Monday, February 27, 2012

How are you coping with stress?

Last week New Zealanders paused to commemorate the 185 lives lost in last year's earthquake, which destroyed thousands of homes and devastated much of the centre city in Christchurch.  As with all natural (and manmade) disasters, it is humbling and inspiring to see how people cope in such adversity, and to hear of the incredible stories of courage, compassion, sacrifice and resilience, all testament to the strength of the human spirit.   

Reflecting on the stress experienced by those in traumatic situations can certainly serve to put our own day-to-day stresses in perspective. 

I have had the privilege of working with people who are called on to assist in natural disasters and hostile environments.   They, like the people they serve, can experience 3 types of traumatic stress1: acute (which occurs when one is faced with serious harm or death); vicarious (from witnessing or hearing about traumatic incidents that have happened to others) and cumulative (from the low-intensity, prolonged stressors that “pile up”). 

Whilst to compare oneself with others less fortunate, is itself a useful stress coping strategy, it is important not to trivialise one’s own stresses that can arise from daily demands and big events.

How we cope with stress is a very personal thing:  we experience it differently depending on the context and our disposition.   

Whatever one’s situation, these 5 ‘S’ principles may be useful to bear in mind: 

  Stress: a certain level of stress helps us perform – focus on harnessing positive stress and minimising negative stress.

  Sources: learn to manage those particular to your situation.

  Signs:  ‘tune your antennae’ to notice them (they can be physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, behavioural) and don’t neglect them.

  Strategies:  expand your pool of coping strategies, both for the short and long term.

  Specialists:  call for them when appropriate.


1. Williamson, R (2011), Stress and humanitarian work, Headington Institute

Image: Salvatore Vuono /


  1. Suggestions please! I am convinced I'm going to have s stressy little one!!

  2. Hehe well you are going to have a Leo/Dragon!

    Stereotypes and speculating(not so helpful) and jokes (helpful) aside, you are great at tuning your awareness to how you are feeling which helps you make good choices.

    They may seem predictable suggestions...but(research shows and we know this ourselves) that with good nutrition, exercising, resting, self esteem, strong personal relationships, engaging in work and hobbies that meaningful for us - the less likely our stresses have an overpowering negative influence on us.

    And working on our mind is fundamental to how we view and cope with stress. Two different but practical and helpful stress coping resources I have drawn from are:

    From a mindfulness perspective in learning to change one's relationship to one's thoughts: Kabat-Zinn (1990), Full Catastrophe Living, Piatkus, London.

    From a cognitive/sports psychology perspective, in changing the content of those thoughts: Jones, G. and Moorhouse, A. (2007) Developing Mental Toughness: Gold Medal Strategies for Enhancing Your Business Performance, How to Books.

    And of course, we are all 'works in progress'!