Skip to content

Dr. Patrick McGrath’s Blog

Stress – How Do We Handle It?

    Everyone talks about experiencing stress, and yet there is not really a standard definition of what stress really is. So, how do we know that we are experiencing it, and what do we do if we are?

    Stress can be thought of as the nagging experience of anxiety, worry, or doubt that interferes with our ability to function at our peak level of performance. Individuals who experience stress and worry often report feeling restless and yet easily fatigued. They have difficulty falling or staying asleep, have a great deal of muscle tension, have trouble concentrating, and are often irritable. These behaviors can then interfere with their relationships with friends, family, and co-workers, which can lead to more worry and stress for the individual.”

    It is this cycle of thinking and behaving that I often try to target in treatment of individuals who are experiencing stress and anxiety disorders. There are several simple things that individuals can do to start to address their stress and anxiety right away.

    Four Tips for Stress-Busting

    Challenge your absolute thinking: Many individuals who are stressed see things as all or nothing. Though a school project might have been given a very good grade, some people will beat themselves up if they got a 97% instead of 100%. They might even see themselves as a failure because others did not think that they did perfect. And yet, perfect is just an opinion, because other teachers may have graded your paper at 100%, or even 50%, depending on their opinion of what a perfect paper is.

    Be encouraging to yourself: There are times that individuals will become stressed or anxious because of how they talk to themselves. If you really want to do something, but tell yourself that you can’t do it, then you have just set yourself up for failure. The more you convince yourself of your potential limitations, the more likely you will believe them. While you may not be able to accomplish everything that you want, making an attempt is at least better than telling yourself that you will fail before you even try.

    Treat yourself as a friend: Many individuals hold themselves to a higher standard and expect more from themselves than they would the other 8.5 billion people who live on the planet. We are all unique, but the rules apply to all of us in the same way.

    I suggest the following exercises: Today, treat yourself as if you are your very best friend. When you do something well, congratulate yourself for your accomplishments. When something happens that you do not like, tell yourself that it is no big deal. These are the same things that you would do for your best friends. Then, notice how good that feels versus what you probably usually do, which is to beat yourself up over any minor mistake you may make. You will always perform better using positive motivation versus negative motivation.

    Recognize that stress and anxiety is purely subject to our perception or interpretation. What may be stressful to one person can be fun to another. There are many different ways to look at what you are experiencing, and the way you are feeling right now could change if you had a different perspective.” While not the easiest thing to do, changing your perspective can be very effective in challenging your experience of stress and anxiety.

    Following some of these simple steps can help to make improvements in your life and lead you away from feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.

    When symptoms of stress anxiety persist, you may need to seek professional help. Anxiety is a very treatable problem. You no longer need to spend months or years in therapy to understand the “cause” of your symptoms. There are evidence-based treatment modalities known as exposure and response prevention therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy that are very effective, similar to what I used to treat the young man with panic disorder on Discovery Health’s documentary, Anxious.

    Click here to learn more about anxiety and stress management, or for a copy of Dr. McGrath’s stress management workbook, “Don’t Try Harder, Try Different” you can e-mail him at