Rick Nizzardini, LCSW


533A Castro Street
San Francisco, California 94114



« Managing Conflict | Main | Hello! »

Managing Stress

Stress is so much a part of our lives.  And it can lead to emotional and relationship upheaval for us every day.  So what do we do?  Understanding stress is a critical first step.

First, it's important to realize that all stress is not the same.  The reasons and sources of stress can come from different places such as relationship conflict at work, home, or with family or roommates; financial instability; illness or health problems; problems at work, or even a sudden death in the family. 

Another significant source of stress are traumatic events that happened while growing up or as an adult.  Research is finding out more and more that there are a wide range of these types of traumatic events that can lead to what is called traumatic stress.  These events can be things like growing up in a home with ongoing conflict; growing up feeling isolated and alone in one's family; being bullied and feeling inadequate while growing up; being on the receiving end of taunting/teasing/ongoing criticism on a regular basis while growing up; repeated physical punishment or violence from parents, siblings or peers; and sexual situations that felt unwanted and forced upon someone growing up.

All of these sources of stress can lead to emotional difficulties (irritability, anxiety, depression, withdrawal, panic attacks, worrying constantly, rapid swings in mood, difficulty concentrating, feeling cynical, feeling helpless, lack of self confidence, guilt, or constant anger).  Physical problems can also result from stress (tightness in the chest, chronic fatigue, out of breath often, nausea, muscle twitching, fainting, sweating, insomnia, muscle tension, persistent headaches, migraines, and indigestion or stomach aches).  Often behavioral problems can result from stress (changes in eating, easily startled, unable to make decisions, increased absenteeism at work or school, poor work performance, teeth grinding, nightmares, or increased alcohol or drug use). 

So what can we do to manage stress?  It's so important to start off by thinking about the things that you know have helped you in the past.  If those stress management strategies worked in the past and did not have negative consequences on your overall well-being, yet you have stopped doing them, then re-start them as soon as you can.  Second, be open to trying some new strategies that work for your personality style, such as writing or journaling, something to do with nature or the outdoors, being creative/musical/artistic, or going to a place of workship or doing something spiritual.  Since stress is a physiological phenomenon, a physical activity often can help reduce stress (walking, exercise, yoga, playing a sport, or hikes).  Also remember that some basic in-the-moment stress management techniques can be helpful such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation and stretching, or visualization. 

Finally, therapy can be helpful as well.  Sometimes the stress is due to stressors that require professional guidance to figure out how to move through them and  the feelings they can lead to in order to lessen the stress over time.  This is true particularly if the stress is due to the types of traumatic events described above.  Sometimes to address the stress, we need to have a sense of safety and trust that comes in a therapeutic relationship to begin to move beyond the constant stress we're experiencing. 

Whatever strategy you think will work best, remember to give it a fair shake.  If it doesn't work immediately, don't give up right away.  Sometimes it can take awhile before we get connected to a strategy that works.  Best of luck!