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How to Reduce Your Stress Level

Updated on April 10, 2013

Stress is bad. So bad that over the long term it can weaken your immune system and actually make you more susceptible to colds and other viruses1, in addition to increased blood pressure2. The good news is that there are many things you can do for yourself to lessen the impact of everyday stresses, increase your tolerance of If, and let you spend more time focusing on the things that make you happy! If you'd like to get relief from the stress in your life, here are a few tips worth trying. Of course if you suffer from severe disabling stress, see a qualified professional immediately.

Identify and Quantify

I'd like you to try something. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Write at the top of the page "Top Stresses" and then list five of the things that cause the most stress for you. If you're able to readily produce a longer list, fine, but if not, don't worry about that- just start by getting five things down on paper.

Now, for each item on your list, I'd like you to assign a number between one and ten where one describes a very small amount of stress, maybe enough to make you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, and ten is seriously uncomfortable where the stress is very hard to ignore. Don't dwell on the items on your list, just think of them enough to gauge them.

Naturally these numbers will probably be on the high side; if they were low, the items wouldn't be on the list. Keep in mind also that these numbers have meaning for you and only you. One person's 7 might be another more stress-tolerant person's 5.

Sample Top Stresses (click to expand)

Sample Stress Detail (click to expand)

Sample questions (click to expand)

Focus your Efforts

To start, circle the item on your list with the highest number, or, if more than one item shares the highest number, pick one of them. Now, either on another sheet of paper or in the remaining space on the sheet with your list, try to list as many reasons you can why this item stresses you. See the illustration to the right for an example. We'll call this your stress detail for X, where X is the item you picked.

Now we're going to go a level deeper. Below are some questions I'd like you to answer regarding each reason on your stress detail. These questions may require more than a little thought and it may be uncomfortable (in a constructive way) to be honest with yourself while answering them, but the more thought out and honest your answers, the better the chances of finding a solution.

The questions:

  1. Why does this affect me?
  2. What can I do to improve this?
  3. What can I do to better accept the things I can't improve about this?

The first question is meant to help you understand more about your individual stress tendencies. The second and third questions can help you form a detailed action list of things you can do to neutralize, or at least lessen, the stress you experience from a given source. The illustration at the right extends these concepts using the example in the previous illustration.

Use the Data

I'd like you to take all of your answers to question #1 and identify categories that encompass them. The fewer categories you can consolidate your answers into the better.

This is your warning mechanism. When some event in your life crosses into the boundaries of one of these categories, there's probably a good chance that it will cause you stress. Now that you have identified some categories, you can be on the watch for them.

Your set of question #2 anwers is your response mechanism. We all know that it is impossible to always avoid all stressfull situations, but as with a fire drill, if we have a planned and practiced response, we tend to get burned less. Not never, but less.

The answers you came up with for question #3 are the ones you want to train yourself to automatically implement after you have taken all the actions you can to combat the stress you are feeling.

Now that you have compiled these solution steps, use them! Using the advice you have generated for yourself, practice anticipating stressfull situations, taking the initiative to counteract their effect on you, and handling the stress you can't eliminate.

After a couple of weeks or whatever period of time it takes you to practice your answers, go back to the Top Stresses list and compare the number you would now rate the item you focused on to the number you initially gave it. If the number is now lower, congratulate yourself on your personal improvement. If you can't honestly say that you've lowered your stress level with respect to the item you've been working on, don't despair! In response to the idea that he had failed after 10,000 tries to create a storage battery, Thomas Edison stated, "I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Believe in yourself and don't ever give up!

Day to Day Helpers

Here are a few things which, in addition to your personalized, self generated answers described above, can help you cut stress out of your life:

Exercise If you're healthy enough to do so, starting an exercise plan can be a very helpful tool in reducing your stress levels. It doesn't have to be big- even adding five minutes of walking to your daily routine can have a noticeable difference.

Laugh A study done at the Oak Crest Health Research Institute3 came to the conclusion that anticipating a mirthful laughing experience boosted health-protecting hormones.

Eat Healthier Add more fruit, grains, and vegetables to and cut down on the junk food, if any, from your diet. It's easier to feel good when your body is healthy.

Good luck!


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