Stress is a part of life. Some stress is good, but too much stress can increase negative thoughts and feelings, create a sense of hopelessness, and overwhelm your mind. This can make it hard to deal with the many challenges life presents. How we work to solve our problems, from road rage to relationships woes, can be impacted by how we handle our stress and handle problems. When your mind and body respond to stress negatively, you may find yourself impulsively making choices or avoiding dealing with situations altogether.
That’s why we suggest remembering S.S.T.A. — Stop, Slow Down, Think, Act. S.S.T.A. can help you calm your negative reaction so you can better handle your stress. This will put you in a good position to handle life’s curveballs and start solving problems in a thoughtful and productive manner.
1. STOP. When you’re faced with a problem, take a moment to recognize and evaluate your stress level and “listen” to your feelings.
Common signs of stress can be physical, like sleep problems or headaches, or behavioral, such as nail biting or negative thoughts. It can also be negative emotions, such as sadness or anxiety. It’s important to stop and pay attention to your body and mind, which can provide you with clues about how stressed you are.
Learning how your body and mind respond when you’re stressed can help you feel more in control of your situation and put you in a better position to respond to a problem.
2. Slow down. When you’ve identified that you are stressed, you can combat its effect on your mind and body by using various relaxation techniques. Taking control of your mind and body will help you feel more powerful when making decisions.
There are simple exercises you can do to better relax. For example, deep breathing, meditating and counting slowly from one to 20. Science has even demonstrated that “fake” yawning (meaning deliberately yawning) can help relax you while increasing your ability to concentrate. Relaxation techniques encourage you to control your breathing, which can have a positive effect on your blood pressure and reduces the production of stress hormones.
3. Think. Once you take a moment to stop, relax and gain control of your thoughts and body, you can then move on to addressing the problem. Think through what is bothering you and what specifically is causing you stress. You might find it helpful to write down your thoughts.
Ask yourself, “What is the problem and what is my goal in this situation?” Identify major obstacles that are in the way of meeting this goal and then generate some possible solutions. Next, try to predict what might happen if you carry these ideas out in order to evaluate their pros and cons. Based on this comparison, choose those ideas that best meet your goals while also maximizing positive consequences and minimizing negative ones. Writing out your thoughts will help you organize and prioritize.
4. Act. The final step is to take action. You may find it helpful to expand on what you’ve written down and develop an action plan that outlines steps you can take to gain better control over your situation.
Writing the details of your plan will help you stay focused and motivated to deal with your problem instead of avoiding it. Additionally, when life gets busy and new problems arise causing you to feel stressed again, you can remind yourself that you have already taken important steps to dealing with one of your problems.
Remember that life is full of difficulties that can cause you to feel stressed. While the S.S.T.A. method can help you deal with stress and minimize negative thoughts, it will not eliminate it. It’s up to you to take these practices and make them a positive habit. Good luck on your journey!
Drs. Art and Christine Nezu are professors of psychology and medicine at Drexel University in Philadelphia and consultants to The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and The Department of Defense (DoD). Both were lead authors of the Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges web course from which this information is derived.