Prevent stress setbacks
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Jul 20, 2006

Stress has a way of creeping back into your life and making you miserable. These simple stress management strategies can help you keep stress at bay. Stress doesn't have the upper hand anymore. What a feeling!

Perhaps you've mastered new time management techniques. Or you've learned to control your anger under pressure. Or maybe you've figured out how to problem-solve your cares away. But all the work is not behind you. To keep stress under control for good, you'll need to make a commitment to using the techniques you've learned.

Strategies for preventing setbacks
Stress is more likely to rear its ugly head again if you're not taking care of yourself. So put yourself first. Remember these strategies to stay on course:

  • Simplify your life. Rather than looking for ways to squeeze more activities or chores into the day, find a way to leave some things out. Ask yourself what really needs to be done, what can wait — and what can be dropped entirely. It's OK to say no.
  • Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day — both at work and at home. Delegate what you can, and break large projects into manageable chunks. Tackle the rest one task at a time.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate challenges. Whether it's preparing for a project at work, planning a family gathering or handling a sick child, being prepared can help you face stressful situations with confidence. Find a way to approach each task with humor. If necessary, set aside extra time to calm your frayed nerves.
  • Exercise regularly. Consider exercise a break from the tension of daily life. Exercise can help keep depression and anxiety at bay, too.
  • Eat smart. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can give you more energy — plus the fuel you need to keep stress under control. If you tend to nibble when you're stressed, don't let your emotions take over. Consider whether you're truly hungry before you have a snack. And don't be fooled by the jolt you may get from caffeine or sugar. It'll wear off quickly.
  • Adjust your attitude. If you find yourself thinking, "This can't be done," snap back to attention. Think instead, "This will be tough. But we can make it work." Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts can help you work through stressful situations.
  • Take a break. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take some time to clear your mind. A few slow stretches or a quick stroll may renew your energy for the task at hand. Or take a mental vacation. Imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing place. Let your mind wander. Picture yourself accomplishing your task.
  • Relax. Set aside time for yourself every day, even if it's only a few minutes. When you feel your muscles begin to tense, breathe deeply. Inhale to the count of six, pause for a second and then slowly exhale.
  • Laugh. Humor is a great way to relieve stress. Laughter releases endorphins — natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Studies suggest laughter may lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and increase circulation as well.
  • Let go. Take responsibility for your tasks, but don't worry about things you can't control.

Coping with setbacks
Feeling stressed is normal. And so are setbacks in dealing with stress. After all, behavior change doesn't happen overnight. If you lapse into your old ways, don't give up. Focus on what you can do to gain control of the situation.

If techniques that were helpful at first seem to lose their effectiveness, try something else. If you're facing new stressors, reconsider the best way to approach the situation. Remember, stress is a part of life. How you respond is up to you.