January 31, 2023

We live in a stressful culture, but there are ways to manage stress and preserve health.

Chronic stress is bad for our bodies and our mental health. We know we feel better if we can lower our stress levels, but sometimes that seems difficult. (Now we’re stressed about fighting stress!) There’s no magic wand to get rid of the things in our lives that cause stress, but some big-picture thinking about what causes stress may offer inspiration on how to take some pressure off.

Consider these four strategies for lowering stress:

1. Exercise keeps a lid on stress.

Physical activity helps with lowering stress both long-term and in the moment. Regular exercise helps limit the amount of cortisol and other stress-response hormones your body releases. A chronic dose of these “fight-or-flight” stress hormones lead to inflammation and related health problems. Short-term, on a particularly stressful day, even a quick workout helps blow off steam. Going for a run or a walk, lifting weights, (maybe punching a pillow?) for even 20 minutes will take the edge off whatever’s making you tense and irritable.

2. Identify what, exactly, is stressing you out.

Try keeping a stress journal for a week or two. Write down events or situations that cause a bad physical, mental or emotional response. Those negative physical reactions to stress can include crankiness and other bad moods, digestive problems, poor sleep and other more. Describe the time, place and how you felt. Rate your stress level on a scale of 1 to 5. Another option is to make a list of all of the demands on your time and energy for one week and rate your stress level for each one on a scale of 1 to 5. These techniques can help you find the things in your life that are the most stressful to you. After you’ve figured out what triggers your stress the most, think about how to reduce the stress from each trigger. Can you cut out any of the things that cause you stress? Can you take a different approach to certain situations in order to make them less stressful? Try to put these new ideas into practice.

3. Improve your time management skills.

This can help you identify goals, set priorities and minimize stress. Many people feel stress because there are so many demands on their time and energy. Once you have examined your stress triggers and cut unnecessary demands on your time, prioritize the remaining demands in your life. Focus your time and energy on the demands that are most important. Spend less time and energy on the demands that are less important to your life. Perhaps you can delegate certain responsibilities to other people to cut down on your stress.

4. Prevent job burnout.

Stress from your job can affect your professional and personal relationships, your home life, your livelihood and your health. Identify the specific things about your job that are the most distressing. Do you have an unrealistic workload? Are you unhappy with your salary? Are office politics getting out of hand? Once you understand specifically how your job is wearing you down, think about how to improve that part of your job. Maybe you need to take more short breaks throughout the day. Try taking a walk — outside if possible — to clear your mind. If these strategies don’t relieve your feelings of burnout, it might be time to find a new job.

No matter what its biggest source may be, if you’re having trouble lowering stress, it may help to see a psychologist or counselor.