We always hear about the importance of stress management and the countless ways to help ourselves decompress from the impact of the various stressors we all deal with. Hopefully, this will be your aerial view of stress management from five thousand feet. One way to conceptualize stress is to visualize the stressors in your life on one side of scale measuring from 0-100, and your coping skills on the other side of the scale also measuring from 0-100.

For most people their coping skills remain static and unmoving. They have what they have in order to cope with life and its stressors. Perhaps it registers at 68 and the person can cope with most things life brings reasonably effectively. On the other side stressors are rarely static. In fact, they usually fluctuate up and down in a given day or week. Perhaps ranging from 40-80 at any given point, after all most of us feel like we are routinely trying to juggle several things at once.

Stress Management Skills

Most people will continue to do fine in life so long as their coping skills exceed their stress level. For instance, a stress level of 56 relative to the above noted 68 on the coping side.  In fact, most of will endure and get through even when stress goes above our coping level, so long as it comes back down reasonably quickly. It is vital that our stress level not exceed our coping abilities for extended periods of time or we fall prey to burn out and become susceptible to issues with depression and anxiety. This is what we see in clinical practice every day. We have good people who have become overwhelmed by stress levels that have exceeded what people can cope with on an on-going basis and it takes them down.

Like a temperature gauge in your car, it is important to continually take inventory of your stressors and do what you can to reduce and eliminate stressors in order to balance it out with our coping abilities, or you run the risk of seizing your engine. With humans this translate into mental and emotional exhaustion that can lead to clinical depression or anxiety. Equally important is making sure you are not adding new stressors (taking on tasks or projects) when you feel you are already at capacity. You may need to get some things off your plate before committing yourself to new endeavors.

In therapy we work with clients to help them reduce stressors in their lives to a manageable level. The other thing we are able to do is work on the other side of the equation – coping skills. We can teach clients how to increase effective coping skills so they are less likely to be overwhelmed in the future and/or can simply tolerate higher levels of stress. If you need direction, don’t wait until you need a complete overhaul.

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