Juvenal, a Greek poet, already warned us: Healthy men in a healthy body. This is my starting point to publicize the measures with which we can effectively deal 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, well known to all, which can become chronic and lead to psychosomatic exhaustion. When we get to this type of situation 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 for one of his sentences: What reason does not achieve, time often achieves. With this starting point, I will now describe the twenty techniques that will help us control stress.
1. Practice physical exercise
I fully agree with John F. Kennedy when he stated that “physical health is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, but the foundation of creative and dynamic intellectual activity . ” The development and maintenance of a good physical state have very positive effects in the prevention of stress. For this, it is advisable to exercise regularly since, in addition to increasing the individual’s physical resistance to the effects of stress, it enhances psychological resistance. Exercising forces us to shift our attention away 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 less and less physical responses and more intellectual responses. With exercise, organic resources that rarely can be used in the development of professional activity are used and consumed. 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 to remember now 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. Proper diet
The development of good eating habits that condition 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
With this technique, an attempt is made to control the reactions of anxiety or fear in situations that are threatening to an individual. It is based on Jacobson’s progressive relaxation, which consists of training the individual to perform contraction-relaxation physical exercises. This action will allow you to know the state of tension of each part of your body and have the resources to relax those areas when they become tense.
4. Stress inoculation
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 appear in order.
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 suffering from 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. Breath control techniques
Stress situations usually cause rapid and shallow breathing, which implies a reduced use of the functional capacity of the lungs, poorer oxygenation, greater expenditure, and an increase in the general tension of the organism. Breath control techniques make it easier for the individual to learn an appropriate way to breathe well so that, in a stressful situation, they can automatically control their breathing.
7. Mental relaxation and meditation techniques
The practice of meditation stimulates physiological changes of great value to the body. They claim that the person is capable of systematically developing 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 effects at the physiological level. 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 voluntary control of the aforementioned processes in normal situations.
9. Self-control techniques
The objective of these techniques is to get the individual to acquire control of their behavior through training their ability to regulate the circumstances that accompany it (both those that precede their behavior and those derived from it). These procedures are very useful in managing and controlling behaviors involved in stressful situations, not only to improve those that have already caused problems but also to prevent the possible appearance of problematic behaviors.
10. social support
Social relationships with other individuals often serve as a source of psychological or instrumental help. A social group can become a reference that facilitates the individual a better adaptation and integration into reality. Therefore, it is essential to establish and develop social networks that provide social support to the individual.
11. distraction and good humor
Fostering distraction and good humor is a good measure to prevent anxiety situations or to alleviate them. In addition to facilitating the displacement of attention from problems, it helps to relativize their importance.
12. cognitive techniques
They are used to change thinking, modify erroneous or negative evaluations regarding the demands or the individual’s resources 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 how 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 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 distorted thoughts
Automatic thoughts are spontaneous and specific to each individual. They are made without reflection or prior reasoning, although they are believed to be rational. They tend to be dramatic, all-out, and very difficult to deflect. The mode of intervention for the modification of these thoughts consists of instructing the subject to keep a record of the thoughts that arise in their normal life situations and to try to assess to what extent they consider that they reflect the situation they have experienced.
Another class of thoughts that cause stress is called deformed. They manifest a tendency to relate all objects and situations with oneself, to use generalization, magnification, and polarization schemes in the interpretation of reality, etc. Intervention in this type of thinking 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. thought stopping
The action of this technique is aimed at modifying negative and repetitive thoughts that lead to emotional disturbances (such as anxiety). In other words, they do not contribute to finding effective solutions to the problem, but rather make it more difficult. Thought stopping is applied as follows: when a chain of repetitive negative 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 characteristic, which, in addition to causing 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 stress reaction is avoided.
It is about training the individual to manage to behave assertively, with a greater capacity to express feelings, desires, and needs to others in a free, clear, and unequivocal way. The purpose is for the individual to achieve her objectives while respecting the other’s points of view. The execution of this technique is carried out through role-playing practices.
18. social skills training
It consists of teaching behaviors that are more likely to achieve success in achieving a personal goal and conducting yourself safely in social situations.
19. troubleshooting technique
A situation becomes a problem when an effective solution cannot be given. The repeated failure to solve a problem causes chronic discomfort, anxiety, and a feeling of helplessness, which makes it difficult to find new solutions. Problem-solving techniques are used to help the individual decide what are the most appropriate responses to a situation. This technique consists of several steps:
- Identification and description of the problem in a clear, fast, and precise way.
- 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 that 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 so 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 dealing with stress is to acquire those skills, aptitudes, and attitudes that allow us to effectively manage the aforementioned techniques to live more peacefully and, above all, to avoid innumerable chronic diseases. Of course, I do not forget Gandhi who said “education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”