Stress Management Tips and Strategies

  • If you are feeling overloaded with too much to do, acknowledge that you cannot do it all at once! To help you better prioritize, make a list of your tasks and give each the following designation: Do, Delay, Delegate or Dump.
  • Remember to breathe. Try standing up and stretching your arms upward as you breathe in, then bending at the waist and letting your arms drop as you breathe out. You can also try to imagine yourself breathing “relaxation” in and “stress” out.
  • Try a mind-body technique called Thought Field Therapy, which is based on acupressure and applied kinesiology. Tap 7-8 times at each of the following “pressure points”: forehead, cheekbone (either side), upper lip, chin and collarbone (either side).
  • Another “pressure point” strategy: massage your ears! Starting at the top, gently pull along the outside edge of each ear and then carefully pull down on lobes.

Use cognitive therapy, which addresses negative thought patterns that can set you up for a lot of stress and misery:

  • Holding unreasonable expectations of yourself and others, or being ruled by shoulds and musts (e.g., everyone must like me; I should never disappoint someone by saying “no”)
  • All or nothing thinking – maintaining rigid perceptions and beliefs that can limit you and make everything more difficult (e.g., not taking the opportunity to exercise for 20 minutes because you think you should do it for an hour)
  • Catastrophizing – whenever something goes a bit wrong, you imagine an ever-worsening sequence of events, until you’re so anxious you can’t even cope with the situation at hand
  • Negative self-talk – subjecting yourself to unrelenting criticism and blame; constantly doubting and second-guessing yourself; dissecting each social interaction and convincing yourself that everyone sees you as stupid, unattractive, or otherwise deficient

Find a “container” for whatever worries or distressing feelings (e.g., anger, guilt) are getting in your way. The container can be something you actually possess, or just something you imagine. It should be something that can be opened & closed, for example: a box, a basket, a cookie jar, a trash can, a drawer, a safe, a bank vault, etc. This is especially helpful when you have done everything you can to address a situation and/or it is not a good time (e.g., bedtime) to be burdened by something you can’t immediately resolve. Imagine yourself putting the worry or distressing feelings into the container and closing it up; or write down what you’re upset about and put the paper into the container. Using a container takes less energy than continually pushing your feelings away. It also puts you more in control, since you can decide when to “take out” the worry or concern and give it more attention, if necessary.

Source/Control Matrix:

High Control
Internal External
Low Control

Two variables that might affect how we deal with stress include degree of control we have (high, low) and source of the stressful situation (internal, external). Generally, it can be helpful to figure out what you can do to improve a situation, and then “let go” of the rest.

An example of a higher control/internal situation is when you stress yourself out by worrying, and you can fix it by deciding to stop! If you find that you cannot control anxiety, depression or strong emotional reactions on your own, this might be a reason to seek counseling or other mental health assistance.

A lower control/internal situation might be represented by a chronic health problem that only partially responds to whatever treatments are applied. Now, if you are having trouble complying with your doctor’s orders or maintaining healthy lifestyle habits (e.g., diet, exercise, sleep), this might also be a reason to consult a mental health professional for support around this issue.

A high control/external stressor might be loud music or television noise that you can simply turn off. Misbehaving children typify another relatively high control/external situation that can be appropriately managed and dealt with, assuming you have the knowledge, skills and ability to control your temper!

A lower control/external stressor might be a difficult neighbor or co-worker you have to deal with every day. If you find that the person is not willing to hear your concerns or modify his/her behavior, you might have to cope by minimizing your contact and developing more emotional “detachment” (i.e., taking things less personally). These strategies can help you avoid engaging with the person in a counterproductive way and thus exacerbating the problem. In extreme cases, you might end up concluding that a more drastic change is needed, e.g., moving or switching jobs, so that you won’t be indefinitely stressed by something/someone you can’t control.

Try charting a few stressors you’re dealing with on the matrix above, and then brainstorm some ways to cope with each one.