Basic Strategies in Stress Management

Amber Tresca
Relax

Managing stress in a healthy way can be a difficult task at times, but stress management should be an essential part of your daily life. Use the tools and information provided below to manage your stress and prevent a larger problem in the future.

Ways to Manage Your Stress

Deep Breathing

Breathing is something we do all day every day, but most of us don't think about our breathing. Taking a few minutes to be conscious of your breathing and do some deep breathing can be an easy, quick way to manage your stress response.

How to practice deep breathing:

  • Consciously relax the muscles of your diaphragm.
  • Inhale as deeply as possible through your nose, feeling your lungs fill from the bottom upward. Allow your chest and shoulders to move up toward your ears as your lungs fill completely, and slowly count to six or seven.
  • Hold your breath for a count of two.
  • Exhale slowly, feeling the stress and tension leaving your body as you do so. Count to eight or ten as you exhale, making sure to completely release all of the air from your lungs.
  • Repeat these steps for approximately five minutes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. This technique can also help you to fall asleep at night.

How to practice progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Get yourself into a comfortable position (sitting or lying) in a quiet room.
  • Tune out the world around you and your own thoughts, while focusing on your body and your muscles.
  • Begin by tensing a muscle for five seconds, and then releasing it. One suggested order of muscle groups to involve is:
    • Forehead
    • Eyes
    • Lips and jaw
    • Hands
    • Forearms
    • Upper arms
    • Shoulders
    • Back
    • Stomach
    • Hips and buttocks
    • Thighs
    • Feet
    • Toes
  • Go back and revisit any muscles that you are aware of, or that still feel tense.
  • Repeat the entire process if you feel the need.
  • Try saying a positive phrase to yourself (such as "I am calm and alert") before opening your eyes and slowly getting up.

Guided Imagery

An effective technique used for relaxation and stress reduction, guided imagery uses the "mind's eye" to control stressful feelings and situations. You visualize a peaceful place -- either real or imagined -- and stay there in your mind until you feel relaxed.

How to practice guided imagery:

  • Close your eyes and visualize your favorite peaceful, relaxing place using your mind.
  • Imagine yourself interacting with your surroundings. For example, if you imagine yourself outside taking a walk, feel the wind on your face, smell flowers or search for seashells.
  • Stay in your relaxing space as long as necessary.
  • Come back to yourself slowly, keeping the feelings of relaxation with you. Tell yourself that you are calm and relaxed.

Exercise

Most of us already know that exercise is not only beneficial to our bodies, but also to our minds. As stress reduction techniques go, exercise is an excellent one, and it is something that anyone can do regardless of fitness level.

Exercise releases endorphins, a chemical in your brain that can improve your mood. No matter what form your physical activity takes (running, walking, yoga, swimming, or team sports), focus on your body and make the experience enjoyable. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine, and in order to help you stick with it, try an activity that you can do with a friend.

Meditation

Many people may be put off using meditation for stress relief because it is intimidating. However, meditation can take many forms, and you can meditate anywhere in order to bring yourself some stress relief. Meditation can calm your mind and release the tension from your muscles.

Use these steps to practice a simple meditation technique:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable relaxed position.
  • Focus on your breathing, making it natural but deep enough to fill your lungs with oxygen.
  • Empty your mind of problems and everyday concerns -- try to stop thinking.
  • Concentrate completely on one thing. This thing could be an image, a sound, or a word. It could even be something intangible, such as a feeling or a concept. Focus all your attention and concentration and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind. Stay focused until your feelings of stress have disappeared.

Other Tools for Managing Stress

Aside from the specific ideas for stress relief covered above, there are several other things you can do in order to prevent and manage your stress levels. These are not ideas to lower your stress in the moment, but rather techniques to lower your stress overall.

Become More Organized

Being organized is not just about being clean, or having a tidy house in case of visitors, but it can lower your stress level. If you know precisely where your keys and shoes are in the morning, you won't spend time searching for them and raising your stress level. Ways to be more organized include:

  • Tackling housekeeping on a regular basis instead of waiting for it to pile up
  • Clearing out clutter, such as unneeded or unwanted possessions
  • Paying bills on time
  • Managing correspondence on a regular basis

Improving Time Management

Good time management is a skill; some people just seem to have it, and others need to work a little harder at it. Part of managing time well is getting the things you need done, in the proper order, before doing the things that you want to do. It's not always that simple, but the key is to come up with a system that works for you.

Once you have your system in place, your mind can be put to more artistic and pleasurable pursuits, rather than trying to remember schedules and appointments. Your time management system could include:

  • Using your computer, your calendar, or your phone to record appointments and create tasks
  • Making "to-do" lists on paper
  • Creating a schedule for everything from paying bills to cleaning your house

Learn To Relax

Being organized and managing your time well are not all you need to manage and prevent stress. Being able to relax and truly let go of stressors is also necessary. Part of your stress management plan should be to spend at least a few moments each day to relax. The key is to use the tools you have at your disposal to calm your mind and body.

Institute a stress management plan, so that aside from dealing with your immediate response to stress, you also have an overarching plan that will help you prevent stress from becoming a problem in your life.

Basic Strategies in Stress Management