How to Learn Anything
Shortcuts to Knowledge and Understanding

7. Stress Management

Content Guide

Recognizing When You

Are Under a Lot of Stress

Ways to Start Dealing

with Stress

Deep Breathing

Negative Stress

For Particularly

Difficult Stresses


Memory Map


This chapter is designed to help you understand what causes your stress and how you can deal with it in a productive and positive way.

Stress is inevitable. There are positive and negative stresses. Some of the positive stresses we accept daily are:

· adventures,

· self-motivated change,

· a new relationship,

· risks for possible personal gains,

· raising children.

There are also negative stresses which may, or may not, lead to positive changes:

· stagnation,

· fear, anger, conflict,

· change forced by others,

· believing we have limited choices.

The principle difference between positive and negative stress is our perception of the stress and our personal view about whether or not we have some control over that stress. For some people conflict is always seen as an opportunity for change or improvement while others concentrate only on their perceived powerlessness. For some people adventures in the "great outdoors" are chances to learn new skills while for others, adventures are just another way of describing an outdoor torture perpetuated by the knowledgeable against those of us who enjoy a good movie and popcorn!

In order to manage stress effectively, our responsibility is to recognize our own stress, to understand our feelings about that stress and to decide on an action that makes sense to us.

Recognizing When You Are Under a Lot of Stress

Watch for some of the following signs to warn you about excessive stress (whether positive or negative). Experiencing some of these stresses once or twice is common. However, if you experience some of these stresses regularly, then your stress may be hazardous to your physical, mental and emotional health.

· You are working late more often than not, or harder than you know is really required.

· You are having problems making any decisions, large or small.

· You are constantly making "safe" choices, rather than taking realistic risks.

· You use an increased amount of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

· Your speech or writing patterns have become vague, disconnected.

· You experience an increased level of anxiety, worry over relatively trivial concerns.

· You constantly repeat the same topic in conversations even though you know the point is not particularly important.

· You experience inappropriate anger, hostility or outbursts of temper.

· You are constantly putting yourself or others down.

· You become overly concerned about your health.

· You have greater difficulty sleeping, or eating.

· You begin to confuse or forget dates, places, times or other details which you remembered easily before.

· You are having difficulty in getting along with people.

· You just know that something is wrong but are not sure what it is.


Review the previous list of stress signals you may have in your life right now. Put a check mark beside those signs that apply most specifically to you.

Try to identify major stresses in your life now that cause these signs to appear:

Which of these stresses is most dominant in your life right now? You may choose this example for Exercise #3 to identify ways of dealing with this stress.

Ways to Start Dealing with Stress

The following suggestions reflect a wide range of alternatives for dealing with stress. Each of us deals with stress in one form or another. Choose some of the following techniques to build onto the stress management skills you already have.

Some of these suggestions can help you resolve short-term stresses immediately. Improvise these tips to fit your own situation. These are not golden rules as much as a helpful techniques.

· Laugh! Few stress reduction techniques work as well as laughter. Laughter relaxes you physically (15 minutes of belly laughing equals 5-6 hours of meditation according to Buddhist monks) and laughter relaxes your mind. Laughter is also contagious and your family members or colleagues can join in the laughter and make you feel even better.

· You cannot control some things. There is a famous prayer that reads: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. An overbearing teacher is unlikely to change until you are able to resolve some specific conflicts. In the mean time you do have control over how you react to any situation so use your sense of humor to help you get through.

· Work on developing the capacity to recognize when you are under stress. If you don't recognize the stress you are under, you will never deal with it well.

· When you are facing a stressful situation try to isolate what the particular stress is. Can changing your perception reduce the stress? For example, many people think going to the dentist has to be stressful. Can you visit your dentist with a big grin, ask them how they are doing, ask them to educate you about what they are going to do, tell them you are nervous and ask them what other patients do when they are nervous? Use the stressful situation as an opportunity to learn, to laugh and to understand why the situation is stressful.

· Ineffective use of your time is a leading cause of stress. Don't procrastinate as much as you usually do. We spend 80% of our time doing only 20% of the things we need to do, eg. re-arranging our desks or going through our mail three times before deciding what to do with it. Learn new time management techniques to use your valuable time wisely.

· 60-hours of steady studying is not productive, so cut back. Research shows that productivity drops among people under high stress, but peaks under moderate stress. Long weeks are sometimes necessary but good time management means you should have fewer of these long weeks.

· We need friendships to reduce stress. Make an effort to improve a few supportive relationships. Remember friendships take time. People who have supportive relationships suffer less under moderate and severe stress than people who are socially isolated. Remember social isolation is a method we use to punish prisoners.

· Not every argument is worth winning. Give in when you have little to gain. Save your energy for what is really important but do not let little irritations build up to a major problem. Talk things out with people before problems escalate. Learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflicts.

· When you are uptight it is important to breath deeply and to stretch your muscle groups. You can also tense and relax your muscles starting with your arms, face and neck, shoulders, abdomen, and finally the legs. These exercises can be done while you are sitting at your desk, while standing at a bus stop, or relaxing at home.

· Don't try to control family members, friends or colleagues. Be supportive instead of judgemental. A supportive environment is much less stressful than one where people play power games.

· Take a warm shower or bath to soothe tense muscles and provide a few moments of heavenly privacy.

· For immediate relief of stress try to take ten minutes away from the situation for a quick walk. Coffee breaks filled with coffee and sugar treats tend to add to the stress. A quick walk outside, or to another area within a building, will increase your energy, clear your mind, and give you some needed perspective.

· Go to the library, or other quiet place (outdoor if the weather permits) to read a magazine article you don't have to read for school. It is a wonderful place to hide from reality for a short time.

· When things pile up to unmanageable levels, break up major projects into workable units with realistic time frames. You can accomplish all major projects, or combination of projects, if you begin with the priority items and accomplish the other parts of the project as required.

· If you are worried about a small problem with a colleague, spend some time talking with that person and telling them how their behavior (and not them personally) is affecting you.

Stop comparing yourself with everyone else. No matter how hard you try you probably cannot paint like Emily Carr, sing like Lena Horne, write like James Michener or win the Nobel Peace prize (unless that is your goal). You may be able to do some things exceptionally well, but not everything and that's okay! So don't put yourself down if you are not as good as someone else; they can't do everything well either.

Learn to feel comfortable talking about your problems, hopes and fears. A close friend is a valuable resource, but avoid dumping on the same person all the time. Make sure you also take the time to listen to your friend's concerns.

Read a good book.

Watch a good comedy on television or rent a video.

Get physical. Gardening or long walks are great ways to boost your energy.

Take a daily music break with eyes closed sit back and listen to 10 minutes of soothing music. If you play a musical instrument, take time everyday to play a tune or two.

Avoid doing everything quickly. High stress people often try to do too much within the same 24 hours we all have. Slow down, learn to say no and remember to have time to reflect North Americans spend too much time doing and not enough time thinking!

Instead of an after-studying cocktail, try ice water followed by a 10-minute quiet time, relaxing with your eyes closed. There is great peace when the world is quiet for a short time. This gives you the energy to spend quality time with your family, friends or by yourself later on.

When you arrive home from school and you need to unwind, explain to whomever you may be living with that you need one half-hour to yourself before being together. Make sure you give other people in your home the same consideration when they need some quiet time.

Try to make your study and living areas as pleasant and comfortable as possible with pictures, plants and ornaments. Personalize your study area.

One of the greatest stress releasers is a big hug from a family member, friend or trusted colleague. Silent empathy is a great healer. Begin by giving other people that kind of support if they feel comfortable with it.

These suggestions are not a cure for stress. They are short term coping techniques to help you through some rough spots.

At some point you must recognize what your stresses are and develop a whole range of techniques for dealing with them in an ongoing way.

Remember your sense of humor. The perspective that you have of stressful situations in your past can provide great background for humorous stories or stories for teaching other people new skills. (Remember that horrible date you once had, the day everything at work went berserk, the vacation trip that failed before you even left!) Imagine yourself in another 10 years and try to view your present stresses from that perspective.

Physically Coping with Stress

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing, taking a brisk walk, doing relaxation exercises, tensing and relaxing our muscles are all ways to immediately relieve the pressure of stress. Deep breathing is one of the easiest techniques to master since it is useful at work, at home, and at times when you cannot do any of the other techniques.

Deep breathing can take only 10 seconds or last a half-hour, depending on the circumstances. Regardless of the length, use it to the fullest and enjoy the feelings. Here's one method of deep breathing.

· Place you hands on your abdomen, right below the navel. The fingertips of each hand should touch one another.

· Breathe in through your nose; it is healthier than breathing through your mouth.

· Inhale slowly; as you do, push the abdomen out as though it were a balloon expanding. With your eyes open or closed "feel" the air passing through your nostrils.

· As the abdomen expands, your diaphragm will move downward, allowing fresh air to enter the bottom of your lungs. Keep your back straight to aid the process of maximizing your breathing. Exhale through your mouth.

· As you continue to breathe imagine the air filling your lungs, your abdomen and, with each new breath, imagine the air filling your arms, legs and every part of your body. This will help you to concentrate on the various parts of your body and should help you to relax each area.

· When you feel comfortable, take deeper breathes and hold the breath for a count of 3-5 seconds. Do the same when you exhale your breath, hold for 3-5 seconds before taking your next breath.

· Picture yourself in a place where you feel particularly comfortable (e.g. on a beach, in a favorite room, playing a sport, in a childhood memory). Pick just one spot to concentrate on while you continue to deep breath for as long as you wish.

· When you are ready, slowly begin to stretch your muscles as if you were yawning. As you feel more relaxed you can begin to return to "the real world".

Negative Stress

One of the most effective steps towards managing negative stress is learning to recognize what causes you negative stress. Each person's list is unique and individual. Think of your friend who never gets upset in traffic jams but faints at the sight of blood.


Pick a day, or a few days, and list the ordinary, day-in, day-out little annoyances that seem inevitable at work or at home. Also list those stresses that are constant in your life (e.g., an unhappy working relationship, financial concerns, car problems). Once you have listed some of these stresses, develop some actions that you could try to minimize, prevent or conquer these stresses. Put a star beside techniques or actions that really work for you. Use your imagination!


For Particularly Difficult Stresses

Use this form to help you resolve some of your really tricky stresses that seem "hopeless". Keep in mind that all stresses are an opportunity to learn about yourself and to discover ways to deal creatively with those stresses. People have gone through concentration camps, wars, the death of a spouse or child, and physical disabilities and many of them survived and have grown stronger. So can you!


OVERCOME: How could you overcome this stress?

AVOID: How could you get away from or prevent the stress from happening again?

ACCEPT: How could you live with the stress?

how to learn anything

How could you build up a resistance to this stress?

How could you change yourself or your perceptions about this stress?



It is difficult to summarize the best ways of dealing with stress. Each of us copes in different ways with the same stresses. The following summary reflects my personal beliefs. Use those parts of the summary that fit your personal style and use the following page to add your own summary.

Few people can deal with stress alone. We need the support of other people. Therefore we need to have love and friendship in our lives. If you have these things in your life then you must constantly work to maintain and improve them. If you do not have love and friendship in your life right now then you need to develop it by showing how you care about yourself and how you can care for other people.

Make firm commitments to your family and friends and spend time with them to be supportive and to receive support. Encourage honest and open communication between you. Try to be non-judgemental and accept people as they are while you try to show them alternatives to the way they do things. Accept their ideas and suggestions for modifying your life as well.

People cannot support and encourage you without you caring about yourself. Identify what stresses you have and what strategies you can use to prevent or deal with these stresses. People respect someone who has the self-esteem to try new things to solve old problems.

Have more fun by laughing and being with happy people. Take time to do something by yourself everyday. For example to read for a few minutes, meditate or pray, and to reflect on what you have to be grateful for. Make an effort to think of something special you can do for each day to brighten someone else's day such as bringing in some home made cookies, sharing a new joke, lending them a video of a favorite film, or bringing someone a fresh rose.

We constantly hear about living a better lifestyle. Choose parts of a healthier lifestyle that make you comfortable. Perhaps it is walking a bit each day, having only one ice cream instead of two, or perhaps cutting down on fatty foods. If you choose not to change your lifestyle then try other activities to compensate, e.g. relaxation exercises, better time management, or resolving conflicts.

You cannot prevent all negative stress, but you can have fun trying to minimize it!


Whenever you finish learning new information it is helpful to take a moment or two to evaluate what you have found most useful and what you would like to do with that information. This process can be very useful whether you write out the answers or just think about them.

1. What general concepts, ideas or techniques have you learned?

2. List at least three techniques from this chapter that you could use immediately.

3. What other concepts, ideas or techniques do you want to learn?

4. Is there anything you have learned that you could pass on to your colleagues, family members or friends?

5. Do you have any further comments or ideas you want to record based on what you have learned?


The following references are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your school library, and in your local book stores. Look for further books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audio cassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people in your own school.

For more intensive research, read the suggestions in the chapter "Writing and Researching Papers".

Brown, Barbara. (1980). Supermind: The ultimate energy. New York: Harper and Row. 286 pages with index.

Brown uses her background in brain and behavior research to argue the existence of super mentality within people. She documents the poverty of scientifically acceptable notions of mind capabilities. She examines the mind-body connection and how that can improve or harm a person's health. Also examines the evolutionary argument for intelligence in humans and how the unconscious mind's potential needs further study.

Freudenberger, H.J. and Richelson, G. (1980). Burn-out: The high cost of high achievement. Garden City, NJ: Anchor Press. 214 pages.

Examines the phenomenon of "burn-out"; what is it, who does it affect, false cures, and ways to change it.

Hanson, Peter G. (1986). The joy of stress. (2nd Ed.) Toronto: Hanson Stress Management Organization. 278 pages with Index and illustrations.

Defines positive and negatives stress and how to cope in realistic ways.

Neidhardt, E. Joseph; Weinstein, Malcolm S.; and Conry, Robert F. (1990). No-gimmick guide to managing stress: effective options for every lifestyle. (2nd Edition). North Vancouver, BC: Self Counsel Press. 122 pages with illustrations and charts.

A workbook for self-examination and self-developing in areas of understanding stress, personal planning skills, progressive relaxation training, quieting oneself, autogenic training, communication skills and your general health and well-being.

Rowh, Mark. (1989). Coping with stress in college. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. 172 pages.

Specific techniques to help college students adapt to the stresses of studying (both self-imposed stresses and those inherent in any post-secondary school learning).

Yates, J.E. (1979). Managing stress. New York: Amacon. 165 pages with charts.

Links stress reduction and business/management. Gives stress reduction insights and techniques. Ends with a "personal stress management program" workbook which involves work stress and how to change it.


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