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Stressed looking person holding glasses while other hand is pinching the bridge of their nose

Take Control of Stress


For many people, just thinking about the word adds chaos to their lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Stress is simply our body’s response to change. The hormones that trigger it are the same that cause our “fight or flight” response. By altering how you look at stress, you can change how it affects you. Curbing stress lies in recognizing its symptoms, discovering what changes cause it to occur, and deciding how to deal with it.

Piece of cake, right? We think so, if you’re willing to give these steps a try.

Stressed looking person holding hands together under chin

Step 1: Stop what you’re doing

Breaking the stress response starts with recognizing the signs. There are many physical side effects, but common experiences include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Stomach upset
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Inability to focus

When you start to feel these symptoms, it’s important that you intervene. Allowing stress to become a regular part of your life will take a toll on your health. It weakens your heart, increases your risk of a heart attack, and can lead to weight gain, substance abuse and social withdrawal.

Person with closed eyes meditating on couch

Step 2: Breathe in and out

When you start to feel stress, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing exercises will help slow down your heart rate and release physical tension.

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Step 3: Reflect on what caused it

Once your breathing is under control, turn your focus to what activated your stress. Many things can cause stress, both positive and negative. Stress can come from something as simple as planning a night out with friends, or daily hassles like rush hour or navigating a crowded grocery store.

Stress triggers are categorized into four categories:

  • Situational: Things like traffic, family visits or problems at work.
  • Mental or emotional: Such as worrying about your health, anger at someone’s behavior, grief and fear.
  • Physical: Reactions to injury, pain or stimulants like caffeine.
  • Behavioral: Actions like yelling, crying or obsessive and excessive behaviors, such as overeating, smoking or alcohol abuse.

Understanding what is responsible for your stress empowers you to overcome it.

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Step 4: Choose how to react

When you are aware of where your stress is coming from, you can choose the appropriate action to alleviate it. You may need to explore a few stress management exercises to learn what works best for you.

Methods to relax and reduce stress include:

  • Exercising and regular physical activity
  • Socializing with friends and family
  • Yoga
  • Meditation, particularly body scan meditation
  • Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing
  • Guided imagery (imagining a calming place, person or time)
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening a muscle group, releasing it and repeating)
  • Practicing mindfulness (being in the moment)
  • Setting aside time for hobbies

We also like these five unexpected ways to reduce stress!

You can control stress
Mastering this technique will help you halt stress in its tracks. But you may benefit in other ways as well. Without the burden of stress, you will have more energy to devote to the tasks and activities in your life that are meaningful to you. And by following these steps, you will learn a lot about yourself, and can discover self-acceptance.

But if you try these steps and stress is still severely impacting your life, it is important to seek the help of a physician. You can find a primary care or behavioral health provider near you on OhioHealth.com.