How to Control Stress

Three Methods:Understanding StressSearching for Quick FixesInvesting in Long-Term Solutions

Sometimes, stress can be good. It helps us act when we otherwise might be paralyzed, spurring us to overcome obstacles. But chronic stress in everyday situations can be harmful to your health and psyche. The good news is that stress can be controlled with the right tools. With the right physical practice and mental makeup, stress can go from being the elephant in the room to the monkey off your back.

Method 1
Understanding Stress

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    Understand a bit about stress. Stress is physical or emotional tension or discomfort brought on by any perceived threat to our well-being.[1] While some stress can be good — planning your wedding, for example — other types of stress can be hazardous to your overall health. In this article, we'll examine ways to curb the negative kind of stress.
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    Recognize the symptoms of stress.[2] Stress can manifest in a number of different ways. Be on the lookout for both physical and emotional signs of stress. Here are some common ways stress affects people:
    • Physical signs
    • Tension
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Sleep problems
    • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
    • Non-physical signs:
    • Feeling numb towards one's feelings
    • Feeling powerless
    • Anger
    • Sadness or crying
    • Inability to focus
    • Worry
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    Realize some of the causes of short-term stress. Short-term stress is fleeting but powerful. Just because we know it's fleeting doesn't make it any less immediate. Short-term stress can be caused by :
    • Arguments
    • Feeling overwhelmed with too much work in too little time
    • Accumulations of small problems, like running late or getting a parking ticket
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    Know some of the causes of long-term stress. Long-term stress is more pervasive. In some cases, it can be brought on by a positive event in one's life, such as getting a promotion or having a child.[3] Long-term stress is arguably more hazardous to one's health because it can stew and fester for such a long time. With long-term stress, the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (ANS) initiates a fight or flight reaction semi-permanently, without ever letting the parasympathetic ANS relax the body and fully take over. Here are some of the common causes of long-term stress:
    • Death of a loved one or someone close to you
    • Experiencing a long-lasting illness or caring for someone with a long-lasting illness
    • Financial difficulties
    • Chronic problems at work or at home
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    Do not use drugs or abuse alcohol in order to deal with stress. Dealing with stress is a difficult arrangement. Sadly, taking drugs or abusing alcohol in order to deal with stress doesn't do anything to fix the stress. In the long run, using drugs and alcohol as a crutch actually creates more problems than it solves.
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    Know that stress can ultimately be prevented. It may seem like stress is a constant in your life, but there are ways to keep stress from encroaching on your happiness in the first place. This is more than just stress management, or what you'll find below; this is stress prevention. How do you do it?
    • Plan ahead. If you have a bout of short-term stress before every midterm, for example, it's worth planning ahead. Start studying a couple days before you normally do, and study when your concentration is at its peak. Plan out your social engagements so that you have a break every so often. Planning ahead will sometimes prevent stress altogether.
    • Create an order of operations. Assign priorities to certain tasks, and get the high-priority tasks done first and the low-priority tasks done later. Signing up for health insurance and signing up for the latest soccer tournament should not have equal priority. Prioritize accordingly.
    • Prepare for potentially stressful events. If you know a stressful event is on the horizon, prepare for it mercilessly. That way, when it comes time to give a presentation, for example, you'll feel confident that you have what it takes to deliver it effectively.

Method 2
Searching for Quick Fixes

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    Ask yourself: Is there really anything I can do about the situation? Take a step back. Look for some perspective. Sometimes, we get stressed about situations over which we have absolutely no control, like being stuck in a traffic jam. Letting the mind know that it's okay to relinquish control may be all you need in order to fight stress. So if you find out there's nothing you can do about your suddenly stressful situation, try not to worry about it.
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    Learn not to sweat the small stuff. Related to but distinct from the issue above, this method is all about using perspective to reduce stress. Life is full of problems — some of them big, some of them small. People who successfully ward off stress are often good about letting the small stuff slide and focusing on the truly important things.
    • Remind yourself of everything that's good in your life. Even in the disastrous event that you lose your job, there's still something to be salvaged. Remind yourself of everything you have, whether it's a loving husband or wife, grateful children, or attentive family; good health and safety; a roof above your head and a floor beneath your feet; or enough money to make sure you have the basics covered. Reminding yourself of all the things that you do have will make not stressing about the small stuff that much easier.
    • Remind yourself of the times you have been happiest in your life; memories which put you at ease and calm you down. These memories can have a powerful relaxing effect.
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    Fight stress with physical activity. Feeling stressed? Then get on a bike and pedal out that anxiety. Put on your running shoes and jog around the track. Change into your trunks and take a couple laps around the pool. Controlling stress is sometimes as easy as getting up and moving about.
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    Try meditation and breathing exercises. When stress takes over, the sympathetic ANS pumps adrenaline and other hormones into the body to prepare it for action. Usually, the parasympathetic ANS eventually takes over and calms the body down. You can help the parasympathetic ANS take over by practicing meditation and breathing exercises.
    • Combine meditation and breathing into one exercise by doing the following: Sit down comfortably and close your eyes. Begin taking slow, measured breaths. Take note of where in your body the breaths originate. After a while, let your body breathe entirely on its own while still focusing on the breath. Notice which parts of the body your breathing moves: From your hands and feet to the top of your head. If you begin to think about anything other than breathing, set your concentration back on those breaths and how they affect your body.[4]
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    Get social. After getting stressed out, it's tempting to try to isolate yourself from people. But evidence shows that being around trusted and amicable people can help ease stress.[5] It doesn't necessarily have to be your friends or family, although they are great social motivators; it can be acquaintances or simply people around in, say, in a coffee shop. Being around the right sort of people can do wonders for managing your stress.
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    Distract yourself. If your aim is improving concentration, distracting yourself probably isn't a very good idea. But that's not your aim, is it? Distraction can be an effective way of temporarily ignoring stress if you eventually use another method of controlling it (instead of just ignoring it).
    • Distract yourself by helping someone else. Change a stranger's tire. Help someone out with a buck. Help a senior across the street. Simple acts of kindness can reverberate if you let them.
    • Distract yourself with art. Beautiful images, videos, music, and games can all be used to keep you from fixating on a stressful event.
    • Distract yourself with a hobby. Pick your favorite thing to do in the world and do it. Chances are it's healthy and fun, and you're probably pretty good at it.
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    Focus on the positive. It may sounds Pollyanna-ish, but it truly helps some people. There's almost always a silver lining in stressful situations. On a sheet, divide the situation into possible positive and negative outcomes. Then do something symbolic to the negative outcomes, like ripping them apart or burning them up. Take the positive outcomes and let them inform your thinking instead of the negative outcomes.
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    Be simple. Our modern lives can be pretty complicated and demanding. It's easy to feel like the world is guiding us rather than the other way around. In order to feel like you have more control over your own decisions, try simplifying aspects of your life. Take that vacation you've been putting off for five years. Set aside time to relax with a warm cup of tea. Take walks with your family. Try filling your life with simple things. It's those simple things that often have the most powerful effects.
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    Try managing stress with music therapy. Music therapy is a breakthrough concept with a simple idea. Combine relaxation with music in order to fight stress, dementia, speech loss, rising blood pressure, and much more.[6] Scientists have found that music therapy helps people calm their mind and body through its order, rhythm, and predictability. Find a nice spot to let loose, turn on some relaxing music, and help control your stress/

Method 3
Investing in Long-Term Solutions

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    Make a stress-journal.[7] It may sound a little counterproductive to dwell on your stress in a journal, but it's actually healthy if you learn to deal with stress. Keep a journal with you at all times and write in it whenever you feel stressed. In your journal, jot down:
    • What caused the stress (if you're unsure, take an educated guess).
    • How you felt/feel, either physically or emotionally.
    • How you responded to the stress immediately.
    • What you did in order to make the stress go away.
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    Start sharing your thoughts. Being in a stressful situation can make you feel like you're alone on an island. Luckily, you're not. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with other people, whether they are friends, family, co-workers, or acquaintances, can make you feel like a burden has been lifted from your shoulders.
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    Maintain a healthy diet. When your body is running low on fuel, or is only running on the wrong kind of fuel, it's hard to muster up energy to fight stress. During this time, stress can seem particularly frightening and be particularly exhausting. Therefore, it's important to get a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Here are the foods you should generally try to avoid in order to reduce the effects of stress:[8]
    • High-fat foods. Foods high in trans and saturated fats, like butter, certain cheeses, and fast foods, can sap our energy while increasing our risk of heart attack. Not a good way to fight stress.
    • Simple carbohydrates. Carbs like white bread, white rice, and baked goods (cakes, muffins, etc.) are processed quickly by the body and stored as fat. Better to stick with complex carbohydrates instead — foods like whole wheat bread and pasta, as well as brown rice.
    • Sugar. Sugars are simple carbs which enter and leave the body quickly, meaning they give us a quick jolt and then cause us to crash. This crashing can contribute to a sense of anxiety or stress.
    • Caffeine. We supplement much of our diet with caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks. Like sugar, caffeine can cause us to crash if the body experiences a sudden drop-off. Having too much caffeine can also impair the body's natural sleep cycle.
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    Carve out enough time in your day to sleep. Stress and inadequate sleep can form a vicious cycle. On the one hand, a survey said that 2/3 of subjects associated their sleep problems with stress.[9] On the other hand, another study found that for each hour of sleep you lose during the night, your risk of stress increases 14%.[10] In other words, stress causes sleeplessness, and lack of sleep causes stress.
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    Reward yourself, but don't rely too much on incentives. It's okay to reward yourself when you manage to do something stressful. This gives us an incentive to work through difficult situations in order to do what we know is right. But don't rely on incentives in order to get you through stressful times. It can be unhealthy to always need an incentive. Sometimes you buckle down and do something because you want to do it or you know you should do it.
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    Ask for help. Actively solicit the advice of others and entertain their ideas. You never know when another perspective will really hit home. Asking for help may mean putting aside your ego, but it's worth it. People are generally keen on lending a helping hand. (It makes them feel good about themselves.) Learn take advantage of that largesse.
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    Reach out to a professional if these tips don't help you. In some cases, chronic stress takes hold and doesn't let go. It can lead to anxiety and depression, which spawn a host of other problems. These need to be dealt with promptly in order to make sure stress levels don't hit an unbearable level.
    • If you feel like your stress is causing you to undergo significant lifestyle changes or is keeping you from doing things you would otherwise do, seek out the help of a professional.[11]
    • If you feel like your stress is causing you to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol, seek out the help of a professional.


  • It would help if you included in your list activities you enjoy doing with your friends.
  • It would also help if you share your stress related situations with a friend, who might be able to offer a non-biased point of view.

Article Info

Categories: Managing Stress