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Coping with Stress

Coping with stress involves changing the stress cycle and the stress response. There are multiple ways of coping. Some will work for you, while others will not. What works best in coping with stress will depend, in part, on your coping style. There are three main styles.

  1. Task-oriented: where one thinks about the situation and then takes action to deal it directly.
  2. Emotion-oriented: where one attends to feelings and then seeks out social supports.
  3. Distraction-oriented: where one take their mind off the situation by doing something else not related to the situation.

How to Ease Stress

Below are a few strategies to help you in coping with stress. Some will temporarily relieve stress, others help to determine the root cause. When considering which coping skill to use, determine if the strategy is;

  • (a) Appropriate for situation? Stretching may help you calm down, but is not appropriate if you’re in a formal social situation.
  • (b) A productive way of coping? Misusing substances are coping strategies that are not useful and will cause problems. Anything excessive (ie., exercising, dieting), may have negative effects.
  • (c) Helpful in the long run? We don’t always need a long term solution. However, if you choose a short term solution, then it is important to decide whether that will be enough.

There are five types of coping skills: physical, mental, social, diversions and spiritual. Some skills fall into more than one category. Developing skills from all five areas is very effective when managing stress.

1. Physical Skills
Physical skills and techniques help in coping with stress. Physical relaxation techniques are useful in preventing and lowering stress. Set aside 20 minutes a day to deliberately relax.

Breathing Exercises in Coping with Stress

Deliberately slowing your breathing will calm you. Try one of these exercises:

Deep Breathing (Slow Count of 4)

This exercise can be done anywhere, anytime

  • Slowly inhale through your nose, counting slowly from 1 to 4.
  • If possible, hold for a count of 4
  • If not possible to hold, or you have held to a count of 4, slowly exhale to a slow count of 4
  • Repeat 3 to 5 minutes whenever you feel tense.

Exhalation breathing

  • Lie comfortably on your back, arms to the side.
  • While inhaling slowly through your nose, raise your arms towards the ceiling (elbows bent). Move your arms all the way up and over your head to the floor as you inhale.
  • Hold momentarily.
  • While exhaling slowly, return your arms to your sides.
  • Repeat for 10 minutes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Coping with Stress

This technique helps relax tense muscles and can really help cope with stress.

  • Get in a comfortable position in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes if you like.
  • Make tight fists, hold for five seconds, then relax your hands. Do this three times. Notice the different sensations of tension and relaxation.
  • Repeat step 2 with other muscle groups: eyes, lips, arms, shoulders, chest, neck, buttocks, thighs, lower legs and feet.
  • This exercise can also be done anywhere, anytime by using a select and discreet muscle group. For example, you can tense and release your toe or leg muscles while sitting in a meeting without being noticed.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Stretch slowly, otherwise you may injure your muscles.

Stretch 1: For Specific Muscles.

  • Select a specific muscle to stretch. Slowly stretch, visualizing the tension in that muscle being released.
  • Exhale into the stretch; inhale on the release. Breathe deeply and slowly – do not hold your breath.


Walking helps reduce tension, increase energy and clear the mind.  It is one of the most powerful strategies in coping with stress. It also provides a needed break. Walking regularly will have positive long-term effects on stress reduction.

How to Sleep Better

Restorative sleep is very important in coping with stress. If you can’t get to sleep, trying to force it will make you more tense. Get out of bed! Go do something mundane, even boring. Read a book (a textbook will put you to sleep), watch television or play solitaire. Stay up until you feel drowsy. When you go back to bed, if you don’t  fall asleep, at least you will be relaxed. Still, can’t sleep…get out of bed again.The point is to reduce your anxiety about not sleeping and therefore make it easier to do so.

Other Tips:

  • Do not nap during the day, no matter how tired you are
  • Exercise during the day, not in the evening
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or cola ) past 2 p.m.
  • Drink hot milk before bed, it might help

2. Mental Skills

Because your thoughts shape your response in situations, your thoughts are also one of the most powerful coping skills.


Meditation helps settle the mind, helping you think clearer. So, this practice helps you take charge of your thought process. Meditation will only help if you make it a regular practice.

Ten minutes a day can a big difference.

Although there are several meditation techniques, below if a general outline.

  • Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Relax, take your time.
  • Once you are thoroughly relaxed, slowly repeat a pleasant-sounding word in your mind.
  • Continue for 10 to 15 minutes initially, increasing this to 20 minutes.
  • To complete the exercise, start saying your word out loud. Keep breathing slowly. Once you are fully alert, stand up and stretch.
  • With practice, you’ll be deeply relaxed and thoroughly energized.

3. Social Skills  

Social skills involve relationships. People and pets are an important source of comfort. Spend more time with them. Seek out people who are comfortable and supportive for you. Having human contact and support is a key component to managing stress and anxiety.

4. Diversion

Diversion refers to distraction. Distraction is a good initial coping mechanism in which you tend to other things and don’t deal with the problem directly. It helps take your mind off the problem, but only temporarily.

5. Spiritual Skills

Spiritual skills refer to find meaning in life. Finding a sense of meaning, purpose and spirit helps deal with stress, especially if you feel like you have no direction in life. Spirituality is not a specific reference to religion, but can include connecting with self and with nature.

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