Stressed Out

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Proven research to help you identify and manage stress in your life. 

Stress. Even the word itself can make your muscles tense up.  And you’re not alone.  

Dr. Sonia Lupien is a researcher studying stress and has discovered some common triggers and shared some strategies to help manage the stress. She recently spoke at the Ontario Association of Children’s Rehabilitation Centres (OACRS) Conference and explained how our brains haven’t evolved much since our ancient ancestors. A wooly mammoth running towards them triggered their stress. At this point they had to choose: fight, slay the mammoth and feed their families or run (because there was no way they would win the fight). The response in that moment or the anticipation of that moment was what triggered stress.

Though we don’t have wooly mammoths running at us these days we do have other triggers: IEPs, hectic schedules, work deadlines, traffic, cranky kids, etc. And though we logically know these triggers aren’t going to physically hurt us, our brains respond as though they will.

So what can we do?

1.    Remember the recipe for stress is N.U.T.S. 

NOVELTY - Something new you have not experienced before
UNPREDICTABILITY - Something you had no way of knowing would occur
THREAT TO THE EGO - Your competence as a person is called into question
SENSE OF CONTROL - You feel you have little or no control over the situation

Any of these elements can trigger a stress response. It is also important to remember that even expecting that any of these situations will occur can trigger a stress response.

2.    Identify the cause of your stress using the above recipe. Sometimes labeling and identifying why you are stressed can be enough to help your stress levels.

3.    Think about whether you’re looking for short term or long term solutions for your stress. Remember there are no universal solutions for people. While mindfulness or yoga may work to reduce the stress for one person, they may increase the stress of the others. Try different tactics and figure out what works best for you.

Short term solutions:
  • Deep belly breathing – your belly should rise on the inhale and go in on the exhale.
  • Laughing – find a funny YouTube video or think of a memory that makes you laugh out loud.
  • Singing – this has been proven to be a stress reliever. You don’t have to be a good singer to experience the benefits.
  • Exercise and moving – anything from yoga to walking to a vigorous activity can be very helpful. Don’t have a lot of time or space? Even jumping up and down or stomping your feet a few times can help.
  • Physical release – if you’re not in a situation that allows you to move and release the stress (e.g. stuck in your car in traffic) try taking several deep breaths or contract and release your abdominal or arm and leg muscles.

Long term solutions:
  • Social support – using a network of trusted friends and family to talk to. CTN has an active Facebook page in case you want to connect with other special needs families. You can also access our Family Mentoring Program if you're looking to connect.  
  • Giving – studies have shown that the process of helping someone else or giving of your time can actually help your stress levels.
  • Deconstructing and reconstructing the stressful situation – start identifying the stressors using the NUTS recipe and work on reframing them to come up with strategies to that remove the NUTS elements.
  • Removing yourself from stressful situations – while you don’t want to be running away all the time sometimes removing ourselves from stressful situations to cope can be the best thing.
  • Spend time alone – taking a bit of time by yourself can help manage long term stress.
  • Resilience – come up with a plan to help with common, recurring stressors.
  • Mindfulness – being present with the actual experience vs. thinking about the future or focusing on the past.

Stress is simply an ongoing reality for most of us and there's a chance you don't feel like you have time to deal it. But our stress can impact others and even be passed along to those who are close to us (including kids!).

It's important to take a moment to pause and think about what you can do. Different techniques can help us manage the chronic, long-term stress that isn’t good for us. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is a matter of figuring out what works best for you.

f you have stress management techniques that work well for you we would love to hear more! Please email us at

For more information about Dr. Lupien and stress please visit