8 Ways to Handle Highly Stressful Situations

8 Ways to Handle Highly Stressful Situations

“Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think.” – William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

Truly, there is only one guarantee in this lifetime, and that is there are no guarantees. From the time that you wake up to the time your bed hits the pillow at night, any number of difficult and stressful situations can occur. At the risk of sounding cliché, it is how you respond to these situations that makes all the difference.

It can be difficult to remember the importance of our response when the drastic happens; you’re laid off, the car breaks down, money is tight (sometimes really tight), your job is stressful…any number of these things can happen to any of us. Let us remember to respond quickly and rationally if we should encounter any of these situations.

Here are 8 ways to handle any highly stressful situation…

1. Remember that nothing (and no one) can “make” you feel anything.

Your reaction to the situation is just that…your reaction. How you feel about and ultimately deal with a situation is your choice. There is no way to control the actions of others, but you can control how you respond.

One important aspect of this is to understand when a situation is uncontrollable, such as a bad economy, sickness, or something else. When the uncontrollable happens, we must accept it as is. There is a big difference, however, between accepting the situation and giving up. Acceptance is important, but so is coping effectively. In choosing to be effective in how we react, we significantly reduce stress. Remember this and utilize some of the pointers that follow.

2. Replace attitude with gratitude.

The attitude that we have towards stressful situations has a definitive effect – positive or negative. A negative attitude is often the automatic, default mechanism that can have an adverse effect on our mental, physical and even spiritual wellbeing.

Instead, consciously attempt to replace this negative, default reaction with gratitude. For example, when you find yourself backed up in traffic, change your perspective. Think about things to be appreciative for – family, friends, work, health, faith, or something else. Look around for things in nature to admire and appreciate – trees, sunshine, or a pleasant view. When you make a conscious attempt to place gratitude ahead of negativity, you’ll find your attitude changing.

3. Relax, then relax some more.

In the midst of a busy, hectic, stressful day, it is very easy to forget about taking care of your emotional and physical wellbeing. When your boss is acting like a dictator or you are late on a project, it’s very tempting to allow this negativity to take over your day.

Instead, try to use the down time at work to relax and rejuvenate. When you have a break, take a few minutes to step away from everything and let go. Do some breathing exercises, read, or send a quick text to a loved one. Spend your lunch time doing something enjoyable and forget about the negative that happened before. Remember, relaxation doesn’t require a significant amount of time. It’s what you do with this time that ultimately makes the big difference in your mindset.

4. See the big picture.

When you are running late, forget something, or something else unexpected happens, it is likely to be of little consequence. However, your “fight or flight” response hardwired into your brain will release stress hormones that makes this event seem much more significant than it actually is.

Remember to evaluate the stressful situation from an overall, rational perspective. Ask yourself “Will this situation really matter in the long-term?” or “How important is this to my life? Is it really more important than my mental and physical wellbeing?” Most times, the answer will be no. If this is the case, simply move on and adjust accordingly. It’s not worth your time and energy.

5. Learn some “stress stoppers.”

As mentioned, encountering stressful situations has a big effect on your mind and body. The American Heart Association recommends these “stress stoppers” for different situations.

– Count to 10 before you speak.

– Take three to five deep breaths.

– Walk away from the stressful situation, and handle it later.

– Go for a walk.

– Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry” if you made a mistake.

– Set your watch five to 10 minutes ahead to avoid the stress of being late.

– Break down big problems into smaller parts. For example, answer one letter of phone call per day, instead of dealing with everything at one time.

– Drive in the slow lane or avoid busy roads to help you stay calm while driving.

– Smell a rose, hug a loved one or smile at your neighbor.

– Consider meditation or prayer to break a negative cycle.

6. Positive self-talk

We all talk to ourselves throughout the day. Most of this talk is internal and will vary in accordance with the situation encountered. The default reaction when we encounter a difficult situation, task, or event sometimes leads to negative self-talk. This negative self-talk only serves to increase stress and makes resolution of the problem more difficult.

Instead, practice using positive self-talk to calm down and control stress. Here are some examples:

“I can’t do this…” becomes “I’ll do the best I can.”

“I hate it when this happens…” becomes “I can easily handle this; I just need to think…”

“Nothing is going right today…” becomes “I’ll just take it step-by-step…”

The important thing to remember is to practice this transition. You can likely expect some internal resistance to a change in mindset, but you will see a positive change if you persevere.

7. Take one step at a time

When I was in graduate school studying for my Master’s degree, I was often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work to be done. When one research paper was complete, there was another one right around the corner. Then an exam…then a group project…and so on. But the focus was not on the next paper or exam; it was on finishing and just being done with it all.

It was a tremendously stressful time, and an advisor offered some advice: “Remember this corny adage: ‘How does a marathon runner finish a race? One mile at a time.’” Marathon runners are in tremendous shape, practice year-round, and have tremendous self-discipline. Even so, a marathon runner can experience excruciating pains and difficulties in finishing a 26-mile race.

Sometimes we need a small shift in mindset. Too often, when faced with a difficult task we jump to the finish instead of facing one obstacle at a time. It’s much easier to narrow our focus, complete one task, and then tackle the next one.

8. Ask for help

With all of the tips, hints, and advice about dealing with stressful situations, this one may be the most important. Depending on the scale and longevity of the stress encountered, it may become necessary to ask for help.

It is important to understand that there is no shame in asking for help. Please don’t allow pride, discouragement, or stubbornness to     dissuade you from seeking assistance, of whatever kind, when it’s needed. There are people who love and care for you unconditionally, and are there for you no matter the situation.

Your friends and loved ones don’t care what the problem is or its magnitude; all they care about is helping you to see it through. Sometimes, we need to allow the good people in our life show how much they care for us.


Join the discussion:  How do you handle highly stressful situations?  Add your favorite tips and advice in the comments below!

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