful individuals have a team of people to assist them in
accomplishing everything that they do. Asking for and accepting help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, getting
help with at task often completes it more quickly and with more fun. Also, talking to a qualified therapist can be
valuable for gaining a different perspective on a situation in your life, and finding solutions for how increase
Acceptance. Accepting “what is” helps to reduce stress. Whether that be accepting how you are feeling that day, the
fact that it is a rainy day, or that your computer isn’t working. If you let go of needing the current, perceived
problem to be some way other than it is, and you accept the fact that in the moment you can’t change it, at least
not instantly, you will feel calmer. Moreover, and the answers to solutions often come more easily when you give up
Take quiet time for yourself. Sitting quietly and breathing, taking a quiet walk, writing in your journal, and
listening to your thoughts and feelings are important. When you are too busy to notice how you are feeling inside,
that is an easy way to create stress. By listening to your feelings and paying attention to then, you will be less
likely to act out impulsively from them. Being more aware of what is going on inside reduces reactivity and
enhances conscious choices about thoughts and behaviors.
Assess Your Stress Level
The fight or flight response helps your body to mobilize itself and deal effectively with any threatening situation
at hand. When this response is excessively triggered it takes a toll on us physically and emotionally and causes
stress. There are many simple techniques to manage the stress response and even prevent it from occurring such as
breathing, looking for positive aspects of a situation, and asking for help. When stress over-takes your life and
you are struggling to achieve success at any cost, that is a sign that it is time to reassess your approach. After
all, if stress wears you down, what is the point of the success if you are not healthy and able to enjoy it once
you achieve your goals?
© 2007 Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.