Stress: Handling Stressful Situations in the Moment
Whenever you encounter a stressful situation your heart starts racing, your blood vessels dilate, your breathing quickens and adrenaline courses through your bloodstream all in an effort to get you out of the stressful situation quickly. In the past, when stressful situations involved running from an imminent threat such as a hungry lion, this stress response was invaluable and even lifesaving. However, such risks are rare today. We are more likely to experience stress in social situations, while speaking in front of a crowd or while working against a hard deadline.
The problem with responding to non-threatening situations with a stress response lies in the fact that prolonged stress can wreak havoc on the body. Multiple occurrences of short-term stress can also lead to chronic stress. For example, someone who experiences social anxiety may start to experience stress long before any social event. If left unchecked, the sufferer could actually experience stress just at the though of socializing, resulting in a prolonged and chronic anxiety disorder.
How to Handle Short-Term Stress
Short-term stressors include being stuck in traffic, running late, having a disagreement, public speaking, feeling threatened and other situations that are temporary. Long-term stressors are things that don’t go away such as the death of a loved one, divorce, prolonged illness, and financial troubles. Fortunately, learning how to handle short-term stress can also help you manage long-term stress. Following are some techniques that you can use to handle short-term stress on the spot:
• Deep Breathing – Taking deep breaths stabilizes your blood pressure and slows your heart rate according to The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide . Whenever you start to feel stressed in a situation, start taking deep breaths to control your body’s response. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three and out through your mouth for a count of five. Repeat several times until you feel your body relax.
• Stop Negative Thoughts – Negative thoughts can cause stress. For example, thinking that you might fall while walking across stage is a negative thought that can make you more anxious about giving a speech. Since controlling your mind can be difficult, it’s often better to distract your mind with physical stimuli like snapping a rubber band against your wrist or using tapping techniques like those associated with EFT. In a study that followed 5,000 participants, more than 90-percent of those studied saw improvement in their anxiety and stress response using tapping and distraction techniques .
• Grounding – Grounding is a technique that involves switching your focus to one of your five senses when encountering stress. For most people, touch works best. This technique involves zeroing in on one sense and focusing all of your mental energy on what you feel, see or smell rather than the stressful situation you’re encountering. For example, focusing on how the texture of a small square of felt feels on your fingertips during stressful situations is considered grounding.
As you can see, there are several things you can do in the moment to control stress and get through trying situations. Since no two people are alike, you should try different techniques until you find the ones that work for you.
How to Recognize the Physical Symptoms of Stress
Any of these techniques can be quite successful when it comes to handling the physical symptoms of stress during stressful situations. However, you must first learn how to tune in and pick up on your body’s physical responses. Some common physical cues to look for include:
• Rapid and shallow breathing
• Cold skin, hands or feet
• Accelerated heart rate
• Upset stomach
• Muscle tension
• Urge to pee
• Dry mouth
• Trouble concentrating
It can take some time before you start to pick up on the physical symptoms of short-term stress, but once you learn your symptoms, you will be able to start taking measures to control your stress sooner rather than later. When it comes to successfully controlling short-term stress, the key is to notice your physical symptoms at the earliest possible moment and implement your stress-reducing strategies immediately. Doing so will train your brain and body to remain calm during stressful situations.
 “Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response.” The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update1006a.shtml
 Andrade, Joaquin M.D. “Preliminary Report of the First Large-Scale Study of Energy Psychology.” Energy Psychology Interactive: An Integrated Book and CD Program for Learning the Fundamentals of Energy Psychology.