With the RRSP crunch looming, a “stress strategy” is an effective tool for dealing with pressure and anxiety, says Hymie Anisman, a neuroscience professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Anisman, who specializes in the effects of stress on the immune system, says it is important to understand the signs of stress because they will affect not only your health but the wellbeing of your practice, too.

“You have to learn you can’t control everything,” Anisman says. “There are going to be years, when the markets are all over the place and you have to learn to live with it. You need to learn how to cope, appraise and socially respond to stressful situations.”

Anisman offers the following suggestions to help you develop your stress strategy:

> Don’t worry — solve
Avoid ruminating on your problems, Anisman says: “It’s bad and it won’t get you anywhere.”

Instead of dwelling on a problem or stressful situation, try to “problem solve” — to identify why you found that moment stressful in the first place.

> Don’t avoid — understand,
When you get stressed, don’t just ignore it. Humans have psychological and biological defense mechanisms that encourage avoidance.

For example, a student studying for a big test in school will tend to read over the material he or she knows and avoid the content they haven’t yet mastered.

The same tendency applies to stress, Anisman says. Instead of finding a way to identify the cause of stress, we are inclined to look away in blissful ignorance.

“We need to deal with stress properly,” says Anisman. “Don’t avoid stress because you don’t understand it.”

If you can’t decipher the situation on your own, support groups and experts who can help you are available.

> Find balance
A good way to avoid becoming overly stressed is to maintain a good work/life balance.
Doing regular exercise is a way to battle stress because it can take your mind off your problems and the physical activity has a positive impact on your psychological wellbeing.

Also avoid over-indulging in vices like alcohol as a way to cope with stress.

> Mix and match
Try a few coping strategies or techniques to see what works best for you. Think about these strategies together, Anisman says, rather than in isolation.

Work out how these various strategies can work concurrently. You might reflect on the situation and problem solve, or simply move on and work on the stress later. Those are all viable alternatives, Anisman says, so long as you are flexible.

But note that a certain coping strategy might work in one situation but prove ineffective in another.

“We often act like a deer in the headlights,” Anisman says, “and fall back on the strategy we used before, and use it again and again.”

If your first plan doesn’t work, keep at it. Don’t be afraid to try something else.

This is the second instalment in an occasional series on stress. For part one, click here.