How to Develop a Stress Reduction Plan That Works

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While the body’s physiological stress response—the fight or flight response—is virtually universal, the way that stress impacts us is as unique to each individual as the events that cause us stress in the first place. Simply put, we all respond to stressful events in our own way, and our responses to stress affect us in ways that are unique as well. Why is this?

Stress Triggers

We’re all affected differently by life’s events. While extreme events like a physical attack by a violent stranger or the diagnosis of a serious illness produce a strong stress response in virtually everyone, many everyday events on the job or at home will be experienced as stressful by some and exciting, challenging, or even exhilarating by others. What accounts for these differences?

  • Past Experience: We all carry "baggage," and that affects our current thought patterns and how we conceptualize what’s going on today. These thought patterns impact whether we see something as positive or negative, challenging or stressful, etc.
  • Temperament and Personality Traits: Some of us are simply born more reactive to stress than others. Differences in temperament can be observed in infants as young as one day old, and these traits affect how we’re affected by life—for life.
  • Overall Lifestyle: Those who lead busy and stressful lives tend to have fewer reserves to help deal with stress. They also tend to encounter more triggers.
  • Stress Symptoms: Some of us process stress differently, which can lead to certain coping skills being more effective or not effective at all. 

Stress Response Differences

How we respond to stress can alter the impact that stress has on us. While some people will deal with a stressful day by hitting the gym or hugging their children, other people may drink to excess or lash out at others. Additionally, some people find stress to be a minor inconvenience while others are completely overwhelmed.

Dealing with stress in a healthier way tends to create resilience, of course; ineffective coping can increase the negative effects of stress. What accounts for the different ways people deal with stress?

  • Physiological Factors: Just like some people are just born more emotionally reactive, some have more sensitive physiology and find that stress impacts their blood pressure, induces headaches, or causes other physical responses. Likewise, the way you care for your body in terms of a healthy diet, quality sleep, and regular exercise—or lack thereof—can impact your reactivity to stress.
  • Coping Techniques: We all have our different ways of coping with stress, and some of these techniques are healthier and more beneficial than others. If you find that yourself using alcohol, emotional eating, or responding to stress in other less-than-healthy ways, it’s time to find new ways of reducing stress. Over time, they’ll become automatic, and will replace your more unhealthy responses.
  • Learned Behavior: How we respond to the stress in our lives is shaped by our early experiences and cemented over time. Our habits play a role as well. Those with healthy habits tend to handle stress more effectively.

Protective Factors

Certain features in your life can also keep you somewhat insulated from stress. Those with a supportive network of friends and other personal resources tend to be less affected by stress and deal with their stress more efficiently.

We can’t stop stressors from being a part of life (and we wouldn’t want to eliminate all stress, even if it were possible), which is why effective stress management focuses more on minimizing our triggers, altering our responses, and building up our resources and protective factors so that we’re less negatively impacted by stress. Because stress is such an individual experience, it’s important to have a stress relief plan that works for you.

The following resources (as well as the links above) can help you to find ways to relieve stress that work best for your individual situation. You may want to quickly skim each resource and take away information that stands out to you, or focus more deeply on each resource and work on integrating the principles into your life in a more significant way.

Stress Reliever Personality Test

This stress reliever personality test will allow you to answer a few questions about your lifestyle and personality, and then direct you to stress relievers that may fit best for your particular situation. It’s a useful tool for those who want to begin with techniques that are most likely to work for them.

Emergency Stress Relief Resources

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and just want something to help you relieve stress quickly, review these methods for reversing your stress response right away, so you can more effectively deal with the issues at hand. (They can provide a nice ‘quick fix’ until you can get more long-term stress management strategies in place.)

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