One very important step in taking control of your life is the management and mastery of the stress response. The stress response, also known as the "fight or flight response," has been a major part of our make-up since the cave man days. It serves the vital role of compelling us to fight fiercely or flee quickly when a dangerous situation puts us in jeopardy.
When a person perceives that a circumstance is perilous, that message is swiftly conveyed to the hypothalamus, a non-thinking part of the brain that activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Many changes occur in the body when the SNS is engaged. Blood pressure and heart rate increase, breathing moves from the diaphragm to the chest and blood flow shifts to the large muscles and to the brain, away from the stomach and the extremities, restricting digestion and causing the hands and feet to become cold. Muscles tighten in readiness to run or fight. Pupils dilate, the mouth becomes dry and erections become inhibited. The immune system and tissue repair are restricted.

This is nature's way of ensuring the survival of the species. By redirecting and heightening the body's activity, blood flow and energy, the person in crisis has the resources to run fast or fight hard, increasing the likelihood of staying alive. The changes that occur put the body into a very uncomfortable and demanding state. Should this huge drain become chronic, serious physiological and psychological problems often manifest.

Just as nature equipped us with a nervous system to survive calamity, it also equipped us with a nervous system to maintain a state of calm: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The characteristics or actions of the PNS are largely the opposite of the SNS, and for all intents and purposes, when one is engaged, the other is disengaged. Thus, the goal of stress management is to harness the methods that promote a state of calm and that inhibit the stress response. The following strategies have been widely researched and shown to be effective:

External

What you do to manage the world outside you can go a long way in reducing your susceptibility to the stress response. These techniques include:
• Practicing assertiveness
• Reducing, eliminating or learning to react differently to stressors
• Improving communication
• Eliminating self-defeating behaviors
• Having clear goals
• Managing time in positive ways
Internal Psychological
Keep in mind that the message sent to the hypothalamus may be one about an actual threat or about a perceived, benign threat. You are served well by the stress response when you are actually in danger. You are not served well when you trick yourself. So the following strategies help you make the distinction:
• Cognitive Restructuring
• Distraction
• Disputing
• Having Rational Beliefs versus Irrational Beliefs
• Appropriate Expectations
Internal Physiological

There are calming techniques that tell the brain you are not in trouble. These can be used to disengage the response or on an ongoing basis to prevent it from being elicited:
• Breathing
• Imagery Relaxation
• The Relaxation Response
• Progressive Muscle Relaxation
• Insight Meditation
Biofeedback
Hypnosis

Author's Bio: 

She has served as a hospital staff psychologist and has lectured on topics ranging from stress management, meditation and relaxation training to assertiveness and sleep management. Today, her private practice in San Diego is dedicated exclusively to Positive Psychology Coaching.

Her first book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon… 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life," was Dr. Esonis’ initial contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and personally-defined happiness.

In "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life -- Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person," Dr. Esonis identifies eight “Thematic Belief Systems” that, in her experience as a psychologist and life coach for over 30 years, prevent individuals from building healthy, long-lasting relationships and extracting maximum happiness from life. She examines these “crazy beliefs” with all their negative implications and offers practical, persuasive arguments for why – and how – they can be replaced with healthy alternatives.

Dr. Esonis is a member of the San Diego Professionals Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) and is a Founding Member of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).