How do we deal with stress?

In our last article, we explained that the rejection of change is a completely natural reaction and nothing other than a reaction to stress, namely an evolutionarily tested avoidance strategy.

In this article, we look at what strategies are better for dealing with stress in the 21st century, where change is ubiquitous.

Because we all know: Escape or rejection are not effective reactions to stress in the long run? But what do we do when we have to face a danger - even if it is only an unpleasant situation? When we are asked to make a decision that is perceived as difficult?

No question: such situations are predestined to trigger stress. However, the American psychologist Richard Lazarus has shown with his transactional stress model that it is not the extent of the stress stimulus that determines the stress level, but that it is essentially dependent on the person who is exposed to the stimulus. Stress is therefore a subjective reaction perception. This interaction is called transaction.

The stress model according to Lazarus.

Lazarus' model divides dealing with stress into two phases: the assessment phase and the coping phase. In the first phase, we check whether the situation has an influence on our well-being. If the situation is perceived as stressful, the second phase is about looking for a solution. Lazarus divides the assessment phase into three steps. The primary assessment is about whether the situation is subjectively classified as pleasant, insignificant or harmful (stressful). If the situation triggers stress, the stress level is determined. If the situation is more of a challenge for us, the level should be set lower than if we are threatened with (manageable) harm or if we recognise an existential threat.

This primary "gut feeling" then becomes a rationalising assessment in the secondary evaluation, the results of which essentially depend on the resources we have available to cope with the situation. The less able we feel to cope with the situation, the stronger the stress reaction and the more hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) are released to trigger an escape reflex.

In the 21st century, however, and especially in modern societies with a high division of labour, escape no longer helps, even if we try it again and again. The best-known "escape reactions" of our time in professional life are aggression, withdrawal into the private sphere, inner resignation, drugs and - from our point of view also - procrastination, the endless and pointless "putting off" of unpleasant and stressful tasks. None of this helps. That is why it is so important that we acquire some stress management techniques.

Lazarus names three types of stress management in his model:

  1. The problem-oriented Stress management uses people's rational abilities. This is about getting a grip on it by gathering information, taking appropriate action and seeking help and support.

  2. The emotion-oriented Stress management rather aims at changing one's own attitude towards the stress trigger (e.g. through breathing exercises or positive thinking) and thereby reducing the state of agitation.

  3. The assessment-oriented Stress management is a form of cognitive re-evaluation of the situation with the aim of seeing the stress as an acceptable challenge. However, this can only be achieved if measures are found to solve the problem. In this respect, it is always true that all three coping strategies only help to reduce stress in combination.

Caution trap.

This becomes very clear when we take a look at the possibilities of freeing ourselves from the trap of constantly putting off decisions and tasks (procrastination). This is what our next article is about.

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