Most long-term efforts to cope with stress fail because they are too limited and only address one aspect of stress. Remember: stress is the combination of a potential stressor, what your mind tells you about your ability to cope with it and (3) a stress response that kicks in if you feel unable to cope with it.
To conquer your stress you need to address all three parts.
In the late 1990s I developed a program that does just that, and called it “The Five R’s of Coping©.” Since then I’ve used the Five R’s to teach thousands of students and clients around the world how to conquer their stress.
The Five R’s are: Rethink, Relax, Release, Reduce, and Reorganize. Each R represents a different level of coping skills that can be used independently to cope with stressors, or combined into a comprehensive stress management plan.
A key to effective stress management is realizing that there is no single stress management technique that will work with all stressors under all circumstances. Not only is there no single magic bullet for stress, sometimes a coping strategy that worked for you under different circumstances in the past won’t work for you in the present moment with the same stressor.
For example: Imagine that in the past you were stressed by hurtful comments that your spouse made to you just before you left for work in the morning. You used diaphragmatic breathing to cope with this stressor. You walked away from your spouse and went into your garage, got into your car, and took several deep diaphragmatic breaths before driving off to work. This cleared away your stress.
Today, facing the exact same stressor, this method of coping didn’t work. Instead, you carried your spouse’s hurtful comments around with you all morning and kept your stress response alive. It wasn’t until lunch time when you were able to go to your company’s gym and run on the treadmill for 30 minutes that you were able to get rid of the stress.
Because you cannot rely on one coping strategy to deal with all of your stressors you need to be able to use a variety of different techniques that attack stress in different ways. Having a stress management plan that incorporates different kinds of strategies and levels of coping will enable you to meet the challenge of coping with stress in a changing world. You can build such a plan by using the Five R’s of Coping and tailor it to your stress profile.
Let me give you a quick explanation of the Five R’s and then show you how they attack the three components of stress.
The Five R’s
Rethink works by helping you change the way you think about potential stressors and your ability to cope with the threat, harm, and loss you associate with them. It also helps you slow down your runaway mind so you can think more clearly. Lastly, Rethink techniques help you manage the stress you feel when your goals and commitments clash with your values. Values conflicts are a common source of stress.
Relax works by putting your mind and body into a relaxed state that cancels out the stress response. Relax uses techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, visualization, and autogenic training to relax your tense, achy muscles and slow down your runaway mind.
Release works by getting rid of stress-related muscle tension and nervous energy in healthy ways. Release techniques use mild, moderate, vigorous, and cathartic forms of physical activity to get rid of pent-up stress related energy and tension before it can lead to serious health problems.
Reduce works by helping you cut back on the overall volume of stressors in your life and turn the remaining ones into challenges. Reduce techniques help you operate at peak performance and get the most out of each day.
Reorganize works by helping you develop a hardier, more stress-resistant lifestyle by increasing your level of wellness across all seven dimensions (physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and environmental).
How the Five R’s Attack the Three
Components of Stress
What makes the Five R’s so effective is that they target the three components of stress. They don’t waste your time focusing on things that are not directly related to your stress.
■ Rethink – prevents potential stressors from becoming actual stressors by changing the way you think about them and your ability to cope with them.
■ Reduce – reduces your overall number of potential stressors and turns the rest into challenges.
■ Reorganize – prevents potential stressors from becoming actual stressors by creating a more stress-resistant lifestyle filled with coping resources.
What Your Mind Tells You About Potential Stressors
■ Rethink – unleashes the power of your mind to help you think more clearly about potential stressors and the threat, harm, and loss associated with them. This defuses their ability to become actual stressors and trigger stress responses.
■ Relax – slows down your runaway mind so you can think more clearly.
The Stress Response
■ Relax – leads with your mind to relax your body and break the stress response as quickly as possible.
■ Release – leads with your body to get rid of stress-related tension and nervous energy and break the stress response.
The Five R’s can work independently or together to help you deal with stress. A synergistic effect occurs when you use all five levels of coping simultaneously. In other words, the combined result of using all five levels every day is much greater than the merely adding the five together.
Over the next several articles I will go over the Five R’s and share easy-to-use techniques from each that will help you conquer your stress.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.