Managing Your Reaction To Stress


August 18, 2009

 I accidently started watching the show ‘Obsessed’ this morning as I got ready for work. Well, listening to it is more accurate, but you get the idea. For those who have not seen it, it is a new show on A&E that chronicles the lives of people with severe anxiety disorders. While the people shown are extreme cases, the “average Joe” can learn something from watching.

What sticks with me the most is the way the therapists have the people confront the things that give them the most anxiety. It was interesting to watch. At first, the person would be very agitated and fearful. They would try harder and harder to just avoid confronting the fear. After a short time though, the person would admit that he (or she) actually felt lessened anxiety levels even though the stressor was still present.

This made me think that even though all of us do not have that level of anxiety around day-to-day activities, many of us do tend to have uncontrollable amounts of stress in our lives. I have been part of countless courses on identifying stress, managing stress, and getting rid of stress. I’m sure you have too. What I have not been part of is a course or discussion that tells you that stress is ok, and instead of trying to eliminate it, confront it. Really confront it.

It all goes back to how we each define stress. Back when I had my twins, they had to be in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit) for several weeks. That whole time period was a blur except for something that a nurse told me late one night. I had been upset because the nurses would not let me hold the babies together and I thought that was important. I wanted the twins to be together like they had been for the previous eight months. My babies’ nurse told me, “That will cause them stress. It’s not necessarily bad stress or good stress, just stress. They do not need it.” She turned out to be right. What I learned from that conversation was that I always interpreted the word stress in a negative way. I hadn’t realized that there were good kinds of stress.

That said, take a look at what is on your plate right now. Do you think you’re stressed? Do you have work issues? Issues with a spouse, a child, another relative? Are you facing an illness yourself? Maybe you’re planning your wedding or a big party. Or, are you expecting a baby? All these are stressors that cannot just be eliminated. We must face them and move on. I think that by confronting them head on, much like in the ‘Obsessed’ show, we may be able to manage our reaction to the stress better. It doesn’t go away, but the anxiety level lessens. So, the next time you are feeling stressed and it isn’t something that you can just get rid of, face it. Head on. Sometimes a change in your outlook is enough to pull you through and get you on to the next step of your day.


  • A change in your (my) outlook is definitely a way to combat stress. Sometime I need some help doing that so a good run, talk with a friend, rest will help. Focusing on what’s really important and putting the big, looming stressor in it’s proper, diminished place helps too. Great post – great twins. They have angels watching over them.

  • hey, trish. interesting that this post comes out today, the same day the ny times discusses that your brain will be rewired due to ongoing stress, and not in a good way!

    like you say, when it’s episodic and only related to a given situation, stress can be positive. it’s most recognized as our fight or flight response or that great surge of adrenaline you experience when you’re scared of something but take it on. when stress becomes more persistent or even chronic, that’s when it gets dangerous, leading to serious illness and disease. at this point–or before–we need to figure out how to avoid the stressor, alter it, or change our reaction to it.

    i like your notion of heading directly into that which frightens us. i gave my daughter a card with eleanor roosevelt’s great quote, “do one thing every day that scares you.” not only might this help her realize she can do more than she suspects…she may also find she’s better-equipped to deal with all those things life will eventually throw her way.


  • Hi Trisha,
    Having gone through a brief period in my life (years ago) where I experienced anxiety attacks, I know only too well how little stresses can add up before you even realize it.

    Although that was a very difficult period to go through, it taught me lessons I could not have learned any other way….and in fact, turned into a blessing.

    I totally agree – you must face your fears and turn on the light, as it is, instead of pretending the darkness doesn’t exist.


  • As an Italian American, I must say I find severe stress a very WASPy thing, and I beleive it is that puritanical legacy of not confronting things. When I’m stressed I get right to it, my hands are flying about willy nilly, and all of a sudden I feel better.

  • Hi Trish, only two years ago my stress-levels where so high that it triggered two things: a burn-out syndrome and my up to then dormant coeliac disease about which I didn’t know. To be honest my stress never frightened me – I knew I could handle all of the tasks in the allocated time as long as I wouldn’t become ill. I studied two full time degree programmes at the same time, worked part time and did all sorts of other stuff as well. Through my burn-out I realized that all this wasn’t really worth my time and my coeliac disease told me that I pushed myself too far. Now there’s only one enemy and that is in fact the stress itself. The fear of stress actually stresses me far more than the stress itself. What if I get a burn-out again, what if … there is no way to confront that. Now I have a fail-safe mechanism: If it is too much, I just leave it, it won’t kill me. Doing everything however might do exactly that, in the long run. For day to day stress I completely agree with you though 🙂

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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