Stress management: Become an expert on coping with stress

Payroll and HR | 14.03.2023

by Helene Larsen

Coping with stress in your everyday life

Do you have any habits in your everyday life to prevent stress? And what habits can you introduce to your daily routine to better handle stressful periods? In this blog, you can read about a preventative perspective on stress - with some tips for those who want to incorporate routines into their daily lives so that they are better equipped and prevent stress from becoming prolonged and unhealthy.

Many of us may be able to relate to the fact that certain times of the year are hectic. The lead up to taking a vacation is a classic example where stress builds up. Many of us may have a tendency to set high expectations for our own deliveries, resulting in pushing ourselves hard. This may be related to our desire to complete everything that needs to be finished at work, while also catching up with the planning and preparation of vacation activities. Vacations should be a good time for us to rest and gain new inspiration that we sorely need to avoid prolonged stress. But then, maybe it doesn't happen. Daily life sets in abruptly and the stress is still there. Such a situation cannot continue for long, and we need to make changes for ourselves. What can you do to make stress short-lived and result in something positive? From time to time, we need to stop and reflect on our own habits when it comes to stress.

What is stress?

Stress is an imbalance between demands and resources.

Stress can be understood as a reaction (activation) in our body, which occurs because we feel that there is an imbalance between the demands and our ability to cope with these demands in situations that are meaningful to us (Harris, 2016). Simplified, we can understand stress as an imbalance between the demands we experience and the resources we have available. If we have too high demands on us at work, compared to the resources we have, we will experience it as a burden. However, too small or no demands are also burdensome, and can result in us getting bored as we are not utilizing our resources. It is therefore beneficial to find a balance between demands and resources.

Some demands that can cause stress:

  • Role ambiguity arises when we do not receive sufficient information or instructions on what is expected of us at work. For example, it may be unclear what our actual work tasks and routines are. Such uncertainties create a lot of stress in everyday work.
  • Role conflict arises when we experience receiving conflicting messages from one or more people. It can also arise when we experience conflict between different roles we have, as it is difficult to fulfill these roles simultaneously.
  • Heavy workloads can arise if we have taken on more than we are capable of handling.

Some resources to cope with the demands:

  • Social support from a leader, colleague, friend, or family member.
  • Sufficient time to complete work tasks.
  • Feedback on work performance, where we receive recognition and praise, as well as constructive feedback on our improvement potential.

Reactions to stress

How can you detect reactions to stress? Having an understanding of which reactions can occur when you stress can actually be stress-regulating in itself. Reactions to stress can be physical, thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Physical reactions

From a biological perspective, there is an activation in our nervous system when we face various demands. In stressful situations, there is activation in the "fight or flight" part of the nervous system. We may feel hot, dry in the mouth, have an increased pulse rate, tense muscles, begin to sweat, and breathe superficially. Such reactions can be uncomfortable. But this feeling of discomfort is actually helpful because it helps us to react and adapt to the situation at hand.

Thoughts, feelings and actions 

When we encounter demands, we often make many evaluations that affect how the stress reaction develops further. The stress reaction is based on our assessment of both the challenge we face, the resources available to us, the consequences it entails, and how important it is to us (Lazarus & Folkman, 1979). Are these challenges that give you opportunities or hinder you? Do you have sufficient resources to be able to cope with these challenges? What will the consequence be if you cannot handle this challenge? How important is it really for you to master this challenge? These are some evaluations we can make. The sum of these evaluations affects whether you experience a weak or strong stress reaction. What you should be aware of is that when we are in a negative spiral, our evaluations are often irrational. You may overestimate how big the challenges and consequences are and underestimate your own resources.

Some thoughts and emotions that can arise during stress are, for example, negative thoughts about ourselves, challenges with concentration, low self-esteem, restlessness, and/or lack of desire to go to work (Source: the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority). These thoughts and emotions affect how we act. Some reactions to stress that are reflected in our actions include indecisiveness, less physical activity, less cooperative, hyperactive, and having problems with sleep (Source: the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority).

How can you prevent stress?

Recovery Techniques

In a stressful workday, it's important to prioritize taking breaks to relax and gain new experiences from other areas of life. It's not healthy to be thinking about work all the time. However, we can handle a little stress every day as long as we recover and recharge "in between" at work. Through recovery, we rebuild our resources, which can lead to increased motivation and better performance. Research supports that recovery is an effective tool for regulating our own stress (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007).

Four Techniques to Recover after a Stressful Workday


Psychological Detachment

Psychological detachment means that you should distance yourself from work both physically and mentally. It's essential to engage in other important areas of your life, such as friends, family, and hobbies.


Achievement Experiences

Feel that you can accomplish something by learning something new or developing skills in areas other than work. You can involve yourself in activities such as hobbies, sports, games, crafts, volunteer work, or hiking.


Control Panel

Control your own free time and prioritize activities that lead to good recovery. You can turn off notifications on your phone, schedule free time on your calendar, or simply prioritize what you want to spend time on.



Prioritize relaxation and rest. You can lower your level of activation by listening to music, reading a book, meditating, cuddling with a pet, or getting a good night's sleep.

"Stress for Success - 6 Tips"

  • Remember that stress is a natural reaction in the body that is necessary for your performance

If bodily stress reactions are interpreted as natural, it can lead to good health. In many professions, stress is necessary to perform well. Yerkes-Dodson's law (see illustration) shows how our performance level and our activation level can be thought to be related. When we have low activation, we will be inattentive and unengaged. This is not ideal when we need to perform in our workday. With too much activation, on the other hand, we can become overwhelmed and paralyzed, which will prevent you from effectively completing work tasks. The illustration gives us an idea that a certain degree of activation is necessary for us to perform optimally. In other words, stress is necessary for you to perform and helps you maintain focus and attention throughout the workday.

  • Use breathing as a tool

Your breath is a tool you can use to regulate stress, as breathing is closely linked to bodily reactions. The purpose is to activate the part of the nervous system that helps us rest and relax. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Your focus should be on exhaling longer than inhaling. Repeat this a few times. After half a minute, our activation will be significantly reduced.

  • Check in with yourself so you can set your own boundaries

You should work on becoming aware of yourself so that you can reduce the likelihood of a persistent stress reaction. For example, do you have a tendency to be a time optimist, take on too much responsibility, and/or have difficulty seeing your own limitations? Think about what your tendencies are. Mental preparation for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation can help you handle it better in the future.

  • Make a priority list of tasks

If you have many tasks hanging over you, you can create a prioritized list. This will help you get an overview. In addition, the priority list can be a strategy for getting started. For example, if you have come to a point where you feel completely paralyzed because you don't know where to start in tackling all the challenges that await you. By setting small goals that you achieve one by one, there will be a sense of mastery and reward in the brain. This can give you the drive to continue with more tasks.A list of tasks also helps us avoid keeping track of all these thoughts in our heads all the time. If thoughts about tasks come up during your free time, it can help to write them down on your phone or on paper. It can make it easier to be mentally distant from work during your free time. Simply put, it helps to write it down so we can "forget" about it until we're back at work again.

  • Try to turn irrational thoughts into something more useful

Remind yourself that a thought is not necessarily true. Irrational thoughts often come up in our heads when we are very stressed. The thoughts are often linked to experiences in the past or what may happen in the future. Be critical of the thoughts that come up when you are in a negative spiral. If the thought is irrational, you can try to turn it into something that is related to your current situation. Is the thought useful to you? Does it help you or sabotage you? If you find the thought useless, you can take two different approaches (Wilhelmsen, 2014). One approach is to leave the thought alone and shift your attention to something else. For example, you can do something practical that will send signals to your brain that this is not directly related to the stressful thought. Another approach is to deal with the situation from a perspective that is more useful to you. For example, you can challenge your thoughts so that you don't waste too much energy on something you can't do anything about right now. It may not be as easy to do as it sounds, but try to remind yourself that we can only do something about the present. It will be useful if we can distinguish between real and unreal challenges.

  • Find good support

Your stress can be reduced by receiving support from a colleague, friend, or family member. On one hand, receiving support in the midst of a stressful situation can be beneficial in reducing our stress. On the other hand, it can also be stress-regulating to have a personal perception that someone will be there for us if we ever need to rely on someone in the future. Therefore, it can be nice to identify your social network. Who do you have around you? Who can you rely on during stressful times? At the same time, it's about being a good support for each other. When you help others, hormones in your body are also released that regulate your own stress. It's a win-win situation!

By using some of these tips, you can work preventively with stress so that the stress you experience remains short-lived and is used for something positive. One important point to keep in mind in your workday is that we need to ensure sufficient recovery between stressful periods.

See the Norwegian article here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is stress?

Stress can be understood as a reaction in our body that occurs because we feel there is an imbalance between demands and our ability to cope with those demands in situations that are significant to us (Harris, 2016). Simply put, we can understand stress as an imbalance between the demands we experience and the resources we have available.

How to detect reactions to stress?

There are several ways to detect stress, as we experience physical, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as reactions to stress. For example, we may experience muscle tension, sleep problems, irritation, concentration difficulties, and become less cooperative. It can be helpful to check in with ourselves to detect these reactions.

What are physical reactions to stress?

We may experience becoming warm, dry in the mouth, an increase in heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, and shallow breathing, among other physical reactions to stress.

How to prevent stress?

that we prioritize recovery, through relaxing and getting new impressions from other areas of our lives. In other words, it is not healthy to think about work all the time. Four techniques: Psychological switching, Experiencing mastery, Control over own leisure time, Relaxation.

About Helene Larsen

Helene is an HR Advisor at Azets and is passionate about the development and wellbeing of people in the workplace. Her areas of interest include organizational development, leadership development, team development, and work environment. She holds a master's degree in work and organizational psychology.