Effective stress reduction strategies can take many forms

How we cope with stress is what can make the difference between being happy and fulfilled or unhappy and unhealthy.

On a weekly basis, I have the opportunity to work with dozens of people experiencing serious life stressors - divorce, single parenthood, managing a chronic disease or illness, the loss of a job, home or even business in this tough Michigan economy. Yet, most of them overcome these stressors by acquiring the skills to put their struggles into perspective and letting go of the things they cannot control. There are plenty of quick fixes for dealing with a small amount of stress – a massage, taking a walk or listening to music are all recommended for dealing with a little bit of acute anxiety. Still, coping with life’s more persistent and complex stressors requires more than a quick fix. Stress is a physical and emotional state that can lead to chest pain, high blood pressure, depression, headaches and a host of other health and mental health problems. It is reported that up to 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related problems (American Psychological Association 2012).

Given the scenario outlined above, it becomes very important for people, like those I come in contact with in my workshops to find an effective strategy for dealing with the stressors that come their way.  Michigan State University Extension’s “Alternatives to Anger” program provides information about coping strategies for de-stressing and calming down. In addition to the techniques we offer, I ask workshop participants to share strategies that have worked for them when faced with a life stressor.  Here is a compilation of the top five strategies reported by my workshop participants:

  1. Praying – is the most commonly reported coping strategy in my classes. Participants tell me that they find peace and comfort in taking the time to pray and “letting go” of the thoughts and situations that cause stress.
  2. Exercise – the second highest reported strategy is exercising. Some people report that they exercise for as little as 30 minutes a day a few times a week but they are consistent with it. From running, walking, playing a sport to yoga and biking, people report it all. There is no surprise with this one, as we have long known that exercise increases the amount of “feel good hormones” or endorphins in our brains. Research has also linked exercise to increased self-confidence, improved sleep and decreased symptoms of mild depression.
  3. Removing yourself from the situation – this coping strategy is reported over and over again in my workshops. Whether it’s a relationship with a noxious person, a stressful work environment or any other stress-provoking situation, people report that they just simply taking themselves out of the equation by ending the relationship, looking for a new job or refusing to engage in conflict has been effective.
  4. Spending time with pets – at first, I was surprised by how often people would report that they found comfort in spending time with their pet(s). Workshop participants report that they forget about their own problems when they care for or just hang out with their furry friends.
  5. Talking to a friend – a trusted friend is someone you can safely share your feelings with without the risk of being judged. A friend will provide honest feedback, support and insights. Talking about your feelings acts as a healthy releasing mechanism and may just help you come up with solutions for your problems. Perhaps this is why talking to a friend is in the top five reported coping strategies among adults who have taken my classes.

Experiencing stress is a normal part of life. Everyone will experience it at some time in their life. It’s how we cope with it that can make the difference between being happy and fulfilled or unhappy and unhealthy. For information on this topic and other information on stress and coping, please visit MSU Extension.

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