Practice these 5 R’s when Stressed

Feeling Stressed?

It is hard not to get stressed when we listen to the news. I bet most of you have increased your news feed over the past week due to the acceleration of novel coronavirus COVID-19. Rising chaos around the world, the cancellation of all events, and a shortage of supplies are only adding to everyday stress. I know I have been stressed and am finding it hard to focus! So how do we deal with this bad news, along with the ripple effects?

My Research

I am currently writing a book on stress and burnout in the workplace.

Breaking down Stress

Typically, our reaction or appraisal of a stressful event results in internal dialogue such as “I can cope” or “I can’t cope.” Often our response depends on how much control we feel we have. If we think we can cope, we are likely to pick helpful coping techniques such as planning, a useful temporary distraction to relax (e.g., going for a run, chatting with a friend). In contrast, when we think that we can’t cope, we are more likely to choose unhelpful coping strategies such as rumination, worrying, drinking, procrastination, and blaming others and ourselves. You can see that in the case of COVID-19, we may choose strategies, such as buying excessive bathroom tissue when we feel we have little control.

Five 5 R’s for moving forward

In my book, I have created the 5 R’s for dealing with stressful and upsetting information. I used it last week with my daughter after cancelling our trip to Mexico and her birthday party at a community swimming pool. I have also used it myself on many occasions over the last couple of years when I have felt sad, angry or fearful.

1) Recognize that you are stressed

Rather than suppressing your emotions, notice that you are feeling upset. Mindfulness involves being aware of things happening at the moment. When we mindfully acknowledge our pain, we do not overly identify with it. Instead, it is like a gentle acceptance that part of us is feeling upset.

2) Relax and soften the stress response. 

a. Part 1: Take three deep breaths or try a simple Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) exercise to tense up individual muscle areas such as shoulders, elbows, hands and then relax them. Seven ways to relax are listed here. Find out what works for you.

b. Part 2: Think about what a good friend would say to you right now (without trying to reframe it) – comfort, or validation. I know how much you were looking forward to these things. (Self-kindness).

c. Part 3: Remember that you are not the only one in the world feeling stressed; others are also having difficulty with this. So we are in this together with our friends, rather than suffering alone. She felt a bit better, knowing that she was not in this alone (common-humility).

3) Revisit

Now that you feel less stressed and your pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) is working again ask yourself?

a. What are you feeling? What does this emotion tell you about what is important to you? Try to identify and describe what you are feeling. My daughter was feeling angry at the world for what was happening and missing out on things. Although my daughter’s initial emotion was angry, she was sad and disappointed. It is essential to get beneath the surface emotion. Investigating her feelings told her that she was looking forward to these things. She had a calendar on the wall, counting down the days to her birthday party and trip to Mexico. 

b. What are you thinking? Her thoughts were this sucks, and it is not fair.

4) Re-frame your thoughts

a. What is the goal that you want? Her goal was to have something to look forward to in the future.

b. Knowing that you have an element of choice and control over what you can control, how could you reframe your thoughts in a more positive, optimistic way that would be healthier for you? She decided to re-think her party. She could still have it, just not in such a large public setting. Knowing that she still had choices made things easier.

5) Respond (rather than react) – What action can you take now (or alternatively let it go)? 

My daughter decided to have two friends over to our house. She got busy and felt hopeful and excited about making new arrangements for her party at home. She drew up a shopping list and put together a plan for her party at home

P.S. An on-line party might be something to think about in the coming days.


If you are naturally reactive to stressors or bad news, you might find value in trying this out as well. If you feel anxious about all the bad news lately, read this helpful article on managing worry. Let me know if and how you found the article useful. 

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