dr. joachim sehrbrock, r.psych.

registered psychologist


the top 5 strategies for managing stress

how to better cope with stress

Fundamentally, it is impossible to eliminate stress from our lives. However, what is absolutely possible is to change our reaction to stress and learn to live with it. Then we can focus on what we can rather than what we can’t control. How do we do that?

One trick is to remind ourselves that we have a choice about how we respond to the challenging situation. Usually, the more we try to get rid of a situation or a feeling about the situation, the worse we feel. So instead of desperately trying to get rid of our stress or our stressor, we could let things be, tolerate them, accept them and make choices about things we can rather than can’t change. One great way to do that is through mindfulness (see textbox on the right).

other resources

Check out the fantastic resources at:

+ http://www.humanstress.ca/stress/what-is-stress/history-of-stress.html

+ http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/

Have a smartphone? Check out the app: MindShift

strategy 3: stop over-reacting

Make a conscious choice not to over-react to stress and stressors. Once you recognize that you are stressed, take a few deep breaths and take it one step at a time.

REFLECT: What are common triggers of over-reacting for you? How can you remind yourself to take a breath and take it one step at a time?

practice makes perfect

When and how often are you going to practice either of these strategies?

strategy 1: the body scan

One of the most effective strategies to practice being mindful and present and to cope with anxiety is the body scan. Unlike other relaxation strategies, the focus of the body scan is to just notice body sensations and not to try to change anything (remember it’s all about just paying attention to what is present). Take as long as you like.

1. Breath: Start by noticing your breath. Don’t try to change your breathing, just notice it.

2. Scan: Scan your body from toes to head for body sensations (tensions, temperature, sensations from clothes or leaning against furniture or noticing the body on the floor, if you are lying down). Don’t try to change anything, just be aware.

3. Whole Body: Then notice your whole body.

On the right side is a recording of a 10-minute body scan or you can find the recording here:


strategy 2: the 5-senses strategy

The 5-senses strategy can help you when you are overthinking things or are feeling more generally anxious.

Find up to 5 things you can see, up to 5 things you can hear, feel (can touch), and smell or taste. Do this several times.

what is stress exactly

Stress is the body’s response to real or perceived threat or stressor by mobilizing the body to fight, flee, or freeze. Most often we experience stress in situations that are new, unpredictable, when our competence is called into question, or we feel we have little or no control over a situation. From an evolutionary perspective stress is adaptive, because it fosters survival. However, if we get stressed when the threat in reality is low, we have a problem. So how do we better manage stress?

how to recognize stress

The first step is to recognize the signs of stress and possible sources. If we don’t recognize either of those two, we can’t do anything about it. Stress typically manifest in the form of the following kinds of symptoms:

+ Physical (e.g., rapid heart beat, feeling flushed, sweating)

+ Emotional (e.g., feeling edgy, angry, irritable, anxious)

+ Cognitive (e.g., racing thoughts, can’t stop thinking, worrying, thinking things are a big deal even though they are not).

REFLECT: What may be two signs of stress for you physically, emotionally, and cognitively? And what may be possible sources of stress?

what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be defined as moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. We could also define it as being in the moment, or being present with what is happening right now without judging.

Research shows that when people pay attention to things happening in the present (e.g., body sensations associated with breathing or activities like walking) and don’t try to stop or get rid of what they are stressed about, they start to feel better. But, learning to be present (especially in the face of stress) requires practice.

REFLECT: What is one thing/activity you can use to train yourself to be in the present rather than try to get rid of stress (e.g., breathing, washing dishes, feeling the body or an object

strategy 4: regular exercise

Regular exercise is an effective way to cope with stress. It can be as simple as just walking a bit more and gradually increasing how much you walk. But make sure you don’t set your goals too high, start low and take it slow.

strategy 5: self-validate feelings

One of the biggest problems with stress is that it often stirs difficult feelings and emotions. These can be helplessness, anger, frustration, sadness, irritability, etc. Just like with stress, if we try to get rid of it, we usually feel worse.

So the most effective strategy to cope with challenging feelings associated with stress is to self-validate those feelings. This can be as simple as saying “Given the situation, it makes sense that I am feeling [feeling].”