Take steps to manage the stress in your life so you can feel and function at your best. Experiment with different approaches until you find something that works for you. Here are some quick and easy stress management techniques for you to try.
Stress Relieving Strategies
"If you yourself are at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world." - Thomas Merton
Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by your to-do list or your worries, a few deep breaths can steady and calm you. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, hold the breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat until you feel better! Slow, deep, controlled breathing is a simple yet powerful way to stop the stress response in its tracks and help you regain your focus and energy. Breathing is a wonderful way to relieve stress anytime and anywhere. You can even repeat a calming phrase in your mind as you breathe, such as "inhale peace" and "exhale stress".
"What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." ~Yiddish Proverb
The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Humor and laughter has many benefits—and it’s fun!
- People with a developed sense of humor typically have a stronger immune system.
- People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases but then decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper which sends oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
- Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
- Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. Laughing also elevates moods.
Sprinkle some more humor & laughter into your daily life. Watch funny movies or television shows, watch funny YouTube videos, listen to funny radio shows, read funny books. Spend time with people who help you laugh and see the bright side. Make time for play!
For a good laugh right now, try this site: Reader’s Digest Jokes and Cartoons
Talk to Yourself
"Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others." -Lama Yeshe
What we say to ourselves radically affects the quality of our lives, and our ability to do things effectively. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.
- When you are under stress, what messages do you send yourself? Are they alarming ("Oh no, this is horrible!") or reassuring ("I can handle this")?
- When bad things happen, how do you explain them to yourself? Do you generalize ("Life sucks, it’s always this way.") or localize ("That was rough, but it’s over now.")?
- When good things come your way, what do you tell yourself? Do you chalk it up to chance ("Well at least something went right, this time.") or give yourself some credit ("I’m really getting the hang of this.")?
You can decrease your stress by learning to talk to yourself in a positive and reassuring way. This takes practice, but the results are worth the effort. Here are some strategies you can try:
- Use Milder Wording: Turning powerful negative words to more neutral ones can actually help neutralize your experience. Instead of using words like ‘hate’ and ‘angry’ (as in, "I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!"), you can use words like ‘don’t like’ and ‘annoyed’ ("I don’t like traffic; I’m so annoyed"). Sounds much milder, doesn’t it?
- Change Negative to Neutral or Positive: As you find yourself mentally complaining about something, rethink your assumptions. See if you can come up with a neutral or positive interpretation. For example, having your plans cancelled at the last minute can be seen as a negative, but what you do with your newly-freed schedule can be what you make of it.
- Change Statements to Questions: Self-limiting statements like "I can’t handle this!" or "This is impossible!" are particularly damaging because they increase your stress and they stop you from searching for solutions. Instead, try a question: "How can I handle this?" or "How is this possible?”"
Developing positive self-talk takes practice. Try to surround yourself with a positive environment (uplifting music, positive people) to help support your efforts.
Watch this short video clip for more tips: How to Use Positive Self-Talk to Reduce Stress
"Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more." - Mother Teresa
"Being mindful" means allowing yourself to really notice whatever is pleasing to you, and giving your full attention to these good things as they are happening. Being mindful also means being aware of your feelings, as they come up. By being mindful and paying attention to your emotions you will be better able to handle them in a thoughtful way rather than reacting abruptly and your actions will be more healthy and kind, both to yourself and those around you.
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." - Melody Beattie
The more you focus on and appreciate what is good in your life, the better you will feel. For an instant boost whenever you want one, just think of something or someone you are grateful for in your life. As you enjoy special treats, take time to truly appreciate them, including how they look, smell, and taste–you’ll enjoy them more and you’ll also be less likely to overeat. At a get-together, express your gratitude to a friend, coworker, or family member by thanking them for something they have done to help you, or telling them what you enjoy most about them.
When you notice yourself grumbling, make gentle reminders to yourself about things for which you are grateful. When you are feeling stressed about work try to think about several things you like about your job.
Read more about gratitude: Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude
Take Care of Yourself
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Are you taking good care of yourself—body, mind, and spirit? Do you pay attention to your own health, not just physical but also social, emotional, and spiritual? Your lifestyle--including your eating habits, exercise patterns, sleep, recreational activities, social relationships and more-- can have a major impact on how you feel and function, and how well your mind and body respond to stress.
Here are some resources you can use to help you take good care of your self, so you can feel your best:
- View Tips for a Good Night's Sleep
- Take a Confidential Online Screening for anxiety, depression, and more
Connect with Others
"Other people matter. Period." - Chris Peterson
A network of supportive friends can help reduce your stress. Cultivate your friendships and make new ones. Take time to build camaraderie at work and elsewhere. Try to acknowledge others and their work. Be friendly and make a connection. This may seem self-evident, but a smile may make someone’s day. Try to find something in common: all of us want to have close connections with our fellow humans. One way to start is to try and eat lunch or dinner with a friend.
Read more about connecting with others at The Good Life blog by Chris Peterson, PhD, a former U-M Professor.
- Close your eyes and think of a very peaceful, relaxing place.
- Imagine all the sights, sounds, and sensations of your personal oasis.
- Continue until you feel more relaxed, then open your eyes slowly.
Relax Your Muscles
- Starting with your face and working your way down to your feet, tighten up the muscles in different areas of your body.
- Hold the muscles tight for a slow count of five then slowly relax them for a slow count of ten.
- Repeat this process until you feel more relaxed.
Explore Online Stress Management Programs
- Stress Gym (by University of Michigan Depression Center, in the online Depression Toolkit)
- Live Your Life Well (by Mental Health America)
Listen to Guided Relaxation Exercises
- Progressive Relaxation Exercise from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Counseling Center (9 min)
- Combination Relaxation Exercise from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Counseling Center (15 min)
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise from MHealthy Back Care program