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Simple Steps for Managing Stress in Your Life

Learning to manage stress successfully begins with our willingness to take an honest look at ourselves.

Although people and situations do contribute to stress, the events that affect people from the outside are beyond their control.

It is too easy to blame stress on other people or situations that the individuals cannot control. It is more productive to take personal responsibility for the stress that an individual experiences and to look for things that he or she can change. It is more effective to learn to “manage” stress than to simply “reduce” stress.

One can reduce stress, briefly, by taking a vacation or just by pulling the covers back over his or her head in the morning. However, the vacation will not last forever, and eventually one will need to return to face all of the things that he or she wanted to escape. Instead of hoping that the stress will disappear, one can remember that stress will always be a part of life. Success and happiness will depend on how well one can cope with, or manage, the stress.

Managing stress requires individuals to take responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When people look at their stress this way, they may find that they need not to be so afraid.

Taking an active role in managing stress means that people need to begin actively searching for it. Stressful events can be viewed as obstacles or as opportunities to learn how to manage them better. Identifying stressful situations is actually good news; individuals have taken the first step in managing their stress. They did not create stress by looking for it; they only found what was already there. When people find what causes their stress and begin to understand why it is stressful, they can work to manage the stress more successfully.

Commitment To Change

Once people have identified the stress in their lives, they need to commit themselves to creating change. It takes time and energy to make change happen.

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For many people, the most difficult part of learning to manage stress is finding the time. It may seem that time pressure is one of the main causes of stress; there is just not enough time to accomplish what life demands. When people feel overwhelmed, it is difficult to begin. How can they find the additional time necessary to learn to manage stress?

This attitude misses the point. Many people spend more time, energy and money on their cars than they do on themselves. They are more likely to take the time to change the oil in the car than to take a few minutes to stop and give themselves a break. But just like a car, if people do not take care of themselves, they will not function as well and will eventually break down.

Taking the time to manage stress is good preventative maintenance for life. The time that it takes is more than repaid in increased efficiency and happiness.

Stress Management Techniques

Many techniques can help to manage stress. No one technique is best for everybody. Each person must decide what will work best for him or her. It is not helpful to recommend exercise for someone who hates physical activity, and it is difficult for someone to meditate if they hate to sit still. All stress management techniques are simply tools. These tools can help someone learn to work more skillfully with stress and to have new and more effective ways to deal with difficult situations. They must, however, be actively applied. Even though someone has learned to use a hammer, he or she still needs to get the hammer out of the toolbox every time he or she needs to drive a nail. Likewise, just because someone has learned stress management techniques, he or she still needs to take them out of the stress management toolbox and put them to work.

No technique will make all stress go away. It is best when people use their own judgment and intuition to decide which techniques to use. People should not be afraid to try different things before deciding what is best for them. Once they have found some strategies that work, they need to commit to practicing them.


Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. Aerobic exercise, exercise that makes the heart and lungs work harder, actually helps the body to use up excess stress-induced hormones. Regular exercise helps the body to react less dramatically to stress. Some research suggests that exercise also helps to lift one’s spirits and decrease depression.

Exercise is most helpful if it is practiced consistently over a long period of time. In beginning an exercise program, it is important to start slowly. It is not so helpful to start an exercise program with a lot of enthusiasm and then stop exercising in a week or two because it is too stressful.

Of course, it is recommended that people check with their regular physicians before beginning any exercise program; however, almost no one is too old or too out of shape to begin to exercise. Twenty or 30 minutes of exercise four or five times a week is ideal, but even much less can help individuals to relax and cope with stressful situations more effectively.

The specific type of exercise or the amount of time spent exercising is not as important as whether or not someone can make exercise a regular part of his or her life. Brisk walking is the perfect exercise for many people. Jogging, swimming and bicycling are other popular types of aerobic exercises. It makes sense to choose an exercise that is enjoyable; the more enjoyable it is, the more likely an exercise program will succeed.


Meditation is a very effective stress management technique. Meditation sounds exotic, but it is really just a way to learn to relax and settle the mind. A relaxed, settled mind is less anxious and copes better with stress.

One type of widely-used meditation is called “mindfulness meditation.” It teaches the meditator to rest his or her mind steadily in the present moment even during stressful experiences. This creates a deep sense of relaxation and mental clarity. Anxious fears about the past or the future become less troubling.

Other popular types of meditation used for stress management include transcendental meditation and the relaxation response. A recent report to the National Institutes of Health concluded that, “More than 30 years of research, as well as the experiences of a large and growing number of individuals and healthcare providers, suggest that meditation and similar forms of relaxation can lead to better health, higher quality of life and lowered healthcare costs.” The report went on to say, “Most important, meditation techniques offer the potential of learning how to live in an increasingly complex and stressful society while helping to preserve health in the process.”

Other Stress Management Tools

Yoga is another popular stress-management tool. It combines aspects of both exercise and meditation; it can help people to slow down their minds and create relaxation in their body.

Psychotherapy also can be very effective in reducing stress. Aspects of one form of psychotherapy, called cognitive therapy, have been incorporated into many stress-management programs.

Other effective and widely-used stress-management techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, massage and biofeedback. It is also important to remember that when severe stress begins to cause depression, or affects someone’s ability to function at home or at work, medication prescribed by a doctor can be very helpful.

Deciding on a Stress Management Technique

No single strategy is right for everyone. Each person must take an honest look at him or herself and decide what makes the most sense. The most important factor in determining the success of a stress management program is not the type of technique that is used, but rather the commitment that each person makes to change.

It is difficult for people to change long-standing habits even when those habits create discomfort, unhappiness and stress. Change is possible, however, and the most difficult changes often provide the greatest benefit. Working to reduce stress can enhance happiness and health for many years. It does make a difference!

Simple Steps for Managing Stress in Your Life

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other mental health and psychology publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2020). Simple Steps for Managing Stress in Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.