What’s the Difference Between Proactive and Reactive Stress Management Strategies?

Everyone knows and talks about how stress isn’t good, but fewer seem to know how to manage stress. The key to managing stress effectively boils down to two approaches:

  • Being proactive – Proactive approaches involve adjusting your mindset or behaviour before a stressful situation has happened. 
  • Being reactive – Reactive approaches suggests changing your mindset or behaviour once the initial stress has transpired.

Often, we consider stress exclusively as outside events that press in on our lives, such as financial troubles, car accidents or unreasonable employers. But, most of our stress is psychological suggesting that it has less to do about the events that cause the stress but more about how we respond to it. Our perception of the situation is what triggers the stress response. 
When it comes to proactive and reactive stress management strategies, both can be healthy. Prepare yourself for future stress with proactive strategies and apply healthy reactive strategies in the moment.

Different Types of Stress

There are two kinds of stressors, acute stressors and chronic stressors. 

Acute stressors

These are circumstantial triggers that cause us to feel anxious. The anxiety peaks promptly and then subsides.

Chronic stressors

A chronic stressor remains for a long time. Sometimes chronic stressors are naturally prolonged, like when someone we love suffers from terminal illness for an extended period. But often, chronic stress originates from our preoccupation with it. The more you think about it, the more upset you become. Now, the stress is triggered by your inability to let it go and not by the actual event. The majority of stress is about simply this.

Changing Your Response Strategy to Stressful Situations


Proactive strategies

As we’ve mentioned before, proactive strategies are the things we can do to make us more immune to stress. They help limit the duration and severity of the physical repercussions of stress. Some examples include:

  • Cardiovascular conditioning – exercising for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week
  • Nutritional diet – consuming nutritious foods and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Optimism – adopting the mindset of a creative, resourceful problem-solver are open to challenges
  • Support network – finding mentors who can support us 
  • Meditation – making a habit of daily meditation practice


Reactive strategies

Reactive strategies are things we do when stress has already happened to help us clear our heads so we can deal with the problems caused by the stressor. 

  • Deep breathing – deal with anxiety by taking slow deep breaths. Hold them for a few seconds and exhale completely. Repeat several times until you feel relaxed.
  • Look at the problem from a different perspective – think of the stressor as a puzzle that you can solve
  • Focusing on “small wins” – break down the problem into many small challenges and consider how you can solve them one at a time

Be realistic about the changes you make, and keep in mind that some stress management strategies may have immediate effects, while others will take longer.
To find out more about how we support people with challenging behaviour using reactive and proactive strategies, get in touch with the team at Integrative Coaching and book your free session.