A Plan Helps you Respond to Stress

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the value and benefits of having a plan in managing stress
  • Learn how to create a detailed and efficient plan
  • Recognize the role of contingency planning in stress management

When you’re stressed, you feel compelled to respond to threat. As you near exhaustion, you lose focus. You may sit down to work without any clear any idea of what you should be working on. Maybe you waste time by working in the wrong direction. Maybe you have to go back and redo. If that’s you, then it’s absolutely imperative that you get a plan. A plan helps you respond to stress constructively.

“But won’t I waste even more time making a plan?” No, you won’t. Like anxiety, stress is about uncertainty. A plan gives you the feeling that your future is predictable, which gives you a feeling of control. Moreover, making a plan gives you the opportunity to enjoy the affirmation of working the plan and making progress. Rather than feeling like a victim, use every milestone to increase your self-esteem. Affirmation at least lets you get something back from stress: With affirmation, you learn that no matter what comes up, you can handle it. A plan lets you get ahead of the problems. No plan means just reacting to the problems.

How Detailed Should your Plan be?

A common question at this point is “How detailed should my plan be?” Your plan should be as detailed as it needs to be. If your plan is to buy a house in San Diego and move cross-country, you’ll need a detailed plan. You need to assess your financial status, determine what you can actually buy, search for houses online, recruit a real estate agent to help, and travel cross-country to evaluate various houses. You may even need to clarify your wants and desires: Now that you’ve seen your options, what do you really want in a house? If you have a job waiting for you, you probably need a reasonable commute. If you have children, investigate the quality of the schools.

Notice that there’s a lot of detail in the plan above, but it’s absolutely necessary: Each major step has its own questions and considerations. Making a plan means taking a deep dive into these details, but when you surface, you do have a plan, which implies a sequence of predictable events and a feeling of control.

What’s a good way of making a plan?

Step 1:

Identify the major steps of your plan, as we did in the paragraph above. Major steps are similar to acts in a play, they represent discrete periods in the process during which every activity is oriented around achieving a particular goal. The major steps can also be thought of as links in the chain. One thing happens before the next can start, a necessary sequence. Taking things in order increases your chance of success.

Step 2:

Ask yourself what’s needed for each major step to succeed. If you’re flying into San Diego to look at three houses, then you need 1) to buy plane tickets, 2) money to buy plane tickets, 3) time off from your job, 4) a hotel room when you arrive, 5) a real estate agent waiting for you, and 6) an appointed time to meet the agent. That’s just to make it to San Diego and get started. Identifying what you need for each major step to succeed ensures that nothing is omitted, which avoids last minute panicking about forgotten items, without which your whole mission might fail. If you buy your plane tickets before you ask for time off, that’s a problem. What you’re really doing here is developing a sense of security.

Step 3:

Repeat Step 2 as many times as needed with regard to the sub steps of each major step. For example, to have money to buy round trip plane tickets, maybe you need to begin saving $100 per week for four weeks. If so, that’s good to know, and it’s good to have a systematic method that reveals it to you. In turn, maybe you need to work five extra hours per week to make this possible. If you need time off from your job, you’ll need to ask your boss for that. Repeat Step 3 as many times as you feel necessary in order to obtain whatever level of detail necessary to bring the total plan within your control.

Step 4:

Ask yourself what could wrong at each step in the process you’ve outlined. This allows you to plan for and manage contingencies. Since a chain is only as strong as its weakness link, identify the weak links in the total plan and establish back up plans. Don’t obsess unnecessarily, and don’t mistake catastrophic thoughts for inevitabilities—that’s you adding on unnecessary anxiety to an already stressful situation—but do be realistic.

When you’re finished with your plan, your stress level should be considerably lower. Whatever happens, you know you can handle it. You can also think of the process of planning as a systematic form of exposure therapy. Working through your plan may also have you wondering where your stress is really coming from. While a plan helps you respond to stress, you might also ask: How much of your stress is really coming from the outside world, and what stress might you be adding on yourself, and why?


Reading Comprehension Questions

1. Why is it beneficial to have a plan when dealing with stress?

  • A. It helps manage time efficiently
  • B. It gives a feeling of control and predictability
  • C. It makes you work faster
  • D. It makes you feel superior

2. What is the first step in making a good plan according to the text?

  • A. Identifying the major steps of your plan
  • B. Finding the resources needed
  • C. Creating a backup plan
  • D. Asking for help

3. What is the importance of Step 2 in the plan making process?

  • A. It helps you identify what you need for each major step to succeed
  • B. It gives you a chance to think about backup plans
  • C. It helps you identify the weak links in your plan
  • D. It allows you to allocate resources efficiently

4. What is the goal of repeating Step 2 in the plan making process?

  • A. To double-check everything
  • B. To bring the total plan within your control by diving deeper into detail
  • C. To understand what could go wrong
  • D. To identify the major steps of your plan

5. How does planning relate to exposure therapy according to the text?

  • A. It helps reveal where the stress is truly coming from
  • B. It aids in managing panic attacks
  • C. It provides a method to gradually expose yourself to stress
  • D. It allows for self-reflection

Answers

1. B. It gives a feeling of control and predictability
2. A. Identifying the major steps of your plan
3. A. It helps you identify what you need for each major step to succeed
4. B. To bring the total plan within your control by diving deeper into detail
5. A. It helps reveal where the stress is truly coming from