11 Practical Ways to Manage Stress

Ask just about anyone you know how things are going these days, and you’ll get the same answer: busy. Especially if you’re speaking with parents. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, even with the modern conveniences that promise to free our time.

The end result is that everyone is feeling stressed. Overwhelmed. Anxious. The good news is that there are steps you can take right now to start feeling immediate relief.

Steps you can take on your own

#1. Develop your morning routine

I have to be honest, I hate mornings. I think I could stay in bed for hours most days. But on those mornings that I make the extra effort to go through a routine to properly set the tone for my day, I always feel better and experience a better day.

What might a morning routine look like? I think a combination of mental and physical exercise is a good way to start. For me, it might be something like:

  • Get up and do some slow stretches
  • While stretching, go through a mental gratitude list
  • Some calisthenics, push-ups, sit-ups etc.
  • Hot shower, continue gratitude list
  • Mindfulness/prayer
  • Baby time – hold, cuddle, play with baby
  • Breakfast, coffee, start the day

Whatever you do, don’t wake up and start doing emails. Take time to get centered, realize what’s important in life and approach your day with that mindset. Then the issues that arise won’t seem so terrible, and you’ll be better equipped to handle them.

#2. Use nature

Studies show that being outside, even for five minutes, lowers stress levels. Humans developed in nature and need to commune with it. It could be a little walk, sitting in the grass or chatting with the neighbors while out on the porch.

If you feel like you don’t have time, try to build it into your day. Can you take a ten-minute break at work to walk outside? Can you turn a meeting into a walking meeting? How about doing some phone calls from an outdoor table or bench? If that seems undoable, schedule weekend getaways to do some longer walks, hikes or rides through the countryside.

#3. Release it

Stress is like a buildup of energy in your body, and releasing it feels good and can lift your mood. Exercise is key to releasing stress. It can be a casual walk or a serious session at the gym, but see if you can make some time for it, possibly combining it with #2.

Another way to release could be working a punching bag for a little while, or even punching a pillow. Try it, it feels good. While you have the pillow out, try screaming into it, another type of release. You could also try muscle relaxation, tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.

Artistic endeavors are another type of release: journaling, writing, painting or any creative outlet or craft project. Or you could just blast some twelve-year-olds in a video game while laughing at their comments about your mom. Don’t mention that one to my wife.

Steps you can take with others

#4. Develop your support system

Nobody can make it through life on their own. We need each other and can help each other through stressful situations. If you have a network of friends and family that you can rely on and that can rely on you, make sure to connect with them regularly. Nurture those relationships and be willing to give of yourself and listen to them.

If you don’t have this network, you’ll need to start developing it. There might be a coworker or acquaintance you could get to know better. Developing friendships might not be your forte, but it’s easier than you think: take a genuine interest in someone and treat them the way you would like to be treated.

#5. Talk about it

This support system is necessary for step five. You need to be able to talk about what’s bothering you. You don’t want to be the person that’s constantly unloading on everyone, but at times you will need to decompress. Sometimes it’s an in-depth discussion about what’s going on in your life. Sometimes you just need to vent to a listening ear.

And if you’re on the receiving end, make sure to just listen at times without giving advice. People often just need to unload without hearing feedback.

#6. Enjoy living

A little getaway can do wonders. Hire a sitter, go to the steakhouse with your honey and finish the night in the bedroom. Sexy times can be de-stress magic. Or get on Groupon, purchase a massage or spa package and have at it. As Tom Haverford would say, treat yo self.

An extension of this would be family or friends time. Play with and enjoy your kids or dog or pets. Spend a night with the guys or girls. Stay in, cook, play games or hit the town. However you spend the time, make it count.

Steps you can take within your mind

#7. Break it down

When we have huge projects looming in our minds, we tend to blow them out of proportion. They cause us more stress because we’re thinking about accomplishing these monumental tasks rather than taking a step. To remedy this, we can focus on only that portion of a project that we need to tackle today. Write a to-do list and include on it only what needs to be finished today. Focus on finishing a step rather than traversing a mountain.

#8. Visualize it

Stress is often anxiety, and anxiety is often about something that might happen in the future. So there’s a mental exercise you can use to relieve this anxiety. Play through the entire stressful scenario in your mind. Think through the worst possible outcome. How would you react? What would you do in that case?

We often feel better after this exercise because we realize that it’s not as bad as we had imagined. And we realize that if the worst happens, we will take other steps to compensate. Most of the time, the worst outcome doesn’t ever materialize; but if it does, this exercise helps us prepare for it, lessening its impact.

#9. Manage expectations

You might be avoiding some curse words that you don’t want the kids to pick up. But there’s a more important curse word than the ones on that list: should. I should be further along in my career. I should own a home. I should have a family by now.

Expectations of where we should be in life or even of what our day should look like create stress for us. Work to let go of them. Don’t compare your life to what you see from friends on Facebook (their lives aren’t as wonderful as they’re letting on either). You’re where you need to be right now. If you can find gratitude for what’s in your life today, you will feel a sense of peace and fulfillment. Try to think about, or make a list of the things that are going right in your life; focus on these instead of the things that don’t seem to be going well.

#10. Gain perspective

Do you remember that thing at work that was really bothering you five years ago? Neither do I. While in the moment, we often feel like our daily annoyances are the end of the world, but as we always have, we will get through them.

Ask yourself: will this [problem, issue, item, annoyance] matter to me in five years? At the end of the day, will I still have my family, kids, friends etc. – the things that are really important in life? Try to remember the old adage, this too shall pass.

#11. Use mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” For me, mindfulness is a method of focused breathing that I use to feel peace.

Typically, I will sit up, close my eyes, and breath in deep through my nose; I pause at the top and then breathe out slowly through my mouth. I focus my attention on this breathing. As thoughts begin to enter my mind, I just observe them and don’t engage with them; like watching them pass by outside a car window. It takes some practice, but can be really effective in relieving stress. See this video if you want to learn more.

Bonus step

#12. Embrace it

Now that I’ve given you eleven great ways to manage stress, I’m going to pose a question: is being stressed a bad thing? In decades past, the mindset was that whatever didn’t kill you made you stronger. Today, most of us act as if we’re doing something wrong if we have challenges in our lives; but challenges are what cause us to grow and develop and become better versions of ourselves.

I’ll leave you with this video from Kelly McGonigal. In her TED talk, she reveals the findings of a very important study about stress. The study found that stress was, literally, a killer…

…but only for those people who believed that stress was bad for them.


Thanks for reading.

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Ethan Ruzzano Written by:

Ethan is a former musician and artist who is in love with being a dad. He balances his time between family, work and his other passions. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Casie and daughter, Olivia.

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