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Stress Management Techniques
By Elizabeth Scott, MS Reviewed by a board-certified physician
Updated February 05, 2018
It's often not until we feel overwhelmed by stress, especially if it seems insurmountable, that we find ourselves searching for stress management techniques. Fortunately, small changes in outlook and lifestyle can make a big difference in how we feel and approach the stressors we face. Having a clear plan for coping with stress can help you feel empowered when you are facing a lot and enable you to take more effective action, shedding your stress and feeling more relaxed and effective in your life.
The key is to have an idea of how to cope with different types of stress, a mix of short-term stress relievers to help you feel calmer when things heat up, and ongoing habits that relieve stress before it begins to feel overwhelming.
How to Find Short-Term Stress Relief
When you're feeling stressed, it's important to be able to calm your physiology and reverse your stress response. This can help you to physically relax, gain emotional footing, and tackle your stressors with a more level-headed approach than you may have access to if you were in the midst of a stress reaction.
Activities like breathing exercises can work quickly and effectively to restore a sense of calm, so you can take steps toward managing the stressors you face. The following are some recommended short-term stress relievers:
- Count your breaths. This can double as a mini-meditation and be used anywhere. Find a comfortable place to sit (if possible), relax your body, and breathe through your belly while your shoulders relax. Count "one" as you inhale and "two" as you exhale. Then count "three" on your next inhalation, and so forth. This can help you to focus on the present moment, bring your thoughts inward, and relax your body at the same time.
- Make a list. Specifically, list things for which you are grateful. Those who feel gratitude tend to feel less stressed in general. By shifting your focus away from what is stressing you right now, you can minimize that feeling of being overwhelmed and remind yourself of the resources you have to manage stress in your life.
- Take a walk. By taking even a quick walk, you can give yourself a change of scenery and a little exercise at the same time. Getting your body moving and shifting your focus can give you a quick boost in mood and provide an opportunity to get into a new frame of mind. Both of these things can quickly help you feel less stressed.
There are many other ways to feel less stressed in a relatively short amount of time. Each of these strategies may benefit you when you need some relief, but experimentation will tell you which will help you the most.
Develop Long-Term Stress Relief Habits
Certain habits can promote resilience to stress, as well as increase overall wellness.
For example, those who exercise or meditate regularly tend to become less stressed in the face of a difficult challenge.
It's important to practice at least one of these habits in your daily life as a way to manage your response to the stressors you face. These resilience-promoting practices can not only help you relieve stress as you engage in them, but they can help you to be less reactive to stress that you encounter in your future activities and daily life.
- Meditation: Those who practice meditation once or twice can feel less stressed in minutes. However, those who practice meditation regularly can build resilience toward stress, which helps even more in the long run. Meditation boosts your mood, shifts your focus away from stress, and creates other changes in you that help you to be less reactive to stress. Regular practice also makes meditation easier to engage in when you're feeling overwhelmed, making it more effective when you need it.
- Exercise: You know that exercise is good for your body, but you may forget that exercise is healthy for your stress levels as well. Regular exercise also makes you less reactive to stress and provides you with a useful technique to refocus your attention, let out your frustrations, and even connect with others (say, if you join a class or enlist a workout buddy).
- Self-Care: Taking care of your body is more important than you may realize. Practicing self-care in the form of getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and staying away from things that aren't good for you (like too much alcohol) can help you stay healthier and happier. You may not realize that lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, but it does. You may not realize that everything seems more stressful if you eat a diet that is too heavy in sugar and does not contain adequate nutrition, but your body will experience this whether or not you make the connection right away. Take care of your body, and see how much less stressed you feel.
By maintaining long-term habits that build resilience, you can--in a way--relieve stress before you experience it. You may not be able to take on more than one habit at a time, but that's OK. You can add more as you feel able, so just choose one new habit and build it into your life. Then try another and see how great you feel.
Know How to Practice Emotion-Focused Coping
Focusing on coping techniques that reduce your emotional experience when you are dealing with stress can help you to get less "triggered" by the difficult experiences you face.
Emotion-focused coping works well by diminishing the distress you feel about what is going on in your life (rather than directly addressing challenging issues), but it also can enable you to respond more effectively in stressful situations precisely because you aren't emotionally overwhelmed; you may have access to more effective solutions if you remain calm and level-headed in the face of your stressors. In this way, emotion-focused coping strategies help you to know how to cope with the general stressors you face and directly address how you feel while you are doing so.
The following are some emotion-focused techniques you may try.
- Journaling: Write in a journal about negative emotions you are experiencing as a way to process them and let them go. Write about positive emotions as a way to shift your attention. Write about what you are grateful for and you will not only feel better in the moment, but you'll have a record of things that will get you into a better mood the next time you need it.
- Talking to a Friend: Sometimes talking things out and feeling social support is all you need to feel less stressed. (Just be sure you contact a friend who offers the right kind of emotional support.)
- Practicing a Loving-Kindness Meditation: This can help you feel more connected with others and get into a more positive frame of mind.
Don't Forget Solution-Focused Coping
Not surprisingly, solution-focused coping techniques are about how to cope with stress by focusing on solutions to the very problems that are causing the stress in the first place. Creating boundaries in your life is a solution-focused coping strategy in that it helps to diminish the stressors you face.
Solution-focused coping directly attacks stressors and indirectly helps you manage emotional stress by reducing the challenges you face. Solution-focused coping often requires a more specialized approach than does emotion-focused coping, depending on which problems you are trying to address.
A Word From Verywell
Tackling stress on a consistent basis is key. Making changes one small step at a time can lead to a lifestyle transformation. One of the most effective ways to cope with stress on an ongoing basis is to have a steady stream of simple steps that can lead you to a less stressful lifestyle and a more resilient frame of mind.