Combating permanent stress in the short term: What quickly helps against symptoms


Anyone who survives a threat should be happy. But what the brain and body experience as a threat in everyday life rarely gives cause for celebration. Everyday stress is perfidious: It burdens people – and as a rule it is never “over”. Corona is currently the most extreme example: The pandemic creates worries about relatives and friends, about business models and thus livelihoods. And when we go to bed in the evening, we do it with the knowledge that tomorrow the threat will still be there.

This also applies to insecure working conditions, bad bosses, tensions in the relationship; it applies to almost every source of stress these days. The stressful appointment may pass – but another will come.

“Emotions are a tunnel. If you go all the way through, you will come to light in the end ”, write the psychologist Emily Nagoski and the conductor and burnout advisor Amelia Nagoski in their book“ Stress ”. That sounds nice, but it also means treading the hard road. Her antithesis: “Emotional exhaustion occurs when we get stuck in an emotion and cannot go through the tunnel.”

Emily and Amelia Nagoski.

Emily and Amelia Nagoski.

Paul Woodpecker

The picture goes very well with what happens in the body when a person experiences stress. Messenger substances signal to the body that it has to work harder. Blood pressure rises, digestion is first accelerated, then stopped. The heart beats, the muscles tense. Perception and thinking narrow: whoever is under stress, only sees – the stress. In this way he expands, pushes other perspectives on his own life to the edge.

Fight the symptom for a change

The classic advice now is to combat the cause of the stress instead of its symptom. If your job stresses you: quit. If a friend is stressing you: Talk to her or reduce the contact. If your commute stresses you: change job or apartment. If your children are stressing you: went bad. If Corona stresses you:

Okay, let’s leave that.

All the advice against the causes of stress has one thing in common: in the short term, it is completely unrealistic. To stay in the picture of an emotional tunnel: We can choose a different route next time. But if we are in the tunnel, it is difficult to dig across the mountain. We can turn around, but then we’re back to the beginning.

Or we go through.

And yes, this is how we fight the symptom, not the cause. But stress is a daily phenomenon. Once we have dealt with one cause, another comes along. Worse still: if we have left the cause behind us but not combated the body’s stress reaction, then nothing is gained. Have you ever had a bicycle accident on a busy street, blown over the handlebars and barely scratched a serious injury? It happens very quickly – but it still feels awful for a long time afterwards.

Stress is for survival – and it kills us

The body’s response to stress is great when a tiger is about to jump. If the body and mind work more focused, then the escape is easier. Run or fight, survive, partying, that’s what the stressed body needs. Through movement and the resulting feeling of security and self-efficacy, the body can regulate the messenger substances and work properly again.

But in everyday life there is no opportunity to fight or flee. We persevere in everyday life. Permanent or recurring stress can lead to chronic physical stress reactions. The blood pressure is increased and the blood vessels are stressed. The digestive organs suffer because they are not meant to be kept busy or shut off. Stress can shorten life through heart disease or cancer, among other things.

It is therefore worth taking a look at how to deal with stress.

What you can do: fight or flight

In the stressful everyday life we ​​miss fight or flight, survive and celebrate. Fight and flight are usually not possible – but they can be simulated. Movement can be a fight and a celebration at the same time: turn up the music, dance, just rejoice out loud. Escape can also be simulated: running, cycling, climbing, swimming, whatever is good for the body.

“For most people, twenty to sixty minutes a day is enough,” the Nagoskis write in their “Stress” book.

For most people, this is likely to be a lot more exercise than they have built into everyday life. But the message is clear: “Physical activity – really every movement of your body – is the means of choice in the fight against burnout”.

What to do when you’re too lazy to make any effortoath

Nevertheless, they suggest a few alternatives. Here you are:

To breathe

Ever heard a small child sigh when they come to after a tantrum? This is anti-stress management in practice. “Breathing is most effective when the stress level is not too high or you only want to remove part of it to get through a difficult situation,” write the Nagoskis. If we breathe out slowly and far, we act on the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs through the entire trunk. Exhaling calmly calms the heart and signals to the organs: the threat is decreasing, you can go back to work.

Positive social interaction

Yes, it’s a little ironic that people liked to cancel their dates before the Corona period. Now it is the encounters that they miss so much. No wonder. Social integration gives a feeling of security. Those who are friendly expect friendliness and assume less negative thoughts to others. Hello, feel-good atmosphere!


Laughter is a very pleasant way of breathing out. Here, to try it out, please have a say:

“Haaaa!” Or also: “Ha-Haaa!”

Those who laugh together associate the calming feeling with the relationship with others. And that also takes away stress.


If nothing else works, only a loved one can help. If we hug each other, attachment hormones are released. They help to alleviate stress reactions.


Art out of anger? Sure, of course. If you have or had access to an artistic activity, then try it out again. If you’ve never been able to paint or sing or drum: give it a try anyway! Writes bad poems, paints ugly pictures and writes pathetic songs. The stress has to get out, nobody asks how.

“The good old crying fit

This is my absolute favorite method from the “Stress” book. If there is too much pressure, then he has to get out. That was true of the tea kettles in our childhood and it also applies to tears that hold people back because crying is just not cool, just immature. But crying helps, as almost everyone has had this experience.

Stress competence is life competence

We will never eliminate the stress of everyday life. It would also be wrong, because a little stress lets us live longer, makes us aware and creative, and encourages us to change. So it’s worth it. The downside is that there will always be “too much” stress. Regular sources of stress must of course be combated. But acute stress has to be endured, processed. This competence is a skill for life.


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