12-Step Stress Management Plan

Learn how to keep chronic stress from aging your body.
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  • Keep Worries at Bay
    Keep Worries at Bay

    Keep Worries at Bay

    Did you know that stress is one of the biggest agers of your body? Most of us have it. The issue is how we respond to it. If you let nagging, unfinished tasks hang over you, or you constantly feel your life is spinning out of control, it can wreak havoc on your body. That's why it's important to learn how to manage the stressful elements in your life -- the tough boss, the rebellious teenager -- and how to tone down your body's physical response (e.g., rapid heartbeat, anxious racing thoughts) to them. Here’s a plan to avoid letting your worries burden -- or bury -- you.

     

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  • Identify the Source of Your Stress
    Identify the Source of Your Stress

    Identify the Source of Your Stress

    You can't tackle stress unless you know where it's really coming from. Daily annoyances are easy targets, but are they really what's bothering you? Lashing out at your kids bickering or the car that won't let you merge, for example, may be a reaction not to those things but to something else, such as an extra assignment piled on at work. The first step to managing stress is pinpointing the true culprit.

    On the verge of a meltdown? Keep emotions in check with these five strategies. 

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  • Focus on the Moment
    Focus on the Moment

    Focus on the Moment

    With so much going on around you, it's easy to get distracted. The trouble is you tend to miss critical details when you’re distracted, which can make you stressed and uneasy. Being mindful -- really tuning in to the present, not the past or the future -- can help you focus on handling the tasks at hand. Spend some time every day noticing the things most people tend to ignore, such as breathing, bodily sensations, and emotions. Try breathing exercises, or chi-gong (qigong) or yoga to help focus your mind and body. This won't happen overnight, but with practice, you'll notice a difference.

     

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  • Make a To-Do List
    Make a To-Do List

    Make a To-Do List

    Writing down a to-do list takes just a minute and saves you more time than that. Creating a clear (and realistic) game plan for what you want to accomplish helps you tackle your day, so you don't get bogged down in the unimportant details that eat up your time. The payoff: less stress and more time to enjoy the coffee you just poured.

     

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  • Don't Just React, Work on a Resolution
    Don't Just React, Work on a Resolution

    Don't Just React, Work on a Resolution

    Every emotion has an "urge to act" that goes with it. When we feel afraid or anxious, we avoid things. When we're angry, we're tempted to lash out or yell. Unfortunately, neither of these behaviors actually solves the problem, so take a different approach and you may just feel better. Worried about something? Tackle it instead of ignoring it. Angry at someone? Don't lash out, be empathetic.

     

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  • Release Muscle Tension
    Release Muscle Tension

    Release Muscle Tension

    As everyday stress builds up, your muscles tend to tighten up, which can add to your distraction and stress. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves flexing and relaxing your muscles to help relieve some of the physical stress that builds up in them. Starting at the bottom of your body, tense the muscles of your feet and then relax them. Work through the different muscle groups of your body one at a time -- your legs, stomach, back, neck, arms, face, and head. And breathe.

     

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  • Build Stronger Muscles
    Build Stronger Muscles

    Build Stronger Muscles

    After focusing on flexing and releasing, you may realize that some muscles could use strengthening. Whether you use dumbbells, machines, resistance bands, or your own body weight, strength-building can help you stay one step ahead of stress. Lean body mass (that's muscle, not fat) makes your blood pressure normal more quickly after a stressful event, and that takes a load off of your heart and arteries, especially when you think you have more work than time or more problems than solutions. Learn how to get started on lifting weights.

     

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  • Exercise Away Stress
    Exercise Away Stress

    Exercise Away Stress

    Getting your heart pumping and body sweating is the best way to avoid sweaty palms and a racing heart when you're under pressure. Yep, exercise is one of life's greatest stress relievers. Not only can it help you stay calm when you feel anxiety coming on, it can also boost your energy and improve your mood. Start moving with this do-anywhere workout plan.

     

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  • Meditate and Breathe Deeply
    Meditate and Breathe Deeply

    Meditate and Breathe Deeply

    Meditation not only helps reduce stress by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, it can also help you focus, learn, and remember. Try it by sitting in a quiet, comfortable place, closing your eyes and relaxing your muscles. Breathe through your nose and, as you exhale, silently say a single-syllable word, such as om. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes. When you're done, sit quietly and keep your eyes closed for a few minutes. Open your eyes and sit quietly for another few minutes before getting up. Get more meditation tips.

     

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  • Cry It Out
    Cry It Out

    Cry It Out

    When you cry, it signals that you’ve reached a level of stress that could be detrimental to your health and that it's time to let it out. Tears help wash away emotional stress brought on by intense feelings of joy, grief, or panic. One major hormone that increases with stress is also associated with crying: prolactin. The higher the levels of prolactin in your body, the more often you're bound to experience emotional crying. Want to cry but tears won't come? Try this trick.

     

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  • Laugh It Off
    Laugh It Off

    Laugh It Off

    Not the crying type? Try laughing when you're stressed out. No joke; laughter is great medicine. A good belly laugh can ease stress and reduce levels of the high-anxiety hormone, cortisol. It also helps you cope better with whatever life throws your way by easing fears. So go ahead and laugh, even if it feels forced. Regularly laughing off tense moments in your days can make you more positive and optimistic. The more you laugh, the better you'll feel.

     

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  • Schedule a Worry Period
    Schedule a Worry Period

    Schedule a Worry Period

    Do you relish worrying? Fine. Worry away. But there's a catch: Devote only two periods a day to it. Give your worries your full attention for 15 to 20 minutes. Wallow in all their soul-sucking glory. Then stop. When they rise up again, tell yourself that you'll address them during your next worry period. Now you're in control over when worries can worry you. If stress or worry has you running to the pantry, consider eating these good-for-you treats.

     

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  • Take a Step Back
    Take a Step Back

    Take a Step Back

    Sometimes problems swell into things that get out of control or look worse than they really are. And sometimes you just don't give yourself enough credit. You may actually be dealing with your daily stresses just fine, but in your head, things feel frantic. Take a step back. Try to see yourself through someone else's eyes (anyone's eyes -- your lover's, your gardener's, Big Bird's). You might see that you're actually doing better than you think.

     

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12-Step Stress Management Plan