Want to find ways to manage stress and relieve anxiety? There’s a whole arsenal of tools at your disposal.
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Lao-Tzu, The Way of Lao-Tzu
25 Ways to Manage Your Stress
Janet is a chronic worrier and needs to learn to manage stress. Although she has a good job, a loving husband, a pleasant home and two children, she tends to concentrate on the negative aspects of her life – a problem at work, a neighbor who was rude, her mother’s failing health. Janet is not completely aware of it, but she gives herself negative messages all day long. She has conditioned herself to be tense, miserable and depressed, rather than relaxed, joyful and optimistic.
Janet needs to put the small problems into perspective – she needs to learn to “roll with the punches.” How she does that will be unique to her. There are, however, some coping skills that can help everyone. They involve attitude adjustment, improving behavioral skills and changing lifestyles to counteract negative stressors.
1. Use an information search to manage stress
In many situations, lack of knowledge is a main source of stress – what you don’t know can hurt you. When faced with a crisis, get adequate and accurate information as soon as possible.
2. Positive reappraisal
Learn to make the best of a bad situation. People who manage stress effectively look back on stressful periods and say, “I’m a better person because of that – I learned from that experience.” An approach like this can encourage feelings of pride and satisfaction, rather than anger and depression.
Confront the situation head-on. Devise a plan of action and follow it step by step.
4. Exercise is a great stress management tool
Using exercise to manage stress and anxiety has proven to be very effective. Exercise, along with laughter, tears, music and pregnancy, releases endorphins, those magical, morphine-like brain chemicals. Since the early 1970’s, research on endorphins has shown they not only play a large part in making us feel happy, optimistic and healthy, but also bolster the activity of our bodies’ immune systems.
It’s not even necessary to engage in strenuous activities such as biking, running and swimming to reap the benefits of exercise. Walking can produce the same effect. Robert E. Thayer, a Professor of Psychology at California State University, has been doing research for years on the mood changes that occur with short, rapid walks. He has found that brisk walks increase people’s feelings of energy – sometimes for several hours. Therefore, this can reduce tension, make personal problems appear less overwhelming and make it easier to quit smoking.
Not all exercise has the same beneficial effects, however. Playing a competitive game of tennis or racquetball will help condition the body, but if you’re tense about winning or upset about losing you won’t find the experience very relaxing.
5. Get involved
The “high” that people get from a physical workout can also be produced from an activity requiring less exertion – helping others.
A US study looked at more than 1,700 women who were regularly involved in helping others. A large percentage of them reported feeling physically stimulated during the act of helping. Many of them mentioned increased strength and energy, which may once again be linked to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-reducing chemicals.
One of the helpers, a woman who counseled abusive parents, compared her sense of fitness and well being to what she felt while swimming. Another, a nursing home volunteer, noted that although the work left her feeling tired, it was the kind of fatigue she experienced after a good game of tennis.
The benefits of getting involved with other people appear to work on a social basis as well. Researchers have found that business executives who are alienated from their friends, family and co-workers tend to have a high incidence of stress-related illnesses. Active relationships with other people enhance our feelings of self-worth and our ability to cope and manage stress.
6. Avoid hassles
If rush hour traffic gets you tense and upset, try car pooling or using public transit, or even changing your work hours, if that’s possible. For many people, one of the benefits of working from home has been cutting out the daily commute – a frequent source of stress and frustration.
7. Smell the flowers
Take a few minutes for yourself every day to take a break and enjoy nature. If you have the time to do it, drive out into the heart of the country away from the lights of the city and contemplate the Milky Way. The humble nature of our existence in the grand scheme of things can put your problems into perspective and help you begin to sort out your priorities.
8. Talk it out
A great way to manage stress is sometimes just have a chat with a friend or loved one. When you feel depressed, overwhelmed or unable to deal with stress, talk to someone you trust. Remember: “A trouble shared is a trouble halved.” Just talking things through can help enormously.
9. Love a pet
Many people find the unconditional affection of a dog or cat truly therapeutic and better than all the stress management techniques under the sun. It has been shown that people who own pets tend to be healthier than those who do not. One study of heart attack victims showed that those with pets were five times more likely to survive for a year afterward than those without pets. It’s just one more link in the network that bonds us with other living creatures, bringing us out of ourselves and enlarging our perspective on life.
10. Deal with life’s changes
Changes in your life, whether they’re unexpected or planned, can be a great source of stress and anxiety – a new baby, a promotion, retirement, moving house, an ill or aging parent, and so on. Sit down and work out how you are going to cope with the increased demands. Admitting that you’re having some difficulty adapting is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s simply taking a sensible approach and benefiting yourself, your family and your co-workers.
11. Develop a positive attitude
A must use characteristic needed to manage stress is to develop a positive mental attitude. Is the glass half full or half empty? Dr. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, challenged his patients with their negative beliefs about themselves. He had them put forward evidence to back up their negative attitudes, and then encouraged them to come up with evidence that would contradict those beliefs. He found that as his patients were encouraged to make positive statements about themselves they were less likely to blame themselves and their negative thoughts diminished. In other words, optimism can be learned.
Don’t embrace a “victim” mentality. Make every experience or setback a learning situation in which you resolve to do better next time. Look at life as a series of exams – if you don’t pass, you get a chance for a retake.
12. Eliminate the “quick fixes” in your life
Alcohol, cigarettes, junk food and drugs are temporary refuges from daily tension and anxiety. They make make your ability to manage stress all the more difficult. Unfortunately, they bring with them their own stressors in the form of depression, hangovers and physical illnesses. Rid yourself of these debilitating addictions and you will dramatically increase your resistance to stress and anxiety. When the time is right and you’re sufficiently motivated, you’ll find all kinds of help through books, audiotapes and CDs and your physician.
13. Work to manage stress with a healthy lifestyle
To manage stress and anxiety, eat the proper foods, gett the right amount of sleep, exercise regularly, set goals and have regular checkups. Respect your body and appreciate the importance of maintaining it. Set a goal: for one week cut out alcohol, junk snacks, staying up late – whatever your nemesis is, try to eliminate it just for a week. You’ll find yourself thinking more clearly and having much more energy than before.
14. Laughter – the best medicine
Humor is a terrific stress reliever. There are consultants who earn money making executives laugh to ease tension in the corporate corridors. Take time to find the humor in your own situation. You’ll be happier – and healthier.
15. Talk or write to yourself
Putting things down on paper or talking to yourself with a view to improving your situation is a good way to clarify matters and put them into perspective.
16. Reward yourself
Treat yourself as special. If you’re going to be effective in dealing with others, you need to love yourself and treat yourself well. Do something special for yourself, at least once a week. By liking yourself you’ll adopt a positive, achievement-oriented outlook on life.
READ MORE: Why Coffee is Good For You
OTHER WAYS OF LEARNING TO RELAX
As we have said, stress is negative when you can’t turn it off. Through relaxation, negative stress can be turned into positive stress. There are many relaxation tips out there – one of the most important is exercise, which we’ve dealt with earlier. Choose one that appeals to you and works for you. Each of us is unique; your relaxation plan should encompass a mixture of techniques. Here’s a quick overview of how to relax, ranked by our panel of physicians in order of popularity and effectiveness.
17. Deep breathing
This basic technique can be done anywhere, anytime and is a great way to manage stress. Simply sit or stand with your hands on our stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach expand. Then inhale slowly through pursed lips, and repeat a half dozen times. You are tricking your body into relaxing by simulating sleep.
This loosens the muscle tension that often occurs with a stress response. Again, it can be done almost anywhere, anytime. Most of the stretching can be done in a chair, concentrating on the back, neck and upper body.
19. Clearing the mind
This can take as little as 5 – 10 minutes. Find a quiet environment with no distractions. Close your eyes and focus on a peaceful image (lying on a beach, perhaps). A peaceful thought or a symbolic word will also work. It takes some preparation but you’ll feel refreshed afterwards and more relaxed.
20. Progressive muscle relaxation
This takes about 15 minutes to complete. The principle is simple: progressively tighten and then relax each of your several muscle groups, beginning with your toes, feet and leg muscles and working your way up to your chest, arms, neck and face. With your body and mind joined in relaxed harmony, you will notice how much lighter a relaxed muscle feels.
21. Self hypnosis
This approach to relaxation is underrated, probably because of all the show-biz overtones. However, the mind is a powerful factor in getting you to relax and hypnosis has been proven to help many medical conditions and can help you manage stress. You can purchase self-hypnosis tapes and CDs or, with proper instruction, you can make your own tape appropriate to your needs.
Similar to self-hypnosis, this is more “first aid” in approach. You can train your body to react to certain phrases or instructions before you encounter a stressful situation. It’s a mixture of deep breathing, muscle relaxation and verbal suggestion. Autogenics takes a little training but it’s a very useful tool.
Focus your attention on one particular thing at a time – a picture, a word, the flame of a candle. (This is more difficult than you may think – the mind tends to wander.) By disciplining your mind to concentrate, you can temporarily eliminate negative stressors.
This has proven to be useful for migraines and a number of stress related illnesses. Although this approach often needs specialized equipment and professional instruction, there are inexpensive biofeedback machines available that can help you relax with self-training.
25. Get a hobby
Finding those activities that you enjoy that aren’t related to work or whatever is causing you stress in your life is a great way to put that amped up emotion to good use. Cut out a time every day to devote your time to it and stick to it as best you can.
A FINAL NOTE
In this article, we have included a lot of tips and suggestions. You may be interested to know that we carried out a survey among physicians, asking them to assess the most effective ways (apart from medication) to reduce stress and anxiety. Here are their answers, in order of effectiveness:
- Exercise – whatever’s right for you.
- Keep healthy – eliminate the quick fixes in your life, such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Get plenty of sleep and eat right.
- Learn to relax – whichever method suits you.
- Seek support – a trouble shared is a trouble halved.
- Communicate – don’t bottle up your problems.
- Be assertive – stick up for yourself while respecting others.
- Set objectives – decide what’s important in your life.
- Manage your time – avoid putting yourself under pressure.
More information on this topic can be found in our book Relieving Stress and Anxiety.