12 Tips for Managing Stress
If you're like most people, you experience some level of stress and anxiety in your life. According to the American Psychological Association, 77% of adults experience moderate to high levels of stress1.
What is stress?
Stress is “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.”2 It is a natural response to challenging or dangerous situations and our body’s way of protecting us from harm. When we are stressed, our body releases hormones to help us react quickly and effectively to the situations at hand. Of the many hormones that are released when we are stressed, the most important are adrenaline and cortisol.
When we’re faced with circumstances that warrant a stress response, our body’s process is helpful and necessary. However, it is becoming more common for people to feel stressed in daily life, without there being an obvious cause. When stress becomes chronic, the release of adrenaline and cortisol can have harmful effects on our health, including an increased risk of developing serious illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Chronic stress can also take a toll on mental health, leading to anxiety and depression, and it can be difficult to manage when mood and well-being are compromised.
It is important to reduce stress in your life, but it can be challenging to know how. If you're searching for help managing stress, check out the following tips:
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1. Identify the circumstances or conditions that increase your stress
While stress is universal, people experience heightened stress at different times. For example, for some, stress may be more intense during times of transition or change, like starting a new job or moving to a new house. For others, even daily hassles like traffic jams and bills can be stressful.
Common stressors include issues with work, relationships, money, and health. Identifying what affects you most is the first step to managing stress. Try keeping a stress journal for a week or two to get clarity about your triggers and stress patterns. Taking stock will allow you to then develop effective coping strategies4.
2. Rest, exercise, and eat a healthy diet
Sleep allows your body to rest and rejuvenate, which can help you cope and improve your mood. When you are well-rested, you are better equipped to handle stress without becoming overwhelmed.
When you exercise regularly, you release endorphins, which help improve your mood. Making physical activity a habit is a good way to help combat stress, and something as simple as walking regularly is a good start5.
Eating nutritious food ensures your body has what it needs to function properly and optimally, which reduces stress on a physical level. Healthy lifestyle choices like these are easy and effective options for stress management.
3. Advocate for yourself by communicating your needs and setting boundaries
Communicating your needs and setting boundaries puts you back in the driver’s seat of your own life. Regaining that sense of control can go a long way to reducing the stress you may experience in many areas. It is appropriate and helpful to set boundaries with everyone and anyone in your life, including loved ones, friends, and coworkers.
A simple way to set boundaries is by practicing saying “no.” Saying "no" to optional commitments you don’t feel strongly about allows you to focus on the things that are most important to you. It also helps you manage your time better and eliminates unnecessary stress.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to take a step back and evaluate your commitments. Saying "no" is not always easy, but it is an important part of managing stress and putting yourself first.
4. Simplify your schedule & prioritize what is most important
It can be difficult to cope with stress when you have a busy schedule. When you are constantly rushed and trying to do too many things at once, there’s little time to practice stress-reduction techniques.
One way to simplify your schedule is to focus on what is most important to you. Prioritize the things that are important, and eliminate the things that are not. If something is causing you stress, but you’re not obligated to do it, then don’t do it! There is no need to opt into more things that will overwhelm you and add to your plate.
5. Take breaks during extended periods of work or study
It can be difficult to focus on work when you experience stress. Taking breaks can help combat the stress and allow you to return to your work with fresh eyes. By taking a few minutes to relax, you can rejuvenate your mind and improve your productivity.
6. Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation helps relieve stress by relaxing the body and mind, and it can be done anytime, anywhere. It involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group, one by one. It’s a great option for stress management when you’re short on time.
7. Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing is proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It is a simple technique that can be done anytime, anywhere. In addition to calming the mind and relaxing your system, there are physical health benefits to deep breathing too, which include the following:
Improves respiratory function
Lowers blood pressure
Reduces heart rate
Boosts energy levels
Improves mental clarity
Strengthens the immune system
Helps reduce anxiety and depression
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8. Try healthy coping mechanisms, like journaling
Identifying productive ways of coping with stress can help you avoid turning to unhealthy, reactive mechanisms. Something as simple as journaling can be a great way to manage stress. It gives you a place to express your thoughts and feelings, and it can also be a useful tool for tracking your stress levels and triggers.
9. Avoid alcohol and drugs
Many people turn to alcohol and drugs for stress management, but these substances can actually make stress worse. Using substances to decompress is a temporary “solution,” and it doesn’t address stress in a foundational way. While many people are able to monitor substance use, for some it can lead to addiction, financial problems, and health concerns. If you are free from the distraction of alcohol and drugs, you can better focus on managing your stress in a holistic and lasting way.
10. Make time for hobbies
One of the best ways to relieve stress is to participate in an activity you enjoy. Hobbies provide a fun and relaxing way to spend your free time, and they offer a respite from what you might be dealing with. When you are participating in your hobby, you are present and focused, which can help take your mind off stressful situations and problems.
Some popular hobbies include gardening, painting, hiking, biking, cooking, and playing music. Find something that excites you! Hobbies also offer a unique social outlet, which can be fulfilling and a refreshing change of pace.
11. Seek social support from family and friends, or join a support group
Emotional support and practical assistance from family and friends can make a big difference in stress management. These people know you best, so it can be helpful to get their input and advice. Even just having a space to talk and be listened to can help reduce your overwhelm and stress. Joining a support group of people in similar situations is another option for providing a sense of community and camaraderie and offering a place for you to feel heard and understood.
Friends and family can also help by taking things off your plate. Cleaning the house, running an errand, or taking care of the kids can free up precious time for you to relax and focus on managing your stress.
12. Give yourself time to relax each day, even if it's just for a few minutes
For most of us, life moves at a rapid pace; it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have no time to decompress. Taking time for yourself to relax gives you the opportunity to reset and recharge, which will in turn better prepare you to deal with everything you have going on.
Relaxation calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, boosts energy levels, and improves mental clarity6. Relaxing also allows you to connect with your inner thoughts and feelings7. This can help you gain insight into what is causing stress in your life and what stress-reduction strategies to employ in order to best address it.
Stress is universal, but it doesn’t have to control your life or impact your overall health and well-being. Try out different approaches for stress management. Once you know the best methods for you, make them a regular part of your life.
If you’re trying and still struggling, don't hesitate to seek professional help. A mental health professional or healthcare provider can provide you with additional tools and resources to help you cope.
“This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.”