Updated: Apr 11
In our last blog post, Problems with Stress Management Strategies I wrote about how stress is not only taking over the United States but why so many self-help solutions don’t work. In this blog post we are going to lay out how Kopely thinks about stress management strategies.
At the core of Kopely’s philosophy we believe people who seek to relieve stress need several things:
1. Understand that they are feeding stress with cognitive distortions
2. People need to improve stress coping skills
3. People need to shift their perspective toward optimism and resiliency
Let’s first discuss why we think people who want to relieve stress should improve stress coping skills and shift their perspective toward optimism and resiliency. If you want to read more about cognitive distortions check out our: Cognitive Distortions PDF
Have you ever been driving down the highway on a beautiful day at 55 mph, windows down, minding your own business, Queen music competing with the buffering noise of the open windows and BANG!!! Some “A-hole” cuts you off and jams the brakes for no rhyme or reason. Instantaneously you flex your stress muscles. Pushing down on the gas pedal harder you accelerate your car within inches away from your foes rear bumper. Now your middle finger escapes the interior of the car to the exterior, waving completely erect. Now your vocal cords chime from “Somebody to love” to “F*ck you!”
Ah, we have all been there. This is a perfect example of the stress response. Every human has one and it may be hard to control this reflexive response. Especially if you don’t know much about the origins of the stress response.
The stress response dates back to way back when. This biological reflex was a sure fire way to ensure human survival among impeding threats. Here is an example- Thousands of years ago an older version of yourself is gathering water. You lift your head and you are now eye-to-eye with a massive tiger. Your life doesn’t have the time to use the frontal lobe of your brain to assess what you should do in this moment. If you have any chance of surviving such an encounter you have to react immediately. Fight this 500 lb cat or run like a gazelle. Evolution has enabled us to bypass our brain and enable our body to respond with a reflexive “fight or flight” response when danger is sensed.
The problem with modern culture is, we don’t have many life threatening stimuli (like tigers) to worry about. Yes, we do have many modern stressors like relationships, technology, work, finances, etc but we deal with less life threatening events. So when that car cuts you off at high speeds your body responds with the same fight or flight response as it would when fighting or running away from a tiger. This stress can lead to many negative health consequences and unhealthy coping strategies.
What most people don’t realize is that you can shift your negative fight or flight response with healthier coping strategies. Especially in more modern times when such chronic responses may be more harmful than beneficial. Are you challenging 100,000’s of years of evolution? Heck yes. However, Kopely believes that not only is it possible to change how you react to stress but that the work you have to put into changing your ancient response is worth the price of admission.
One tactic is to replace your fight or flight response by improving coping strategies like deep breathing. Once you become aware of human biological and psychological limitations you are prepared to make changes. The first goal of relieving stress is to decouple your negative reaction to stress with stress reducing reactions. If you hone these skills you will be way more effective at nipping stress in the bud in the heat of the moment.
Deep breathing has many biological and psychological benefits. One of its benefits is to potentially give us enough space during stressful situations to analyze the circumstances and make more rational decisions. According to Harvard Health deep breathing may slow heart rate and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Now that you have a moment to think more rationally you can try the HALT method. I came across the HALT method during my undergraduate education in Psychology. HALT is an acronym for “Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired.” This method seemed to be used for addiction and recovery purposes but I think it naturally lends a hand to stress management.
Self analysis allows us (the person experiencing the stress) to take off their own biased view on the world and apply a more empathetic perspective to life events. Here is an example of how I may process a stressful experience like someone cutting me off in traffic.
Stressful event: A person cuts me off in traffic after a long day working
Cue: Andrew, breathe!
I take a handful off deep breathes.
I feel my body relax, heart rate drop, blood pressure begins to normalize.
Now I self analyze the event and see how I responded to the event.
I review the HALT method: I am not Hungry nor lonely but I am angry and tired.
Once I become aware of my emotions I can then, and only then start to be more empathetic to the person who cut me off.
I can rationalize what if’s… what if they cut me off because they are in a rush to get their loved one to the hospital...
With the determination to live a less stressed life and with enough practice you can help change your relationship with stress. In our next post, Stress Management Strategies Part Two we will dive deeper into how and why individuals that want to relieve stress should shift their perspective toward optimism and resiliency.