How to Reduce, prevent, and Cope with Stress
It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your career and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. Managing stress is all about taking charge: of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, and the way you deal with problems
Learn about hidden sources of stress
Watch 3-min. video: Roadblocks to awareness
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
Learning healthier ways to manage stress
If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.
Dealing with Stressful Situations: The 4 A's
Change the situation Change your reaction
Avoid the stressor Adapt to the Stressor
Alter the Stressor Accept the stressor
Stress management strategy #1: Avoid Unnecessary stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it's not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
Adjusting Your Attitude
How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.
Stress Management & Relief
Relaxation Techniques By practicing techniques that activate your body’s relaxation response you can effectively combat stress and ease tension.
Quick Stress Relief Identify your own stress responses and learn how to quickly and effectively reduce stress in the middle of any challenging situation.
How to Stop Worrying You can break the habit of chronic worrying by training your brain to stay calm and overcome persistent doubts and fears.
The Many Faces of Stress by Harvard Health Publications Learn more about stress challenges that you can learn to cope with.
Helpguide’s Free Toolkit
If you feel too overwhelmed to put these tips into practice, repair what may be the source of the problem–an inability to stop worrying or manage overwhelming stress and emotions. Take advantage of Helpguide's free Bring Your Life Into Balance mindfulness toolkit. This resource can help you learn to manage deeper, older and more complex sources of stress.
Resources & References
General information about managing and coping with stress
Managing Stress: A Guide for College Students – Offers a total wellness lifestyle plan for managing, reducing, and coping with stress. (University Health Center, University of Georgia)
Stress Management: How Do You React During Stressful Situations? – Evaluate the way you react to stress and learn how to transform your negative responses. (Mayo Clinic)
Stress Management for Parents – Stress management suggestions for stressed-out parents, including fifty-two proven stress reducers. (Child Development Institute)
Stress management strategies
Assert Yourself – Self-help modules designed to help you reduce stress, depression, and anxiety by improving your assertiveness. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)
Put Off Procrastinating – Work your way through a self-help series on how to stop procrastination problems. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)
What Are Some Specific Stress Reduction Methods? – Simple stress reduction suggestions, including diet, exercise, and cognitive-behavioral techniques. (University of Maryland Medical Center)
Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers – Explains how regular exercise helps reduce and manage stress levels. (American Psychological Association)
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Robert Segal, M.A. Last updated: July 2012.
This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Credit for this post goes to helpguide.org. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.
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