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Coping with Stress

We often talk about stress, but we’re not always clear about what it is. Stress comes from both good and bad experiences. If we didn’t feel any stress, we wouldn’t be human! Stress may feel overwhelming at times, but there are many strategies that can help you take control.

What is Stress?

Stress is our psychological, physiological and behavioural response to change, and stressors are the ever-present situations that bring about change.

The significance, meaning and interpretation that an individual assigns to a stressor affects how the individual will respond. Unanticipated, undesirable & uncontrollable changes increase our stress response.

When faced with a situation, you automatically and immediately evaluate the situation. You decide if it is threatening, how you need to deal with the situation and what skills you can use. If you decide that the demands of the situation outweigh the skills you have, then your body responds with the “stress response.”

In the past, the demands of meeting basic needs used up the stress response energy and returned the body to normal functioning. In today’s society, we trigger our stress response more often and have fewer outlets for the extra energy produced. There are very few battles to fight and almost no places to run. Our bodies need time to replenish their resources and when this does not occur, our bodies begin to break down.*

To start addressing the negative effects of stress, try the following suggestions:

  1. Recognize your symptoms of stress
  2. Look at your lifestyle and see what can be changed in your work or family situation, or your schedule
  3. Use relaxation techniques, i.e., yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or massage
  4. Exercise – Physical activity is one of the most effective stress remedies around!
  5. Time management – Do essential tasks and prioritize the others. Consider those who may be affected by your decisions, such as family and friends. Use a check list so you will receive satisfaction as you check off each job as it is done.
  6. Watch your diet – Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fats and tobacco all put a strain on your body’s ability to cope with stress. A diet with a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods high in protein but low in fat will help create optimum health. Contact your local branch of the Heart and Stroke Foundation for further information about healthy eating.
  7. Get enough rest and sleep
  8. Talk with others – friends, professional counsellors, support groups or relatives about what is bothering you**

Take Control of Stress

Stress is a fact of life. No matter how much we might long for a stress-free existence, the fact is, stress is actually necessary. It’s how we respond to stress that can negatively affect our lives.

Stress is defined as any change that we have to adapt to. This includes difficult life events (bereavement, illness) and positive ones. Getting a new job or going on vacation are certainly perceived to be happy occurrences, but they, too, are changes, also known as stress, that require some adaptation.

Learning to effectively cope with stress can ease our bodies and our minds. Meditation and other relaxation methods, exercise, visualization are all helpful techniques for reducing the negative impact of stress.

Stress can be beneficial – in moderation. That’s because short episodes of stress trigger chemicals that improve memory, increase energy levels and enhance alertness and productivity. But chronic stress has debilitating effects on our overall health. Physically, it can contribute to migraines, ulcers, muscle tension and fatigue. Canadian researchers found that chronic stress more than doubled the risk of heart attacks.

Persistent stress also affects us emotionally and intellectually, and can cause:

The link between stress and mental illness has yet to be fully understood, but it is known that stress can negatively affect an episode of mental illness.

Managing Stress

First, it’s important to recognize the source(s) of your stress. Events such as the death of a loved one, starting a new job or moving house are certainly stressful.

However, much of our stress comes from within us. How we interpret things – a conversation, a performance review, even a look – determines whether something becomes a stressor. Negative self-talk, where we focus on self-criticism and pessimistic over-analysis, can turn an innocent remark into a major source of stress.

Understanding where your stress originates can help you decide on a course of action. External stressors, like bereavement or career changes, can be managed over time and with the support of family and friends. Internal stressors, caused by our own negative interpretation, require changes in attitude and behaviour.

The goal of managing stress is to cue the “relaxation response”. This is the physiological and psychological calming process our body goes through when we perceive that the danger, or stressful event, has passed.

Here are some tips for triggering the relaxation response:

Do you need more help?

Contact CMHA Peel Dufferin to learn more about support and resources in your area.

14-7700 Hurontario Street
Brampton ON L6Y 4M3

Phone: 905-451-2123


* Excerpt from the “Stress Sense” series of resource books  
** Partial list from “Coping with Stress” booklet on the CMHA National website

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