Monday, October 18, 2021

Your Personal Multi-Level Defense System Against Stress

Stress Less, Live More


In the April 12, 2018 edition of this column I discussed my Five R’s of Coping© stress management system (

In that article I introduced a new way of defining stress. Stress is a combination of three things: a potential stressor, what your mind tells you about it and (3) a stress response that kicks in if you feel unable to cope with the threat posed by the potential stressor.

To really manage your stress effectively you need a program that targets and attacks all three aspects of stress. My Five R’s of Coping system does just that. Each R is a level of defense that provides multiple strategies to attack one or more of the aspects of stress.

I want to use the rest of this column to expand on this and show you exactly how the system works.

The Five R’s: Rethink, Relax, Release, Reduce & Reorganize


Rethink focuses mostly on potential stressors and what your mind tells you about them. Some Rethink strategies focus on understanding and working with how your mind thinks about stress.

For example, your mind is always on the lookout for threatening situations. In trying to protect you from harm it will work non-stop thinking about all of the possible things that could go wrong regarding a potential stressor. However, as you know, a lot of potentially-threatening situations could also have benefits that could enrich and fulfill you. A career change, new relationship, move to a different state, or countless other novel experiences could be potentially threatening but also very enriching either personally or professionally.

Rather than try to work against your mind and control the troubling thoughts and painful emotions these new experiences trigger, it is better to acknowledge that this is how your mind works, accept it, and shift your focus off of your thoughts and feelings. Rethink teaches you how to do this with simple to use exercises based on cognitive psychology.

Relax and Release focus primarily on the stress response. Both work by initiating a relaxation response that cancels out your stress response. You can’t be both relaxed and stressed at the same time. Putting your body in a relaxed state shuts down the stress response. The main difference between the two is how they go about doing this.

Relax works by leading with the mind using passive relaxation strategies. Doing things like Mindfulness Meditation, Visualization, and Autogenic Training (aka self-hypnosis) slows down and relaxes your mind. These activities do not require you to exert any physical energy beyond sitting or lying down and watching a video or listening to an audio. Once your mind is relaxed, the nervous energy and muscle tension in your body dissipates.

Release works by leading with the body using mild, moderate, and vigorous physical activity. This actively gets rid of the nervous energy and muscle tension associated with stress. Once your tension and nervous energy are gone your mind will also slow down and relax. Release strategies include things like Yoga and Stretching, Systematic Muscle Relaxation, and Aerobic or Anaerobic Exercise.

Reduce as a line of defense also focuses on the stress response. Sometimes it isn’t a potential stressor, or what your mind tells you about it that causes stress. Sometimes it is just the sheer volume of things going on in your life that wear you down and make you feel that you can’t cope.

As you know, you only have so much time and energy in any given day. When your demands and responsibilities exceed your ability to handle them, they become threats and potential stressors. When this happens, even fun things become stressors.

Some Reduce strategies help you find out exactly how much you can handle before feeling threatened. Others help you identify and eliminate the unnecessary demands that put you over the edge. Common Reduce strategies are Time Management, Goal Setting, and Assertiveness Training.

Reorganize works by helping you develop a hardier, more stress-resistant lifestyle. Reorganize techniques show you how to increase your level of wellness across all seven dimensions of health (physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and environmental). This gives you the energy and resources you need to cope with stress. Sometimes just knowing a resource exists is enough to defuse the threat involved in a potential stressor.

For example, having a neighbor agree to watch your child until you get home from work can reduce work-related stress. Imagine having to attend a last minute meeting at work that otherwise would make your frantic worrying about your daughter’s safety if you didn’t have that neighbor.

Putting it All Together

When you have a multi-level defense system against stress like the Five R’s of Coping, you’ll always have at least one way to handle any kind of stressful situation. It gives you the ability to pick and choose the level of defense and specific technique that works for you at that particular time with the specific stressor that is threatening you.

For example, I love to use vigorous physical activity to Release my stress. I’ll go for a run, jump on my bike and ride or throw my kayak on top of my car and in 15 minutes be paddling in the Everglades.

These work great if I am at home and something stresses me out. What about when I’m stuck in traffic or in a boring meeting? I can’t use any of those Release strategies. If I didn’t have other lines of defense I’d be stuck.

Fortunately I can use some Rethink strategies to help me understand the threat and shift my focus off of it. I might also use a Relaxation strategy such as Diaphragmatic Breathing to manage my traffic-related stress.

For more information about my Five R’s of Coping check out my Introductory Course at

In the meantime don’t forget to Stress Less and Live More.

Dr Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a semi-retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in NJ.

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