How to Manage Stressful Situations

by | Jun 27, 2023 | 0 comments

How to Handle Stressful Situations? 


Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control. It can impact upon our mental health.  

We often do not separate the cause of our stress which is called the stressor with the activation of our body’s stress system. This is also called our stress response. Stress is the reaction of our stress system to an internal or external stressor. 

For example, if you are preparing for an exam or starting a new job in a weeks’ time, you might have nervous energy, you might feel a little anxious, your muscles might be tense and there might be butterflies in your stomach. 

While these sensations are uncomfortable, they are not unhealthy. Stress in the short term is not harmful. A little bit of stress is ok. However, chronic stress can have a major impact on both our physical health and on our mental health.  

Our stress system 

Let’s look at what happens our body when our stress system is reacting to an internal or external stressor. When our body is reacting to a stressor, our fight, flight, or freeze (FFF) response is activated. The FFF triggers the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat (fight) or to run away to safety (flight). 


Our body’s response to FFF can include physical reactions such as: 

  • Rapid breathing or heart rate. 
  • Flushed or pale skin 
  • Tense muscles 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Cold hands 
  • Sweaty palms 
  • Feeling the need to pee… to name just a few. 


The FFF response was very useful to us thousands of years ago when we lived in caves and were fighting off predators such as wild animals. Nowadays, our FFF response can be activated by our email inbox, by our boss or by our thoughts. 


A good start is knowing the signs of FFF, and the next steps is looking at ways to calm our system down to come out of the FFF response.  


How to manage stressful situations? 


I will give you some tips to help manage stress in the moment. The first tip is to “Ask yourself why?” Why exactly are you feeling stressed? When you look at this situation, what is within your control? If the situation is outside of your control, can you let it go or let it be? If you need help, who can help you cope, a family member or a friend perhaps? 


The next tip is to “Take 3”. Take a moment to observe your surroundings. In your head, take note of 3 visuals, 3 sounds, 3 feelings or sensations. Try to absorb the senses and notice how the mind begins to settle in the present.  

For example, in this moment in time as I write this blog post, I can see my laptop, my notebook and the wall in front of me. I can hear my laptop whizzing; I can hear the postman outside and I can hear the birds singing. I feel hot as the weather is warm outside, I also feel full as I just had my breakfast and I feel happy as I have been to the gym this morning. When you tap into your surroundings, you will begin to relax and feel a little calmer. 


My third tip is to “Walk Away”. For example, if you are getting into a conflict with someone in the workplace, you can walk away from the situation, even if it only for 5 minutes. This doesn’t mean you are ignoring the situation. You are giving yourself at least 5 minutes to remove yourself from the situation and to deal with the strong emotions you are feeling. before it gets out of hand. It is better to walk away, before the situation gets out of hand and you say something you will invariably regret.  


Next, one of my favourites, “the silent scream”. If you feel anxious and perhaps your FFF has been activated, and you want to regain control, you need to release the adrenaline that’s been building in your system. Find a place where you are on your own, tense up all your muscles, clench your fists and jaw, arms, and leg muscles, scrunch your eyes closed, and scream without sound. If you have the option of screaming with sound, go for it!  


My final tip and probably the most important is deep breathing. About 2 years ago (in 2021) I was introduced to breathwork. I was a sceptic to say the least. I bought a book called “Mind Full” by Dermot Whelan. This book started me on my journey of deep breathing, and I have not looked back.  


When you are in a stressful situation and someone tells you to breathe, while that can be helpful, if you don’t normally use breathing techniques to calm it down, you might not reap the rewards very quickly. The key with breathwork or deep breathing is to practice it daily! Yes Daily. All you needs is 2/3 minutes daily to do some abdominal breathing.  

If you wanted to build up muscle in your arms you would go to the gym and train. Deep breathing is the same. It needs to be practiced so when you do get into those tricky situations your body knows what to do to calm you down.  


The benefits of breathwork include: 

  • Balanced blood pressure. 
  • More time in deep quality sleep. 
  • Reduction of PTSD and feelings of trauma. 
  • Stronger respiratory function. 
  • Better immune system. 
  • Release of stress hormones from your body. 

Some of the breaths I use most often are the square breath, that is, take a deep abdominal breath for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 and hold for another 4 seconds. You can do this anytime and anywhere and nobody will know you are doing it. If you are in a stressful meeting at work and all your colleagues are around you and you are feeling stressed, do the square breath a few times and see how you feel.  

There are many other different types of breaths you can use. You can download apps like Headspace or Calm. However, there are plenty free YouTube videos out there. Add a few minutes of breathwork to your daily routine and see what happens. 

If there are specific stressful situations that you would like 1:1 support with, reach out to me. We can schedule a free 30-minute discovery call.