Stress—we have all felt it at one time or another. But, many people feel stress often. Some even feel it as a part of their daily lives. Stress can contribute to numerous conditions, like heart disease, stroke, immune disorders, gastrointestinal problems, eating problems, sleep disturbances, and sexual problems. Learning to reduce your stress can help you live happier, healthier, and maybe even longer.
Here are some tips for reducing or controlling stress:
You can't cope with your stress without knowing what causes it. While it is true there are things in your life you cannot control, there are many others you can. Take a minute and think about the causes of stress in your life. Carry a notebook and track when stress occurs and what started it. You may be able to identify areas where you can change your habits, such as how you approach a project at work, or how your children push your buttons. Write down how you resolve stress. Is it healthy or unhealthy? Over time, unhealthy stress management will compound your problems.
Do not take on everything; learn to say no. Set realistic goals for yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try eliminating an activity that is not absolutely necessary. Ask yourself, "What really needs to be done? Is the deadline realistic?" No one is perfect, so do not expect perfection from yourself or others. And ask for help if you need it.
It only takes about 10-20 minutes to get a benefit from meditating. These few moments of quiet reflection may bring relief from stress as well as increase your tolerance to it. And it is simple to do: sit quietly, listen to peaceful music, relax, and try and think of pleasant things or clear your mind of all thoughts.
Take a moment to picture how you can manage an upcoming stressor. This can work with just about anything, whether it is an important meeting at work, a big move, or a final exam. Going through the challenge in your mind can help you to feel more confident. In other words, think ahead and make a plan of action.
When you start to feel overwhelmed, try taking one task at a time. Make a list of things you need to do, and prioritize these list items. Once you have tackled something, mark it off your list. This can bring about feelings of accomplishment and confidence.
Regular exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and it benefits both the body and the mind. Starting an exercise program isn't as hard as it sounds. It can be as easy as taking a 30 minute walk on most days of the week. If you time is your enemy, try walking for 10 minutes at a time, a few times a day. When you are ready for more, consider adding weight training two times per week. Ask a friend to tag along with you or consider joining a local gym for some training ideas.
What do you love to do? By setting aside time for your favorite hobby, you will remove yourself from life's stressors. Whether it is trying out a new recipe, planting in your garden, or playing pool, you will be giving your brain a welcome break.
You are what you eat. Having a healthier diet will help give your body and brain the energy that it needs to face the day. If you need guidelines on changing your diet, visit the US Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate website.
If you smoke, find out about the many ways you can successfully quit. Moderate your alcohol intake. This means two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. Instead of coffee or tea, substitute water when you can. This will help you cut back on your caffeine intake.
Talking about things can help you feel better. A conversation with someone can help you relax. And listening to someone else can take the focus off of yourself—something we all need to do every now and then. Stay in touch with your family and friends.
You do not always have to be right. By being flexible when issues come up, it will be easier to find the middle ground. If you feel strongly that you have the best solution, discuss your point of view in a respectful way, and take the time to listen to other people's perspectives.
Remember, nobody's perfect. Not even you. Step back and resist the urge to do it all, or worse, fix what you perceive to be everyone else's errors. It is not an easy task to master, so let go slowly. In the end, your levels of frustration and disappoinment will diminish. When things get rough, remember to ask for help.
Mental Health America
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Canada
How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html. Updated December 1, 2011. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Risk factors for stroke or transient ischemic attack. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 27, 2013. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Stress. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/conditions/stress. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Stress management: How to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress. Helpguide website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm. Updated December 2013. Accessed January 8, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MDLast Updated: 1/8/2014