How to Adapt to Stress When You Can’t Avoid It


Most people would rather avoid stress if possible, rather than lean into it. Unfortunately, most of the time stress can’t be avoided. So how do you deal with stressful situations and/or stressed out feelings?

The Upside and Downside of Stress

First, let’s define stress. I think of stress as a pressure or challenge to a person or system. A stressor can be positive, such as planning a vacation or wedding. Or a stressor can be negative, such as job loss, death, or family illness. As you can see, some stressors are self-made while others are externally created.

So unless you had a part in creating your stressful situation, you really can’t avoid stress. And it really doesn’t do any good to start throwing around blame. Your energy will be better spent deciding how to deal with the stressor.

“Stress activates adaptive responses…Adaptive responses are described by the term ‘allostasis’ which means maintaining stability, or homeostasis, through change. The body actively copes with a challenge by expending energy and attempting to put things right.” ~Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist/author of The End of Stress As We Know It

Initially, our stress response revs us up, so we can have enhanced memory, focus, and energy to deal with the problem. When we adapt to the stressful situation, we are using just the right amount of energy to deal with the problem, not over or under-responding.

“When exposure to stress disrupt the body’s internal balance (‘homeostasis’), it can go one of three general ways: the body can regain its normal equilibrium once stress has passed or it can become stuck in over- or under- aroused state.” ~ Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist, and Dean Krahn, MD, psychiatrist: The Response to Stress

How do you typically deal with stress? Do you over-react, expending more energy than the problem needs? Or, do you under-respond, by avoiding dealing with the situation or secretly hoping someone else will fix it for you?

Anxious people typically over-respond like a race horse busting through barriers. An over-responder will try to solve the problem as fast as possible and do all the research themselves, never considering help from others. While depressed individuals may under-respond, feeling like they are to blame, and possibly  retreating to the bedroom to sleep.

5 Resouces for Adapting to Stress

I think stress management is more complex than taking deep breaths, reading a book, and attending a yoga class. While these techniques are relaxing and comforting, the effects are often short lived.

So how does one adapt to the stressor without over of under-responding? By definition, to adapt means to modify or adjust to new conditions. Here are 5  resources I think help individuals adapt to stress:

Resource #1. Make a Realistic Assessment: Instead of letting fear direct your response, make a more objective assessment about the situation or problem. For example, fear tells you that you will lose your business when you lose a major referral source. Reality says you still have a business, but will need to modify your referral sources or expenses.

Resource #2. Practice Self-Care: The last thing many of us want to do when we are stressed is exercise or eat healthy. Instead most people turn to substances, such as sugar, alcohol, and drugs to comfort themselves. But practicing good self-care under high stress times, will prevent you from putting more stress on your body.

Resource #3. Focus on Goals More Than Discomfort : Most people don’t stop to think about their goals when under stress. It can be calming to focus more on your goals in the situation, however big or small, more than the anxiety or discomfort you are feeling. Then how do you get focused on goals even though you feel miserable.

Resource #4. Identify Psychological/Social Add On Stress: How people think about how they can handle stress will have an impact on how they handle it. If you are pre-occupied with others acceptance, approval, and expectations of you, then you will add more stress to the challenge you are facing. Or people in your family/organization can also add more stress by criticizing or pressuring you to think, feel, or act in a certain way. Instead of worrying about what others want you to do, focus on what’s best for you.

Resource #5. Recognize Social Support Opportunities: Often people withdraw and isolate when dealing with stress to avoid more stress. In doing so, you miss out on opportunities for support. Loneliness and social isolation is another add on stress. You are not as alone as you think you are. People may get amped up, but they may also support your desire to find the solution that’s best for you.

While stress can be helpful to give us energy to deal with a problem, the stress response can also get stuck on. When the stress response becomes chronic, it’s important to evaluate how we are dealing with the stress and whether or not we are adding to the stress load we are already carrying. Then lean into the stress, doing what’s best for you, and accept support along the way.

“Think of stress as a signal of meaning, not that you’re inadequate to the challenges in life.” ~ Kelly McGonigal, psychologist/author of Upside of Stress

What helps you deal with stress, challenges, and pressure?


Schedule a mental health stress check up today either face to face or online with Marci.

Photo Credit: “Stressed” by Jenisse Decker

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