From long checkout lines to short-tempered bosses, aggravating or demanding situations are part of everyone's life. You may be able to handle the occasional glitch without much problem. But when the pressures start to outpace your ability to cope, the result is stress.
On the spot, stress may cause unpleasant symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, headaches, and heartburn. Over time, it may also contribute to serious health problems, such as depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.
Fortunately, you can learn strategies to improve your coping ability. By using these strategies regularly, you can reduce the harmful effects of stress.
Stop Stress in Its Tracks
Be alert for the warning signs that stress is building up. Maybe you feel like you’re rushing around without getting much done. Or maybe you go the opposite direction and feel like you can’t get off the couch. Your muscles may tense, your jaw may clench, or you might develop unexplained aches and pains. You may also feel overwhelmed, anxious, helpless, angry, or depressed.
If you’re already feeling stressed, try these calming strategies:
- Count to 10. If you find yourself starting to get irritated, take a breather to collect your thoughts before speaking. Better yet, if you can, physically step away from the situation for a few minutes. Even a brief break may give you a chance to regain your composure and put things in perspective.
- Try some positive self-talk. Reframe overly negative thoughts in more upbeat terms. For example, rather than thinking “This is more than I can handle,” tell yourself “I’ll give it my best shot, and I’ll ask for help if I need it.”
- Laugh off stress. Crack a joke, watch a funny video, or share a laugh-out-loud picture on social media. Laughter is a great stress reliever.
Keep Stress from Starting
To stress less in the first place, practice these strategies regularly:
- Take control of your time. Prioritize your daily activities, deciding which are must-do tasks and which can be put off or eliminated. If possible, say “no” to new tasks when your schedule is already full. At day’s end, even if you didn’t finish everything, congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished.
- Get some exercise. As little as 20 minutes of physical activity like walking, running, cycling, swimming, tennis, or dancing can dial your stress level down.
- Make time for something fun. Set aside at least a few minutes every day to do something you enjoy. Pursue a hobby, read for pleasure, listen to music, or work on a creative project — whatever makes you happy.
- Learn to relax. Practice a relaxation method that works for you, such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or mindfulness.
- Stay connected with others. When life hits a pothole, supportive family and friends can help you recover from the jolt and keep moving forward.