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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Albin PsyS. LMFT

Coping with stress is all about turning off our adrenaline, which is our body's only way of helping

Updated: May 27, 2023

us. This is true when we are in a stressful situation and when we are thinking about a stressful situation. #copingskills

When our adrenaline is running, we are irritable, unsettled, and anxious. Adrenaline speeds up our heart rate and our breathing and it shuts down our digestion and immune system. The stress cycle ends with us feeling depleted or depressed. We are more apt to get sick when our stress cycle is running because our immune system is off.

Anytime our stress level is higher than our coping techniques, we feel irritable and anxious and then depleted and depressed.

There are 4 categories of coping skills:

  1. exercise or physical activity

  2. hobbies or interests

  3. friends and support

  4. relaxation

If you are under normal stress, (stress is the amount of change you are experiencing), you want to use each category 3x a week for 20 min. each. That's about 2 coping skills every day for average stress.

If your stress level is higher than normal, you want to increase your coping skills to match your stress level. If you feel irritable, then your adrenaline is still running and you want to add more coping skills. What is higher than normal stress? Any problem that needs solving, a job change, promotion, or divorce. The death of a loved one is the highest stress level that exists.

Each of the 4 categories of coping skills work differently to turn your adrenaline off. Understanding how they work will help you decide which category to use.

  1. Exercise and physical activity (including cleaning) use up the extra energy. (Adrenaline = Energy) Exercise and physical activity will use up energy as long as you are not thinking about what triggered the stressful situation. If you continue to think about it, your body will trigger more adrenaline because it's the only way our body has to help us. If it's a problem that needs to be solved, don't think about it before going to sleep because your body will just produce more energy because your body thinks you need to solve it right now. Look for options earlier than bedtime. There are at least 3 options for every problem. See the problem-solving blog for more information.

  2. Escaping with hobbies or interests. Hobbies and interests work because when your mind is occupied while you are doing your hobby with friends or by yourself, you're not thinking about whatever you were stressed about. After 20 minutes, your body turns off your adrenaline. (Scroll below for 12 museums giving virtual tours)

  3. Friends and support can work in 2 different ways. First, spending time with friends can be an escape. Or second, talking about it can be helpful if stress is a problem that needs to be solved. More heads are better than one when looking for options.

  4. Relaxation. You want to choose ways to relax that get your heart rate lower than it is when you are resting, e.g. watching fish in an aquarium, taking a bath with candles, listening to relaxing music, doing progressive relaxation (telling each muscle group to relax starting with your head to your toes) or using visualization (imagine you are someplace relaxing). If your resting heart rate is lowered, your body reboots your immune system.

In summary, use two coping skills a day, twenty minutes each. Add more coping skills when you have higher than average stress on any day or during a stressful time. The goal is to keep your adrenaline off so you're not running the stress cycle. (Triggering adrenaline and then being exhausted). You want three or more coping skills from each category to create balance in your life. When you lose interest in one, replace it. If you have limited coping skills in each category, only one type of exercise, it's too hard physically on your knees if you are a runner, or if you only have one friend when that friendship changes, it's devastating. If you have one hobby like shopping, you overspend.

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