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Unraveling Stress: Understanding and Managing the Tension in Our Lives

by Christine Morrison, LMHC

In today's fast-paced world, stress has become an inseparable part of our daily lives. Whether it's a deadline at work, family conflict, or global events, we all encounter stress in one form or another. But what exactly is stress, and how can we manage it better?

In this article, we'll explore the concept of stress and provide practical tips for dealing with it more effectively. By the end, you'll feel more equipped to face life's challenges and find greater balance and happiness.

Defining Stress: A Universal Experience

At its core, stress is a natural response to situations that make us feel threatened or overwhelmed. Stress is a normal reaction when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we’re in a situation that we don't feel we can manage or control. It can affect anyone, from individuals grappling with personal responsibilities, to groups such as families or communities facing collective challenges.

Stress can happen to…

  • An individual, for example when you have lots of responsibilities that you are struggling to manage
  • A group, for example if your family is going through a difficult time, like a loss or big change
  • A community, for example if you belong to a religion/ race/ or group that’s facing discrimination or abuse
  • A society, for example during natural disasters or events like the pandemic

Stress can feel overwhelming like you can’t see to the other side. It can make you feel you’re being pulled underwater or buried by the weight of the world.

While stress can be distressing and even suffocating, it's important to remember that it's a normal part of the human experience. In some cases, stress can be beneficial, as it propels us to complete tasks and fuels our motivation. However, when stress becomes chronic or intense, it can negatively impact our mental and physical health.

Strategies for Stress Management

When is stress a problem? When stress lasts for a long time or is very intense, stress can affect our mental and physical health in extreme ways.

Though we can't entirely eliminate stress from our lives, there are ways to build resilience and better cope with challenging situations. Here are some proven strategies for managing stress:

  1. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize your achievements, no matter how small. Take breaks to engage in activities you enjoy and recharge your batteries.
  2. Prioritize relaxation: Even a brief respite from stress can make a world of difference. Take short breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch, or indulge in a favorite treat.
  3. Nurture your interests and hobbies: Pursuing your passions can provide a welcome distraction from stress and promote social connections. Explore local events and activities to discover like-minded individuals.
  4. Connect with nature: Spending time outdoors or caring for plants and animals can reduce stress and boost well-being. Even a simple walk in a green space or admiring the trees in a city can make a difference.
  5. Focus on self-care: Prioritize sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet to better manage stress. Small changes in these areas can significantly improve your ability to cope with life's challenges. But even small changes can make a big difference. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, stress hormones might go up which will make tasks harder to complete. Investing in your sleep and exercise, even though they take time, is worth it to make your more productive the rest of the time.

Combatting Catastrophizing: Challenging Irrational Thoughts

All of us tend to have irrational thoughts that have the power to influence how we feel. Everyone has some of these irrational thoughts- they’re a normal part of being human and can even motivate us to take action and get things done. However, when these irrational thoughts are frequent and extreme, they can impact our mental health and become harmful.

Catastrophizing is a common form of irrational thinking that magnifies problems and assumes the worst possible outcome. By learning to identify and challenge these thoughts, you can reduce stress and foster a healthier mindset.

Try the following exercise to address catastrophizing (write down or talk through the following):

  1. Identify your worry and articulate it. What are you worried about? Why?
  2. Assess the likelihood of your worry coming true, using past experiences and evidence. Check external, factual references to help you with your reasoning.
  3. Determine the worst-case scenario if your worry materializes. What specifically would happen?
  4. Consider the most likely outcome if your worry comes true. What would be your response to each detail?
  5. Reflect on your ability to cope in the short and long term if your worry occurs. What are the chances you’ll be okay…in one week ___% …in one month ___%…in one year ___%?

Embracing a Balanced and Stress-Resilient Life

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but with the right tools and mindset, we can learn to navigate it more effectively. By understanding the nature of stress, practicing self-care, and challenging irrational thoughts, you'll be better equipped to manage the pressures of daily life. So take a deep breath, remind yourself of your inner strength, and face the world with newfound confidence and resilience.

_ _ _


  1. Clark DA. Cognitive Restructuring. The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Published online September 20, 2013:1-22. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118528563.wbcbt02
  2. Who.int. Published 2023. Accessed April 11, 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress#:~:text=Stress can be defined as,experiences stress to some degree.

Cover photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash


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