Sheryl Sandberg turns off her phone at night to prevent herself from staying up scrolling through emails or checking social media and ensure that she gets a good night's sleep. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki takes a break from stressful situations by taking time off to spend with her family. Oprah Winfrey spends some time meditating every morning.
A little anxiety is good for you. It motivates you to work harder and accomplish what you need and want to do. But too much stress and anxiety can be overwhelming and take a toll on your mental health, not to mention your physical health and well-being. (If you're experiencing that rapid heart rate, fight-or-flight response around the clock, for instance, that's too much!)
Here are seven stress management techniques successful people use to relax and cope with every day stressors. Try them out yourself—they'll not only help you manage stress, but improve your health and well-being overall!
1. Create a routine.
Creating a routine for the small decisions you have to make every day—such as what to wear, what to eat, when to sleep, when to answer your emails, and so on—can keep you from getting overwhelmed when you have to make the bigger decisions that really matter.
That's why Barack Obama became accustomed to wearing only gray or blue suits. “I’m trying to pare down decisions," he told Vanity Fair in 2012. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
2. Stay positive.
It may sound a little cheesy, and is probably easier said than done, but maintaining a positive attitude can lead to stress reduction and go a long way in improving your mental health.
If you have a tendency to view the glass as half full, it may be difficult to immediately jump into a Pollyanna mentality. Start small by reframing your negative thoughts and negative self-talk. Instead of feeling like a complete failure when something doesn't go the way you hoped it would, think about what you might learn from the experience and how it can help you grow.
You won't gain anything by perseverating on the stressful situation and how it didn't go the way you wanted it to. You'll probably feel worse. Reframing is a good coping technique that can not only reduce your stress level in the moment, but can also help you plan out the next steps for resolving the situation or improving upon it the next time something similar happens.
3. Practice mindfulness and meditation.
Oprah swears by meditation. Other successful people rely on meditation as a major relaxation technique as well.
Getting into the practice of taking a few minutes to understand your thoughts and focus on deep breathing can help you manage stress throughout your life. (In fact, even taking a few deep breaths can provide immediate relief and reduce the physical effect of stress in the moment.
If you're having trouble dismissing negative self-talk and presistent thoughts, try taking a class on meditation or listening to a guided meditation tape. Many people have trouble with the practice when they get started, and it can be helpful to have an experienced professional guide you through it.
4. Express gratitude for what you have.
Again, this may seem hokey, especially if you're a particularly pragmatic person, but according to research from the University of California, Irvine, people who practice gratitude substantially lowered their levels of stress and anxiety and saw an overall improvement in their mood. According to UC Irvine's findings, expressing gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.
So take a break from the stressors in your life and add "being thankful" to your to-do list. It will work best if you don't just use it selectively as a way to cope with stress as with happens; express gratitude for things you appreciate every day. You can make sure you have time for this important relaxation technique by starting every morning with a few minutes of gratitude. You'll likely see a great reduction in your stress levels.
Who doesn't want to get a runner's high when they're stressed out?
Exercise is an excellent way to deal with stress. Exercise reduces stress hormones and provides stress relief, as well as stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. That's why it's such a good way to deal with stress.
Regular aerobic exercise has a lot of other benefits, too. It improves your physical fitness and heart rate, as well as gives you opportunities to have time to yourself. If you join an intramural league to play a team sport, you'll have the opportunity to meet people and make new friends.
6. Focus on the big picture.
When you're stressed out, it can help to take a moment to consider the big picture. How much will this particular situation affect your life in the long run?
Like gratitude, taking a few moments to consider the big picture and your overall goals is an important item to add to your to-do list. It can provide some stress relief to focus on the important issues at stake, rather than smaller issues.
7. See a mental health professional.
If you're overwhelmed by anxiety and anxious thoughts, or just want help creating coping strategies and developing a relaxation response to the problems in your life, it may be time to seek the help of a therapist. Different forms of therapy, such a cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help you develop a stronger stress response, address the stressors in your life, and improve your mood overall.