There are certain strategies that an individual can use when faced with everyday stressful situations. One thing to keep in mind is that these situations are unavoidable and will appear often throughout one’s day.
What is Situational Stress?
Situational stress is a short-term form of stress that occurs in certain temporary situations. Worry, stress, or concern begins to overwhelm the individual until the problem goes away. Situational stress can cause temporary physical symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle spasms
- Panic attacks
- Stomach aches
How to cope with situational stress
While difficult to do, dealing with situational stress is important and can be addressed through several strategies.
1. Avoid unnecessary stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s certainly not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised by the number of stressors that in fact, you can eliminate.
1) Learn to say “no” – know your limits and stick to them.
2) Avoid people who may cause you stress – if someone consistently brings stress to your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with them.
3) Take control of your environment – if certain events in your life are stressful – eliminate as many as you can.
4) Avoid hot-button topics – if you consistently get upset over certain topics, stop bringing them up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
5) Pare down your to-do-list – If you have too much to do distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary.
2. Alter the situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.
1) Express your feelings instead of bottling them up – communicate your concerns openly and respectfully.
2) Be willing to compromise – when you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same.
3) Be more assertive – deal with problems head-on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them.
4) Manage your time better – when you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and relaxed.
3. Adapt to the stressor
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
1) Reframe problems – try and view stressful situations from a more positive perspective.
2) Look at the big picture – take in the perspective of the stressful situation.
3) Adjust your standards – stop setting yourself up for failure; set reasonable standards for yourself and others.
4) Focus on the positive – reflect on your own positive qualities and gifts.
4. Accept the things you can’t change
Remember some stressors are unavoidable. In some cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things the way they are.
1) Don’t try to control the uncontrollable – many things in life are beyond our control. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control.
2) Look for the upside – when facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth.
3) Share your feelings – expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic.
4) Learn to forgive – accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments.
5. Make time for fun and relaxation
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. Healthy ways to relax include:
- Going for a walk
- Talk to a friend
- Play with a pet
- Get a massage
- Listen to music
- Read a book
Be sure to set aside relaxation time in your daily schedule and try not to allow other obligations to encroach. Try and do something you enjoy every day and try and keep your sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself.
6. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
1) Exercise regularly – physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.
2) Eat a healthy diet – well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat.
3) Reduce caffeine and sugar – by reducing the caffeine in your diet, you will feel more relaxed and you will sleep better.
4) Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs – self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary.
5) Get enough sleep – adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body.
Situational Stress vs. Chronic Stress: A Primer
STRESS IS AN emotional response to a real or perceived threat. Situational, or acute stress, occurs when you think, “I have to solve this problem or something bad is going to happen.” Chronic stress occurs when you can no longer see a way to solve the problem. Situational stress can cause short-term physical symptoms. However, chronic stress can lead to long-term health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Short-term situational stress
Imagine a college student cramming for an exam. Imagine sitting in traffic, knowing it could make you late for work. These situations can cause short-term worry or concern, which are forms of stress. However, these types of situations have an ending. You complete the task at hand or find a solution to the problem, and the stress dissipates.
You might also feel irritable and edgy. Usually, once the situation has resolved itself, your symptoms quickly disappear. Your body and mood return to normal and there aren’t lasting health consequences.
Even though situational stress is normally short-term, it can still cause problems. You might find it difficult to concentrate or find you are unable to make a decision. You might feel light-headed. For some people, stress can trigger a panic attack. If you only experience this type of stress occasionally, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help. Exercise can also reduce stress levels.
If, however, you experience this type of stress on a regular basis (not from an ongoing situation, but you find that you easily become stressed), it might help to work with a therapist to find additional ways to reduce your stress levels.
Chronic stress occurs when you live through a stressful situation day in and day out. Maybe you are in an unhealthy relationship, or you have a demanding job — or a job you despise. Maybe you care for a sick relative, have financial problems, or have difficult neighbors. When you have chronic stress, you often don’t see a solution to the problem or have stopped looking for one. You feel stuck. Because of this, chronic stress can sometimes lead to depression.
Occasionally, chronic stress results from traumatic childhood experiences. It can also happen if you were taught a narrow or negative view of the world, e.g., “The world is a dangerous place,” or “Everyone is out to get you,” or “Don’t trust anyone.” You might carry these sentiments with you throughout your life, making every situation stressful.
Because there isn’t an end to your high stress levels, your body remains in a stressful state. You become used to feeling stressed and stop noticing the tight muscles, headaches, or other physical symptoms. When this happens, you stop looking for ways to de-stress; you see this as your normal state. This can cause long-term health problems, and you are at risk of developing depression or an anxiety disorder.
People with high levels of chronic stress are also at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other long-term health conditions. Some people don’t even realize they have chronic stress until they seek medical attention for a related physical problem.
Treatment for chronic stress can include a thorough physical exam can determine if you have any medical conditions that need addressing, while a therapist can help with both behavioral treatment and ongoing stress management.