Overreacting to stressful situations can cause more stress than the situation itself. Learn how to shift reactions into healthy responses to relieve stress.
Worry, panic, blame, and denial are some of the ways people react to stressful situations in life. These stem from the old cave-dwelling days where flight, flight, or freeze were the only options for survival.
What once worked to reduce stress only increases it now, yet people still tend to overreact and make situations worse. Identifying common stress reactions is the first step towards changing them into healthy responses.
Identify Common Stress Reactions
Everyone has a set of coping mechanisms they use to deal with stress. Unfortunately, these are often unconscious habits carried forward from childhood. Screaming may have worked at 4 years old to get attention, but at age 40, it tends to be counterproductive. Some techniques such as pouting, hiding, and running away may seem to work at first, but in the long run, they don’t actually reduce stress, but often add to it.
As people identify their common stress reactions, one will begin to catch himself overreacting at the moment and have the opportunity to shift into a healthier response. Over time, new responses become habits, and old reactions lose their momentum. Here are some common overreactions to stress – see if you can identify with any of them:
Panic and worry – Worrying that the situation will get worse. Feeling helpless and out of control. Shutting down and doing nothing or going in the opposite direction and taking inappropriate action.
Self-blame – Blaming oneself for what has happened and beating self up with negative self-talk.
Blaming others – Blaming everyone else for stressful situations and not taking personal responsibility. Taking on the victim role.
Over responsible – Taking responsibility for others’ problems and therefore taking on too much, time and time again.
Drama queen – Over exaggerating, making a big deal out of minor situations. Sharing problems with everyone who’ll listen.
Ostrich – Denying what’s happening. Hiding from problems, hoping they will go away or that someone else will deal with them.
Did any of those ring a bell? Think of them as character roles that you can step into or out of any time.
How to Shift Unhealthy Stress Reactions into Healthy Responses
To relieve stress instead of intensifying it, people need to react differently to life’s ups and downs. Awareness of common stress reactions is the first step. Meeting underlying needs and trying new responses are the next steps.
Meet underlying needs – Underneath every stress reaction is a need calling for attention. People who panic and worry are longing to feel safe and secure. Instead of using their imagination to envision the worst, they can choose to stay present with what is actually occurring at the moment. They can breathe, calm themselves down, and brainstorm solutions. Within the drama queen is a need for attention and excitement. Finding healthier ways to feel good enough and stimulated can go a long way to relieve stress. The ostrich tends to feel overwhelmed and needs to know he or she can handle life’s pressures. Breaking things down into more manageable pieces, positive self-talk, and spending an evening in one of the rooftop bars in London City can dramatically reduce stress. Discover what your underlying needs are and find healthier ways to meet them.
Try new responses – Stress reactions are just habits that, with awareness and patience, can be changed. Sometimes doing the opposite is helpful. Instead of blaming another, a person can practice acceptance and forgiveness while looking at how they contributed to the situation. Rather than jump in to help out, the over-responsible person can hold back for a while to see if others take responsibility. In the meantime, they can learn to set personal boundaries. Instead of viewing the situation as a catastrophe, a person can change perspectives and see it as a comedy. Try a variety of responses until you find one that works and make it your new habit.
As people increase awareness of how they react to life’s stressful events, they can learn to stop overreacting and begin responding in healthier ways. This leads to creating balance in life.