person who is stressed

Understanding and Dealing With Stress

Introduction > What Is Stress? > Signs of Stress > Dealing with Stress > Long Term Strategies > Resources

Leading a More Stress-free Lifestyle

While quick fixes can make a difference, sometimes we need to make larger changes in our life to deal with stress. Again, keeping your body healthy helps you bounce back more quickly from stress and can have a great impact on your mental stress levels and health.

Some Steps to a Healthier, More Stress-free Lifestyle Include:

Exercise Regularly

Do something to get your blood pumping. This keeps your heart and lungs healthy. Walk, jog, run, dance, bike, swim, play tennis or handball, bowl, take yoga, lift weights, try aerobics, hike, climb rocks -- the options are endless. Just beware of competitive sports if you tend to become angry or anxious when playing to win. Pick a sport that will help you relax, not increase your stress.

Adopt a Hobby

Have an activity that's strictly for your own pleasure. This could be singing, playing an instrument, painting, knitting, bird watching, beach combing, photography, or ceramics; again, the options are endless. Make this your chance to 'escape from the world' for a while.

Stop Smoking

Many people light up when they are stressed, without realizing that this is making their stress even worse. The nicotine in tobacco causes a stress response in our body. If that's not enough to make you quit, think about all the stressful illnesses smoking contributes to, such as cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Or think of the immediate effects: bad breath, yellowed teeth, wrinkles, and increased phlegm. If you are a smoker, talk to a doctor, a nurse, or a friend about help in quitting. If you live or work around people who smoke, try to avoid their secondhand smoke.

Eliminate or Reduce Caffeine

A little pick-me-up in the morning may not be a bad thing, but relying too heavily on caffeine (either drinking large amounts or drinking it continuously throughout the day) can put your body into stress overdrive. Caffeine stimulates a stress response in your body (that's what that pick-me-up is!) Too much can leave you feeling constantly stressed. When cutting back, remember that caffeine comes in other forms besides coffee -- non-herbal teas, colas, chocolate, many pain-killers, and 'stay awake' products -- so watch what you put in your body.

Eat Healthily

You are what you eat and sticking to a healthy diet will help keep your body strong. Reduce salt, which can lead to tension and high blood pressure, and eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Remember to eat regularly so you have enough energy. But try not to make your eating habits another stressful part of your life! Giving in to an occasional craving for a chocolate cookie or being rushed for time and eating a fast food lunch is not the end of the world, as long as these are occasional lapses and not regular habits.

Sleep Regularly and Get Enough Sleep

Base your sleep on what you need, not the needs of others around you. If you need eight hours of sleep a night to feel good throughout the day, don't worry that your spouse/sister/parents need less or more. Every person has different sleep needs, and the majority of Americans do not get enough sleep. Once you know how many hours you (usually) need a night, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule so that you can get the most from your sleep time.

Learn a Relaxation Technique

Count your breath. Belly breathe. Make funny faces and wiggle your toes. Find a habit or technique that helps you relax on a day-to-day basis. Just make sure it's one you can do regularly without it affecting your job, school, family or social life. Screaming at the top of your lungs may feel like a great stress relief, but it's not going to get you any promotions or win you any friends.

Avoid Overusing Drugs and Alcohol

If you take medication, be sure to use the proper doses. If you drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink to no more than 1-2 drinks per day. Avoid all illegal substances. If you have an alcohol or drug problem, going through withdrawal can also cause stress; so be sure to work closely with your physician or a counselor when addressing your problem.

These are just some of the many ways you can reduce your stress. Visit your doctor; talk to a physical therapist or counselor; take an exercise class; check out a book on relaxation; or research other techniques online. (For specific recommendations, visit the Tools and Resources section.) Or you can come up with your own techniques or activities! What's important is to find something that works for you -- this means something that you feel comfortable doing, can do easily and regularly, and makes you feel better.

Next: Test: Dealing with Stress: Long-term and Mental Strategies

Mountain State Centers for Independent Living