MCAT Content / Stress / Managing Stress

Managing Stress

Topic: Stress

Stress management resources aim to control or diminish a person’s level of stress through both conventional and alternative methods. The most common methods are spirituality, exercise and relaxation.

Research has found that maintaining good health has a positive influence on reducing and coping with stress. Behaviors such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, good eating habits, and getting enough sleep can help individuals better handle stress and avoid adverse effects such as the increased likelihood of sickness and poor digestion.

The most common method for relieving stress is exercise. It has been proven that aerobic exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression and produce the bodies physiological response to release hormones to combat the effects of stress. Hormones such as serotonin and endorphins are released during exercise which improves mood and well being.

Relaxation methods, such as yoga and meditation have been proven to reduce stress levels and hormones in the body. Forms of meditation, prayer, and contemplation can negate or abate present stress and provide resilience in the face of new stressors. Neuroscientists continue to study the effects of prayer and meditative states on the brain. Several studies have demonstrated the positive impact of prayer, meditation, and contemplation on both mental and physical health. Decreasing levels of stress is one of the effects found across several studies. Through faith and spirituality, new levels of calm and happiness can be achieved, cultivating happiness, health, and wellness.

Spirituality and faith practices can improve skills for coping with stress and raise levels of happiness and general well-being. Research in psychology on stress management has demonstrated that spirituality and faith have meaningful effects on the ability to cope with stress and on overall happiness. Some spiritual practices reduce stress, while others have healing or restorative powers that help to manage or cope with certain stressors. Research has shown that religious people are generally happier than others, but not one particular religion or religious practice has been found to have a monopoly on this phenomenon.


Key Points

• Resources in stress management aim to control or decrease a person’s level of perceived and experienced stress.

• Conventional methods focus on the use of exercise and relaxation to reduce stress levels.

• Alternative methods focus on the ability of the person to cope, and they use non-evidence-based approaches to help a person reframe or redesign their concept of stress.

• Psychologists agree that spirituality and faith have powerful effects on stress management and general happiness.

• Spirituality is the search for a higher, existential power, while faith is the belief that such a thing exists. Practices in both spirituality and faith can lead to greater skills for coping with stress.

• People who practice spirituality and faith are able to validate their existences, cultivate coping abilities, view stress as short-term and external, and generate social support for stress management.

• All forms of spiritual and faithful practice, including meditation, contemplation, and prayer, allow for increases in stress management skills.


Key Terms

stressor: an environmental condition or influence that stresses (i.e., causes stress for) an organism

faith: a feeling, conviction, or belief that something is true or real; trust or confidence

spirituality: Concern for that which is unseen and intangible, as opposed to physical or mundane



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