Managing Stress - Fast and Slow: Tips for Managing Stress

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By Laura Greco

December 5, 2020



Managing Stress – Fast and Slow

There is no single right way for managing stress. In fact, having multiple techniques at our disposal is advantageous. Some techniques are portable, and some aren’t. Some require props; some don’t. Some work well in the moment (fast), and some work best by building a reserve of calm and resilience over time (slow).

Chronic stress is everywhere, all day, every day.

It is so prevalent we call it “daily life” and consider it normal. It is cumulative and chips away at our mood, health, productivity, and energy.

Chronic stress can include fatigue, traffic, being overweight, bills, endless automated phone trees, comically long to-do lists, overwhelming amounts of news and information coming at us, the broken zipper on a jacket, holding grudges and resentment, negative coworkers, toxic relationships, loneliness, a poor diet, boredom, and time scarcity to name a few.

Stress responds well to a 2-pronged approach. The “slow” techniques are things you can do over time that buffer you, and the “fast” are techniques you can do in the moment of stress. Both have their place in your stress management toolbox.


In the moment of stress, you can do things to calm your nervous system, shift your perspective, and clarify your thinking. Some will change your physiology, some bring your attention to the present (where it is difficult to stay anxious or fearful), and others give you the space to consider your response before reacting.



Take five slow, full, belly breaths, gently breathing through your nose and allowing your exhale to be longer than your inhale. An alternate is four rounds of 4×4 breathing: inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for four and hold again for 4.


Refocus on the underlying purpose- is it for the good of the patient, to create the best outcome, or are you using the situation to prove someone wrong?


Imagine in detail, using as many senses as possible, your happy place, being with a pet or loved one, or doing something you enjoy.


Get a hug from someone you love.


Inhale a favorite scent that calms you or reminds you to pause and reconnect with your purpose.


See the situation from their perspective. Or see the situation as a problem to be solved instead of as a threat.


Sometimes stressful things happen. Accept the things you can’t change.


Focus on something you are grateful for.


Can you run a flight of stairs or do ten pushups?


Be present, pause, and deeply engage a sense. Notice what you can feel (a breeze, the floor beneath your feet, your heartbeat), hear (the hum of monitors or air vents), smell, see.

Repeating personal phrase:

What phrase can you adopt that reminds you to create a bit of space between your trigger and your response (this too shall pass, take the high road, rise above).

Create the space to let yourself respond to the situation and not react.


The slower, long term practices that help you handle stress include self-care, meditation, compassion, mindset, and changing the way you think about stress.

Self-care includes caring for your body, mind, and spirit.

Your body needs nutritious food, a healthy weight, adequate sleep, regular and varied exercise. Your mind needs time with friends, laughter, both mental relaxation, and stimulation. Having compassion (for yourself and others), hobbies, a tribe or community, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment nourish your spirit.


Meditation is restorative.


Do you predominately see the world as full of beauty and possibility or with threats to avoid? Do you put your effort into moving toward the good or evading the negative?

Change your environment:

Our internal and external environments affect our stress. Things that might need to be cleaned up include the people you spend time with, clutter, negative self-talk, time management, and perfectionism. Avoid the triggers you can avoid.

Change or accept:

Change the things you can and accept those you can’t.


Random acts of kindness help both the giver and receiver.


Yoga can provide you with a community, movement, mindfulness, and a stronger mind-body connection.


Try eliminating the things that feel helpful but aren’t: yelling, hitting, complaining, being mean, ruminating, and numbing behaviors (bingeing on food, alcohol, shopping, TV, social media, sleeping). These might make you feel better in the moment, but they avoid the real problem.

Creating a self-care lifestyle supports your well-being, which boosts your resilience to stress.

There is not a universal solution to managing stress. What works for you might not be a good solution for everyone else. And what works for you at home might not be practical at work. What worked well last year might not be as helpful now. Stress changes, you change your skills at managing stress change, and your perception of stressful changes.

Having several skills in your stress management toolbox and taking a fast and slow approach to managing stress can help you succeed.

We hope you found these tips on managing stress helpful. Do you have any tips for fellow travel nurses on managing stress? Comment them below

If you are a new traveler or looking into becoming a Travel Nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step by Step

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