Stress management: Prevent setbacks

Stress has a way of creeping back into your life and making you miserable. These simple stress management strategies can help you keep stress at bay.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You’re improving at stress management. Perhaps you’ve mastered new time management techniques. Or you’ve learned to control your anger under pressure. That’s great. To keep stress under control for good, though, you need to make a commitment to using the stress management techniques you’ve learned.

Practicing stress management

Stress management isn’t a first-aid kit you pull out only in emergencies. Rather, it’s a set of tools you can use every day to deal with the big and little issues that come up. It’s a good idea to keep your tools sharp and even to add a few to your collection from time to time.

Be prepared for setbacks

Don’t get discouraged if you sometimes fail to handle a stressful situation as well as you might like. Change takes time, and setbacks are part of the learning curve. Learn from the experience, and plan to handle it better the next time. If you lapse back to your old ways, don’t give up. Focus on what you can do to regain control. Think about how it didn’t go well and what you can learn from the situation.

Strategies for preventing setbacks

Stress is more likely to come back if you’re not taking care of yourself. So remember to put yourself first. These strategies can help you focus.

Make time for yourself

Just 10 to 20 minutes of quiet reflection may relieve your stress and increase your tolerance for chronic stress. Listen to music, relax, and try to think of pleasant things or nothing at all. If you feel your muscles tense during the day, take a walk during a minibreak. Breathe deeply, inhale, pause for a second and then slowly exhale. Repeat this a few times. Consider trying meditation or mindfulness exercises.

Exercise regularly

Exercise can help keep depression and anxiety away. Get moving, such as by going for a walk most days of the week. Regular physical activity can benefit your body and mind. Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise about five days a week.

Eat smart

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can give you more energy to keep stress under control. Caffeine may give you a jolt of energy, but it will wear off quickly.

Get plenty of sleep

Aim to get plenty of sleep each night, which can help you deal with stress. Most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Have a consistent bedtime ritual. Plan to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. And remove tablets and cellphones from your bedroom, as the light from these devices can make sleep more difficult.

Resist overcommitting

Rather than looking for ways to squeeze more activities into the day, find ways to cut back. Remember, it’s OK to say no to new requests or commitments. Saying no is a complete sentence. When you say no to a new commitment, you’re honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you’ll be able to devote high-quality time to them.

Be prepared

Anticipate challenges. Whether you’re preparing for a project at work, planning a family gathering or handling a sick child, being prepared can help you face stressful situations with confidence. If necessary, set aside extra time to relax. If you have many tasks that need to get completed, make a to-do list and determine which tasks are most important.

Banish negative thoughts

If you find yourself thinking, “This can’t be done,” snap back to attention. Think instead, “This will be tough. But I can make it work. I can get through this.” Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts can help you work through stressful situations.

Visit with a friend

Connecting with a friend or family member can reduce your stress.

Keep laughing

Humor is a great way to relieve stress. Try watching a funny movie or reading some joke books. Laughter releases endorphins — natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Studies suggest that laughter may have many benefits that include boosting the immune system, increasing circulation and easing pain.

Seek help

If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if once-helpful techniques have lost their effectiveness, you may need to look for reinforcements. Many books, websites and support groups are dedicated to helping people get through tough times. You may also find it helpful to talk to a counselor or mental health professional. Sometimes an outside perspective can make all the difference.

Remember, stress is a part of life — it’s never going to disappear. But you have the tools to keep stress from taking over your life. Put them to good use. And remember, no one has a greater stake in your health and wellness than you.

June 24, 2021

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