Pros and Cons of Stress Relief Techniques

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Choosing The Best Tool To Beat Stress

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The Most Popular Approaches To Stress Management And Why They’re All Important

There are many different ways to manage stress, and some are more effective than others.  What makes a stress reliever the best one for you?  That depends on your situation, your personality, and your needs.  The truth is that there are several "right" tools for any given job when it comes to stress relief, but some strategies carry more general benefits than others.  When trying to decide how to manage the stress you face, your best bet is to become familiar with the most popular types of stress relievers, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and when you should use each of them.  That may sound like a lot of research, but here's a "cheat sheet" you can use, which lets you know the important fundamentals of stress relief, and links you to deeper resources so you can learn what to do and when to do it.  The following is a list of some of the most popular stress management techniques, and the best times to use each of them.  Along the way, you'll find opportunities to dig deeper, find instructions on how to learn these techniques, and more.  Relax and enjoy!

Additional Reading:

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Quick Stress Relievers: When To Use, When To Avoid

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Most people are looking for a quick way to relieve stress--why would any stressed person not want this?  There are a few reasons, actually.  While quick-fix stress relievers bring many powerful benefits, they do come with their drawbacks and are not the best choice for every circumstance.  (Though these quick tools can be powerful, and are virtually always a better choice than no stress reliever at all.)  Here's what you need to know about quick stress relievers.

What Are Quick Stress Relievers?

When I refer to "quick stress relievers," I'm talking about techniques that can calm your physiology in a small number of minutes, helping you to reverse your fight-or-flight response and gain the inner peace to proceed thoughtfully as you deal with the stressors you face. These techniques include breathing exercisesvisualizationslistening to music, and other activities that can help you feel more relaxed in minutes.

Pros:

  • They work quickly. Most of these quick stress relievers can have you feeling significantly more relaxed in five minutes or so.  Then you can approach your challenges with a more level head.
  • They can be used anytime and anywhere.  Most of these quick stress relievers, like breathing exercises, can be practiced whenever and wherever you find yourself feeling stressed.  You may have to set aside those few minutes if you want to listen to music or engage in a mini-meditation, but breathing exercises can be practiced in the midst of dealing with any variety of stressors.
  • They can minimize chronic stress.  Chronic stress is the form of stress that comes from being in a stressed state for long periods of time with little relaxation; it occurs when your stress response is triggered and your body stays in that fight-or-flight mode for longer than it's supposed to.  These stress relievers can put you back into a relaxed state so that what might have been chronic stress is interrupted by relaxation.

Cons:

  • They are a "band-aid" approach.  These quick stress relievers can help you to feel more relaxed in the short term, but they don't change your situation in a significant way.  They are somewhat of a "quick fix," even if they work well.
  • They don’t build resilience.   Some stress relievers can make you more resilient to stress that you face in the future.  These are less effective at that.
  • You need a variety.  You'll be better off using breathing exercises every time you feel stressed than not using them, but it really helps to have a variety of options for different types of stress.  For example, you can't listen to music during an exam to reduce test anxiety; you can't start visualizing in the middle of an argument.  These work better if you have a collection of them to draw upon.

Takeaway:

 If you need something that will help you to feel better in a hurry, these are your best bet.  If you want something to help you feel less stressed the next time you face a challenge, or if you want less stress in your life, this may not be the best solution or these might work well as part of a bigger overall plan.  Read on to see what your other options are.

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Healthy Habits That Build Resilience

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Healthy Habits That Build Resilience

Many habits can build resilience toward stress, including exercise, meditation and self-care.  These can be great for overall health, and can help you to feel less stressed every time you face a new challenge.  They also require work.  They take some practice but are well worth the effort.  They may, however, not be your best bet if you want to minimize the amount of stress you face in the first place.

Pros:

  • They minimize current and future stress.  These activities make you less reactive to the stress you face now, as well as tomorrow and next week.  They are quite powerful in this way.
  • They tend to be good for your overall health.  In their ability to build resilience, they can keep you insulated from the negative effects of chronic stress.  Many of these resilience-building habits can also keep you healthy in other ways. (For example, read about the benefits of exercise and adequate sleep.)
  • Generally, you can get group support.  Some stress relievers are easier to do on your own, particularly the quick techniques we discussed earlier.  These, however, can be done well in a group.  It's not difficult to find a good exercise class or a meditation group, and having a class to go to or a group of people to report to can help you stay motivated and supported as you continue your healthy habits.

Cons:

  • They take the time to practice.  Just as muscles are developed over time, habits take some time to develop as well.  
  • Resilience takes time to develop. You can gain benefits from one session of exercise or meditation, for example, but to build resilience, you have to keep at it.
  • They’re not always easy or fun.  You may find it much easier to practice breathing exercises when stressed than gather the motivation to go for a run.  Even meditation can be stressful.  Keeping at it is worth the effort, but it's not always easy.

Takeaway:

Healthy, resilience-building habits are an important aspect of stress management.  They can work quite well with quick stress relievers, too--sometimes you may feel so stressed that you just don't feel motivated to maintain these habits.  When you minimize stress with one of those quick stress relievers you have up your sleeve, you may free up enough energy to stay on track with these long-term habits.  If you still feel that there's too much stress in your life, perhaps there is too much stress in your life!  Read on to see how you might change that.

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Changing Your Lifestyle

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Changing Your Lifestyle

Stress can affect your life in many ways.  One of the most effective strategies for minimizing the effects of stress is to cut down on the number of stressors you have in your life.  It's not always possible to eliminate stressors from your life, but when you can, it's a great idea to do so.  Changing your life to minimize stress may include cutting down on what life coaches refer to as "tolerations," maintaining boundaries between yourself and the difficult people in your life, and changing the way you approach your job, for example.  There are, of course, pros and cons to this approach:

Pros:

  • You can cut out stress before you even need to manage it.  The easiest way to manage stress might just be to arrange things so you don't encounter the stress in the first place!  If it's possible, this is a great way to cut down on the stress you experience.
  • You can create the life that you want if you’re proactive.  When you proactively focus on what stresses you and what energizes and inspires you in your life, you can create a life that suits your needs and tastes.  This approach to stress can get you into a frame of mind where you're actively focusing on what you want and making it a part of your life, as you focus on what you don't want and minimize that in your life as well.

Cons:

  • It’s not always possible to cut out all stress.  This can't be your only approach to stress, because it's not always possible.  Or if it does appear to be possible, this strategy can create more stress when you use it in the wrong circumstances.  For example, sometimes it's best to be understanding with a friend instead of putting up walls to minimize future stress after a disagreement.  Sometimes there are things about your job that may create stress, but quitting the job would create more stressors than it would eliminate. It helps to build resilience for necessary stress, and have quick stress relievers on hand to make things easier when you need them to be.
  • You do need a certain level of stress.  Even if it were possible to cut out all stress, this wouldn't be a good idea.  We need a certain level of stress to remain vital and healthy.  (Read more about the type of stress that's good for you.)  

Takeaway

In sum, you need a variety of stress relief techniques up your sleeve if you want to maximize your ability to manage stress in a healthy way.

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