The impact of stress has been well documented in both scientific journals and popular media. We often talk about how society has become more fast-paced. What was once the workload for a college student has now become the workload for some high school students. Even middle and elementary school kids seem to be doing more — and this becomes burdensome for their caregivers, especially those with more than one child, who have to manage their increased work and domestic demands with the increased activities of their children.
In 8 Keys to Stress Management, Elizabeth Anne Scott provides a thorough and detailed overview on the subject. She draws from several psychological theories and gives both proactive ways to minimize the impact of stress and reactive ways to deal with stressful situations. While stress is necessary in our lives, Scott writes, we can certainly control its intensity. Scott provides a nice structure to go over her eight sections, with a brief vignette opening that introduces each chapter’s particular “key,” a more in-depth discussion of that key, concrete suggestions for incorporating it, and questions to ponder.
This book is not something that one would read from start to finish, per se. While that is an option, the text is more of a program for which one would need to designate time to both read and practice the specific skills. I would also recommend having a highlighter for the content, a pen to write in the margins, and a journal to properly complete the written exercises. In addition, the text includes reminders to either refer back to a previous key or page ahead to a later one. Another option is to read the chapters that are immediately apropos to a stressful situation, and then go back later to read other chapters, if needed.
Scott introduces how to identify specific stressors (e.g., work, relationships, feeling under-challenged), the cognitive perception of the stressors, and subjective physiological reactions. She demonstrates the connection between the mind and body and how each influences the other. She then provides techniques for facing stress, including visualization, breathing exercises, and meditation.
One important idea about halfway through the book (“key” number four) is about how to recognize the impact of automatic thoughts—mainly, how they can amplify the magnitude of stress. But here lies the main shortcoming of the book: While Scott does a nice job of summarizing specific cognitive distortions, she is too general and not very helpful about how we can directly challenge them.
In other sections, though, Scott does a good job going over how to combat stress. She highlights the importance of maintaining physical wellness through healthy eating, proper sleep, and adequate exercise. She offers suggestions on working towards self-care as a necessary aspect of a stress management plan. She talks in depth about forming and maintaining healthy relationships while ending “toxic” relationships. She also demonstrates the communication aspects of relationships, such as setting boundaries when necessary and demonstrating empathy while listening. Scott introduces positive psychology, too, with the idea of listing and applying short-term pleasures while working towards longer-term gratifications.
Overall, the book gives us an opportunity to take more of a structured and introspective look at the self. It’s a resource that one might actively work through and then revisit later, rather than read once and put on the shelf.
Scott helps normalize the experience of stress and provides a wealth of information about how to manage it. The “key” is to not become stressed by the amount of information in her book. The best approach to the text may be to simply highlight and practice the parts that will work for you.
8 Keys to Stress Management
W. W. Norton & Company, March, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages