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8 answers for how you can stand up to stress

Professor Maryanna Klatt, head of Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Health, offers tips and techniques to help cope when life gets to be a lot.

Five people stand in a loose circle, emulating the yoga pose of Professor Maryanna Klatt, an older white woman focusing on her stretch. They’re each leaning into their front leg and reaching up with the arm on that same side of their body. In the background is a large screen showing a pretty scene of waves rolling in the ocean and fluffy clouds.

Maryanna Klatt, a professor of clinical family medicine, focuses on developing feasible, affordable strategies that cut the risk of stress-related chronic illnesses for both adults and children. Her toolkit includes mindfulness and yoga exercises. (Photo by Jodi Miller)

The research is conclusive: Building resilience to stress not only makes you feel better, but it can help you avoid some very serious health problems.

Professor Maryanna Klatt ’01 MA, ’02 PhD has developed programs that empower adults and children to better deal with daily stress.

For nearly two decades, her Mindfulness in Motion (MIM) program — combining mindfulness and yoga techniques — has consistently helped people of all ages and career paths stand up to even the most stressful environments. (We’re talking nurses in surgical intensive care units.)

Klatt, director of the Center for Integrative Health at Ohio State, recently took your questions, providing insights to help us learn what causes us stress and how to deal with it effectively.

  • What are effective ways to cope with stress? — Jenna Sierer ’20

    The No. 1 effective way to cope with stress is to identify what or who is actually stressing you out. Once you honestly evaluate what the source is, the second most effective step is to ask yourself, “Why is this important to me? Why is this situation, this issue, this person, causing me stress? It/they must matter to me.”

    It’s only things we care about that cause us stress. And recognizing that, becoming aware of that, is the first step to being able to lessen the stress. I know that sounds bizarre. But it is true.

  • I am an LISW-S [supervising licensed independent social worker] in a very large vocational school for high school juniors and seniors. Do you have any mindfulness techniques that would be helpful for teenagers? — Heidi Migliore ’11 MA

    I recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing practice. Breathe in for a count of four, gently hold for seven, exhale for eight. That’s what I use for my college freshmen. Very effective.

  • At times, stress can be debilitating, causing me to want to shut down or avoid the situation. What coping methods work once you’ve reached this level? — Melinda Yonchak ’89

    I go ahead and shut down. Sometimes you need the break. If you already recognize you’re in overdrive and want to shut down to avoid whatever it is, that’s giving you a lot of useful information. The coping method that may work is to listen to what you need, then come back to the situation with fresh energy when you’re more able to address it.

  • In my opinion, our world today gives a lot of lip service to how to handle stress. Perhaps talking about stress all of the time is causing more net stress? — John Herring ’93, ’06 MEd

    Talking all of the time about stress and the best way to approach it can be overwhelming — I get it. That can feel like a burden on top of just getting through life. The fact preschoolers talk about being stressed? When I was a kid, nobody said that word.

    Is the term “stress” overused? Yes, probably. But that doesn’t mean we should not be aware of things we can use to help build the life we want. And some of those things are strategies. The important thing is to be aware, recognize that this is important to you for whatever reason, and figure out a strategy and habit so that when this comes up again, you’re more used to dealing with it in a helpful way.

  • How can I make new de-stressing techniques work and last? — Josh Przybyla ’09

    The best way to make a stress-reduction strategy work and last is to make it an automatic habit and to have cues to trigger that habit. The key is to not have to decide to perform the technique that works for you. It is exhausting to have to decide all the time whether to do X — deep breathing, yoga, meditation, whatever — unless it’s a habit.

    Here is an example of a cue/habit link: I always meditate in the morning, so my habit is to get up, have my coffee and take 10 minutes to meditate. If that were a choice every morning, I would not do that. Because then there’s this cognitive choice that’s involved.

    Another example: Take three deep breaths before getting out of bed in the morning to frame your day in a sense of calm. The cue: waking up. The habit: three deep breaths before you stand up.

  • What are some of the red flags to watch for that create stress in the first place so we can avoid having to deal with it at all? — Daniel Barr ’77

    We all do this. We try to structure our whole lives around avoiding stressful events, stressful people, stressful situations. But it’s a more adaptive strategy to be able to sit with something that feels stressful and not let it consume you. Have confidence you’ll be able to deal with it and get beyond it. Then you’re not wasting energy setting up your whole life to avoid stress, which is impossible.

    Mindfulness allows us to sit with stress, and then it sparks creativity to deal with those challenges.

  • How can I be more proactive vs reactive in dealing with stress? — Kasey Dunlap ’88

    The proactive approach is to recognize we’re in the pilot seat. We typically think we’re a victim, a receiver of the stress that’s happening to us, but that’s not reality.

    Recognize that we have 90 seconds after something happens to decide, should I keep reacting like this? Or might it make more sense to respond in a different manner? Take some time, put a little bit of space between you and whatever that situation is that’s stressing you out, and then you can decide whether or not to not have those surging stress hormones continue to fill your body.

  • How can one help an important person in your life de-stress? — Roy McKenna ’72

    You can’t. My adult daughter gave me this advice: The best way to deal with other people’s stress is to model how you want them to deal with stresses.

    We cannot control other people’s behavior. But you can model behaviors that don’t absorb that person’s stress.

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