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The Key to Managing Stress

Published on May 01, 2021

Stress happens to us all. A failed morning alarm. A sudden spill down the front of your favorite shirt. Unexpected bumper-to-bumper traffic when you need to be somewhere now. An extra-demanding work project. These life stressors probably won’t matter tomorrow – or even in a few hours – but in the throes of the moment, they can cause us to feel as if our whole world is turning upside down.

And those are just the little things.

When these minor bumps in the road become more frequent, or we're faced with stressful life situations that require more than changing shirts or finding an alternative route home, life as we know it can get quickly overwhelming, to say the least. Common life stressors are things such as a job loss, the loss of a loved one, chronic injury or illness, or a sudden traumatic event like COVID-19. The key to handling stress in life is to identify it and develop the tools that lead to resiliency.

We all face these stressful life situations from time to time – and just like with the everyday stressors – we respond. But the way we respond is very individual, not only because of our unique personalities, but a number of other factors as well.

common stress in life

The Five Factors That Influence Your Personal Stress Response

The amount, intensity, or duration of the stress. The number of life stressors occurring within the same time frame (for example: moving to a new home or city, followed by the death of a parent), the severity of the situation, and how long it lasts.

External/environmental determinants. Socio-economic factors, such as ethnicity and income-level, whether you have emotionally supportive relationships, your lifestyle, etc.

Underlying mental health disorders. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder all have a direct impact on thought patterns, mood, and behavior.

Personal Resilience. Your ability to "bounce back" after stress, which can be strengthened over time with these key strategies.

Your stress-coping behaviors and strategies. The things you turn to during stressful times, such as going for a run, smoking, cleaning, or calling a friend.

Some of these factors are simply not in our control. But we can change our stress-induced behaviors, and in turn, increase our personal resilience (aka inner strength).

How Our Behavior Can Work for or Against Us in Times of Stress

Stressful life situations, such as the COVD-19 pandemic, are unquestionably hard. But the real trouble sets in when we fail to take notice of how the stress is truly affecting us – the feelings at the root of our stress, such as fear, anger, or sadness. 

Instead, in an effort to continue to avoid the uncomfortable feelings that accompany stress, many people often turn to unhealthy behaviors, such as:

  • Withdrawing from friends and loved ones

  • Overscheduling yourself with activities and work to stay distracted

  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, smoking, or other forms of addiction

  • Angry or violent outbursts

  • Overeating or undereating

  • Self-harm (for example: cutting or picking at your skin, hitting yourself, etc.)

Because these behaviors affect every aspect of our lives, such as relationships and work life, they often lead to even more stress: at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And they take an extraordinary toll on our physical health too.

How to Better Cope with Stress

Stress happens. While you can’t change the inevitably of stress, what you can work on is your reaction to it. The three main steps to overcoming stress may look a little different than what you might expect. The key is to move through your stress versus trying to navigate around it.

Tips for working through your stress:

1. Identify the emotions you’re really feeling deep down. Often times, what initially triggers our stress is just a symptom rather than the cause. For example, what might feel like annoyance over something more trivial may be rooted in feelings of helplessness or resentment over something deeper. Much like a disease, as long as this deeper feeling goes ignored, it can continue to surface in other ways (aka symptoms) until it is addressed.

2. “Sit” with your deeper emotion(s) by allowing yourself to truly feel the anger, sadness, disgust, fear, or surprise that you are experiencing.

3. Lean on healthy coping strategies that can help you work through any immediate stress while building the mental strength (aka resilience) needed to manage any future stressors more easily.

Exploring your emotions can feel strange and even overwhelming at first. Remember: it’s very likely that you’ve been taught over time to avoid your feelings rather than to face them. If you’re struggling with identifying and/or meeting your feelings head on, don’t despair. Chances are, you just need some encouragement and tools to help get you through. And that’ where our resilience toolkit comes in handy!

Get Started with our Resilience Toolkit

This resilience toolkit can guide you through your stress from start to finish. Included in the toolkit

  • Vocabulary to help identify your real feelings
  • A worksheet to help build your personal stress-reduction plan
  • Ideas for healthy coping strategies that you can practice anywhere
  • Long-term resilience builders, including food!
Download the Resilience Toolkit