Angry man cartoonHave you had a stress attack recently? It’s when you are swept up with anger or fear, your heart pounds, you sweat, shape or tremble and may have difficulty breathing.

When you experience a stress attack like this, you will almost always react to it. Some people direct their stress reaction outwards towards others. I’m sure you’ve seen it when they raise their voice, interrupt and make demands or threats. Of course the people around them don’t appreciate this outer-directed stress reaction, which feels like being bullied.

There is also another type of stress reaction which s very different and is inter-directed. This happens when the person has difficulty expressing their intense emotion; they bottle it up and often feel its best to withdraw. They may even weep with frustration, which incidentally shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness. This inner-directed stress reaction also has negative consequences, as it may result in eroding the person’s self-esteem if they feel unable to stand up for themselves.

Common to both outer- and inner-directed stress reactions, is that they inevitably don’t have good outcomes either for the individual or the people around them.

If you recognise yourself in either of these unhelpful stress reactions, there are several actions you can take to cope better:

1.    Get perspective

To get perspective about what has happened, you need to pause. Don’t react immediately — a quick reaction will almost always be the wrong reaction. Remember to breathe. Tell yourself that you’re not going to lose your temper or do or say anything that you’ll later regret. Practising mindfulness techniques is really useful.

Also, change your focus by reframing or restructuring your thinking. Three powerful questions that help do this are (more here):

·         How can I accept this?

·         What can I learn from this?

·         Is there an opportunity?


2.    Get positive  

You need positive feelings to balance the intensely negative experience of the stress attack. In fact, positive feelings actually help you recover and bounce back. Amazingly, studies have also shown that they help repair the physical damage done to our bodies by prolonged exposure to overstress.

There are three easy and effective exercises that reduce the emotional impact of a stress attack and also assist with the previous point of getting perspective:

·         Three good things exercise: once-a-day reflect on, and preferably write in a journal, three good things that have happened to you over the past 24 hours.

·         Gratitude exercise: once-a-day reflect on, and preferably write in a journal, the things that you are deeply grateful for in your life.

·         Gratitude letter: write a letter to a person to whom you grateful but have not expressed that gratitude recently. Then visit the person and read the letter to them out loud.


3.    Get meaning

A stress attack knocks you off balance. You can retain your balance by focusing on the important and enduring things of life. Connecting with your faith, spirituality and spending time in nature are powerful ways of doing this. (More ideas on how to create and enhance meaning in your life are available here).


4.    Get support

We often hesitate to ask for help for fear of embarrassment. Remember, strong people ask for help whereas weak people hesitate. The support from loved ones, family, friends and colleagues is of crucial importance in recovery from a stress attack. You need people who you trust, who will listen to you and also tell you if you are overreacting. (More ideas on how to get support are available here).


5.    Get moving

Everyone agrees that we should exercise more, but the uncomfortable reality is few of us actually managed to do so. At the very minimum, we should be exercising to the point of breaking out in a sweat for 20 minutes, three times a week.


In conclusion, it might be that getting moving and exercising is the place to start in coping with the stress attack and your stress reaction. It enables you to get perspective, change your thoughts to be more positive, reflect on what’s meaningful in your life, and you can even do it with family and friends. So let’s all get moving!

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