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How can I reduce stress in my life?

Even though it may seem hard to find ways to reduce stress in your life with all the things you have to do, it's important to find those ways. The following suggestions can help:

  • Stress relievers like deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises and keeping a journal, can be helpful in controlling the impact stress has on your body.
  • Don’t try to do too much at one time—make sure to have time for proper nutrition, sleep, work and play.
  • Maintaining a close circle of family and friends can provide you with emotional support when you need it.
  • Make time for meditation and/or prayer. Spend time in nature.
  • Strive to practice compassion, love, forgiveness, altruism, joy and fulfillment.
  • Work to increase the positive moments in your work and your life, while reducing the negative.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

There are many things you can do to reduce stress levels if constant worry or tension begin to make it hard to live from day to day. Learning how to manage stress will not eliminate stress from your life, but it can improve how you feel during stressful times.

Do activities that help you to relax and de-stress:

  • Walk around your neighborhood or a park.
  • Get a massage.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Practice yoga or tai chi.
  • Talk to friends and family.
  • Talk with a professional therapist.
  • Attend a support group.
  • Make time for hobbies and things you enjoy.
  • Ask for help with daily activities such as housework, errands, and cooking.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Listen to music.
  • Read.
  • Watch your favorite TV show or movie.

 Find ways to sleep better when you are feeling stressed:

  • Do something quiet and relaxing for the last hour before you go to sleep such as: read a good book; watch a television program you enjoy; listen to soothing music; practice yoga; meditate; take a warm bath.
  • Try a white noise machine to block out street noise and provide soothing background sounds.
  • Learn a few simple relaxation exercises that you can do in bed.
  • Breathing exercises are a good thing to try in bed if you are having trouble sleeping. Breathe deeply and concentrate on your breath as you tighten and then relax your muscles.
  • If you find that you are tossing and turning, it may help to get out of bed and go to another room in your house. One option is to have a cup of herbal tea or get comfortable on the couch and read for fifteen minutes. Then try going back to bed.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation.
  • Learn to say "no" to things that you do not want to do or have to do. Try to take time for a few quiet and calming moments in every day.
Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine Specialist

The first thing to do is become aware of what your stressors are. Each of us is different and we can have very different stress triggers. Your stress response is partly inherited and also is affected by your environment. I use a simple acronym called A.C.E. A is for awareness. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the paper. Put a plus on one side of the paper and a minus sign on the other side. On the minus side write down the things that trigger your stress. Maybe your commute, cooking dinner, your job or a personal relationship is stressing you. On the plus side write down the things in your life that you love that give you energy and love. This could be dinner with your family, reading a book, taking a bath or doing a project at work. Do this for about a week and you will begin to see your stress triggers and what you love that you may not be doing enough of. C is for choice. As you see your triggers you can begin to make choices of whether you will continue with these experiences or not. If you continue with stressful events, you need to learn stress reduction techniques. E is for the energy that you will experience once you begin to discover the sources of stress in your life. Finally, it is essential to learn stress reduction practices.

Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine Specialist

Good question! Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t know where the stress in your life is coming from. What I can address, however, is how to prevent the stress from harming you. Stress management is not about ‘removing’ stress—good luck with that! It’s about accepting there will be sources of stress in your life, but they don’t need to be sources of ill health. In terms of managing stress, it’s different strokes for different folks. Vigorous exercise and horseback riding work for me. For others, it’s meditation, visualization, biofeedback, yoga and breathing exercises. A good stress management counselor will you find what works for you, then help guide you on incorporating the strategy into your routine so it’s there when you need it.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

To reduce stress you can:

  • Try aromatherapy. Sesame oil and essential oils of lavendar and sandalwood can be part of your mind-calming process.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, sniff salt water. Lukewarm salt water keeps nasal passages lubricated, which helps breathing during sleep.
  • Rub ghee, a clarified butter used in Indian cooking, in your nose before bedtime. Because it helps to remove toxins from the head, it can also help to calm the mind so you can sleep through the night.
Ariel & Shya Kane
Psychology Specialist

Much of the emotional/mental stress we experience in day-to-day living starts with an unexamined misassumption, untruth, lie, fib, falsehood, story or series of stories. For example: This moment isn't perfect. This isn't what I want. I don't wanna. Don't tell me what to do. I don't know what I want but this isn't it!  Stress is also generated from other sources: Being right about your point of view. Focusing on getting somewhere rather than being here and incompletions in general (from the light bulb you keep telling yourself you need to change to the dishes in the sink to that person you need to call back).

Our 3 Principles of Instantaneous Transformation can reduce stress:

1st–What you resist persists and grows stronger. Resisting a situation is just like resistance in weight training: you are exercising that muscle to make it stronger. Whatever you are adding resistance to, you are actually making it take a more defined shape.

2nd–No two things can occupy the same you at the same time. What are you focused on? Here is an example: We were on a walk recently and as we came down a hill there was a thorny rose bush that extended over the sidewalk. We paid attention to it as we walked past it so as not to get snagged. Then we noticed some peonies that were just getting ready to burst from bud stage into full pink splendor. We continued our walk and on our return trip up the hill we noticed that right in front of the garden with the rose bushes and peonies was a large truck. By the amount of pollen on the windshield we could tell that it had been parked there for some time. When we were so consumed with the garden we didn't see the truck even though it was so close we could have reached out and touched it as we passed. Sometimes you are so consumed with your stress and stressors, you miss the rest of the world, even though it is right within reach.

3rd–Anything you allow to be allows you to be. Anything you resist persists, and grows stronger. However, if you stop focusing your attention on those things you don't like, don't want, or would rather be different and bring your attention back to what is right in front of you, then in that instant you are free. Stress free. Yup, it is that simple. Oh, but if you want to be "right" that someone else is "wrong" then guess what...stress, stress and more stress. But YOU are doing it to yourself, not the apparent stressor, you. Being stress-free is as simple as being where you are without disagreeing with your life and life circumstances (i.e., your preferences).

Erik Feingold
Healthcare Specialist

Practice daily deep breathing and meditation, and make stress management techniques part of your everyday life. If controlling outbursts of anger is a problem for you, adopt an anger management plan.

Here's a list of a few more things you can do to reduce the aging effects of stress:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control.
  • Watch your waist.
  • Walk every day.
  • Take two baby aspirin every morning.
Dr. John Preston, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

To reduce the stress in your life you'll write a plan to eliminate some of your stressful situations, and reduce or change any behaviors that cause stress in your life. Use a loose-leaf binder, because you'll track these activities over time.

At the top of five pages in your binder, write one stressful situation. You'll make a plan for reducing each of the behaviors that cause stress or your time spent in stressful situations. Make your plans specific and give yourself a time line for achieving your goals and specific objectives that will give you a sense of accomplishment once you've achieved them.

First, set a goal for making a change. Set a date for achieving your goal. Below that date, make a three-column table with one large column on the left, where you'll list the strategies you'll take to achieve that goal. In the middle column, write the date by which you plan to achieve that goal, and, in the last column, write the date you actually achieve your goal.

At the end of the first week, check your progress so far to assess whether your time line is unrealistic and may require an extension or a switch to another goal. In your binder, use a sheet of paper to write a short progress report summarizing how well you're doing for each of the five plans you made. You can also monitor your progress by answering the following questions at the end of each week for a month. Change your goals and objectives based on your evaluation. You may want to focus on other goals or extend your time line for achieving the ones you've already set.

  1. Are you feeling less stressed than you were last week? If so, why?
  2. Are you feeling more stressed than you were last week? If so, why?
  3. Have you implemented any of your stress reduction plans, and if so, what effect have they had on your life?
  4. What are some strategies you want to try to further reduce your stress levels?

At the end of the month or any other time frame you've set for yourself, evaluate how you're doing on achieving your goals. You may want to review weekly your progress toward your goal and take concrete steps toward achieving them. Taking at least one step toward your goal on a weekly basis will help you achieve your goal in one month.

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There are many ways to reduce stress, both through formal practices like mindfulness, and also through involvement in activities that people find absorbing, like various forms of physical activity, music, art appreciation, involvement with family, friends and pets. The important thing is to identify ways that reduce stress in your life and commit to treating yourself with stress reduction every day! Cut down on your caffeine intake if you drink a lot of coffee, as it may increase palpitations or feelings of anxiety. Black teas contain less caffeine, and green teas much less. Be aware of the caffeine content of sodas as well.

Stress can mean many different things to different people. However, reducing stress can involve some simple steps no matter the cause. Making sure one gets proper rest (sleep) at night goes a long ways toward helping the body with its coping mechanisms. Mild to moderate exercise has been shown in many studies to improve ones sense of well being. Frequently, financial problems are a major contributor of stress. Getting one's financial house in order can be a major help in reducing stress. If you don't feel that you can make these improvements on your own, then seek out some help. There are many excellent resources available.

Some ways you can work to reduce stress in your life include:

  • Maintaining healthy habits. People who are coping with chronic stress often resort to unhealthy habits including high-fat and high-salt diets, tobacco use, alcohol abuse and a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Avoiding stimulants like tobacco (which contains nicotine) that make you feel calm in the short run, but actually rev up your nervous system. The addictive characteristics of some stimulants like nicotine can leave you anxious until your next fix.
  • Getting regular aerobic exercise. Even a brisk walk can reduce levels of stress hormones in your blood. At least 30 minutes a day (or two 15-minute sessions) most days of the week is best, but even three times a week offers benefits. In addition, as you get fitter, your body is better able to withstand stress and your mind to cope with stress and stay on an even, happier keel. Start slowly. Strenuous exercise in people who are not used to it can be very dangerous. You should first discuss any exercise program with your healthcare professional.
  • Strengthening or establishing a support network. Even a pet can help reduce medical problems aggravated by stress. Studies of people who remain happy and healthy despite many life stresses conclude that most have very good social support networks.
  • Reducing stress at work. Try establishing a network of friends there, seeking out a sympathetic manager, or schedule daily pleasant activities and physical exercise during free time. For additional support, schedule an appointment with an Employee Assistance Program clinician, if your company offers that benefit. These programs provide professional counselors who can give you and your family confidential assessment and counseling.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine Specialist

When you start feeling anxious and stressed out, ask yourself, “Am I in imminent danger?” If you aren’t (and almost always the answer will be no), simply taking a moment to realize this will turn off the “fight or flight” reaction and allow your adrenals to relax. For the long term, fifteen to thirty minutes a day of basic yoga or meditation techniques can offer profound benefits.

Focus on what’s “right” in your life. Start by writing a gratitude list. Every morning write down five things you are grateful for—your family, your job, an upcoming trip, good weather or even a delicious meal. As you go through the day, remember to be grateful for things, both large and small. If you feel stressed, take three deep breaths, reread your list and relax.

Pay less attention to the news. It’s okay to watch for a while in order to stay informed. But as soon as you start to feel bad when you watch the news, turn off the TV. Likewise, avoid watching other shows that don’t make you feel good. Instead, choose to spend more time with people whose company you enjoy. You’ll find these simple steps can markedly ease the stress in your life and help your adrenal glands heal.

The same principle applies to your thoughts. If they don’t feel good and are not helping you solve a problem, stop and change your mental “channel” to something more enjoyable. Instead of allowing your thoughts to run rampant, discipline them. Keep a few thoughts handy that always make you feel good-your children, your pet or a hobby you love, for instance—and “switch” to them when you find yourself worrying.

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Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise and regular relaxation can make a huge difference in your health. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week, and choose something you enjoy, such as walking, running, dancing or swimming. When you feel stressed, take a deep breath, stretch or go for a walk. Try meditation: Sit still with your eyes closed for five minutes, clearing your mind of any thoughts. Extend this quiet time for as long as you need.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.