Sometimes it's not enough to just want to reduce stress. For many people, a concerted effort to pinpoint and reduce stressors begins with small steps and evolves into a big, positive life change. Creating a tangible plan to reduce your stress is a helpful first step.
Click on the image to the right to access a worksheet that will assist you in crafting your stress reduction plan. Respond to the questions by clicking on the "fill in here" lines and save the worksheet to your computer using the 'File' menu or diskette icon. You can also print the worksheet via the 'File' menu or printer icon if you would like a hard copy.
The worksheet is designed to help you along in following the steps below. Respond to the questions honestly for the best results and refer back to this worksheet often to monitor your progress.
Step One: Use a Stress Journal
What brings stress into your life? Work, financial issues and trying to manage a household are all common stressors that are tough to avoid. On the other hand, there are likely plenty of other aspects within your life that contribute to your overall stress levels.
It's important to acknowledge your stress. Far too many people simply accept stress instead of realizing that there may be ways to reduce it. HelpGuide.org suggests starting a "stress journal," which helps you keep a daily record of your stress levels and how you feel when encountering these stressors. You may realize that there are some stressors that you can either reduce or eliminate, such as draining volunteer projects or friendships that are toxic.
Click the image below to get started with a sample stress journal page. Print several copies of the page and fill one out every time you encounter a stressor throughout your day.
Maintain the stress journal for a week or two before reviewing it to help you realize what instances make you feel most stressed. You may be surprised by what makes you stressed, and you also may find that the act of writing is itself a stress reliever.
Step Two: Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors
Your stress journal should reveal what aspects of your life are stressing you out the most, and at this point you can start working toward reducing eliminating these stressors.
- Distance yourself from people who make you feel stressed.
- Drop any unnecessary activities that contribute to your stress.
- Delegate necessary tasks when possible.
While it is likely impossible to eliminate all of the negative stressors within your life, be bold in your pursuit of lessening stressful things from your life. Keep in mind that change itself can prompt stress, so stay mindful to how you're feeling as you make these changes.
Step Three: Introduce Positive Activities
Plenty of activities have been shown to help reduce stress. Try a variety of these activities to find what works best for you.
Cultivate Positive Friendships
Make an effort to spend time with the people who make you feel uplifted. The Cleveland Clinic says that close friendships can help reduce stress and may even extend your life by several years. The friends you have who genuinely help you feel good about yourself are the ones who can help reduce stress.
Laughing feels good, but it turns out that it can also reduce stress. Studies show that even laughing at a comedy film can significantly reduce stress hormones within healthy adults. Seek out situations that make you laugh on a regular basis in your efforts to reduce stress.
Listen to Music
PsychCentral actually refers to listening to music as a "stress management tool." This is true for both listening to music as a form of meditation as well as passive listening. The key is to find the music that helps you feel most relaxed and to listen to it often.
Many people tend to take shallow breaths when they experience stress. In some cases, shallow breathing can become the norm and further elevate stress levels, though deep breathing can have a calming effect. Reduce stress by making the conscious effort to take full, deep breaths throughout the day.
Step Four: Improve Your Health
Even when you can't necessarily reduce the amount of stress you encounter throughout the day, you can add certain habits to your routine that will help reduce the amount of stress your body holds onto.
Follow Medical Advice
While it's true that visiting a doctor can be stressful, the overall payoff is finding out you have a clean bill of health, or setting goals based on medical advice to reach a healthy state. Your physician can help you make a reasonable plan to get you as healthy as possible in an effort to help keep your stress levels low.
Control Your Eating
For you, this may mean making a better effort at eating more nutritious foods or it may mean getting your emotional eating under control. Regardless, the food you eat has a definite impact on your stress levels. Strive to eat healthy, balanced meals and don't allow your elevated stress levels to compel you to eat more than you need.
According to the American Psychological Association, regular exercise not only has the ability to make you feel better overall, but it can actually help stave off stress. Exercise will help your body cope with stress more effectively, reducing your overall stress levels.
Step Five: Get Help
If you follow all these steps and still feel as though your stress levels are too high, consider seeking out therapy from a licensed professional. A mental health professional may be able to help you create additional strategies to reduce your stress in ways that work best for you. Bring your stress journal and plan along on your first visit to show your therapist what effect stress has on your life and what steps you have already taken to manage it.
Take small steps toward your goal of reducing your stress, and remember that what works for someone else may not work for you. Try a variety of methods and keep track of how these lifestyle changes make you feel, noting which methods are the best way for you to get your stress levels under control.