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Understanding Stress: Unveiling Its True Nature and Navigating Its Challenges

Updated: Jul 11

Stressed Man

Stress is a universal companion in our lives, not always an adversary. As a psychologist, I have seen firsthand how, when left unmanaged or when an individual's coping mechanisms are overwhelmed, stress can lead to significant physiological and mental health consequences. These can range from chronic health conditions to severe anxiety and depression, impacting overall quality of life. A few years ago, I shared my initial thoughts on stress. Now, recognizing its profound impacts, it's time to revisit and deepen our understanding of this crucial subject. This post, enhanced with the latest research and practical strategies, aims to provide insights that will inform, empower and support you on your journey to effective stress management.

What Is Stress Really?

Stress is, simply put, our body's response to pressures from a situation or life event. What triggers stress varies immensely from person to person and is influenced by our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. The World Health Organization has dubbed stress "the health epidemic of the 21st Century." Thus, genuinely understanding stress is not just a step but the essential first step toward effective management.

The Misconceptions about Stress

It is crucial to clarify what stress is not—it is not a sign of weakness or incapability. Recognizing stress as a universal experience can empower us to manage it constructively. Stress responses can be life-saving in certain situations. The challenge arises when this response becomes chronic, leading to exhaustion or illness.

When Stress Overwhelms

Feeling overwhelmed is a common symptom of stress, akin to carrying a hefty load. This sensation often signals the need to reassess our commitments. Ask yourself: Are all these responsibilities essential? Are there tasks I can delegate or postpone? Prioritizing and shedding non-essential tasks can significantly lighten your mental load.

Mastering the Art of Boundaries

Effective stress management is primarily about setting clear boundaries. Learning to say "no" is a crucial skill, but it's equally important to recognize that you can take your time when making decisions. For instance, responding with "maybe" or "let me get back to you" can provide the necessary space to evaluate your capacity and make an informed choice without pressure.

If it's challenging to decline requests outright, consider the cost of your "yes." Are you sacrificing your peace? If direct "no" is difficult, these softer alternatives allow you to assert your boundaries gently yet effectively. For example, if a colleague asks for help with a project, instead of an immediate "yes," you could say, "I need to check my schedule; I'll confirm by tomorrow." This approach ensures you don't commit hastily and regret it later.

Negotiating your responsibilities can also be a viable alternative when a direct "no" is not possible. For instance, you might agree to a request but specify conditions that make the commitment more manageable, like adjusting deadlines or reallocating responsibilities.

By embracing these strategies, you empower yourself to maintain control over your commitments, ensuring you don't become overwhelmed by taking on more than you can handle.

Additional Beneficial Strategies

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Engage in practices that anchor you to the present and help mitigate the overwhelming emotions that come with stress.

  • Physical Activity: Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine. Even short walks or quick stretching sessions can alleviate the physical symptoms of stress.

  • Nutritional Choices: Opt for a balanced diet. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals can combat stress effectively.

  • Adequate Rest: Ensure you're getting enough sleep. Sleep is as crucial to our health as eating right and exercising.

  • Reach Out: Sometimes, talking to someone can help. Maintain a positive, safe support network that you can lean on during tough times.

Conclusion: Embrace the Journey of Stress Management

Managing stress isn't solely about eradicating it; rather, it's about understanding and optimizing our response to it. With the strategies discussed in this post, I encourage you to reflect on your stress levels and identify the causes of your stress. Then, take proactive steps to manage them effectively. If you find stress overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Remember, recognizing the need for support is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and a crucial step toward personal growth.


Clayton Falk M.A.,

Registered Psychologist &

Canadian Certified Counsellor

Clayton Falk M.A, Registered Psychologist & Canadian Certified Counsellor

About the author of the article:

Clayton Falk, MA, Registered Psychologist & Canadian Certified Counsellor

Clayton is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta who is currently one of the founders and co-owners of the Airdrie Counselling Centre. If you would like to see Clayton’s profile or book an appointment with him, please click on the link below.

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