How to Cope With Stress: 10+ Strategies and Mechanisms

How to cope with stressHave you experienced a racing pulse, difficulty breathing, sleep disturbances, irritability, appetite changes, or feeling like you cannot cope?

If so, you might be stressed.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, affecting individuals in different ways. Some people thrive under stress, whereas others struggle. Our thresholds for how much stress we can endure differ from one person to the next.

Learning how to cope with stress is essential to ensuring that individuals maintain their physical and mental health. It is improbable to have a life completely free of stress, so we must learn how to cope.

In this post, we explore how to cope with stress using stress coping techniques. We will start with the psychological theories about stress and, from there, look at several methods, informal and formal, that can be used. Our goal is that readers should have a solid understanding of stress-management techniques that can be easily implemented.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free. These science-based exercises will equip you and your clients with tools to better manage stress and find a healthier balance in your life.

How to Cope With Stress According to Psychology

There are various psychological theories about coping with stress, and it is essential to understand these theories to manage stress effectively.

4 Theories about coping with stress

One of the most popular and widely accepted theories is the transactional model of stress and coping, developed by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman (1984).

According to this model, stress results from an individual’s assessment of the stressor, its threat, and whether they have the necessary cognitive and behavioral resources to manage the stressor.

Based on this assessment, our coping mechanisms and psychological responses to stress are triggered. The model suggests that coping strategies can be either problem focused or emotion focused.

Problem-focused coping involves actively addressing the stressor, while emotion-focused coping involves managing the emotions associated with the stressor.

The transactional model of stress was expanded upon into the workplace, where it’s known as the job demand–control theory and the job demand–control–support theory (for a review, see Häusser et al., 2010; Goh et al., 2010).

In this theory, two dimensions influence the experience of stress: workload/job demands and the degree of control employees have over work tasks. The combination of high demand and low control increases the likelihood of high stress. Social support within the office has protective properties that moderate the relationship between demand and control.

The protective qualities of social support were recognized in the social support theory, another theory about coping with stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In this theory, social support is crucial for managing anxiety, because it helps ease feelings of anxiety and helps develop solutions to stressful environments. Social support is not limited to only immediate family and friends but includes colleagues and health care professionals.

The conservation of resources Theory (COR; Hobfoll, 1989) is another stress coping theory. This theory developed from the starting point that people feel stressed when they do not think they have the necessary resources to combat stress. However, in COR, additional emphasis is placed on the objective resources that are also available. These resources can be tangible (e.g., money, a house) or intangible (e.g., our relationships, self-worth), and individuals experience stress when their resources are threatened, depleted, or unattainable.

This theory is primarily used to explain workplace stress, and some researchers prefer it over the transactional model of stress because it:

  1. Is more practical and realistic
  2. Places less responsibility on the individual who experiences the stressor to change their mindset to combat stress
  3. Has predictive qualities (Hobfoll et al., 2018)

Why is stress management important?

Chronic stress can adversely affect an individual’s wellbeing and lead to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression (Hammen, 2005).

Therefore, developing good coping strategies has multiple beneficial outcomes (Cohen, 2004), including:

  • Reducing the negative impact of stress
  • Improving an individual’s overall quality of life by enhancing resilience
  • Improving their social support network, allowing them to seek help and support from friends and family during stressful times

Healthy Coping Strategies and Mechanisms: A List

Healthy coping techniquesCoping strategies and mechanisms can help individuals manage stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Here we provide a concise list of methods that can be used to cope with stress.

  • Healthy coping strategies include exercise, relaxation techniques, social support, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies (CBT). Exercise has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including stress reduction, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive function (Sui et al., 2019).
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga have also been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health outcomes (Pascoe et al., 2017).
  • Social support, such as emotional and practical support from family and friends, can help individuals cope with stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985).
  • CBT helps individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns and behaviors, improving mental health outcomes (Hofmann et al., 2012).
  • Additional strategies that can improve mental and physical health are getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and avoiding alcohol (or consuming it in moderation). They do not impact stress directly, but they provide the scaffolding so individuals are better positioned to cope with stressful experiences effectively.

Besides these healthy coping strategies, there are several psychological techniques or mechanisms that individuals can use to manage stress.

  • One mechanism is problem-focused coping, which involves addressing the stressor directly through problem-solving strategies (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
  • Emotion-focused coping involves managing the emotional response to stress through strategies such as positive reappraisal or acceptance (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
  • Meaning-focused coping involves finding meaning or purpose in the stressor or the experience of coping with it (Park, 2010).

These psychological techniques can be used alongside healthy coping strategies to manage stress more effectively and maintain overall wellbeing.

Download 3 Free Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF)

These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in their life.

6+ Techniques Your Clients Can Try

Stress can have a significant impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are several psychological techniques and physiological strategies that can alleviate stress.

  • One such technique is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR has decreased perceived stress, anxiety, and depression in individuals who practice it regularly (Carmody & Baer, 2009).
  • Similarly, practicing mindfulness meditation has been found to reduce stress levels and improve wellbeing (Hoge et al., 2013). Mindfulness exercises can include simple techniques, such as paying attention to one’s breath or body sensations, or more structured practices, such as body scans or mindful eating.
  • Another technique is CBT, which helps individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs contributing to stress (Beck, 2011).
  • Additionally, relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep-breathing exercises have been shown to reduce stress (Hennefeld & Battle, 2019).
  • Another technique is visualization, which involves imagining a calm, peaceful place or scenario to reduce stress and promote relaxation (Chafin & Ollendick, 2001).

Move your body to improve your mood

Physical exercise and activity have also reduced stress levels and improved mood and overall wellbeing (Craft & Perna, 2004). Physical exercise reduces stress by releasing endorphins, improving mood, combating depression, and improving physical health (Belvederi Murri et al., 2019).

One simple yet effective activity is to take a walk in nature. A study conducted by Bratman et al. (2015) found that taking a 90-minute walk in a natural environment reduced neural activity in the sub-genual prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with rumination and negative thought patterns.

Although exercise can be completed alone, consider doing it with friends or family or joining an exercise group or club. This way, you get double the benefits: exercise’s mood-boosting effects plus social support’s protective benefits.

Consider formal social support groups

Finally, joining a support group or taking part in group therapy can also help build a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation.

Cohen et al. (2015) found that individuals who received social support had lower levels of stress hormones in response to stressors than those who did not receive social support.

5 Activities, Prompts, and Worksheets

Coping with stressThis section lists several stress-management activities that can be used to cope with stress.

The ABC sheet

One commonly used activity is the ABC sheet, which is based on CBT and helps patients understand the relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The name is an initialism:

  • Antecedent is the event or stimulus that activates thoughts.
  • Belief represents the perception or evaluation of that event.
  • Consequence is the emotional or behavioral reaction that follows.

With this sheet, patients learn to identify irrational thoughts, negative beliefs, and consequences.

Once patients learn how to recognize these beliefs and behaviors, they can also learn how to challenge them, resulting in more favorable emotional and behavioral outcomes.

The Core Values Worksheet

Another worksheet is the Core Values Worksheet. With this worksheet, the underlying premise is that if we behave in a way that is incongruent with our core values, then we will experience stress.

Therefore, to reduce stress, we must identify our core values and how to align our behaviors to achieve, preserve, and satisfy them. These behaviors should be incorporated into our daily lives, not just reserved for big, life-changing decisions.

In this worksheet, the client will list their top values and then identify specific actions aligned with them. In addition to helping clients identify primary values, the tool can also help them identify incongruous behaviors that can lead to stress.

Journal prompts

Journaling is a valuable method for reducing stress and identifying patterns of behaviors and thoughts. One of the most significant advantages of journaling is that it is easy to implement and cost effective. All you need is a pencil and a notebook.

Several journal prompts can be used for coping with stress. In fact, we suggest having a look at our gratitude journal article for ideas. However, to whet your appetite, here is a short list to start with:

  1. Gratitude journaling: Write about three things you are grateful for each day to increase positive emotions.
  2. Positive self-talk: Jot down some positive affirmations or statements about yourself. This can help combat negative self-talk and increase self-esteem.
  3. Reflection on achievements: Write about a recent accomplishment to improve your self-worth.

Stress-Management Skills for Work Stress

For most adults, work is a source of significant stress. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence that can lead to substantial physical and mental health issues if not adequately managed.

Developing stress-management techniques for work will improve not only wellbeing, but also productivity. Stress-management strategies for work include time management, physical activity, and mindfulness meditation.

Effective time management is a critical stress-management skill, and it involves organizing and prioritizing tasks to optimize productivity and reduce stress. For example, employees who manage their time efficiently are less likely to experience work stress (Frost & Stimpson, 2020).

To do this, individuals should set realistic goals and establish a schedule that allows them to accomplish their tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Other methods within employees’ control are to avoid procrastination and work without distraction.

For example, do not accept all tasks or requests that come your way, learn to say no or delegate, do the most difficult task first, and use a time-management system. One example of an effective time-management system is the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and then after three cycles, take a longer break.

If employees do not determine their deadlines or tasks, which can be unrealistic or untenable, they should discuss these challenges with their managers or team leaders.

Employers can also significantly reduce work stress by implementing policies promoting a healthy work–life balance and providing stress-management training and support resources.

Physical activity is another critical stress-management skill that can help employees cope with work stress. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase energy levels by reducing stress hormones in the body (i.e., cortisol and adrenaline) and promoting the release of endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers (Salmon, 2018).

Physical activity can also improve cognitive function and help individuals make better decisions, which can reduce work stress (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014).

Other simple physical techniques that may help combat work stress include getting enough sleep, eating healthily and regularly, and avoiding alcohol (or consuming it in moderation).

Mindfulness exercises, such as mindfulness meditation, may also protect against work stress. Mindfulness meditation is a stress-management technique focusing on the present moment without judgment.

This technique helps individuals reduce stress by promoting relaxation, improving cognitive function (Schmidt et al., 2019), and reducing feelings of anxiety even in the workplace (Biegel et al., 2009). Mindfulness meditation can be easily performed in the office or a quiet workplace.

3 Questionnaires, Tests, and Inventories

Stress coping testsBelow we share a short list of three questionnaires, tests, and inventories that can be used to measure stress.

These tools have good psychometric properties (i.e., internal consistency, test–retest reliability, and validity) and are often used in peer-reviewed research.

Perceived Stress Scale

The first questionnaire is the Perceived Stress Scale, a 10-item self-report questionnaire designed to measure an individual’s subjective perception of stress (Cohen et al., 1983).

Initially, it was designed as a generic tool to measure perceived stress in a smoking cessation study. The original version contained 14 items and can be found in the original paper.

It assesses how individuals perceive their life as unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded. The Perceived Stress Scale, with scoring instructions, can be accessed via the link.

State–Trait Anxiety Inventory

A second, more general measure of anxiety and stress is the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger et al., 1983).

Originally, it was developed as two separate tools, each containing 20 questions; however, these are often administered together. This inventory is widely used, easy to administer, and freely available.

It is a 40-item self-report questionnaire that measures two types of anxiety: state and trait anxiety. State anxiety is the temporary emotional state characterized by subjective feelings of tension, apprehension, and nervousness. For example, when presented with an urgent deadline, we might feel acute but short-lived feelings of stress and worry.

In contrast, trait anxiety is a stable personality trait characterized by a tendency to experience anxiety across various situations. For example, some people tend to have higher anxiety in general that is not limited to a specific event.

Job Content Questionnaire (JCQ)

For professionals who work in industrial and organizational psychology, we recommend the JCQ (Karasek et al.,1998).

This is a 49-item self-report questionnaire that measures job stress in terms of its psychological demands, decision authority, skill discretion, and social support. Initially, it was designed for research on the relationship between job stress and cardiovascular disease.

A study by Kivimäki et al. (2012) found that high job strain (high psychological demands combined with low decision authority and low social support) was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The JCQ is in the manuscript’s appendix published by Karasek et al. (1998).

17 Exercises To Reduce Stress & Burnout

Help your clients prevent burnout, handle stressors, and achieve a healthy, sustainable work-life balance with these 17 Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises [PDF].

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

For readers interested in journaling techniques and prompts, we suggest the following articles:

For readers who want to read more about mindfulness meditation, especially in the workplace. this post is a good starting point and is quite exhaustive:

In addition to our blog posts and free worksheets, we’d also like to share these three tools specifically related to stress and burnout. The Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercise Pack includes the following useful worksheets:

  • Energy Management Audit
  • The Stress-Related Growth Scale
  • Strengthening the Work–Private Life Barrier

The worksheets are easy to administer and appropriate for clients experiencing stress in different domains of their lives. Two of these tools are designed for assessment and can help identify energy levels, the most effective ways to recharge, and how clients approach and reframe life events. The third tool is an exercise to help develop work–life boundaries.

Looking for even more tools? If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others manage stress without spending hours on research and session prep, check out this collection of 17 validated stress-management tools for practitioners. Use them to help others cope with stress and create more balance in their lives.

A Take-Home Message

Stress is a common experience that can have very serious negative consequences if left unmanaged. However, learning how to cope with stress is vital and will positively impact different spheres of life.

A large amount of stress is due to work demands. Finding a coping solution that works for you, especially one that can be incorporated into the work environment, is a great way to improve your mental health.

We encourage you to try these coping techniques to find the optimal one that will help you manage your stress levels.

Are there any stress coping methods you would recommend personally or that you have found highly effective in your practice? Please share them with us in the comments.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free.

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