How to Control Stressful Situations

Facing a stressful situation isn't a simple task. Life tests all of us, and those are precisely the moments to bring out strategies to confront it and learn in the process.
How to Control Stressful Situations
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Learning to control stressful situations is almost a survival strategy. Mathematician John Lubbock used to say that a day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work, and it’s true. The mental energy you use during those times invades you with immense pressure, anxiety, and anguish.

On the other hand, you should keep something important in mind. The capacity to face a situation and deal with stressful episodes varies greatly from person to person. Some people process their realities positively. They keep a realistic perspective on life. Therefore, they’re more resilient to each challenge. They can even find opportunities for growth in those challenges.

Others, on the other hand, worry about everything. Thus, what causes great stress to some can be a simple situation to someone else that causes them absolutely no stress or anguish. It all depends on your previous experiences and some psychological resources. Even if you don’t have them already “factory-installed”, you can learn them and make them yours.

Albert Ellis showed in his well-known book How to Control Anxiety Before It Controls You that, to a certain degree, stress and anxiety aren’t exempt from having a positive side. They let you know that you need to change certain things. Thus, daring to do so will improve your well-being.

A man feeling stressed while working.

The keys to controlling stressful situations

You know that controlling a stressful situation isn’t easy. However, what does it really mean to say that something is “stressful”?

Even though stress is truly in the eye of the beholder, some situations are stressful for everyone. Having to go in for surgery, dealing with legal problems, or even facing new projects are enough to make most people feel under pressure.

As an example, when you know a patient’s coping capacity, two factors are very important:

  • How they perceive a complex situation (first impression).
  • The interpretation they give regarding their capacity to deal with a stressful situation (secondary evaluation).

Ideally, both of them should be healthily adjusted. If you can see a solution to the challenge as something within reach, then you have the resources to handle it. Let’s look at some resources you should take advantage of to control stressful situations.

It’s not about making stress disappear, it’s about dealing with it

You can’t live without anxiety and stress. These mechanisms have guaranteed human survival, generated advances, and acted in conjunction with emotions and behaviors in a way that’s permitted great changes. As a result, there are some things you must know about stressful situations:

  • Stress is in your favor. It helps you learn new adaptive behaviors.
  • You don’t have to make stress disappear; you just have to control and regulate it.
  • To regulate stress, you have to find the strategies best suited to your needs and personality. This process takes time and requires commitment.

There are three concrete dimensions to facing stress.

A woman with purple and blue smoke.

Evaluation-centered strategies: a key to controlling stressful situations

How do you see that challenge, problem, or complicated situation in front of you? From the moment you label these situations, your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors determine the outcome. So ideas such as “This is too much”, “This is terrible”, “It’s impossible”, or “This is a disaster” will end up intensifying your stress and anxiety.

You must pay attention to how you view the situation in front of you. This doesn’t mean you have to be blithely positive nor that you have to get dramatic about it. Try thinking along these lines instead:

  • I understand that it’s normal to feel stress. I’m going to deal with it.
  • I know that this situation is difficult. It might not go my way, but I’m going to learn about it step by step.

Emotionally-centered strategies

As you know, the emotional plane is very important when it comes to controlling stressful situations. Your emotions can give you wings to fly in the midst of a stressful event or they can stick you in a corner of fear and denial. Thus, it’s essential to take control of your internal universe as much as you can so that things work in your favor.

How? These are the keys:

  • Identify the emotions you’re feeling.
  • Rationalize. Figure out what irrational thoughts are feeding those emotions.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation exercises. Practices such as mindfulness can help you.

Problem-centered strategies

You’ve learned about the importance of evaluating a problem realistically and of avoiding ideas that invalidate you or cause anguish. You also know that you must control your emotions for things to go your way. So what’s left to learn about controlling stressful situations?

Having a plan might very well be the most relevant strategy:

  • Develop strategies that let you face the problem in the best possible way.
  • Create your own “survival kit” so that you’re prepared for anything that might happen.
  • If you’re stress about a job interview, prepare. If it’s a doctor’s appointment, practice relaxation and visualize any situation that might happen. However, if you’re stressed out about a business deal, train yourself to learn communication techniques.

In conclusion, there will be many stressful situations in your life. It’s normal to be scared, but the key to overcoming them is acting even though you’re scared. This will help you get through anything.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.