Stress Management Strategies

Learn how to take control of stress through mindfulness, self-care, and gratitude.

Last updated: Jun 30th, 2022
Stress Management Strategies

If you feel more stressed than usual lately, you’re not alone. The world may seem especially heavy and troubling right now. Furthermore, knowing how to cope with your feelings isn’t always straightforward.

A recent American Institute of Stress survey found that over 80% of Americans feel stressed about inflation, supply chain issues, and the rising conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Likewise, many people are still recovering from the tremendous stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, some stress is inevitable. And, in small doses, this pressure can even be motivating and productive. After all, if you don’t care about meeting a specific deadline, you might not discipline yourself to go to work. If you don’t worry about your physical health, you might skip exercising.

But chronic stress can significantly affect your physical and emotional well-being. If you feel the weight of the world on your collapsing shoulders, it’s time to prioritize stress management. We’ve provided some tips to help you get closer to a stress-free life.

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Eliminate excess stress when possible

While you can’t avoid stress entirely, you can take a proactive stance to recognize its role in your life. Consider these steps to get started.

Get clear about your priorities and values

When you don’t know what you stand for, managing your time and commitments can be challenging. Everything may seem important, and that mental load can cause you to feel stressed and uncertain.

Try to spend some time reflecting on your main priorities in life. Consider asking yourself the following questions to ignite the introspection process:

  • What am I most excited about in this life?
  • What gives me the greatest source of pride?
  • What’s my biggest goal right now?
  • What feels non-negotiable to me?

Say no more often

Do you tend to take on too many responsibilities? Do you have a hard time turning down social invitations or work requests?

If so, you might believe you should be agreeable at all costs. You might also assume that you should be able to handle everything on your own.

These fallacies can seriously aggravate your stress levels. Nobody can do it all, and starting to set reasonable limits for yourself is essential.

Consider organizing your to-do list each day. Separate items into “must-do,” “want-to-do,” and “delegate.” Even if you can’t always delegate certain tasks, it’s still beneficial to make a conscious effort to ask for help and avoid taking on more than you can handle.

Set boundaries with people who stress you out

If certain people cause you to feel anxious, insecure, or annoyed, it’s time to reflect on how to change that dynamic. Of course, you can’t fix their personality, but you can assess the limits you need to set in your relationship.

Some boundaries may include:

  • Only spending time together in public locations (as opposed to in your home)
  • Saying no to social invitations more often
  • Avoiding discussing certain topics when you’re together
  • Creating exit strategies if you feel like you must leave

Limit media exposure

There’s nothing wrong with staying updated on current events. However, we now live in a society that essentially bombards us with media. Likewise, many people “doom scroll” as a way to attempt to ease anxiety.

However, it’s no surprise that research shows that excessive media exposure may exacerbate mental distress. So, if you’re feeling panicked by the state of the world, it may be helpful to:

  • Set specific limits for how and when you will consume media
  • Consider taking a media detox break
  • Choose only one or two trusted sources for obtaining your news

Reframe the stressor

If you’re currently struggling with a specific stressor, restructuring your thoughts around it can help you feel less overwhelmed. Here are some simple tips you can implement.

Practice neutrality

Instead of focusing exclusively on your emotions, consider taking a more objective approach when you feel stressed. Practicing neutrality requires trying to report the facts in a given situation without bias. Think of yourself as a professional reporter trying to cover a story.

Neutral statements can sound like:

  • I haven’t eaten anything today.
  • This project is due at noon.
  • My son is staying at home from school because he’s sick.
  • I am having a panic attack.

At first, removing the emotion from your experience may seem invalidating. But labeling the facts — and simply acknowledging your current reality — can help you pivot into a better state of acceptance.

Cultivate gratitude

Some people find it easy to focus on what they appreciate when things are going well. But it may be even more important to practice gratitude during stressful situations.

Research shows that practicing gratitude is associated with greater happiness and optimism. Likewise, people who focus on gratitude tend to choose healthier lifestyle choices, thus reinforcing their positive moods.

Fortunately, you can take small steps to engage in gratitude daily. Even taking time each night to write down two or three things that went well that day can make a difference in how you feel.

Focus on what you can control

Reframing stress sometimes comes down to recognizing what you can and cannot control. We are only human — we can’t control what happens to us. We can, however, focus on how we respond and react.

If life feels overwhelming, take a few moments to regroup. Identify what you can’t change. Then, identify where you can focus your efforts. Try to gently shift your thinking whenever you find yourself obsessing over what’s out of your control.

Make self-care non-negotiable

Everyone gets stressed, but healthy, resilient people try to care for themselves despite how they feel. Self-care is a significant part of stress management. Here are some easy techniques to try to implement.

Plan something to look forward to each day

Self-care isn’t just spa days or luxurious vacations — simple actions can help you focus on yourself. Most people are pressed for time, but incorporating daily moments of joy can positively impact your mood.

Some small treats to consider are:

  • Drinking a delicious cup of coffee or tea
  • Snuggling with your pets
  • Calling or texting a good friend
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Listening to your favorite podcast

Remember that some indulgence isn’t selfish. You have every right to love and lavish yourself generously.

Seek opportunities for laughter

Laughing is physically good for you. It stimulates circulation, relieves pain, promotes muscle relaxation, and decreases your heart rate. All of these physiological responses can reduce your stress.

Try to embrace humor throughout the day. Whether that means cracking jokes about how you feel, watching a silly video, or goofing off with a friend, you can remind yourself that laughing it off helps keep stress at bay.

Increase daily mindfulness

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation. Researchers have examined over 200 studies to deduce that mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

That said, you don’t need to commit to a formal meditation practice to reap the benefits. At its core, mindfulness means choosing to be in the present moment. You can practice mindfulness by:

  • Focusing on each specific sensation as you complete a task
  • Practicing deep breathing when you feel anxious
  • Engaging in progressive-muscle relaxation
  • Observing and labeling thoughts before acting immediately on them

Consider therapy

Stress often coincides with other mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Therapy can be invaluable in helping you manage troubling symptoms. If typical self-help strategies aren’t working — or if you feel things have significant room for improvement — you may benefit from more structured, professional support.

Your therapist will help you understand how various stress triggers impact your life. In addition, they can offer you personalized coping mechanisms for managing your emotions.

Prioritize your physical health

The mind and body are undoubtedly connected. If you’re not eating or sleeping well and consume excessive caffeine or drink too much alcohol, you may experience elevated stress.

Prioritizing your physical health comes down to focusing on better sleep, healthier eating, and physical activity. It also entails eliminating or decreasing problematic habits that might stunt your well-being.

Optimize your sleep

Consistent, restful sleep is imperative for your mental health. Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association shows that most people fall short of this goal — 21% of adults report feeling stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. Subsequently, only 20% of adults actually report getting good or excellent sleep.

As much as possible, try to commit to:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
  • Sleeping in a dark, cool, relaxing environment
  • Avoiding technology right before bed
  • Aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep each night

Eat a healthy, rounded diet

Nutrition research shows that small dietary changes can mitigate the body’s stress response. Consider adding in foods that contain:

  • Dietary fiber (vegetables, lentils, nuts, fruits, healthy whole grains)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (seafood, flaxseed, chia seeds)
  • Fermentation and culture (yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso)

Furthermore, be mindful of how substances like caffeine or alcohol affect your mood. While you may enjoy these safely in moderation, excess consumption may exacerbate stress.

Prioritize physical activity

Regular exercise has numerous benefits for mental health. Moving your body can improve cognitive function, concentration, and alertness. It also releases endorphins, which can lower stress levels.

You don’t need to run marathons or scale mountains to reap the benefits. Instead, simply choosing an activity you like — and committing to doing it a few times a week — can significantly impact your feelings.

Final thoughts

There isn’t a single cure or quick fix for managing stress. Furthermore, what works well one day may not be as effective the next.

Remember that consistency is key. The more you can practice these skills and integrate them into your routine, the more habitual they will become.