Our mentors and page authors are not necessarily psychologists or therapists. Even when they are, this page is not medical or psychological advice and they are not creating a doctor/therapist-client relationship. You should consult a professional if possible and they can tell you whether this advice applies to your situation. If this is an emergency, you should call your national emergency number, like 911, or a mental health hotline, like 1-800-950-6264.
Stress is something we all face at some point in time. Chronic and acute stress can be, well, stressful at best and permanently damaging at worst. We do not recommend stress-related medications. Rather, use this three-step process to get control of your stress responses and live a happier, more relaxed life.
1. Create a mood diary/record of your stress.
Notice when you feel stressed every day and write it down. If you can, keep an hour-by-hour track of your life for a week or at least block out big activities you do each day. Then track your mood a few times during the day, at least once at the end of the day. Notice what activities caused stress and rank how happy you are from 1 to 10.
At the end of the week, observe the days you were least stressed and more happy. What types of activities did you do? Why was it a good day?
Observe the days where you were more stressed and unhappy. What made you more stressed? What made you unhappy? Can you do less of these activities?
Note that if you have anxiety surrounding certain events like talking to people on the phone, work, interviews, sick relatives, etc., you are probably combating anxiety and anxiety-related issues. Please see our page on anxiety as well: [coming soon].
2. Learn stress management and meditation techniques to combat acute and immediate stress.
There are two things I recommend in particular: mindfulness and progressive relaxation.
First, become more mindful. The key is to learn to be in your body and present in the moment, noticing everything that is happening around you. Stress is greatly reduced when you’re not focus on what might happen in the future or awful stuff that has happened in the past. Mindfulness also helps you focus on what you can control (your own actions) and not the results of what you do that you cannot control.
Download the app Smiling Mind. (We are not affiliated with them–or anyone else; we don’t do sponsorships.) They are the best free meditation app we have found. There is no spirituality or long lectures. It’s just active techniques to learn how to focus your mind.
Start with the basics, like breath focus and body scans. Move on through their 40-part introduction to meditation and build your way to longer and longer periods of mindfulness.
Smiling Mind has a specific meditation for when you are in emergency stress situations. Try it. The key is to focus on taking deep breaths from your belly and knowing you are okay.
Second, learn progressive relaxation. You basically tense a group of muscles while you breathe in and relax when you breathe out.
For each muscle group, breathe in, tense (not too hard to be painful) and hold for 10 seconds. Then breathe out and relax the entire group all at once. Relax for 10 to 20 seconds before the next group and focus on your how body feels before and after (this is where mindfulness comes in handy!). After you’re done with all your muscles, focus on your surroundings for 10 to 20 seconds to bring yourself back into the present and your body.
Here is a list of the muscle groups in order and what to do. Lie down when you’re doing this exercise if possible. It’s okay to only do some muscle groups if you’re not feeling up to everything. (Source: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225.)
|Muscle group||What to do|
|Wrists and forearms||Extend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist.|
|Biceps and upper arms||Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.|
|Shoulders||Shrug them (raise toward your ears).|
|Forehead||Wrinkle it into a deep frown.|
|Around the eyes and bridge of the nose||Close your eyes as tightly as you can. (Remove contact lenses before you start the exercise.)|
|Cheeks and jaws||Smile as widely as you can.|
|Around the mouth||Press your lips together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your lips.)|
|Back of the neck||Press the back of your head against the floor or chair.|
|Front of the neck||Touch your chin to your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head.)|
|Chest||Take a deep breath, and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds.|
|Back||Arch your back up and away from the floor or chair.|
|Stomach||Suck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)|
|Hips and buttocks||Press your buttocks together tightly.|
|Thighs||Clench them hard.|
|Lower legs||Point your toes toward your face. Then point your toes away, and curl them downward at the same time. (Check the area from your waist down for tension.)|
Here are some other suggestions. Find what works for you and what makes you less stressed and happier in the moment. If you’re really stressed, go do some of these things until you’re capable of moving on.
- Drink green tea.
- Eat chocolate or honey.
- Put your head below your heart.
- Say ABC’s backward or count up in sevens.
- Take a nap. Sometimes your mind needs to heal after stressful events the way you need to sleep to recover after you’re physically hurt.
- Massage yourself.
- Use a stress ball.
- Massage your scalp with the pads of your fingers. (This also does wonders for healthy hair growth.)
- Clean your room or your computer.
- Do some vigorous exercise.
- Listen to a song you love.
- Cuddle with a pet.
- Watch comedy.
3. Schedule relaxing activities into your week to combat chronic stress.
To be less stressed and combat stress in the long term, it’s very important to sleep well, stay healthy, and schedule relaxing activities into your week every week. Treat it like your job. Don’t skip it.
Especially plan relaxing activities for days that are usually stressful for you (and after keeping a stress/mood diary, you should know when that is)! For example, plan an hour of playing the piano or drawing after you call your in-laws. Schedule a massage for Wednesday evenings half-way through your work week.
Here are a list of some suggestions that might help you relax. Remember that when you are relaxing, you should focus on what you’re doing in the moment and not let your mind wander. Learning mindfulness helps you do that.
- Meditate for an hour. Focus on your breath and the sounds around you.
- Drive somewhere/walk/bike/hike with beautiful scenery and watch nature/oceans or leaves/rivers or mountains/people.
- Have a nice tub bath.
- Read a good book.
- Make a fancy meal.
- Call a loved one.
- Write a letter to yourself.
- Write a poem.
- Write a diary entry.
- Do some slow exercise or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Have a warm drink.
- Have something sweet to eat.
- Listen to music.
- Watch home videos from a time when you were happy.
- Pet an animal.
- Adopt an animal.
- Play with your children.
- Play a board game.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Sew or knit.
- Do math puzzles or crosswords.
- Watch a foreign movie or a movie in a genre you usually don’t see.
- Draw a picture or color one.
- Schedule a massage or acupuncture.
- Listen to a podcast.
- Volunteer to help people, animals, or the planet.
- Write a song.