At some point in life, everyone feels stressed. Stress has many underlying causes, including family problems, work issues, difficulties at school and addiction. Stress is subjective depending on the person experiencing it. What causes stress in one person may barely affect another. While it is normal to experience stress, high stress levels are associated with various mental and physical health problems. Therefore, it is critical for individuals to adopt stress management techniques to effectively manage the stresses of everyday life. So, what is stress management and how can a person learn to manage their stress?
There are many different stress management strategies that aim to mitigate how stress impacts a person’s life. If you are struggling with, acute (sudden or intense) or chronic (long-term) stress, the following list can provide some helpful tips.
Table of Contents
1. Identify Stressors
First and foremost, one of the most important steps in stress management is to identify different stressors. Without knowing specific life stressors, it can be difficult to make lifestyle modifications or behavioral changes. Some examples of common stressors include:
- Moving to a new home
- Starting a new job
- A death in the family
- Public speaking
- Making new friends
- Finding out that a spouse or significant other is cheating
- Experiencing addiction
- A diagnosis of cancer
There are many different stressors in life. It is important to realize that some stressors are outside of a person’s control. Thus, learning effective stress management techniques will help an individual to expect the unexpected and accept what they cannot control. Some stressors are self-inflicted, meaning that a person subconsciously or unconsciously brings stress on themselves. In those cases, stress management techniques will also train people to modify their thoughts and behaviors to decrease stress.
2. Create Boundaries
What does it mean to create boundaries? Creating boundaries can be an effective stress management technique for individuals who feel dissatisfied with their lives. For instance, a person that struggles with work addiction must learn to create boundaries and dedicate space for a better work-life balance. But how? An individual may have to go outside of their comfort zone and discuss cutting back on work with their superiors. If this conversation does not go well, they should reevaluate if their current position is the right choice for their mental health.
Boundaries can also be created in other life areas, like romantic relationships, with children or in friendships. Examples of boundaries include:
- Physical boundaries
- Emotional boundaries
- Intellectual boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is a great way to understand what constitutes appropriate behavior and what does not. Boundaries allow people to manage their stress by having clear limits in place.
3. Learn to Say “No”
Along with creating boundaries, individuals will feel less stressed over time if they learn to say “no.” Learning to say “no” to anyone that wants a person to intentionally violate their boundaries is important. This is particularly important in the workplace where bosses put high pressure on their workers to complete projects or meet deadlines despite consequences on workplace morale or negative effects on mental health.
Individuals must realize that they cannot possibly do everything. People are allowed to say “no.” It is one thing to help another person in need, but quite another to be repetitively taken advantage of. Learning when, how and why to say no can be helpful for individuals that have difficulties creating healthy boundaries with others.
4. Manage Your Time
There is only so much time in a day, week, month or a year. Time and stress management go hand-in-hand for this reason. Effectively managing time is critical for decreasing stress levels. Procrastinating on projects or deadlines by waiting until the last minute can cause unnecessary stress in an individual’s life. Tips for effectively managing time include:
- Organize and plan life and work events ahead of time
- Make checklists
- Set clear and measurable goals (as well as predetermined deadlines for those goals)
- Prioritize tasks and events
- Plan time for interruptions and distractions
- Devise a reward system for achieving goals or completing tasks
5. Eat a Balanced Diet
It may not be intuitive that a person’s diet can have a significant impact on their stress levels. Is there a specific stress diet individuals can follow? While there may not be an exact stress diet plan, there are many different stress-relieving foods that individuals can try. Some foods that fight stress include:
- Leafy greens
Foods to avoid when stress hits include refined sugar and caffeine.
It is also important that when an individual is stressed that they maintain their blood sugar by eating small amounts, but frequently. Changes in blood sugar can lead to mood swings or feeling anxious and depressed.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to counteract stress. Exercise and stress have an inverse correlation, meaning that if a person exercises, they are more likely to lower their stress levels. Both fitness and nutrition are not only critical components of a healthy physical lifestyle but have tremendous positive effects on mental health. Some benefits of exercise for managing stress include:
- Stimulates the release of endorphins
- Improves mood
- Stabilizes weight
- Increases energy levels
- Encourages quality sleep
7. Connect With Others
Feeling isolated or lonely is a natural part of life. Making sure to have a support system when life gets difficult can help a person manage their stress during hard times. Research suggests that individuals who are socially isolated or lonely are at a greater risk of developing mental health and cardiovascular problems. Other research suggests that the effects of loneliness, stress and social isolation can be mitigated when individuals connect with others. A support system can help individuals by:
- Helping them feel loved and secure in times of hardship
- Making it easier to deal with negative emotions
- Increasing self-esteem
If a person is unsure of how to connect with others, getting involved in the community is a great way to meet new people. Suggestions for connecting with others include:
- Volunteering for an important cause
- Taking a class (e.g. at a gym, at an artist’s studio, etc.)
- Meeting like-minded individuals in online communities
8. Try Aromatherapy
What is aromatherapy? Aromatherapy involves using different calming scents (essential oils) to improve health. Essential oils are distilled from plants or other natural sources. Although aromatherapy for stress relief does not seem very scientific, it has been shown to affect the hypothalamus — the brain region responsible for hormonal regulation. Thus, aromatherapy can influence a person’s hormones, metabolism and mood in a positive way.
9. Practice Yoga
Another way individuals can manage their stress is through the ancient practice of yoga. Yoga synthesizes the mind and the body. Using yoga for stress relief has many benefits for people, including:
- Reducing anxiety
- Improving flexibility, balance and strength
- Providing relief for chronic conditions like depression, pain and high blood pressure
What does yoga involve? There are several types of yoga that each differ based on their origin, style and pace, including hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, hot and restorative yoga. During each class, the instructor leads a yoga class and goes through different physical poses, breathing and meditation exercises. A typical yoga class lasts for at least thirty minutes to one hour.
10. Make Time for Fun
It is important to make time for fun — particularly in matters concerning stress relief. As the old adage goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” Scientifically, laughter not only stimulates the muscular and cardiovascular systems, but it can decrease stress and muscle tension. Laughing also has long-term effects on the immune system, in pain management and in improving mood.
Additional Stress Management and Relaxation Exercises
If the above stress management strategies seem daunting or uninteresting, there are many other ways to promote stress relief and relaxation. Many stress management exercises can be practiced alone or in the company of others, while a few are best done under the supervision of a medical professional or therapist.
Diaphragmatic breathing has many parallels with meditation. In essence, it is a breathing exercise for stress relief. Any deep-breathing exercise for stress involves breathing down into the abdomen or stomach rather than the chest. By engaging the diaphragm in the breathing process, the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the involuntary functions of the body, becomes activated. As a result, individuals may feel more relaxed than if they breathed regularly.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves targeting a specific muscle group and intentionally tensing and relaxing that group intermittently. This procedure can lead to feelings of relaxation and manage stress as it decreases anxiety, relieves tension and improves sleep quality.
Biofeedback is a technique that is usually conducted under the supervision of a medical professional. Biofeedback for stress relief involves:
- Measuring brain waves
- Monitoring breathing and respiration
- Monitoring heart rate
- Measuring muscle contraction
- Measuring sweat glands and their activity
- Measuring temperature
The ultimate goal of biofeedback is to train individuals to control their behaviors, thoughts or emotions and modify their behaviors based on their physical responses. Biofeedback can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions including anxiety, headaches and stroke.
Autogenic training is a form of training whereby people learn to use their minds to relax their bodies. For instance, an individual can perform a set of mental exercises that last approximately 15–20 minutes. Each exercise lasts for about three minutes, with pauses in-between. An example of a set of autogenic training exercises includes the following:
Sit in a quiet place with closed eyes. Repeat the following phrases four times each before moving onto the next phrase. Pause after each phrase. Phrases can be thought or spoken aloud and may include statements such as:
- My right arm is heavy
- My left arm is heavy
- Both of my arms are heavy
Guided imagery to reduce stress can be a beneficial technique for many health conditions. Guided imagery is usually done with a therapist guiding the process. This technique involves individuals picturing scenarios that make them happy, whether that involves people, places or things. In a study of patients receiving cancer treatment, guided imagery produced both positive physiological and mental health effects.
Meditation is an ancient practice like yoga that connects the mind and the body. Meditation can be practiced alone or can be followed through a guided meditation. Many forms of meditation are effective for stress relief. For instance, meditation typically involves focusing attention on breathing and awareness of thoughts. Over time, acknowledging thoughts and letting them slip away becomes easier. Meditation can decrease stress by helping individuals:
- Become more self-aware
- Focus on the present moment rather than the past or the future
- Gain new life perspectives
- Enhance creativity
- Become more patient
Do you or a loved one struggle with managing your stress and as a result, have turned to substances to cope? The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to discuss treatment options for addiction and effective strategies for managing your stress.
The Cleveland Clinic. “Stressed Out? Aromatherapy Can Help You to Feel Calmer.” March 16, 2015. Accessed July 3, 2019.
Lee, Mi; Kim, Dong-Hee; Yu, Hak Sun. “The Effect of Guided Imagery on Stress and Fatigue in Patients with Thyroid Cancer Undergoing Radioactive Iodine Therapy.” November 24, 2013. Accessed July 3, 2019.
New York University. “Time Management.” Accessed July 3, 2019.
University of Kentucky. “How to Create Healthy Boundaries.” Accessed July 3, 2019.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Nutrition and Stress.” Accessed July 3, 2019.
University of Michigan. “Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.” June 28, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2019.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Autogenic Training.” October 2, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2019.