• Monique West, LCSW-R

Got Stress??? Guide To Developing An Effective Stress Response Plan

Updated: Dec 10, 2020


Stress is a universal phenomenon. At sometime in all our lives we will experience stress whether through our family lives, work, school, friendships or romantic relationships. While it is not possible to eradicate the experience of stress all together in our lives it is important to learn an effective stress response plan to offset toxic stress. Toxic stress is stress that throws off body chemistry off (i.e.; increase in yeast infections, bowel/digestive instability, etc.) toxic stress can also increase heart palpitation, migraines, trigger an increase in panic/anxiety, depression and moodiness/agitation. It is important to differentiate between positive stressors effects (eustress) and negative stressors effects (distress).


Examples of negative personal stressors

  • The death of a spouse.

  • Global Pandemic

  • Filing for divorce.

  • Losing contact with loved ones.

  • The death of a family member.

  • Hospitalization (oneself or a family member).

  • Injury or illness (oneself or a family member).

  • Being abused or neglected.

  • Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner.

  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships.

  • Bankruptcy/Money Problems.

  • Unemployment.

  • Sleep problems.

  • Children's problems at school.

  • Legal problems.

Some of the downsides of negative stressors are:

  • Causes anxiety or concern.

  • Can be short- or long-term.

  • Depressive Onset

  • Increased Moodiness or/and Agitation

  • Increased Social Isolation

  • Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities.

  • Feels unpleasant.

  • Decreases performance or/and concentration/focus.

  • Can lead to mental and physical problems.

Examples of positive personal stressors

  • Receiving a promotion or raise at work.

  • Starting a new job.

  • Marriage/Planning a wedding.

  • Buying a home.

  • Having a child.

  • Moving.

  • Planning for a vacation.

  • Holiday seasons.

  • Retiring.

  • Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby.

Some of the characteristics of positive personal stressors are:

  • Motivates, focuses energy.

  • Is short-term.

  • Is perceived as within our coping abilities.

  • Feels exciting.

  • Improves performance.

In developing a personalized start to make a list of:

  • Identify your triggers for stress (for i.e. facing big changes, not enough sleep, poor nutrition, when things become strained financially, constant deadlines at work/school, etc.)

  • Identify and write out your early warning signs for stress ( i.e. cluttered external space, persistent increased negative thoughts, wanting to be left alone, decreased patience, heightened agitation, etc.)

  • Think about people you may need to lessen contact with during this time while you are working through toxic stress - consider people who are demanding in nature, often see the world through negative or judgmental lenses or can be dramatic in their responses.

  • Identify people you may need to increase your exposure to during this time- these people are people who are a positive support, have a hopeful outlook in general, can offer encouragement, can clear space for you without hijacking a conversation and making the conversation about themselves or their own experiences.

  • Start to think about what your stress may have to say to you. Stress can be reframed into a growth inspiring process instead of sending you into a spiraling panic frenzy. Your stress can communicate to you that you may need to slow down, breathe, take some things off your plate, create healthier habits, needing to set better boundaries, etc.

  • Develop a list of your resources (church family, in laws, extra money in order to outsource) additionally add to your list how you can delegate task or outsource duties when you are in a stressful episode. Examples of outsourcing can include ordering through a meal service to reduce energy and time spent on making meals, hiring a dog walker, setting up a weekly/biweekly cleaning service, asking a family member to help with household chores. Delegating examples can include speaking to your boss to have someone else collaborate in helping with a project, asking a family member to pick up a chore that is normally yours.

  • Avoid overscheduling during a stressful episode, de-prioritizing commitments and obligations, rescheduling appointments that are not urgent or important as you work through rebalancing through stress.

  • Create a proactive plan to activate when you notice your early warning signs are occurring. Proactive plans could be: Increased positive social bonding, yoga, light stretches, meditation, walks in nature, re-engaging in therapy, listening to motivational speeches or music, etc.

  • Develop a reactive plan for stress. There will be occurrences with stress management that you may have missed your early warning signs it is important to create a reactive plan when you are in the midst of stress and may feel like you are emotionally drowning. A reactive plan for stress could include increase in positive affirmation, increased physical activity to reset feeling mentally cluttered, scrapbooking, taking a personal day off from work or mental health day off from school to re-center, creating a vision board, adult coloring, etc.

  • Reframe Stress. How you view stress is indicative of how you will experience stress if you see stress as difficult, overwhelming, never ending then you are likely to feel persistence annoyance, fatigue and anxiety. If you begin to reframe stress as a part of life then navigating stress with an open embrace, balanced stance and an open heart becomes possible. Stress can be viewed as a healthy challenge to grow, to refine skills and increase resiliency. As you successfully move from stress to stress find healthy ways to congratulate yourself on how resilient and self aware you are becoming; for example writing out what you are proud of in the way you handled your stress, writing out how you want to handle yourself for the next time there is stress based on what you have learned with the most recent stressor, taking yourself out to dinner or schedule an hour or two to do the things that most brings you joy.

It is important to remember that stress is a part of life. The delusion of stress is that you must white knuckle through the current stress and when it is over there will be no more stress. The truth is there will always be another episode of stress. It is important to practice positive self talk to get you through stressful events. It is also important to learn when to pull the plug and stop digging the proverbial hole into deeper stress. Give yourself permission to back away and breathe in order to re-calibrate and re-center. If you find yourself having more than one panic attack per week, constantly feeling overwhelmed, unable to manage or control your emotions and feeling generally overwhelmed in your life it may be time to contact a licensed professional therapist for additional customized services. You can search www.psychologytoday.com for a therapist who may be in your insurance network.


Some words of affirmation to get you through stress and anxiety can be found at:


https://motivationping.com/stress-overwhelmed-affirmations/#:~:text=quotes%20and%20sayings-,Affirmations%20to%20relieve%20stress,letting%20go%20of%20my%20stress.&text=I%20feel%20the%20stress%20slowly,body%20are%20relaxed%20and%20calm.