How to Handle Extreme Stress

Learn the best ways to cope with trauma.

Worried businessman sitting at office desk full with books and papers being overloaded with work.

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4. Face your fears. "Most of us have a very difficult time doing that because it's unpleasant," Southwick says. However, "if you want to be resilient, sooner or later, you're going to have to face those things, or some of those things." In fact, "avoidance is at the heart of all anxiety disorders," he says. When veterans address post-traumatic stress disorder with a therapist, they expose themselves to theirs to try to make peace with them.

The trick is to reframe fear and face it before it devolves into a state of panic, which shuts down the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking. To conquer fear, you have to learn about it and understand it. And then, "when you do approach the fear, try to do it with someone who you really trust."

5. Find a role model. "We tend to learn through imitation," Southwick says. Look to others who successfully negotiate challenges, ask them about their coping skills, and try them out yourself. For example, if that person calls a friend during times of stress, you might consider that tactic.

For his part, Southwick has found role models in the research for his book. A young woman with spina bifida who won a gold medal for swimming in the Paralympics is one of them. She not only excelled in college, graduating with honors, but she swam an average of 26 miles a week. These days, when Southwick goes swimming, he often thinks of her as he's wrapping up his mile of laps, and says to himself: "What, are you kidding? Twenty-six miles a week ... I keep going."

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