How to Deal With Stressors and Challenges

Often when people are faced with difficult or stressful situations, they’re left wondering how to deal with them. Sometimes the negative emotions from these situations can feel overwhelming, and solutions seem elusive. However, the challenging situations we face in life are often the ones that offer us the greatest opportunity for personal growth. Even though the question of how to deal with the challenges we face doesn’t always have a simple or easy answer, looking honestly at our situations, experiencing the emotions they bring up, and searching within ourselves for the answers can bring often-surprising positive outcomes.

The following tips on how to deal with various situations can help serve as a guide. Each situation is different and may call for a different response, but some of the basics of how to deal with stressors or challenges can apply to many situations. Here are some ideas on how to deal when facing a challenge in life.


Stay Calm

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A vital first step in dealing with a stressful situation involves calming your body's stress response. Use stress relief techniques to help reverse the fight-or-flight mechanism that your body uses when stressed. If you are truly in physical danger, this stress response can help you stay safe; if the threat you face is more psychological, or can’t be fought off physically, a perpetually-triggered stress response can leave you feeling drained and more emotionally reactive, not to mention more susceptible to illness.


Feel Your Feelings

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Negative emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, and anger are unpleasant, but useful in that they give us information about the situations we’re in, and inspire us to take action in our lives. Sometimes these feelings can be so strong that they feel overwhelming, or so unpleasant that, unsure of how to deal with them, we turn to unhealthy coping behaviors to avoid feeling them. But if you’re able to sit with them, really feel them, and even notice where in your body they show up (tightness in your chest, soreness in your throat, headache), they can actually be easier to let go. It’s also important to identify what you’re feeling, and become aware of why you’re feeling this way (what are the precipitating factors?). This can help you know what area of your life needs action, so you can have a clearer picture of what needs to change.

As you feel the tension in your body, learn to relax with progressive muscle relaxation.


Process Your Feelings

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For many people, it’s very helpful to get feelings down on paper. For those wondering how to deal with stressful emotions, processing your emotions in a journal by writing about what you’re feeling and why, and then brainstorming solutions has been shown to have many positive health benefits. This is probably because the process of journaling in this way helps in letting go of negative emotions, can feel empowering, and can help us figure out how to deal with stress more efficiently. It’s not about wallowing in negative feelings; it’s about being able to identify what your feelings are and where they are coming from, and addressing the problem with some viable solutions.

In working through how to deal with challenges, once you’ve calmed your body and attended to your emotions, processing it all on paper can really help. However, as you’re processing your feelings, you may be more pessimistic about things; your view of your life may be more negative than normal. It’s important to be aware of pessimistic thoughts and cognitive distortions and work on seeing things in a more optimistic light before coming up with solutions.


Make Positive Changes

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Now that you’re calm, you know what you’re feeling and why, plan on what changes you will make, and follow through as the opportunities present themselves. Ultimately, the strong emotions that come with stressful situations can inspire us to take action and learn how to deal with the challenges we face. After you’ve analyzed the situation and your feelings in it, take wise steps toward positive change. Even small changes can lead to significant results. For example, if you’re stressed about needing a new job, spending 30 minutes networking or searching can help you feel more empowered than spending 30 minutes paralyzed by stress, fear, or depressive thoughts. Moving in the right direction, even if slowly, can help alleviate some of what you’re feeling in a stressful situation.

After you’ve taken the steps you can take, or if there’s nothing you can do immediately, get engaged in an activity that will take your mind off of what’s got you down. You’ve dealt with the problem as much as you can for now, and it’s time to move forward; don’t get caught in the trap of rumination. Take a walk with a friend, watch a funny movie, do something nice for someone else, pat your dog; get your mind away from the situation.


Get Support If You Need It

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There are many health and stress management benefits to having a supportive circle of friends, so utilizing social support can be effective as part of your strategy in how to deal with life. Having some supportive friendships that include not only good listening but honest communication and good advice is key. You want to nurture relationships that provide a supportive ear when you need to feel less ‘alone’, some wise advice when you’re stumped on what to do, an honest opinion to help you see what may be hard to look at, and someone to help you have fun and get your mind off of your stressors once you’ve worked on how to address them. Also, if you’ve tried these suggestions and find yourself still needing support, it might be a good idea to see a professional. (That’s what they’re there for!)

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