Stress Management

Stress can be a negative or positive event. For example, beginning a romantic relationship, starting a new job, and moving are all stressful events.  There are a variety of types of stress, such as relationship stress, work stress, and environmental stress. Stress can be emotional or physical. What may be stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. Every person will react to stress differently. One person may be able to adapt successfully whereas others may develop long-term emotional difficulties. Stress tends to trigger the fight-flight-freeze response. However, most everyday stressors do not require fighting or fleeing.

Stress can influence the way we think, feel, and behave. It can make it difficult to attend to tasks, concentrate, or recall information. Stress may impact your mood which often leads to anxiety, irritability, nervousness, or sadness. The quality of our work and interactions with people can also suffer when experiencing stress. Sometimes, stress may cause people to experience sleep difficulties or experience changes in their eating and drinking behavior.

Stress can also make a person sick. There are a variety of direct physiological effects on the body, such as damage to the heart and the development of ulcers in the stomach. Stress can also have a direct cognitive and behavioral effect, such as memory loss and becoming easily distracted. Secondary effects of stress include exacerbating illness and delaying recovery.

Below is a list of some signs of stress:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest Pain
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed

After acknowledging and recognizing signs of stress, there are several strategies that can be used to manage and to deal with stress.

Be proactive! Plan ahead and attempt to anticipate problems. Apply time management techniques in order to manage schedules and develop structure and routine.  Plan self-care time in advance.

Express yourself! Whether it is through writing, journaling, singing, or dancing. Discover what form of self-expression helps you to express your emotions and help you to understand the emotions you may be experiencing.

Engage in social activities! Seek out friends and nurture your social relationships. Healthy relationships can provide support and provide a safe space to talk about stressors.

Exercise! Engaging in physical activities produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. Endorphins can also help to improve the ability to sleep which can also help to reduce stress, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration.

Explore nature! Go for a hike or walk in a natural environment. If you are not able to go outside and explore nature, objects or pictures of nature can also have a calming effect.

Make time for hobbies! Set aside time to engage in activities that you enjoy, such as reading, doing an art project, doing puzzles, playing games, or playing a sport.

Take a break! Plan some downtime. Perhaps use this time to meditate, practice yoga, pray, or listen to your favorite music.

Use humor! Watch a funny television show or read a newspaper cartoon. Laughter can be a great form of short-term stress relief. It can lead to increased endorphins and aid in muscle relaxation.

Remember, stress management does not need to take a lot of time. Five to twenty minutes may be more than enough to help one to manage stress. If you’ve taken steps to control your stress but symptoms continue or if you’re not sure what is the cause of the symptoms, see a medical doctor or consider seeing a mental health provider. Mental health providers can help to identify sources of stress and provide new coping tools to manage the stress.

Additional Stress Management Strategies:

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: a technique that helps to relieve tension.
  • Guided Imagery: a strategy that uses imagination and breathing strategies to promote relaxation.
  • Deep / Belly Breathing: a technique that involves deep abdominal breathing that helps to release stress
  • Mindfulness: a practice involving active, open attention on the present without judgement.

Exercises to Increase Self-Compassion

How self-compassionate are you?

How do you typically react to yourself?
  • What types of things do you typically judge and criticize yourself for (appearance, career, relationships, parenting, etc.)?
  • What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice some flaw or make a mistake (do you insult yourself, or do you take a more kind and understanding tone)?
  • When you are being highly self-critical, how does this make you feel inside?
  • When you notice something about yourself you don’t like, do you tend to feel cut off from others, or do you feel connected with your fellow humans who are also imperfect?
  • What are the consequences of being so hard on yourself? Does it make you more motivated and happy, or discouraged and depressed?
  • How do you think you would feel if you could truly love and accept yourself exactly as you are? Does this possibility scare you, give you hope, or both?
How do you typically react to life difficulties?

How do you treat yourself when you run into challenges in your life? Do you tend to ignore the fact that you’re suffering and focus exclusively on fixing the problem, or do you stop to give yourself care and comfort? Do you tend to get carried away by the drama of the situation, so that you make a bigger deal out of it than you need to, or do you tend to keep things in balanced perspective? Do you tend to feel cut off from others when things go wrong, with the irrational feeling that everyone else is having a better time of it then you, or do you get in touch with the fact that all humans experience hardship in their lives?
If you feel that you lack sufficient self-compassion, check in with yourself – are you criticizing yourself for this too? If so, stop right there. Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Most of us live in cultures that do not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that we’re being lazy and self-indulgent if we don’t harshly criticize ourselves. We’re told that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can
all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion (pp. 13-15). New York: William Morrow.

Self-Compassion Journal

Try keeping a daily self-compassion journal for one week (or longer if you like.) Journaling is an effective way to express emotions, and has been found to enhance both mental and physical well-being. At some point during the evening when you have a few quiet moments, review the day’s events. In your journal, write down anything that you felt bad about, anything you judged yourself for, or any difficult experience that caused you pain. (For instance, perhaps you got angry at a waitress at lunch because she took forever to bring the check. You made a rude comment and stormed off without leaving a tip. Afterwards, you felt ashamed and embarrassed.) For each event, use mindfulness, a sense of common humanity, and kindness to process the event in a self-compassionate way.


This will mainly involve bring awareness to the painful emotions that arose due to your self-judgment or difficult circumstances. Write about how you felt: sad, ashamed, frightened, stressed, and so on. As you write, try to be accepting and non-judgmental of your experience, not belittling it nor making it overly dramatic. (For example,“I was frustrated because she was being so slow. I got angry, over-reacted, and felt foolish afterwards.”)

Common Humanity.

Write down the ways in which your experience was connected to the larger human experience. This might include acknowledging that being human means being imperfect, and that all people have these sorts of painful experiences. (“Everyone over-reacts sometimes, it’s only human.”) You might also want to think about the various causes and conditions underlying the painful event. (“My frustration was exacerbated by the fact that I was late for my doctor’s appointment across town and there was a lot of traffic that day. If the circumstances had been different my reaction probably would have been different.”)


Write yourself some kind, understanding, words of comfort. Let yourself know that you care about yourself, adopting a gentle, reassuring tone. (It’s okay. You messed up but it wasn’t the end of the world. I understand how frustrated you were and you just lost it. Maybe you can try being extra patient and generous to any wait-staff this week…”)

Practicing the three components of self-compassion with this writing exercise will help organize your thoughts and emotions, while helping to encode them in your memory. If you keep a journal regularly, your self compassion practice will become even stronger and translate more easily into daily life.

Neff, K. (2017). Exercise 6: Self-Compassion Journal. Retrieved from

Mindfulness: Frequently Asked Questions

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice based on Buddhist meditation techniques, which was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present moment, including thoughts and feelings, without judging them good or bad. It involves living in the moment and being aware of the experience. Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to what is happening now, in the present moment.

Who can use mindfulness?

Anyone can do mindfulness practice and everyone can benefit from mindfulness strategies. Find ways to cultivate strategies that work best for the individual. Even children and adolescents can practice mindfulness with some modification to the exercises or strategies.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques can effectively reduce symptoms in many health conditions including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health including:

  •  Relieve and lower stress
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase body awareness
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Improve regulation of emotion
  • Improve regulation of attention
How can I begin practicing mindfulness?

Begin by setting aside time to practice. That’s it! After setting aside some time and space, begin to observe the present moment without judgement. If the mind wanders, as it will, return to the present moment. Do not judge yourself when the mind wanders. Recognize that your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back to the present moment by focusing on the breath.

Keep in mind that mindfulness takes practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin. It is normal for the mind and thoughts to wander during any mindfulness exercise or strategy.