There are thousands of stress management books, CDs, audio books, treatments, therapies, and remedies. With so many to choose from, it has become just about impossible to review them in depth and determine which stress management programs actually help people, in what ways, and how well. In this post, I will review the types of stress management programs that are available and identify some of the most frequent reasons that may keep them from working.
What Are the Choices in Stress Management Programs?
Biological: “Stress is a biochemical imbalance in the body and/or the brain.” Normal biochemical balance is restored through medication, exercise, dietary, and lifestyle changes.
Psychoanalysis: “Stress is real or perceived loss which causes anger that is direct toward the self.” Insight into inner conflict and release of emotion are triggered via intensive and sometimes extended psychoanalytical therapy.
Behavioral – Focus is on emotion: “Stress is anxiety-modified behavior.” Anxiety is reduced by desensitization to thoughts, events, relationships that cause anxiety.
Behavioral – Focus is on behavior: “Stress comes from problems with the reward-punishment processes.” Behavior is modified through skills training in managing reward and punishment.
Behavioral – Focus is on self-control: “Stress comes from problems with the reward-punishment processes.” Increased self-control over reward and punishment is achieved through skills training in self-monitoring, -evaluation and –reinforcement.
Cognitive-Behavioral: “Stress is caused by distorted information, negative thoughts, and negative beliefs.” Better information, positive thoughts and beliefs, and behavioral change are promoted through skills training in reasoning, decision-making, self-monitoring, restructuring.
Many of these programs can work very well at reducing stress except… when they don’t work. Let’s look at some of the reasons that are most frequently cited when users complain that the stress management program of their choice did not work.
Top 7 Reasons Stress Management Programs May Not Work
- One Size Does Not Fit All: As opposed to individually tailored treatment programs, many stress management courses and programs are created for “people in general” without customization for culture, gender, age, health status and other significant factors.
- The Shotgun Approach: Most programs target generic stressors, i.e. the most common and universal sources of stress. The theory is that stress can be reduced systemically, targeting the symptoms without addressing their specific causes.
- When Stress Makes Sense: Effectiveness is limited in people whose stress results from realistic and valid concerns about stressors that must be resolved, reduced or eliminated for the stress symptoms to go away.
- “My Situation Is Different”: A program may fail to produce results when users cannot relate its prescriptions to their specific area of concern, either because the program is too short on specifics or too broad in scope.
- The Program Fails to Stimulate Lasting Change: To be effective, any stress management program must motivate the individual to view situations and challenges in a new way, and to apply new approaches and solutions. Often there is a return to the old ways of appraising and behaving after a superficial and temporary change.
- Scratching the Surface: Deep-seated stressful patterns are often caused by troubles that are caused by conflicts or personal challenges that are below the surface. Relaxing away the symptoms may leave the underlying difficulties untouched. Stress may go away, then return after a relatively short time.
- A Sound Mind in a Sound Body? Many exercise, sleep, breathing, aromatherapy and other biologically-based management programs urge the cultivation of certain aspects of physical fitness, on the assumption that if one feels well physically, the stresses of living and working will be less troublesome. Unless these programs also address the thoughts and emotions behind the stress-provoking patterns, however, it is possible to become more physically fit while remaining vulnerable to stress.
The bottom line of stress management programs? The programs that offer a better chance to work are the ones that do so by stimulating new ways of evaluating situations and relationships that cause distress and of coping with them in ways that are more effective and long-lasting. Any program that motivates these cognitive and emotional changes can be helpful in principle, because it will be more likely to cause lasting behavioral changes.