- Some measures people take to cope with stress end up causing more stress.
- Stress can affect both our minds and bodies. A first step in managing stress is to identify whether its source is under our control.
- Good life habits can help counter physical changes that can be associated with stress.
Sources of stress are all around us and unavoidable. We can become stressed by other people, happenings in our personal lives, pressure we put on ourselves, and events in the world over which we have no control.
Some people are stressed by not having enough to eat, and others are stressed because they overeat. Some people are stressed by having too much work to accomplish, while others are stressed because they do not have enough to do. Some people are stressed when they do not have control of a situation, while others are stressed because they are responsible for running the show.
Unfortunately, sometimes measures people take to cope with stress end up causing more stress. Examples of such behavior include overeating for comfort, using nicotine, alcohol, or drugs as coping mechanisms, engaging in self-harm, and lashing out in anger or frustration.
Even though stress is something we perceive and process through our minds, it can affect both our minds and bodies. Stress can cause anxiety, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and a flare-up of skin conditions such as eczema. It can affect our ability to function well, such as during competitions or school tests. Too much stress can even cause heart attacks, strokes, and immune system disruptions, leading to auto-immune diseases such as lupus and cancer.
The good news is that since stress first affects us through our thoughts, we can control how we think, which will help reduce our reaction to stress. In other words, exposure to stress is unavoidable, but we have the ability to control the degree to which it affects us.
How to Deal Better With Stress Through Counseling
The first step is to identify whether the cause of our stress is within our control. If so, sometimes it is possible to change our circumstances, so we are not as stressed. For example, if the stress results from an argument with a friend, talking things through can help relieve the stress. If the stress results from an impossible work situation, talking to your supervisor or changing jobs can help. If you feel overwhelmed by too much work, taking things one at a time can help.
On the other hand, if stress occurs because of world events such as inflation, changes in abortion laws, climate change, or gun violence, there may not be much that we can do at a given moment. In such a situation, it is worthwhile to recall the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to tell the difference. One way to help accept what we cannot change is to take slow, deep breaths and allow ourselves to become calmer.
The original version of the Serenity Prayer asked for courage to change what must be altered. Thus, an alternative to dealing with the stress resulting from world events is to become involved in bringing about change, including by attending rallies, providing education, becoming involved in the political process, and researching how effective change can be implemented. We can feel better about taking part in bringing about positive change in the world, which can help decrease stress related to lack of control.
Another way of dealing with stress is to learn to look at stressful life events in a positive manner. For example, rather than thinking of an illness as an unfortunate situation that sets us back, an illness can provide us with the time to reflect on what is important to us in life and perhaps how we might recalibrate our plans to better align with our long-term goals. In addition to mourning the death of a loved one, we can also recall how enriched we were to have that person in our lives.
To help counter the physical changes that can be associated with stress, we can practice good life habits, including getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, maintaining a good weight, and exercising regularly. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs often is helpful. Not surprisingly, these good habits reduce the risk of many stress-related illnesses such as heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes.
Other measures to help with stress include using deep breathing, meditation, listening to music, relaxing the muscles, taking a warm bath, spending calm time with a good friend, and spending time in nature. Engaging in creative activities also helps decrease stress, such as painting, journaling, crocheting, or making music.
Hypnosis for Stress
For example, people can learn to calm themselves by imagining themselves in a calm, safe, comfortable place of their choice. While in hypnosis, they give themselves a suggestion that whenever they make a particular sign (e.g., crossing their fingers or tapping their foot), they can trigger the same calm state as they have achieved in their imagination, even after they are no longer in a hypnotic state.
Thereafter, people can use their "relaxation sign" whenever they feel stressed, throughout the day, as a way of training their bodies to become calmer in the face of stressful events.
Through hypnotic interactions with their subconscious, people can learn to more clearly identify their stressors and how to cope better with them. This can be an essential step towards healing in people who have buried their stressors deep in their minds because they felt overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with them. The subconscious can also provide new perspectives regarding ways of dealing better with stress and/or its triggers.
Finally, hypnosis can help improve conditions that worsen our reactions to stress, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and obesity.
The use of counseling and hypnosis can help improve greatly our control of our stress reactions.
Copyright Ran D. Anbar
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
More information about hypnosis and its use for stress management is available in the 2021 book "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.