There is a saying by experts that you cannot manage time, but you can manage your behaviors. The same can be said of stress. While we may not be able to determine when, where, or how often we will experience stress, we can manage how we react to it and how much of a negative effect it has on us. For overall health, managing stress is as important as nutrition and exercise.

I work with young adults, mostly college freshmen, who have experienced plenty of stress graduating from high school, attending college for the first time, and learning how to become an adult. What they have less experience with is handling the effects of stress on their bodies and minds. But I venture to guess that it is not just young adults who struggle with reducing the negative effects on their health. We all can use a few reminders and some new tips to improve our reactions to stress.

Recognize your stressors

Before you attempt to practice de-stressing techniques, you must be aware of what your stressors are and then learn to anticipate them or reduce them as much as possible.
Tip: Write down your most common stressors and when they are likely to occur.

Learn to breathe

We breathe every day, right? Yes, but do we intentionally breathe for the sake of centering ourselves and becoming aware of our bodies? Probably not very often. Learning to breathe slowly and deeply as the first defense to stress can go a long way in changing your reaction to what’s stressing you out.
Tip: Practice breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth 10 times when you are feeling stressed.

Visualize a better day

Olympians use visualization in addition to intense training and nutrition to improve performance. The same techniques can be used to reduce the negative effects of stress.
Tip: Set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Close your eyes, breathing deeply as described above. Use this guided visualization strategy as a basis and make modifications as you need.

Write it out

Can’t get the negative emotions out of your mind? The act of writing can clarify what is bugging you and why. You can also commit yourself to moving on after you get your thoughts down on paper.
Tip: Write down how you are feeling and why; then, commit to moving on from the thoughts.

Be present

Most of people’s stress originates in their heads. They are either worried about what did happen (the past) or what may happen (future).
Tip: Practice focusing only on the present moment. If a thought about the past or future comes to mind, reset your thought to the present by focusing on what is front of you.

Stress can motivate us to act or it can bog us down. Managing our reactions to stressful situations can make us more productive and healthier.

About the Author

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., is a college-readiness expert and co-author with Brian Tietje, Ph.D., of The College Experience franchise published by Pearson and A High School Parent’s Guide to Success: 12 Essentials. She blogs and shares resources for parents of high school and college students at www.higheredparent.com.