Stress Management That Works: How To Be Less Stressed
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lori Jones, LMHC
Stress is just a part of life, right? While it’s true that everyone experiences stress from time to time, there’s a difference between managing stressful situations that are out of your control in a healthy way, and feeling overwhelmed by stress on a regular basis. Learning how to be less stressed can go a long way in improving your mental and physical health.
How to know when you need to reduce stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can impact your mood, body, and behavior. While some of these symptoms may seem minor, when left unchecked, they can lead to larger and more severe problems. The following symptoms can be signs that you’re struggling with too much stress.
Some of the physical signs of stress include:
- Upset stomach
- Chest Pain
- Muscle tension
- Change in sex drive
Some of the ways that stress can impact your mood include:
- Increased anxiety
- Irritability and anger
- Lack of motivation
Stress can also cause behavioral challenges such as:
- Social withdrawal
- Substance use
- Changes in eating habits
The symptoms above can be a lot to handle on their own, but they can lead to more serious problems. For example, stress has been connected with physical health problems such as high blood pressure and stroke. Higher levels of stress can also lead to mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. These are just a few of the reasons why it’s important to learn how to relieve stress.
What causes stress?
Identifying what’s causing the stress in your life is an important first step in learning how to manage it. This may be easy to do if you’ve just been through a major life event such as moving out of state, getting divorced, or starting a new job.
However, there are many smaller causes of stress that can easily go unnoticed if you don’t pay careful attention to them. These could include things like lacking time management skills, overcommitting your schedule, the pile of bills stacking up, or fear around the unknowns of the future. When you learn where the stress is stemming from, it helps you know what strategies may help the most in overcoming it.
How to be less stressed: Techniques and Tips
The following are strategies that can help you relieve stress in your life. Remember, that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. As you work to learn how to reduce stress, you may find that you need to try several different strategies to find what works best for you. Here are some strategies and techniques that you may want to try:
Stress causes your body to start to experience the fight-or-flight response. You may find that you start to take quick shallow breaths. This can have an impact on your heart rate and blood pressure, which long-term could lead to more serious health conditions. Learning how to practice deep breathing when you feel stress building may help stop this cycle for you.
Your body is designed to try to keep you safe. When your body thinks that you’re in danger, it releases stress hormones. These hormones are part of what triggers the fight-or-flight response. When you’re no longer under stress it can take several hours for your hormone levels to return to normal. If you struggle with stress on a regular basis, it can have a bigger impact.
And, since we aren’t usually in imminent danger when we feel stressed, we don’t need our body to react like it’s trying to save us.
For example, if you’re in the middle of a stressful day at work, you don’t really need to utilize the fight-of-flight response. Instead, you need to be able to focus on getting through your to-do list in an effective way. The natural response that might have helped you fight a bear or run to safety in the old days can make it harder to get through a regular day of stress now.
When you feel stressed, it can be helpful to take slow, deep breaths. This can help your heart rate to return to normal and bring down your blood pressure. These things can help you to relieve stress in the midst of it. Practicing deep breathing exercises when you’re not under stress can help you be ready to use these deep breaths when you’re in the midst of feeling your stress levels rise.
Change your thinking
Negative thinking can play a role in the stress that you experience in your daily life. If you tend to think negatively or see the glass as half empty, you may notice that you deal with more stress than those who think positively. Your thoughts play a role in your physical and mental health.
Making simple changes about how you think about yourself and the situations around you can go a long way in relieving stress in your life. For example, if you focus on thinking that a situation at work is too hard, it can make it feel harder than it really is.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
If you’re feeling stressed because you’re overwhelmed with tasks that need to be done, the PomodoroTechnique may be helpful. The strategy was developed by Francesco Cirillo. He was a college student trying to find out how to get done everything he needed to in less time. If you’re feeling stressed about how much you have on your to-do list, then you may be able to relate.
All you need to get started is a timer. There are several free apps you can use that are based on the Pomodoro Technique. All you need to do is set a timer for 25 minutes and then start working. During this time, you focus your attention on a specific task. If you finish that task then you can move on to another.
When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break. This is when you can get up and stretch, refill your water, or whatever you want as long as it’s not “work” related. When your 5-minutes is up, you reset the 25-minute timer and get started again. Then, you continue working through these work/rest cycles and when you hit the fourth rest cycle, you extend it to 25 or 30 minutes.
This strategy helps you make better use of your time by not getting distracted with things like email and social media when you’re supposed to be focused on a work project. You can also use this around the house if you aren’t working. For example, if you need to clean your house, you can set the 25-minute timer to keep you on task during the “working” part of the cycle.
Take control of your schedule
If you take a look at your schedule, you may find that you’re taking on too much. Having an over-committed schedule can add stress to your life. It may help to look at your calendar to see if you need to cut back.
Take time to establish what your priorities are. Then, if something doesn’t align with your priorities, you may benefit from cutting it out of your schedule. For example, you may want to bake cookies for the bake sale, but it might not be your best use of time if you’re struggling with feeling stressed.
You may also find that you struggle with an overcommitted schedule because you struggle with saying “no”. If you’re worried about upsetting people by not doing what they want you to, you may find that you end up with more on your schedule then what you can reasonably handle. Learning to address the root cause of this issue, such as low self-esteem or people-pleasing, can help you learn how to say “no” when you’re not able to take something on or simply don’t want to.
How therapy can help relieve stress
If you’re struggling and it feels like stress is building up, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. Sometimes there is an underlying cause of stress in your life that needs to be addressed to help you make real progress in managing stress. A therapist can work with you to help you identify any of these areas in your life. They can also help you to learn additional stress management strategies that can help you in your life.
If part of your stress is due to an overbooked schedule, it may be difficult to think about adding in therapy sessions. However, working with an online therapist, like those at BetterHelp, can make it easier. You don’t have to spend time commuting to and from your appointments. You can do them from anywhere you are comfortable with.
Remember, stress may be something that everyone experiences from time to time, but it shouldn’t be something that negatively impacts your life on a daily basis. If you feel like you’re overwhelmed by stress, using the strategies above and talking to a therapist may help you find how to be less stressed.