Most people have experienced stress – it is, after all, a fundamental part of modern life. But when stress becomes a problem, it is often referred to as distress.

In their book Feel Good: How to change your mood and cope with whatever comes your way, Dr Shane Pascoe and Dr Graham Law describe distress as ‘an emotional state which you may find yourself in when you are unable to deal with stress’.

The good news is that there are many tools you can use to reduce distress. Here are some examples of the coping techniques that Dr Pascoe and Dr Law outline in their book:

Body scan

Do a mental scan of your body, starting at your toes and working upwards. Notice any areas of your body that may be holding tension or that feel agitated. This exercise, say Drs Pascoe and Law, may help by making you more aware of distress creeping up on you.

Avoid avoidance

If you find social situations stressful, make a list of them and rate them according to your levels of distress. Then, instead of avoiding these situations, expose yourself to them. Start with the least distressing first and work your way up. You may find that the situations you imagined to be stressful aren’t as bad as you anticipated once you’ve faced up to them.

Break it down

Feeling that you can’t cope with certain tasks or demands can cause distress, but breaking them down can make them far more manageable. For instance, if you find booking a family holiday too stressful, break it down into smaller elements such as booking the flight, booking the hotel and so on. Being more realistic about what you can achieve will help you to manage any related feelings of stress.

Give panic a number

The next time you feel a situation is causing you to panic, ask yourself whether it’s the worst thing that you’ve ever endured. Does it score of 10 out of 10 or is it more manageable and not so extreme? By analysing and scoring the situation, you may well unlock the ability to better deal with that situation.

Distract yourself

Try to take your mind off whatever’s making you feel stressed by thinking of something else. According to Drs Pascoe and Law, people with social anxiety disorder report less anxiety and fewer negative beliefs when they use distraction techniques.

Relax and be mindful

Relaxation, breathing exercises and mindfulness are useful techniques to calm an overactive mind. For more advice, read our articles Five easy ways to relax moreManaging stress with mindfulness and Mindfulness in minutes.

If you’re an ICAEW member and you need help to cope with stress, call our 24 hour helpline on +44 (0)1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online.

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