Stress Management

Ottawa Stress management

Stress management therapy can help you take control and increase your quality of life.

What is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of mental or emotional pressure or strain that arises from demanding or unfavourable circumstances. Sources of stress are not always negative, good things like being promoted or getting married, can also be stressful.The brain responds to stressful experiences by releasing hormones that get the body ready to deal with some type of threat. This response is part of the fight-flight-or-freeze reaction and is important to survival in emergencies. When it’s working properly it protects us. For moderate amounts of stress, the response can be motivating, increasing focus and concentration. However, for many people constant stress has become their normal way of life. The effects of stress are cumulative and too much can have a negative impact on the body, mind, mood, quality of life and over all well-being.

Symptoms of a stress response

Physical effects:

  • Increased heart rate, heart palpitations
  • Increased breathing rate, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension
  • Grinding teeth
  • Insomnia
  • dry mouth
  • digestive upset

Cognitive effects:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • forgetfulness
  • poor decision making
  • racing thoughts

Emotional effects:

  • Anxiety, nervousness
  • Depression
  • Shortened temper, increased frustration
  • Feeling worthless

Behavioural effects

  • Social withdrawal
  • Nervous habits, nail biting etc
  • Over-eating
  • Addictive-type behaviour, smoking, alcohol, gambling, shopping

For a useful diagram see the American Institue of Stress website

Stress Management Strategies

There are a number of useful stress management strategies. If you are already adept at a stress response then these strategies may take time before they reach their full potential. Like any skill, relaxation takes practice.


Often awareness can be a highly effective means of dealing with stress. Because for some people stress is a way of life, the stress response can be in full swing before they notice that something is wrong. Stress management techniques can't be employed effectively if you don't realize that you are having a stress response and it is more difficult to calm yourself at this point than it would be if you catch the response earlier. Look for a way to cue yourself to notice your physical and mental state. For example use a timer, a piece of jewelry or a picture to prompt you to do a quick check of how you're feeling. With time, as you become more aware, it should become easier to notice when you are feeling stressed and take the appropriate stress management action to calm yourself.

Starting at the top of your head, scan down through your body and notice what your experiencing.

  • What’s happening with your breathing?
  • Is your heart beating slow or fast?
  • Are there areas where you notice muscle tension or other uncomfortable sensations?
  • Are your hands/feet cold or sweaty?
  • Does your mouth feel dry? If your mouth is dry, take a drink of water and/or chew gum, this will begin to move you from the stress response to a more relaxed state.


Part of becoming aware is learning to bring yourself back to the present moment.

  • What do you see around you?
  • What do you hear?
  • What do you smell?
  • How is your body oriented? Notice: the feeling of your feet on the floor, how the chair feels against your body

Breathing Shift

During a stress response breathing often becomes more shallow and faster so that only the top of the chest is moving while breathing. Shifting to deep breathing can help you to calm down. However, it is very difficult to take a deep breath unless you breathe out full first.

To breathe out fully:

  • Take as deep a breath as you can, until your lungs feel very full.
  • Then breathe out make a “SSSSS” sound, and make the sound last for as long as possible. Actively push out the last of your breath, using your stomach muscles.

Then take a deep breath in. Placing one hand on your stomach below your rib cage and the other at the top of your chest below your collar bone.

A deep breath has three parts:

  • start the breath by expanding your belly first
  • second, as you continue to breathe in notice as the sides of your rib cage expand outwards
  • third, the top of your chest rises

Breathe out using the “SSSSS” sound, again, make it last as long as possible.

As you repeat this several times you'll likely notice that your breathing becomes freer and you are beginning to feel calmer.

Stress Management Therapy

Effective stress management is frequently more complicated than a set of relaxation techniques. There are often underlying issues that can influence the level of stress a person is able to tolerate and how they respond when it begins to feel like too much. If you are feeling overwhelmed or you desire more support, stress management therapy can help. I’d be happy to speak with you to answer any questions you may have. Contact me