Everyone experiences stress from time to time. It is not really possible to avoid stress entirely in your life. There are ways to reduce stress; however, as well as strategies for managing the stress you cannot avoid. Making a stress management plan for yourself will help you to lead a calmer and healthier life. This lesson will focus on long-term strategies for coping with stress. These techniques will be useful throughout your life. Adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including diet, exercise, and sufficient sleep is something that will help you in all aspects of your life. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, hormones that diminish the sensation of pain, and induce feelings of happiness and well-being. Leaving enough time in your schedule to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep will keep your mind and body functioning at their peak. Since excessive caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns, and contribute to stress by making you jittery, you should avoid consuming too much. Eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep will not only keep your body in shape, it will also allow you to tolerate stress more easily, and help you to be more emotionally resilient. Planning ahead can make big projects seem more manageable. Break large tasks up into smaller steps and create a schedule for completing each step. This will help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed. This method can be applied to study habits, assignments, exercise goals, and even cleaning or organizational projects. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Look at your schedule and see if there are any activities that you can eliminate in order to give yourself more time to relax. It may help to prioritize tasks in order of importance so you can decide what needs to be done today and what can be done at another time. That being said, sometimes there are tasks that have been on our “to do” list for quite some time but they never seem to get done because there is always something more pressing to complete. While it is good to prioritize and accomplish the most important tasks first, sometimes the things we have been postponing can become a source of stress since they are constantly looming over our heads. In that case, it’s best to just jump in and complete the task so you can finally cross it off your list. Getting it done will give you a burst of energy and help you to feel satisfied with your accomplishments. Sometimes life gets tough, and it’s easy to get bummed out over the little annoyances, or to feel overwhelmed by big problems. Take a step back from the issues that trouble you and see if you can find a silver lining. Practice gratitude for the good things in your life and reframe your thought patterns to an optimistic mindset. Thinking positively and remaining calm can help reduce stress and anxiety. Build a support system of people that you can turn to for advice and encouragement. Your support system might include family members, friends, teachers, coaches or coworkers. When seeking help from your support system, it is wise to evaluate who will give you what you need most in the moment. Some people are great listeners, while others are good at cheering you up. Some give sage advice, and others help you to see a new perspective. It’s not always easy to figure out exactly what you need when you’re feeling stressed. Give yourself a moment to reflect on what would be most helpful to you so you can successfully choose the person who is likely to fulfill your needs. Find hobbies that make you feel relaxed and happy. Your hobby could be listening to music, drawing, hiking, playing video games, collecting action figures, or any number of different things. Hobbies allow you time for enjoyment, and help to develop a feeling of accomplishment. Figure out a way to make time in your schedule to participate in these hobbies on a regular basis. Be careful, however, that you are not choosing activities that only add to your stress levels. Maintaining a hobby as a healthy escape from the rat race of life will help you manage stress throughout your lifetime. Learn relaxation techniques that work for you. Stress triggers your body’s sympathetic nervous system with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This so-called “fight or flight” response causes your heart and breathing rates to accelerate, your blood pressure to rise, and muscles to tense. Relaxation techniques counter the fight or flight response by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system so your body can recover from stress. It is important to allow your body to rest and relax because chronic stress can cause long-term damage to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Generally speaking, relaxation involves doing nothing, or next to nothing. It is not always easy in our fast-paced world to stop and find time for relaxation, but really, relaxation is a gift for your body and mind, the effects of which are long-lasting. There are many different relaxation techniques, and what one person finds relaxing, may not be relaxing to another. You may have to try a number of different strategies before you find one that works for you. Deep breathing, that is switching from chest breathing to abdominal breathing, on a regular basis will help you to feel calmer. Progressive muscle relaxation means that you tense and relax the muscles of your body in a systematic way, perhaps beginning with the toes, and working your way up the body to the muscles of the face. Visualization is a relaxation technique that involves quieting your mind and focusing on a scene that you find pleasant and relaxing, for example lying on the beach as the waves move in and out. Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation are additional activities that some people find relaxing. Creating a plan for long-term stress management is an important step in maintaining good health mentally, physically, and emotionally. Ideally, you could apply all the strategies we discussed in this lesson to your life; however, focusing on just one or two stress management techniques at a time can help to reduce stress levels. Ultimately you will master one technique, and be able to move on to develop the next. By putting these ideas to action, you will be laying the groundwork for a life in which you possess a variety of coping strategies to effectively deal with stress.