Handle Stressful Situations

Stressful situations are an inevitable part of modern life. Learning to manage high-stress situations requires that you make a special effort to remain calm, and maintain perspective while pursuing solutions to the problems causing your stress. Once the situation has been resolved, you can start taking steps towards relieving the tension associated with stress, and reducing the amount of overall stress in your life.


Coping with High-Stress Situations

  1. Control your breathing. Rapid, shallow breathing is the body's natural response to stress. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, concentrate on slowing your breath, and breathing deeply. This will help calm your body's physiological response to stress, returning you to a more normal state.[1]
    • Counting slowly to 10 while breathing deeply is another tried-and-true method for reducing your physiological response to stress.
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  2. Maintain a positive attitude. When we allow ourselves to become negative, thinking and speaking as if the worst is bound to happen, we increase our feelings of stress and anxiety. Focus instead on the possibility of positive outcomes, and think about how those outcomes might be achieved. [1]
    • You can use positive self-talk to reduce anxiety, and maintain positivity. Simply remind yourself, in your head or even out loud, when appropriate, that the situation you are in will pass, and that you are safe, and capable of handling yourself.
    • Remember that even when you have trouble controlling how you are thinking, you can still control your body language, and how you speak to others. Smile, make eye-contact, and speak calmly and positively.
  3. Be prepared. If you are anticipating a stressful situation in your near future, such as a presentation, performance, interview or examination, make sure you take plenty of time to prepare yourself. Preparing in advance will relieve pressure, and make it easier for you to be calm and focused.[2]
    • How you prepare will depend on the situation you're preparing for. Preparing for a presentation, for example, would include making a plan for the presentation, preparing the presentation itself, and rehearsing it, alone or with a friend, until you are comfortable delivering it.
    • Practicing visualization techniques can help you prepare emotionally for any stressful situation. Just take some time to breath deeply, and imagine yourself successfully navigating the situation with ease.
  4. Get perspective on your situation. Take a moment to step back from the situation, and evaluate just how important it really is in the grand scheme of things. Remind yourself that stressful situations pass, and are often not nearly as important as they seem while we are experiencing them.[3]
    • Think about the things which are really important in your life: your home, loved ones, dreams and goals, etc. Reminding yourself of what's really important can help you gain perspective on more banal worries like work- or school-related stress.
    • The way we respond to stress can seem quite humorous when we consider how unimportant the situation prompting the stress actually is. Feel free to laugh at the situation, and yourself, and share your sense of humor with those around you.
  5. Take action to improve the situation. Many people find themselves feeling paralyzed in moments of great stress, overwhelmed by the intensity and urgency of the situation. Remind yourself that you have the power to take control of your situation, then take steps to solve it, rather than complaining or simply trying to weather the storm.[2]
    • When stressed, be solutions-oriented. Rather than focusing on how stressful your current situation is, focus instead of brainstorming a plan of action to solve the situation, or think about the consequences of the situation and how you should prepare for them.
    • For example, if you are involved in a stressful conversation or argument, try to understand what is bothering the other participants, ask them what they feel they need to happen to resolve the conflict, make your own feelings known, and propose solutions to the conflict, rather than becoming angry, or resorting to name-calling or other negative language.
  6. Take a break. Stepping away from a stressful situation is often the best way of coping with it. Take a moment to go outside for a short walk, or sit down with a favorite beverage. Try your best to let go of the situation, as this will help relieve the mounting tension which we feel when undergoing stress over an extended period of time, letting you come back at the problem with fresh energy and perspective.[4]
    • Be sure to let others know that you are only taking a short break, and that you intend to return to continue working on solving the situation. If others are also experiencing a lot of stress associated with the situation, encourage them to take a break as well.

Relieving Stress

  1. Vent your frustrations. During times of great stress, it is common to feel worries, anxieties and frustrations piling up in our minds to the point that they feel in danger of exploding. Without becoming overly upset or emotional, take some time to tell someone you trust about how you're feeling. [4]
    • Simply tell your confidante what situations have been causing you stress, and how those situations make you feel, rather than complaining, blaming others or casting judgment.
    • If no one is available to vent to, and you are feeling pent-up frustration that is preventing you from relaxing, try writing it out in a journal instead.
    • Consider going to a counselor or therapist. Having a neutral third party to express your frustration to can be a remarkably effective tool for battling stress.
  2. Get plenty of sleep. After experiencing stress, your body needs time to recuperate. Failing to get enough sleep can, over time, increase your levels of stress. Make sure you're getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night, and talk to your doctor if you are having trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or if the quality of your sleep is poor.[1]
  3. Exercise regularly. This will promote the production of endorphines which naturally combat stress in the brain. Take some time to get outside for a walk, play a favorite sport, or go to the gym for a workout. Focusing on exercise allows you to physically release the built-up tension from a stressful episode, and promotes deep breathing and a sense of physical wellness.[1]
    • It's important to choose a type of exercise you enjoy and are comfortable with, so that the exercise itself doesn't become a source of stress.
    • Always consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  4. Be social. While many people respond to stress by isolating themselves, interacting with others can, in fact, be greatly therapeutic. Planning a social outing, getting involved with a club or community organization, or simply sitting down for a pleasant conversation with family or friends can help you disconnect from stressful situations and focus on more positive, constructive interactions.[5]
    • Sport and exercise clubs are great options, since they combine the stress-relieving benefits of social interactions and exercise.
    • Volunteering is another great option. Satisfaction from helping others will distract you from your own stress, and increase your feelings of optimism and positivity.
  5. Make time for your interests. Spending time doing and learning about the things you enjoy is an essential part of taking care of yourself. Make it a priority to spend time every day doing something just for you, whether simply enjoying a book, movie or t.v. show, or pursuing a craft, hobby or intellectual curiosity. Focusing on what you enjoy will distract your mind from stress, and connect you with yourself in a deeper way.[3]
  6. Enjoy physical touch and affection. While we often underestimate its importance, few things are as soothing as simple physical touch. Affection requires little concentration or thought, and connects us to our positive, loving emotions. Getting a massage, giving someone you love a hug, or enjoying physical intimacy with your romantic partner are all wonderful ways of relieving the physical tension associated with lots of stress.[5]

Reducing Stress

  1. Accept that stress is a part of life. While there are many productive steps you can take to reduce the overall stress you experience day-to-day, it is important that you realize that, no matter what, stressful situations will occur in your life. Accepting what you can't change about the world will ensure that you aren't wasting energy and time worrying about problems you can't solve.[4]
  2. Identify sources of stress. This is crucial for developing your understanding of the role of stress in your life. Make a list of situations, both specific situations you have experienced recently or anticipate in the future, and general types of situations which tend to cause you stress. This list will help you recognize what situations to avoid, or prepare for, in order to reduce the amount of stress in your life.[5]
    • Journaling can be a powerful tool for identifying stress, since it is often difficult to recall at a moment's notice all the stressors in one's life. Taking time every day to record how you felt, and what stressed you out on that day will provide you with a record to draw from later as you think about reducing stress in your life.
  3. Avoid stressful situations. Sources of stress can be pretty much anything, from particular circumstances (like being stuck in traffic, or being under-prepared for a presentation) to particular individuals (work colleagues, schoolmates, etc.), but once you've identified which sources are causing stress in your life, you can take steps to avoid them. [5]
    • Think positively about what steps you could take to avoid interacting with these stressors in the future. For instance, if your daily commute to work by car is a significant source of stress, consider biking or using public transit. If a certain person in your life is often a source of stress, limit your interactions with them, and avoid engaging with them when you must interact.
    • Remember, no matter how well you prepare, there is no way of totally avoiding exposure to stress.Simply avoid what you can, and you'll have more energy to deal with the situations you can't avoid.
  4. Get organized. Chaos and disorder in our personal lives is a common source of stress, and being disorganized can make already stressful situations even worse. For those who struggle with organizing time, finances, or personal or work space, focusing on becoming more organized can be a tremendous help relieving stress.[5]
    • Start small, and simply make a list of areas in your life you feel could be better organized.
    • Don't try to change too much too quickly. Disciplined organization is a skill that may take a long time to learn. Focus on making small changes at first, like making a budget for your finances, or cleaning up your office or home.
  5. Adopt a healthier lifestyle. Poor diet and exercise choices can severely exacerbate feeling of stress, preventing you from feeling well and healthy. Taking steps to eat healthier, and enjoying regular physical activity, can pay remarkable dividends in you sense of well-being, and in your overall ability to cope with stressful situations.[4]
    • Living healthier doesn't mean living like an athlete or personal trainer. Make small changes, and stick with the ones that help you. Going for a daily 20 minute walk in the morning, drinking more water, and avoiding fatty or high-calorie snacks between meals are all great options.
    • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help, since these chemicals can negatively impact your body's response to stress.
    • Don't make any drastic changes in your diet or exercise practices without first talking to your doctor. Be sure to ask them for recommendations and advice.

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