Stress Management – Treatments and Resources

Article adapted from Harold L. Burke, Ph.D.

All of us may feel stressed or overwhelmed at times; this is a normal part of living. However, these feelings, whether acute or chronic, may be excessive and unhealthy. Sometimes you may recognize you are under stress when you feel that you are being “pushed” beyond your stress management skills, and sometimes you may not even be aware of it. In any case, you should seek professional stress management training help if the effects are sufficiently severe as to cause significant distress or to interfere with occupational, social, or other functioning. Although there is no actual mental disorder known as “stress disorder”, stress can precipitate or amplify the harmful effects of mood disorders, other mental disorders, or “physical” illnesses. At the very least, acute stress can cause you to be anxious, to feel overwhelmed, and to have difficulty thinking or remembering. At the worst, chronic stress can have serious effects on overall health.

What are some causes of low resilience to stress?

  • Working too hard without breaks
  • Insufficient or abnormal sleep
  • Major life
  • Minor hassles
  • Physical illness

Strategies of Stress Management

Stress Management Technique 1
Relaxation exercises/techniques There are many variations of these stress management courses, but all of them produce what physiologists call “the relaxation response”. The parasympathetic nervous system predominates, the individual’s autonomic system is not in an emergency mode, and the body is in a more rebuilding, “healing” mode. This is not the same as sleeping, although sleeping is also a type of rebuilding activity. One component that is common to most of these techniques is relaxed, deep, slow, and unforced breathing. Try this exercise. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for at least 10 minutes, and turn down the lights if possible. Loosen your clothing and take off or loosen your shoes. Assume a comfortable sitting position with your relaxed hands resting on your thighs, and close your eyes. Focus on slow, relaxed breathing; and breathe through your nose if possible. When inhaling, let your abdomen push outward so that your diaphragm can settle down allowing the lungs to fully expand. For the first few minutes, try the following routine. Inhale to the count of 2 and exhale to the count of 4. Inhale to the count of 3 and exhale to the count of 6. Inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 8. Repeat this routine. When you are inhaling, focus and form images of the air flowing through your air passages. When exhaling, form images of tension leaving your body. You may be amazed how relaxed and refreshed you will feel after only 10-15 minutes. It will also help in building reseilince to physical illess.

Stress Management Technique 2
Ultradian breaks Take these breaks approximately every 90 minutes. Drs. David Lloyd and Ernest Rossi have compiled scientific evidence in their book Ultradian Rhythms in Life Processes that the body experiences regular rhythms such that various processes wax and wane over approximately a 90-minute period. This applies to many processes including the ability to concentrate and perform optimally. When these processes are at their “low” points, your body may signal that it needs a break for restitution. Such signals may include muscle tension or soreness, the need to stretch or move around, a feeling of restlessness, or difficulty concentrating or thinking. Heed these by taking an ultradian break such as stretching, walking around, or doing the above relaxation exercise. When a person ignores such signals on a daily basis, the body begins to experience stress.

Stress Management Technique 3
Meditation/Prayer Apart from specific religious or philosophical beliefs associated with different types of meditation or prayer, these experiences can have a very calming and healing effect. Entering into the spiritual domain in a world that has become very stressful for many of us is something we should all do more often.

Stress Management Technique 4
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise This exercise does not have to be intense. Even 10 minutes of walking will increase your energy for 60-120 minutes and improve your mood. If possible, do 10 minutes of gentle stretching, 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, and 5-10 minutes of stretching as a cool down. Do this at least three times per week, but remember that the level of intensity does not make that much difference. Research has found that such exercise increases deep sleep and decreases stress reactivity. Even a slow, relaxed walk or a visit to a beautiful location can reduce stress.

Stress Management Technique 5
Calming activities Enjoying beautiful music, especially certain classical compositions, can help to reduce stress. People have found for hundreds of years that slow classical music, especially from the Baroque period, reduces the experience of stress and renews the spirit. In addition, there are numerous commercial tapes that have been produced for the express purpose of inducing relaxation. Some of these have music; some have sounds such as ocean waves. A good example of such music may be found at

Stress Management Technique 6
Sleep Getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep will help you cope with stress more effectively because your brain will have received the appropriate respite and restitution it requires. Chemicals such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and proteins are often synthesized during sleep. The improper balance of these chemicals makes the body more vulnerable to the effects of stress noted above. Practicing good sleep hygiene may help you achieve and maintain restorative sleep. Specifically, get sufficient amounts of sleep, keep a regular sleep schedule, avoid stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate) late in the day, exercise regularly, and avoid activities in the bedroom that may interfere with sleep (making business contacts on the telephone, working on your laptop in bed). Conversely, taking excessive over-the-counter sleep aids is not a good answer; they can make things worse. They can make the insomnia and stress symptoms worse if you stop taking them; you may become dependent on them; and they can impair your cognition, memory, and reaction time.

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