How to Cope When You’re Faced with Extreme Stress

Day-to-day stress is kind of inescapable. Whether you have deadlines to meet, traffic to crawl home through or unruly kids when you get there, it’s normal, you’re used to it and – hopefully – it doesn’t affect your wellbeing too badly. But what about extreme stress, like losing a loved one, major financial difficulties or getting bad news at the doctors’? How do you cope when the bottom falls out of your world?

According to David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and director of its Centre on Stress and Health, there are a few major techniques that you should always employ to guard your mental health against extreme stress. This involves making a list of everything you need to do to solve the problem and tackling them in order of importance. He adds that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, and you need to remember to take care of your wellbeing with rest, exercise and a healthy diet. Aside from this, there are excellent strategies that can help you to cope with extreme stress:

1. Acknowledge your feelings: Spiegel urges, ‘Don’t fight your emotions. Think of them as your friend, not your enemy.’ You don’t need to be “strong” for the people around you; releasing your emotions will bring you closer together as a family, which is exactly what you need right now.

2. Don’t isolate yourself from others: Whether you turn to a friend or support group, it’s important to feel like someone understands, and you’re not alone in this. Steven Southwick, co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges and professor of psychiatry, post-traumatic stress disorder and resilience at the Yale Medical School, explains, ‘Strength comes from social networks. We’re all social beings.’

3. Try relaxation techniques: Psychologist Carol Goldberg, of TV show Dr. Carol Goldberg and Company, suggests visualising a calming scene, repeating a soothing mantra or focusing on deep breathing. She notes that these techniques are ‘something that you always have within you. You don’t have to get any equipment … You can just close your eyes, and take some deep breaths.’ You might also like to try a relaxing exercise like yoga, or even taking a long, hot bath when stress is getting on top of you.

4. Face your fears: Southwick asserts, ‘Most of us have a very difficult time doing that because it’s unpleasant, but if you want to be resilient, sooner or later, you’re going to have to face those things, or some of those things.’ He adds, ‘avoidance is at the heart of all anxiety disorders.’ Start by learning about the thing you fear, and really try to understand it. Southwick advises, ‘when you do approach the fear, try to do it with someone who you really trust.’

5. Find a role model: As Southwick explains, ‘We tend to learn through imitation,’ so look for someone you know who has gone through this situation, or something like it. How did they negotiate the challenges and manage to cope with the emotional impact of the situation? Ask them about it and then try out their coping skills for yourself. Maybe they always called a friend during times of stress, or they cleared their head by going for a run. If you can’t find one, look to one of Southwick’s! He speaks of a gold-medal-winning Paralympian with spina bifida who swims 26 miles (or a marathon) a week, but still graduated college with honours. When Southwick is tempted to stop after a few laps, he often thinks of her and says to himself ‘Twenty-six miles a week … I keep going.’

Comments are closed.