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Stress is Unavoidable but Manageable

Updated: May 12, 2023

"Live Unnu Life" Gully, TrueBlue Philosopher

By a show of hands, do you dream of a stress-free life?

As much as we yearn for a stress-free life, stress is unavoidable. Stress may range from healthy to unhealthy levels. From this perspective, stress may be viewed as being on a continuum. On one end of the continuum is healthy stress (optimal functioning), and at the other is unhealthy stress (impaired functioning). Between healthy stress and unhealthy stress is reacting (nervousness, low energy, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, feeling irritable) and injured (anger, anxiety, avoidance, insolation from supports, difficulty concentrating).

Stress Continuum

Note: The continuum is a reminder that unmanaged stress can decline to functional impairment.

What is stress?

Centers for Disease Control: "Stress is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand (performance at work or school, significant life change, or a traumatic event)."

American Psychological Association: "Stress is a normal reaction to everyday pressures, but become unhealthy when it upsets your day-to-day functioning."

Although we think of stress as a negative:

  • It keeps us alert.

  • It makes us aware of the dangers around us.

  • Stress is also connected to our fight-or-flight response.

We often don't discuss eustress (positive stress) experienced during a challenging but achievable activity, motivating us to persevere and improve performance.

Examples of eustress:

  • Recognition for your work

  • High achievement (winning an award, graduation)

  • Mastering a new skill

  • Intimacy

  • Meeting a prospective mate

  • First day on a new job

  • Becoming a new parent

  • Your favorite sports team winning the championship

Stress affects us:

  • Body (difficulty sleeping, colds, shortness of breath, racing heart, lethargy, dizziness, physical aches, and pains)

  • Mind (mood swings, anger, fear, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed)

  • Behavior (angry outbursts, overeating or eating too little, relationship issues, drug and alcohol use to cope, self-imposed social isolation, the decline in personal hygiene, ignoring responsibilities, biting your fingernails to cope with anxiety)

Tip: Practice engaging in problem-free talk, and focus on solutions; problem talk is a stressor that makes you feel incompetent. Problem-free talk is a great resource for building competence.

Stress may be acute or chronic:

Acute Stress - affects you in the short term. In a frightening situation, you may experience acute stress, such as being at the highest point of the rollercoaster ride before its rapid descent. It's that panic feeling in your chest when you encounter danger or are startled.

Chronic stress - is long-term and may last for weeks or months, if not years. An example of chronic stress is in an unhappy relationship with constant arguing. It's possible to become accustomed to chronic stress and view it as part of your life. In other words, it becomes normalized to the point you may not recognize its impact on your life.

Let's use the Vicious Cogs worksheet to explore your stress and stressors.

  • In the center cog, write the word stress.

  • In the small outer cogs, write down your stressors.

  • The small outer cogs turn the larger cog and keep the stress going.

  • As you examine what keeps your stress going

  • Which of the stressors you listed in the outer cogs can you reduce to make your stress more manageable in the short-term

  • Can you build on those to maintain lower stress levels most of the time?

Tip: You may not eliminate stress from your life, but you can learn appropriate ways to manage stress.

Vicious Cogs

The Vicious Cogs is the copyright of Carol Vivyan.

The Vicious Cogs worksheet can also be used to identify ways of reducing your stress. For example, in the center cog, you will keep the word stress; in the outer cogs, you will write things that may help reduce your stress.

Tip: effective stress reduction and management is an ongoing process. Stress management is not a one-size fit all proposition. The strategies that work initially may not work long-term, but you can improve upon them over time.

As an alternative to the Vicious Cogs worksheet, let's use four questions from Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) to examine your stress. One of the principal assumptions of SFBT is that people are capable of problem-solving and managing their affairs. People are not the sum of their problems. Instead, the questions are reframed to fit the purpose of this blog post.

The four questions:

  1. What lifestyle changes have you made to reduce your stress? As you process the changes you have made, examine what worked well, what may need to be adjusted, and the things that didn't work, can those things be retooled for better outcomes?

  2. Scaling questions, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, what are the chances of reducing your stress? You are posing and answering this question based on current functioning. For example, suppose your response to the scaling question is a 4. The idea is not to get you to 10 immediately, as that would require significant changes in the short-term that may not be sustainable. So if your answer is a 4, what would need to happen to get you to a 5?

  3. Are there any exceptions? Think of those times in your life when your stress was manageable. What were you doing to manage your stress? Can you return to doing some of those same things to manage your stress in the present moment? If you cannot do those same things, how would you modify what worked previously to manage your stress presently?

  4. The miracle question is, in an ideal situation where your levels of stress are low and not affecting your functioning, what would you be doing? What would less stress look like for you? What would be different about you? What would the people closest to you see differently about you? The answer(s) to your miracle question may serve as your goals for reducing your stress.

Tip: alcohol consumption to numb the stress is an unhealthy coping strategy. Excessive alcohol consumption brings its own set of problems.

Remember, you will experience some stress at one point or another. Your response will determine the short or long-term impact of stress on your life. Sometimes, you must nod and smile as you move right along.

Stay Naturally Curious


Cozzolino, M., Girelli, L., Vivo, D. R., Limone, P., & Celia, G. (2020). A mind-body intervention for stress reduction as an adjunct to an information session on stress management in university students. Brain and Behavior, 6.

Miedziun, P., & Czabała, J. C. (2015). Stress Management Techniques. Archives of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy, 17(4), 23–30.

Popa, C. O., Schenk, A., Rus, A., Szasz, S., Suciu, N., Szabo, D. A., & Cojocaru, C. (2020). The Role of Acceptance and Planning in Stress Management for Medical Students. Acta Medica Marisiensis, 66(3), 101–105.

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