Balancing Eating & Weight

Managing Anxiety & Stress

Rising Above Depression & Low Self-Esteem


Managing Anxiety & Stress

The term “stress” is used commonly in different ways. But what do we actually mean by the term “stress”?


“Stress is your body's natural reaction to any kind of demand that disrupts life as usual. In small doses, stress is good - such as when it helps you conquer a fear or gives extra endurance and motivation to get something done. But there's also bad stress, which is often caused by worries such as money, jobs, relationships or health, whether it be sudden and short or long-lasting. Feeling stress for too long, whether for several hours, days or months, sets off your body's warning system of physical and emotional alarms.” (Quoted from the APA Help Center Warning Signs of Stress)

Many people describe their lives as “too busy”, their schedules as “crazy”, or often feeling “stressed out”. Recently, I was working in a school and during a project a 7 year old boy said to me, “I am so stressed out!” Clearly, we are all vulnerable to stress, no matter how old we are or what degree of responsibility we have. This is because stress is a perceived sense. If a person feels that s/he will not be able to handle a situation (whether it is being able to pay the bills on time, managing a work load, or going on a first date), then this person will feel stress. Stress is a matter of how we perceive our ability to cope as well as our perception of what the potential outcome may be. It expresses itself not only emotionally, but cognitively (in our thoughts) , physiologically (i.e., in our body), and behaviorally (through our actions) as well.

In my work with clients struggling with anxiety and stress, treatment includes learning about the components of anxiety and how they interact to create patterns that seem incessant and endless. You learn how anxiety manifests itself cognitively (worrisome thoughts that seem endless), physiologically (body sensations, such as racing heart, tension headaches, sweating), and behaviorally (staying away from feared situations, such as crowds, social gatherings; engaging in procrastination; avoiding commitments).

Treatment incorporates coping strategies for each of these components, including cognitive restructuring (for worrisome thoughts), relaxation techniques and diaphragmatic breathing (for physiological stress reactions), and behavioral activation techniques (for behavioral avoidance and procrastination).

Anxiety can be viewed as the fear of not being able to cope or handle a future event. In addition to the above strategies, I work with people to move toward acceptance and awareness of the present moment (i.e., to be more mindful). This process helps bring more clarity and realization of the self-judgments and criticisms that the client experiences during bouts of anxiety which serve to perpetuate the anxious feelings and thoughts. By increasing one’s awareness of feelings and thoughts, the client can more aptly reduce judgments and criticisms and instead live the moment as it is happening, instead of living inside their mental experience of what is to come. Through greater awareness and acceptance of the present moment, we are able to diminish the sense of impending doom of the future event. A variety of exercises (including mindfulness based strategies) are used to help clients be more present and therefore more aware of their current state.

Read more from the APA Help Center >>