Stress is a body's reaction to changes within a person's environment. It is a helpful reaction in the short term because it can lead to reactions like a fight or flight response, which can help a person escape from situations that are harmful or dangerous.
However, stress can also lead to mental or physical problems in the long term like fatigue, irritability, decreased mental functioning, heart disease from increased blood pressure, ulcers, and decreased immunological functioning. Because of these responses, it is important for people to learn stress management techniques to better cope. Stress management is what we refer to as any cognitive or behavioral strategy that a person can learn to reduce their stress and its harmful effects.
The most popular, and historically the longest-used stress management technique, is meditation. Meditation can take many different forms and is a trained relaxation technique in which a person focuses on something else like their breathing, bodily sensation, or surroundings to gain an increased awareness. This is often considered an altered sense of consciousness. Meditation can help to reduce psychological stress by removing anxious thoughts from the mind, and it can also help to calm the body's excitatory stress reactions.
A person using guided imagery will often envision themselves in a calming place, like being alone on a tropical beach or out in the middle of the woods. While a person is doing this, they try to use all of their senses.
EXAMPLEFor example, someone picturing a beach will try to incorporate sounds, like the waves crashing on the beach, or the smells, like the salt in the air.
One of the biggest factors that leads to ongoing and long-term stress are the negative thoughts caused by a person themselves. Some event might initiate the stress, but a person dwelling on it, or the bad feelings that are caused by the stress, will cause that stress to continue or worsen over time.
Psychologist Donald Meichenbaum proposed a technique called stress inoculation, which is when a person, instead of focusing on those negative thoughts, focuses instead on positive thoughts and feelings to reduce anxiety. Meichenbaum said that negative self-statements were a reflection of these negative thoughts and emotions. These are critical thoughts that a person has that increase the stress, particularly in anticipation of an upcoming event.
EXAMPLEA person might say to themselves, “I can't do this” or “I'm terrible at this.” These kinds of self-statements can serve to make them feel defeated or increase their stress over time.
His technique involves countering these thoughts with what he called coping statements. Coping statements are positive, reassuring statements that help to stop negative self-statements. Simply put, it's a way of talking yourself up. These statements might include phrases like, “I'll do this one step at a time,” to enable a person to talk themselves through a situation, or “I've done this before,” to remind themselves that a situation isn't a big deal. A person might remind themselves to stay focused, or that a situation will be over soon.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia Author Erick Taggart.