The Experience of Stress: Problem Solving and perception of control

Stressors are those people, places, things, thoughts, feelings, interpretations, etc. that trigger the flight-fight response.  Stressors are external and internal. These are very person specific, as we each tolerate stress differently. Some of us are more stress sensitive than others. Some of us tend to be untouched by the stress response (although our bodies may be reacting).  Whatever the case, the idea is that some stress we do actually elicit ourselves, in terms of how we perceive the stressor : as a demand, a threat,  etc. As someone once stated, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Doug Thonus shared his strategies for managing the demands/pressure in his life. Currently, he is going through a divorce and has young children. “I frequently am involved in arguments or problems over custody, assets or other divorce related things while only having control over my side of the equation.”

On strategy to managing stress is in looking for what one can control.  Thonus states “Sometimes negative things happen around you that you can’t control or solve. In these situations, you can still control your reaction. Learning not to get upset about situations you can’t alter or control has helped me remove a lot of the unnecessary stress from my life.” Thus, while he recognizes that there are external factors he cannot control, Thonus focuses on one thing he is aware that he can control in any situation: his own reactions.

A second strategy that can be used (and one that Thonus uses regularly), is that or problem solving. At work in particular, he finds this works effectively with situations that he may not even have much information about. For example, when there is a technical issue that has not been resolved, by the time it gets to him, he doesn’t know much about the problem.  Probably solving; however, “helps eliminate the stress because it’s actively pursuing a solution.” Being proactive, seeking solutions and taking the initiative in obtaining necessary information are effective ways to manage, reduce, prevent, and/or embrace stress.

How can your perception of control and problem solving help you?

To learn more about Thonus, check his link here.

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  • Especially "what you can control" makes sense. For instance, I figure that I am no longer the condo's rules cop. However, I know someone who thinks that aggravating people will somehow get her way. The only control I could get in that situation is to tell her when she pulls that on the phone "why do you think aggravation works" and if she keeps whining, to hang up.

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    Dr. Serena Wadhwa

    Serena Wadhwa, Psy.D., LCPC, CADC, received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from ISPP-Chicago, specializing in health psychology. Dr. Wadhwa is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, has a Master’s in Counseling and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. She is the Director of TriQual Living Center (, providing education and therapy on addiction/recovery and chronic stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. She provides individual therapy at the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Outpatient Group Practice and is an assistant professor/program coordinator at Governors State University, as well as adjunct faculty at a couple community colleges. Dr. Wadhwa works in a variety of roles as a consultant, presenter, trainer, lecturer, author, and contributor to ChicagoNow. She has presented on various topics in the Midwest and published various articles on topics relating to stress, addiction, and health. She also develops activities for a variety of psycho-educational lectures, and has several published. She is also a member of several professional organizations. She has a book on "Stress in the Modern World" coming out in 2014 and several e-books this year. Her latest project is an Internet Radio Show, Moving Forward: Wellness One Step at a Time.

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