How do you survive a stressful situation?

Clinical psychologist’s 10 tips on how to survive stress and use it to your advantage


Stress is an essential part of life. Even the most successful people who do well cannot avoid unpleasant situations that traumatize their psychological state. Psychologists argue that there is a certain benefit in stress, as the body’s reaction to non-standard events, as it helps to draw the right conclusions, make the best decisions, adapt to changes with minimal losses. But what will be from it – good or bad, much depends on the person, his perception of the situation, attitudes and evaluation.

Who is harmed by stress?

The first ones to suffer are those who consider stress an inevitability associated exclusively with external circumstances. At first glance, this is true: in the majority of such critical situations, they do not depend on the person and it is impossible to influence them. But in similar circumstances, some people experience stress, while others simply see it as an obstacle, a difficulty, and start looking for ways to solve the problem. It all depends on the person himself: to accept the inevitability, to blame something or someone and suffer, or to sort it out and change his attitude to the situation.

Almost always stress affects people who are accustomed to seeing only negative things in everything .

Such thinking aggravates the situation, makes it unsolvable and hopeless. And, therefore, there is no need to try to resolve it, to direct the energy into a constructive channel instead of useless suffering.

Another category of people suffering from the consequences of stress are those who turn even a trivial stressful situation (for example, the loss of a thing) into a global event, twisting themselves even more. This may also include those who believe that adversity has a catastrophic effect on their health, any experience leads to severe illness, shortens their life.

Useful properties of stress

But all the problems are only in people’s heads and if desired, these shortcomings can be turned into advantages, and the negative experience can be transformed into a positive.

Here are 10 tips from the famous American psychotherapist, clinical psychologist Sherry Campbell.

She is the author of very popular worldwide books “Love Yourself: The Art of Being You”, “The Formula for Success: The Path to Emotional Well-Being.

Self-awareness training

If the stress factor does occur and it is impossible to avoid its influence, it is necessary to accept it as a part of life, to try to understand it and use it for your own good. For example, to learn something new, to let go of what cannot be retained, to correct your own shortcomings or to treat others with understanding.

Any stressful situation shows where the mistake is, where there is a lack of knowledge, and where there is a lack of skill or experience, reveals the most vulnerable and weak points. And in this regard, there is no need to dust your head with ashes, feel sorry for yourself and cry, but to think over everything, analyze and begin to improve.

Learning to think creatively, out of the box

The unpredictability of events is a major stressor. Even in the most elaborate plan, it is impossible to take into account all factors and control every detail. To avoid an acute reaction to the unexpected, it is enough to learn to think more broadly, to go beyond the standards, to find in everything not only minuses, but also pluses.

Stress as a tone.

Sudden difficulties – not a reason to hide from them, but the shake-up that forces you to take risks, to look for other ways. During this period, the body always releases adrenaline, and this is pure energy. It should be directed in a constructive direction, and not on the suffering. As a rule, new ideas and achievements appear exactly after you have experienced stress.

A reassessment of values and a change in priorities

Failure forces you to pay close attention to the priority tasks, and it often turns out that you did the wrong thing, in the wrong order, or even something that should not have been done at all. It is the stress that provides the opportunity to visibly identify what is most important, to line up tasks in order of importance and to start doing them in the right order. And when it works, such experiences become very useful in the future.

The search for new opportunities

As has already been said, stress is caused by unexpected challenges. It is, in fact, the challenge of life circumstances that have not been dealt with at all or in insufficient measure. And this is a reason to look for new ways, to learn new things, to change tactics of action. Everyone has two ways: to be afraid of another failure and give up, or to fight and win.

Stress as a stimulus for development

Psychologists proved long ago that difficult situations mobilize thinking, strengthen cognitive functions, make us focus on priority tasks, quickly analyze and make decisions. In critical circumstances, attention increases, memory improves, long-forgotten knowledge, skills and abilities that help solve the problem are recalled. You have to learn not to miss this fact, but to use it to the maximum. The main thing is not to fall into a stupor and do nothing.

Mobilizing properties of stress

The likelihood of non-standard situations forces you to be in constant readiness to fight and win. Obstacles encountered must be perceived as a source of strength, not as an excuse for despair. He who fears failure never wins – a rule of life.

Training in planning, tactics and strategy

A stressful situation always seems confusing and unsolvable at first, but after rethinking it, the way out is found, unless you go deeper into misery. Very often trouble is the consequence of impulsive, ill-conceived or emotional actions. And stress acts as a kind of brake, makes you stop, think about it, understand what the mistake is. And also that only a plan, taking into account the general circumstances (strategy) and the sequence of actions (tactics) give the highest probability of victory. Remember, only a well-organized case is successful.

Stress teaches you to understand people and find the right connections

Even strong people find it difficult to cope with stress alone, you have to look for support, advice, help. And not everyone can give them, only those who are self-confident, have achieved success and can cope with difficulties themselves. Admitting one’s mistakes, incompetence or inability, asking for help is an excuse for wanting to help and support. This is how useful and necessary people appear in life. And additionally, communication with them acts as psychotherapy, it eliminates the possibility of emotional burnout.

The main benefit is the belief in good, positive thinking

A depressed state, a gloomy defeatist mood, and disbelief in oneself are the main obstacles to success and a direct path to failure. Stress is a reminder that it is time to switch to a different evaluation approach, a different way of thinking. How to relate to what is happening – positively or negatively, it is the choice of the individual. Optimistic people win almost always, because they use positive attitudes in solving the most difficult situations, and pessimists are doomed to fail in advance.

To sum it all up, I would like to wish everyone who experiences stress to find the strength to change their attitude from negative to constructive positive, not to indulge in suffering and self-injury, not to look for the guilty, and do something, change and live on with the experience gained, not making repeated mistakes.

How not to give in to stress – even in difficult times

The real causes of negative emotions – and how to get rid of them

Michael Horse clinical psychologist, addictologist

Stressful situations over the past few months has been enough – we were worried about health, work, children, restrictions … Why do some suffer more, while others in life as if nothing much has changed? What does our reaction to stress depend on – and can we change it?

Let’s ask ourselves the question: what causes negative mental (emotional) states? What causes us to be afraid, angry, anxious, annoyed, guilty, ashamed, angry, guilty conscience, or any other negative emotion? What is the cause of all these states, which in everyday life are often called by one word – stress?

Yes, there is physiological (biological) stress and psychological stress. Let me give a simple example. Biological stress is the physiological stress that a person would experience if they were watered with cold water on a hot day. What will happen? The head will retract into the shoulders, the face will wrinkle, tremors will run through the body, vascular spasm will occur. These physiological reactions will occur in the vast majority of people in this situation.

But psychologically, people will react differently to what will happen to them. Most likely, most will be unhappy with this event, will complain, will be indignant: “Oh-oh! Stop it immediately, I feel bad!”. And some will react cheerfully, “Hee hee! Let’s do it again! Yay!”. Obviously, the former can get to the point of emotional overload, of stress, while the latter cannot. Although their physiological reaction will be the same.

We are, of course, interested in psychological stress, not biological stress. Therefore, in what follows, by the word “stress” we will mean exclusively emotional stress of high intensity.

The most stressful life events, table

There are many definitions of stress, but we will take the most comprehensible to a wide range of readers. So, stress (from stress – strain, tension; state of increased tension) is a state of excessively strong and prolonged psychological tension that occurs when a person’s nervous system gets an emotional overload. Stress disorganizes human activities, disrupts the normal course of human behavior 1 .

What is the cause of stress (emotional tension) from the point of view of modern scientific psychological thought? What causes people to feel stress? According to many researchers (fortunately, not all of them, and why fortunately – read on), the cause of stress is the so-called stressors, or stressors, that is, events and situations.

A huge number of classifications of stressors have been created, by which the intensity of stressfulness is even assessed. I will give only one of them. Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Ray created this scale based on a survey of over 400 men and women of different ages, with different education, marital status and from different cultures. They were asked to rate the level of stress when each of these events occurred.

Life event Stress intensity
Death of marital partner 100
Divorce 75
Separation from marriage partner 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Getting fired from a job 47
Reunion with a marriage partner 45
Retirement 45
Health problems in a family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual problems 39
Getting a new family member 39
Adjusting to changes at work 39
Change of financial status 38
Death of a close friend 37
Removal to another job 36
Termination of foreclosure 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Leaving home with a son or daughter 29
Difficulties with members of the household 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Wife going to work or quitting her job 26
Entering or leaving school 26
Change in living arrangements 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Difficulties with a boss 23
Change of residence 20
Switching schools 20
Changing entertainment 19
Changes in religious life 19
Changes in social life 18
Changes in sleeping habits 16
Changes in eating habits 15
Vacation, vacations 13
Christmas 12
Minor infractions of the law 11

Why people experience stress differently

Many other scales and classifications could be cited, only with one big, fat “but”. The approach on which this study was based is fundamentally flawed . In fact, the researchers and scientists who say that stress (emotional tension) is a consequence of events and situations are wrong! Let me explain my point.

Let’s take any situation, even the most stressful: the death of a person. And find out that, as it turns out, there are people on earth who rejoice in the death of their beloved relatives. These people have been brought up in other cultural and philosophical-religious traditions. For example, it is known for sure that Buddhists treat death differently than Europeans. It is not about the emotional state of a person, but about the intensity of the manifestation of that experience.

Again. This is important. We are not dealing with different situations, but with the same situations. For example, we don’t look at the death of a rich relative, who left an inheritance, and the death of a poor relative, who left only debts. And it turns out that in exactly the same situation people can have very different emotional reactions:

  • Some people will indulge in grief all their lives. This will deprive them of strength and opportunities to create something of value. These are the kinds of people who, after losing a loved one, drink themselves to death or pass away;
  • Others will grieve, but it will not deprive them of life itself. After a while they will recover from their grief and move on;
  • Others will smile sincerely, beat drums, and dance around campfires, rejoicing that their loved one has finally left this world and is now in a place where he or she is incomparably better off.

We can take a situation that is less traumatic for someone raised in our culture, such as a traffic jam. And we will also see different psychological reactions. For one person the traffic jam will be a strong stressor, and for the other not at all, even though they are both late for work and their bosses are angry. One will arrive exhausted and devastated, while the other is quite in a resourceful state.

We could go on and on, giving examples where, in very similar life situations, people experience mental states that differ in intensity and sometimes in sign. This means that not everyone will experience stress in the same way.

The cause of stress is within a person

From this we can conclude that the cause of stress is not a situation or event, but something that is hidden inside a person! And many scientists agree with our conclusions.

For example, American specialists J.S. Everly and Robert Rosenfeld published in 1985 a book “Stress: Nature and Treatment”. Its main idea is that not all events and phenomena (external or internal) become stressors, that is, have a stressogenic function. If a stimulus is not interpreted by a particular person as a threat or something bearing a negative consequence, then the stress reaction does not occur at all! Thus, according to Everly and Rosenfeld, most of the stress reactions people experience are actually created by themselves! I specifically highlighted the word interpreted, for which the Russian language has a good synonym interpreted.

Long before Everly and Rosenfeld, in 1966, the American psychiatrist Richard Lazarus published a book Psychological Stress and Coping Process in which he broadcast the view that the occurrence of psychological stress and its intensity depend on the personal characteristics of the individual. This approach is called Lazarus’ cognitive theory of stress. It is a very bright and helpful theory, which for some reason is almost never used by psychotherapists.

And since we now know that people experience different in intensity and sign states under the same events and situations, it is important to find an answer to the question of what the difference between these people is. By answering this question, we can try to change within ourselves what is the true cause of stress, automatically gaining as a result the resource that was previously expended on negative states.

Why do people react differently to the same stressful situation?

To answer this question, I propose to introduce another model, according to which human life is a journey, and the person himself is a traveler.

That traveler is each of us. We walk through life, choosing a goal and moving toward it. The goal may be hundreds or thousands of kilometers away, but we still try to go our way, overcoming all obstacles, and getting what we want.

Tell me, how, in fact, does a human traveler know that somewhere there is something he can achieve?

Suppose a man wants to go to Brazil for carnival, but lives in a forgotten little town. None of his acquaintances have ever been to Brazil. He has never been there himself. How does he find out about the existence of Brazil? The answer is simple enough: he watched the carnival on TV, read a book about the country or saw it on a map.

So, society tells us about possible goals, we get certain knowledge about the world from society. From parents, school teachers, friends, directors, writers, bloggers, and so on. And this knowledge about the world within the model we are talking about would be called the word map.

That is, a person is a traveler exploring the real world. But in his head he has a map where that world is depicted. A map is a representation of the world in which each of us moves and lives, or, if you like, the worldview (view of the world) given to us by the society that surrounds us.

Not all of the information on the map is drawn by ourselves. Much of it has not been personally verified by us. But often we believe in it as an inviolable dogma, because we are used to thinking so. Because when we were kids, we were told something by people we trusted 100 percent – our emotional leaders (our moms and dads and other loved ones).

So, on maps, we mark our goals and plot our routes. And we travel (live) in the real world. And now, attention, we explore the question: what is so different about maps that people, being in the same life situation, react differently to it?

What are the true causes of negative emotions?

Let’s imagine the following picture: a traveler has set a goal to get to a city that is beyond the forest and the mountains, beyond the plain and the river. He looks at the map and sees that a bridge has been built across the river, and beyond that, on the other side of the river is the city.

Good, he thinks, the route is laid out. So he devotes energy and time to getting to where his map says the bridge is. Finally he reaches the river. But he sees no bridge. Maybe once upon a time there was one, but now there certainly is not. And it is impossible to cross the river any other way.

What do you think is the emotional state of our traveler? What will he feel? Most likely, negative emotions. Don’t you agree? Disappointment, resentment, frustration, anger. The traveler will experience exactly the mental states we are looking for!

And if we ask him the direct question, “What are you worried about right now, comrade? What is the cause of your anger and frustration?” – What do we hear in response? Of course, something like, “I’m disappointed and resentful because there’s no bridge!”

See? The person (the traveler) has assigned external circumstances (the lack of a bridge) as the cause of his negative emotional state. However, you and I already know that the event or situation itself cannot be the cause of the experience, because in the same situations, people with different worldviews (maps) experience different (even by sign, not to mention the intensity) experiences.

So what is the true cause of experience in the absence of a bridge? It is contained in the person’s chart. The traveler experiences a negative emotion not because there is no bridge, but because that bridge was drawn on his map, you see? If the bridge had not been on his map, he would have found himself prepared for the fact that it would not be there. And the absence of the bridge would not have caused him to worry!

So, here is the answer to the question you and I have been looking for for so long. People are not nervous about circumstances, events, or situations. They are nervous because those circumstances and events are not reflected in their maps. That is, their maps do not correspond to reality.

And since this is the case, we can work with the cards to experience less anxiety, and therefore less stress in our lives. It turns out that the amount of negative emotions depends on ourselves.

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