How to Manage Stress Effectively
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
From minor challenges to major crises, stress is part of life and is a normal feeling. Fear, or stress, is your body’s reaction to a problem or a demand. Stress can be positive (for example, when it helps you meet a deadline or avoid a danger).
But, when stress lasts too long, it can harm your health.
When you are stressed, hormones like cortisol rush your systems, producing the "fight or flight response." Your heart rate goes up, you breathe more heavily (requiring more oxygen), and your blood vessels constrict.
In the pre-civilization world, the increased blood flow to your heart and muscles helped you escape from predators and dangerous situations. Today, you find yourself in a completely different situation. Your body can't tell the difference between an approaching grizzly bear and a disagreement with your boss or a traffic jam, so your stress response is triggered when there's no real danger.
Today the vast majority of stress is psychological: work, finances, family and life concerns, but your body still thinks “grizzly bear!”
Instead of helping you escape, stress can contribute to chronic conditions like hypertension and headaches and much more serious health problems. Stress actually narrows your ability to think clearly, to function effectively, and to enjoy life.
It may seem like there is nothing you can do about stress and that you are the only one feeling stressed. The meetings with your boss won’t stop coming, and your bills and family obligations will always be present.
Managing Stress is About Taking Charge of Your Life
While you can't always control your circumstances, you can control how you respond to them.
In fact, by realizing that you are in control of your life, you have already taken the first step towards managing stress. Stress management is all about taking charge: of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.
It’s important to have effective stress relievers that can calm your mind and your body. Just as you have a stress response, you also have a "relaxation response,” during which your breathing slows down, your muscles relax, your blood pressure decreases, and your nervous system calms down. Your body no longer perceives danger, and your nervous system returns to normal.
These steps will help you manage your stress:
1. Recognize the signs of stress
While it might seem obvious that you know when you feel stressed, sometimes you don’t. Listen for the signals your body is sending you.
When you’re under stress:
Your heart rate increases
Your breathing quickens
Your muscles tighten
Your blood pressure rises
By getting in the habit of paying attention to your body’s messages, you will be able to respond quickly to stress.
2. Identify the significant sources of stress in your life
Define and identify the sources of stress in your life and what triggers it, and you will have a greater sense of what causes your body the most stress.
Identifying major stressors might be simple: a job change, a move, or a divorce.
Pinpointing the sources of chronic stress is more complicated. You may know that you are always worried about deadlines at work, but maybe procrastination, rather than the timeline itself, is causing the stress.
To identify your source of stress, look closely at your habits, your feelings, and your thoughts. Try to recall how you acted in response, and what made you feel better.
3. Prepare to take control
Some stressful situations — like commutes, meetings, and family reunions — are predictable. By preparing yourself to change your reaction, by taking the pressure off certain situations, or by changing your environment, you’ll be able to decrease your response to stress.
Learn to say “No,” and know your limits
When possible, decline situations that increase stress
Watch for situations that seem to drain your energy
For example, avoid spending too much time with someone who is negative and critical.
4. Change your response to stressful situations
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, change your response.
If you are stressed at work, concentrate on what you accomplished, instead of what you have not done yet. Use time management when you feel overwhelmed. Prioritize what is what must be done today and what can wait by writing down your daily goals.
If you are stressed because of family, having a sense of humor can decrease tension. Try to cultivate optimism. Ask yourself how you can clearly communicate your needs and desires and positively express your feelings. Think about what really matters in your life, what you appreciate, your values, and what makes you happy.
Some situations are inevitable (for example, illness, death of a family member, or bad news). While it’s challenging to accept situations that are beyond your control, in the long run, the best solution is to accept them and to learn to let them go.
The best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. The only thing you can control is yourself — not your environment, and certainly not the actions of the people around you.
5. Find a support network
While it's sometimes easier to isolate yourself when you’re stressed, having support groups and networks can play a critical role in managing stress.
Knowing that your friends and family are there for you if you need them and that they are important, can be a source of comfort. Share your concerns and express what you are going through.
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to fight stress.
Engage in active play regularly to lower your body’s natural stress hormones. Regular exercise serves as a distractor to your worries, and your mood will improve in the long run.
Find an activity you enjoy, such as yoga, walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling. It can even be gardening. Do what you love and stick with it. Pay attention to the physical sensations as you move. As you relax your body, you relax your mind.
Exercise increases your overall health and sense of well-being. It will also help you to improve your sleep quality, which can decrease stress even more.
7. Live a healthy life
The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed food and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress. While a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better handle life’s ups and downs.
And don't rely on alcohol or drugs. While drugs can act as an emotional suppressant, in the long run, they can also contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. In effect, drugs can make stress harder to deal with.
Limit caffeine and soda.
8. Take a break, have fun, and be kind to yourself
Give your mind a break from stress and worries. Use meditation and deep breathing exercises daily. Bring some fun in your life through play. Sleep, rest, read, walk, dance, and laugh. Your body needs to recover from stressful events, and caring for yourself can facilitate healing.
9. Learn to reduce stress with hypnosis
Hypnosis can be a valuable tool in helping you to improve your ability to manage stress in your life. Stress is often exacerbated by thoughts, worries, self-doubt, and negativity. Over time, the mind becomes so accustomed to responding in a negative way that you don’t realize you are using the same pattern as an answer to your stress.
The goal of hypnosis is to break negative thought patterns and responses to stress and to replace them with healthy responses. This is done through your subconscious, the part of your mind that controls most of your actions, reactions, and beliefs.
When you enter into a state of hypnosis, the mind and body relax, and the mind becomes receptive to new information. In this state, you will learn to reframe your negative thoughts with positive ones. You will learn how to calm your stress and anxiety in a new way.
Hypnosis can help you reduce the level of anxiety you feel when you face situations that generally trigger stress. Hypnosis can also help you overcome any negative habits you’ve been using to cope with stress, like smoking or biting nails.
Learning self-hypnosis can also help you reduce tension and ease stress long-term.
“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” – Michelle Obama