Stress is a normal and expected part of our lives, but it’s not a part we always know how to deal with. We learn how to handle stressful situations by watching our parents and peers as we grow up. If you didn’t have positive coping modeled for you, it may make it harder to handle even everyday stressors.
Because it is a normal part of life, there are no skills to make stress never happen, but we can all benefit from having a plan to face it to help feel on top of the things that we can control. These skills will give you ideas as to how you can make small changes in your life that will help to make stress more manageable.
Reduce your vulnerabilities. Eat balanced, regular meals; get exercise of some sort; get the right amount of sleep for you; take your prescribed medications; avoid unhealthy coping like alcohol and drugs, and give yourself down time or mental health breaks whenever you can. Doing all of this will leave you less vulnerable to the toll that stress can take on a person by caring for the body that must hold the weight of stressful times.
Prepare rather than worry. You can’t change the past or control the future so try to just deal with what is on your plate now and be realistic about what the outcomes will be. Preparation is when you take a realistic look at what is in your control and you create a plan of action.
Worry is when you take preparation to an extreme and begin trying to find every possible outcome that you can have a plan for. You never allow yourself to recognize that there are times when we do not have the ability to control everything and therefore it cannot be prepared for.
Use your support system. Talk to others instead of keeping everything inside. Talking to someone you trust can help to show you alternatives, validate your feelings, and take some of the pressure off your shoulders. Sometimes just saying things out loud to another person can help you to understand yourself better.
The people in your support system want to be able to help, even if it is just to listen. However, if there is something you can ask of them to help with, do so. You do not have to be a one man army.
Breathe. Breathing slowly and deeply when you are tense helps to oxygenate your body, release tensions from your muscles, and clear your mind. There are many techniques to relaxation breathing. The most simple is a nice deep breath that fills your entire lungs and then is expelled fully — feel free to make noise when you breathe like this.
Other techniques are to count backwards from 100 to the rhythm of your breathing; breathe in to a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breathe out to a count of 4, hold again for a count of 4 and repeat; or even just paying attention to the fact that you are breathing, the inhalation and the exhalation, and the rise and fall of your chest as the air flows through your lungs.
Choose instead of reacting. When you take a step back and make a clear conscious choice about something, it can help to feel like you are in control rather than reacting to a crisis and being driven by emotion. While our emotional reactions are important and do need to be validated, you can also choose to be in control of how you handle the emotion.
If you are angry you do not have to yell at the person, you can choose to be calm so that they can hear what you have to say. If you are scared you do not have to run away from a situation, you can choose to find a way to face it or gently remove yourself if needed.
Prioritize. If everything on your “to do” list has the same level of importance then nothing will ever get finished. Regardless of how long your list is, take the 6 top things that absolutely have to get done today, prioritize them and put them at the top of the list.
Everything else will still be there waiting to be done the next day and you may even find that things fall off the list because someone else takes care of them or — they weren’t that important in the first place.
Say ‘no’ now and then. You cannot do everything, there just isn’t enough time or energy. When you set a limit you are saying that you are important and need a break, which will make you more capable of fully taking care of the things you say ‘yes’ to. When you get in the habit of saying no, you will find yourself relaxing and feeling in greater control of your life.
Cheerlead. Say something positive to yourself when you wake up in the morning and before you fall asleep at night. The power of words makes it so that a repeated message will begin to be truth to you after a while. If you hear something negative about yourself often enough you will begin to believe it, so why not try doing the opposite and say something positive and supportive?
Focus. Do one thing at a time and do not allow yourself to be distracted into starting something else before you finish the first thing. Life can seem like it’s spinning out of control when you feel like you never accomplish anything. By focusing, you can be assured that at least one thing will be taken care of and you can finally take something off your list.
Journal. Write out your thoughts on a regular basis. They don’t have to make sense; it will just help to get them out of your brain and onto paper. Just like how talking things out with a friend can relieve some of the pressure in your head. Writing things out can sometimes let you move forward onto another subject because the thoughts are now in a safe place where they won’t get lost, the way we sometimes feel things in our heads will.
Unplug. Turn off the TV, iPod, phone, computer, etc., once in a while. Technology keeps us going at a frantic pace, unplugging gives your mind a break. Everyone in your life will be okay if they cannot contact you for a short period of time and you will feel relief because for that time you know that no one will make any demands of you. When you return to your technology you can handle anything that happened during that time in a more calm and centered way because that is how you will be feeling.
Laugh. Humor is a healer. Smile, belly laugh or giggle, especially when you feel the opposite, to affect change in yourself. We get so caught up in the negative things in life and we forget about the good things that make us smile. Often it’s the smallest stuff that brings that smile to your face, but it is worth so much more.
Know yourself. Know what it is that you struggle with. Be realistic about what triggers you have so that your awareness can prepare and protect you. When you try to fool yourself into believing that you will not be triggered by something, all you are doing is making it so that your reaction will be much worse. When you prepare yourself by being realistic, (not worrying) you can feel as though you are the one in control, not fate.
Try one of these things the next time stress tries to take over your life. If it doesn’t fully do the trick, move onto the next. If you find one thing works better than other things, then keep on doing that one.
The idea is to find out what works best for you when under stress, not what works for other people. That can take a little trial and error, but, in the end, putting a little work into finding the right tools for you will leave you feeling more calm, in control, and ready to face the world with all that it has to give you.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Mar 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Tips to Help Better Cope With Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 10, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/02/23/tips-to-help-better-cope-with-stress/