Juvenal, a Greek poet, already warned us: “Mens sana in corpore sana.” This is my starting point to publicize the measures with which we can effectively cope with the stress to which we are exposed in our daily lives.
To begin with, we must know and train ourselves in a series of techniques that will allow us to combat the reactions that the body usually has. These reactions can be physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.
If we do not know how to handle and manage them properly, they will end up producing various clinical manifestations, known to all, which can become chronic and lead to psychosomatic exhaustion. When we come to these kinds of situations, it is already too late.
There is scientific evidence of the influence of chronic stress on myocardial infarction, stroke and the weakening of the immune system, among other effects.
In this exhibition, I want to take Seneca as a basis in one of his phrases: “What reason does not achieve, time often achieves.” With this starting point, I will describe below the twenty techniques that will help us to master stress.
1. PRACTICE PHYSICAL EXERCISE
I fully agree with John F. Kennedy when he stated that “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” The development and maintenance of a good physical condition have very positive effects in the prevention of stress.
For this, it is advisable to exercise regularly since, in addition to increasing the physical resistance of the individual to the effects of stress, it enhances psychological resistance.
In fact, exercising forces us to shift our attention from psychological problems and allows us to rest and recover from previously developed mental activity.
Physical exercise mobilizes the body and improves its functioning and physical capacity. Consequently, you will be in a better condition to cope with stress, which increases the capacity for physical work and improves cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic functions.
In general terms, it can be said that, at present, the professional activity requires fewer and fewer responses of a physical nature and more of an intellectual nature. With exercise, organic resources are used and consumed that can rarely be used in the development of the professional activity.
If they are not “burned”, these resources can be deposited in the vascular system and cause, among other problems, an increase in the level of blood pressure. It is pertinent now to recall a phrase by Edward Stanley: “Those who believe that they do not have time to exercise, sooner or later have to find time to be sick.”
2. ADEQUATE DIET
The development of good eating habits that determine the nutritional status of the individual is an advisable measure for the prevention of stress. The energy demands that we currently receive from our environment determine the need to maintain an adequate energy balance to respond to these demands and not develop deficiency problems.
The Mediterranean diet, which is based on olive oil, fruit, cereals, fish and lean meats, is a key aspect of our health. Doug Larson said it: “Life expectancy would increase by leaps and bounds if vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
3. SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION
This technique attempts to control anxiety or fear reactions to situations that are threatening to an individual. It is based on Jacobson’s progressive relaxation, which consists of training the individual in physical contraction-relaxation exercises.
This action will allow you to know the state of tension of each part of your body and have the resources to relax these areas when they are tense.
4. INOCULATION OF STRESS
It is a cognitive and behavioral technique. Its methodology resembles that of systematic desensitization. From the learning of breathing and relaxation techniques to relax tension in stressful situations, the subject creates a list in which the most stressful situations are ordered.
5. PHYSICAL RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
The most commonly used are Jacobson’s progressive relaxation and Schultz’s autogenic training. These techniques try to take advantage of the direct connection between the body and the mind, the existence of interdependence between psychological and physical tension.
In other words, it is not possible to be physically relaxed while under emotional stress. According to the theories that inspire these techniques, people can learn to reduce their levels of psychological (emotional) tension through physical relaxation, even when the situation that causes the tension persists.
6. RESPIRATION CONTROL TECHNIQUES
Stress situations usually cause rapid and shallow breathing, which implies a reduced use of the functional capacity of the lungs, poorer oxygenation, a higher cost and an increase in the general tension of the organism.
Breathing control techniques make it easier for the individual to learn an adequate way to breathe well so that, in a stressful situation, they can control their breathing automatically.
7. MENTAL RELAXATION AND MEDITATION TECHNIQUES
The practice of meditation stimulates physiological changes of great value to the body. They want the person to be able to systematically develop a series of perceptual and / or behavioral activities that allow them to focus their attention on those activities and disconnect from the individual’s daily mental activity which may be a source of stress.
It is a cognitive intervention technique for stress control that seeks physiological effects. Its objective is to provide the individual with the capacity for voluntary control over certain activities and processes of a biological nature.
From the measurement of some biological processes of the individual, continuous information on these parameters is provided, so that this information can be interpreted and used to acquire control over said processes. Subsequently, the individual is trained in the voluntary control of the aforementioned processes in normal situations.
9. SELF-CONTROL TECHNIQUES
The objective of these techniques is to ensure that the individual acquires control of his own behavior through the training of his ability to regulate the circumstances that accompany it (both those that precede his behavior and those derived from it).
These procedures are very useful in the management and control of behaviors involved in stressful situations, not only to improve those that have already caused problems but also to prevent the possible appearance of problem behaviors.
10. SOCIAL SUPPORT
Social relationships with other individuals often serve as a source of psychological or instrumental help.
A social group can be constituted as a reference that facilitates the individual a better adaptation and integration in reality. Therefore, the establishment and development of social networks that provide social support to the individual is essential.
11. DISTRACTION AND GOOD HUMOR
Encouraging distraction and good humor is a good measure to prevent anxiety situations or to alleviate them. In addition to facilitating the movement of attention to problems, it contributes to relativizing their importance.
12. COGNITIVE TECHNIQUES
They are used to change thinking, modify erroneous or negative evaluations regarding the demands or the individual’s own resources in order to face them and facilitate a restructuring of cognitive schemes.
13. COGNITIVE REORGANIZATION
It tries to offer ways and procedures so that a person can reorganize the way they perceive and appreciate a situation.
If the way we behave and the way we feel depends on our perception of a situation, it is important to have strategies for redefining situations when the definition we have adopted does not contribute to an adequate adaptation.
Thus, this technique is aimed at replacing inappropriate interpretations of a situation with others that generate positive emotional responses and more appropriate behaviors.
14. MODIFICATION OF AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS AND DEFORMED THOUGHTS
Automatic thoughts are spontaneous and unique to each individual. They are made without reflection or prior reasoning, although they are believed to be rational. They tend to be dramatic, absolute, and are very difficult to deviate.
The mode of intervention for the modification of these thoughts consists in instructing the subject to keep a record of the thoughts that arise in the situations of his normal life, and to try to evaluate the extent to which he considers that they reflect the situation he has experienced.
Another class of thoughts that cause stress is called deformed. They show a tendency to relate all objects and situations to oneself, to use generalization, magnification, and polarization schemes in the interpretation of reality, etc.
The intervention on this type of thought consists of achieving an objective description of the situation, identifying the distortions used to interpret it, and eliminating these distortions by modifying them through logical reasoning.
15. STOP THOUGHT
The action of this technique is aimed at modifying repetitive and negative thoughts that lead to emotional disturbances (such as anxiety). In other words, they do not help to find effective solutions to the problem, but rather make it more difficult.
The stopping of thought is applied in the following way: when a chain of negative repetitive thoughts appears, try to avoid them by interrupting them and replacing them with more positive ones aimed at controlling the situation.
16. PHYSIOLOGICAL TECHNIQUES
In stressful situations, the emission of intense physiological responses is a characteristic that, in addition to producing great discomfort in the individual, alters the cognitive evaluation of the situation, as well as the emission of responses to control the situation.
17. ASSERTIVE TRAINING
Through this technique, self-esteem is developed and the stress reaction is avoided.
It is about training the individual to be able to behave in an assertive way, with a greater capacity to express feelings, desires, and needs freely, clearly, and unequivocally to others.
The purpose is for the individual to achieve their goals while respecting the other’s points of view. The execution of this technique is carried out through role-playing practices.
18. TRAINING IN SOCIAL SKILLS
It consists of teaching behaviors that are more likely to be successful in achieving a personal goal and in behaving safely in social situations.
19. TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUE
A situation leads to a problem when an effective solution cannot be given. Repeated failure to solve a problem causes chronic discomfort, anxiety, and a feeling of helplessness, which make it difficult to find new solutions.
Through problem-solving techniques, an attempt is made to help the individual decide which are the most appropriate responses to a situation. This technique consists of several steps:
- Identification and description of the problem clearly, quickly, and accurately.
- Search for possible solutions or answers to the problem analyzed from different points of view.
- Application of a procedure of analysis and weighting of the different response alternatives to decide the most suitable solution to this problem.
- Choice and execution of the steps to be taken for its implementation.
- Evaluation of the results obtained when carrying out the chosen solution.
20. COVERT MODELING
This technique seeks to modify sequences of behaviors that are negative for the individual and learn, instead, satisfactory behaviors.
The subject practices in the imagination the sequences of the desired behavior in such a way that he acquires security in the imaginary realization of that behavior and can then put it into practice.
In conclusion, I will say that the key to coping with stress is to acquire those skills, aptitudes, and attitudes that allow us to effectively handle the aforementioned techniques in order to live more peacefully and, above all, to avoid countless chronic diseases. Of course, I have not forgotten Gandhi who said “education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”