Stress produces numerous symptoms which vary according to persons, situations, and severity. These can include physical health decline as well as depression. According to the St. Louis Psychologists and Counseling Information and Referral, the process of stress management is one of the keys to a happy and successful life in modern society. Although life provides numerous demands that can prove difficult to handle, stress management is the best way to manage anxiety and maintain overall well-being. More information is provided below on how to measure stress levels, learn about stress management models and practice techniques that will help to reduce stress and promote a positive lifestyle.
Walter Cannon and Hans Selye used animal studies to establish the earliest scientific basis for the study of stress. They measured the physiological responses of animals to external pressures, such as heat and cold, prolonged restraint, and surgical procedures, then extrapolated from these studies to human beings.
Subsequent studies of stress in humans by Richard Rahe and others established the view that stress is caused by distinct, measureable life stressors, and further, that these life stressors can be ranked by the median degree of stress they produce (leading to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale). Thus, stress was traditionally conceptualized to be a result of external insults beyond the control of those experiencing the stress. More recently, however, it has been argued that external circumstances do not have any intrinsic capacity to produce stress, but instead their effect is mediated by the individual's perceptions, capacities, and understanding.
Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman suggested in 1984 that stress can be thought of as resulting from an “imbalance between demands and resources” or as occurring when “pressure exceeds one's perceived ability to cope”. Stress management was developed and premised on the idea that stress is not a direct response to a stressor but rather one's resources and ability to cope mediate the stress response and are amenable to change, thus allowing stress to be controllable.
In order to develop an effective stress management programme it is first necessary to identify the factors that are central to a person controlling his/her stress, and to identify the intervention methods which effectively target these factors. Lazarus and Folkman's interpretation of stress focuses on the transaction between people and their external environment (known as the Transactional Model). The model contends that stress may not be a stressor if the person does not perceive the stressor as a threat but rather as positive or even challenging. Also, if the person possesses or can use adequate coping skills, then stress may not actually be a result or develop because of the stressor. The model proposes that people can be taught to manage their stress and cope with their stressors. They may learn to change their perspective of the stressor and provide them with the ability and confidence to improve their lives and handle all of types of stressors.
Health realization/innate health model
The health realization/innate health model of stress is also founded on the idea that stress does not necessarily follow the presence of a potential stressor. Instead of focusing on the individual's appraisal of so-called stressors in relation to his or her own coping skills (as the transactional model does), the health realization model focuses on the nature of thought, stating that it is ultimately a person's thought processes that determine the response to potentially stressful external circumstances. In this model, stress results from appraising oneself and one's circumstances through a mental filter of insecurity and negativity, whereas a feeling of well-being results from approaching the world with a "quiet mind," "inner wisdom," and "common sense".
This model proposes that helping stressed individuals understand the nature of thought—especially providing them with the ability to recognize when they are in the grip of insecure thinking, disengage from it, and access natural positive feelings—will reduce their stress.
High demand levels load the person with extra effort and work. A new time schedule is worked up, and until the period of abnormally high, personal demand has passed, the normal frequency and duration of former schedules is limited.
Many techniques cope with the stresses life brings. Some of the following ways induce a lower than usual stress level, temporarily, to compensate the biological tissues involved; others face the stressor at a higher level of abstraction:
- Autogenic training
- Cognitive therapy
- Conflict resolution
- Getting a hobby
- Deep breathing
- Yoga Nidra
- Reading novels
- Relaxation techniques
- Artistic Expression
- Fractional relaxation
- Progressive relaxation
- Somatics training
- Spending time in nature
- Stress balls
- Natural medicine
- Clinically validated alternative treatments
- Time management
- Listening to certain types of relaxing music, particularly:
- Spending quality time with pets
Levels of stress can be measured. One way is through the use of psychological testing: the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is used to rate stressful life events, while the DASS contains a scale for stress based on self-report items. Changes in blood pressure and galvanic skin response can also be measured to test stress levels, and changes in stress levels. A digital thermometer can be used to evaluate changes in skin temperature, which can indicate activation of the fight-or-flight response drawing blood away from the extremities.
Stress management has physiological and immune benefit effects.
Positive outcomes are observed using a combination of non-drug interventions:
- treatment of anger or hostility,
- autogenic training
- talking therapy (around relationship or existential issues)
- cognitive therapy for anxiety or clinical depression
- Cannon, W. (1939). The Wisdom of the Body, 2nd ed., NY: Norton Pubs.
- Selye, H (1950). "Stress and the general adaptation syndrome". Br. Med. J. 4667 (4667): 1383–92. PMC 2038162. PMID 15426759.
- Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer.
- Mills, R.C. (1995). Realizing Mental Health: Toward a new Psychology of Resiliency. Sulberger & Graham Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0945819781
- Sedgeman, J.A. (2005). Health Realization/Innate Health: Can a quiet mind and a positive feeling state be accessible over the lifespan without stress-relief techniques? Med. Sci. Monitor 11(12) HY47-52. 
- Lehrer, Paul M.; David H. (FRW) Barlow, Robert L. Woolfolk, Wesley E. Sime (2007). Principles and Practice of Stress Management, Third Edition. pp. 46–47. ISBN 159385000X.
- Dubbed “Destressitizers” by The Journal of the Canadian Medical Association
- PMID 10333853 (PubMed)
- Bower, J. E. & Segerstrom, S.C. (2004). "Stress management, finding benefit, and immune function: positive mechanisms for intervention effects on physiology". Journal of Psychosomatic Research 56 (1): 9–11. doi:10.1016/S0022-3999(03)00120-X. PMID 14987958.
- Wolfgang Linden; Joseph W. Lenz; Andrea H. Con (2001). "Individualized Stress Management for Primary Hypertension: A Randomized Trial". Arch Intern Med 161 (8): 1071–1080. doi:10.1001/archinte.161.8.1071. PMID 11322841. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/161/8/1071.
- Ogden, J. (2000). Health Psychology (3rd Edition). Open University Press: Buckingham.
- Kumar, Kamakhya; A study on the impact on stress and anxiety through Yoga nidra; Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, 7(3) (2008) 405-409.
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA):
- Q&A on stress management by Robert Sapolsky (Stanford University)