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Manage Stress: Healthy Actions

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You can breathe easier knowing you have the tools to manage your stress with simple, quick-relief actions.

You may notice the same pattern when you’re stressed: your breathing and heart rate increase, your jaw tenses, or your stomach clenches. These patterns can be challenging to recognize if you don't check in with yourself.

Reflect: How often do you pause and notice when you start to feel stressed?

Start checking in with your mind and body by practicing mindfulness.

  • Mindfulness is knowing what’s happening within and around you at any given moment without getting carried away by it.
    • STOP is an easy way to practice being mindful of stress.
  • When you start to notice you’re triggered physically and mentally, follow the steps below:
    • Slow down
    • Take a breath
    • Observe what you are feeling and thinking
    • Proceed based on how you feel and what you need
  • Once you recognize when you feel stressed, you’ll be able to choose a healthier response.

Healthy actions

You can do many healthy actions to both prevent and manage stress at the moment. Review and decide what actions are best for you based on your stressor and personality.

Resource: Guided meditations

Breathe it out

Mind-body techniques can help you relax and change your response to stressors. Taking deep breaths allows more air into your body, slowing your heart rate, and lowering your blood pressure.

  • Meditate
    • You can choose from many different types of meditation.
    • Examples: Straightening your back and closing your eyes, focusing your attention and taking deep breaths, letting distractions come and go without judgment or getting upset
    • Try focusing on your breathing for one minute to see how you feel. Remember that it takes practice, and it’s normal for your mind to wander throughout.
  • Belly breathing
    • Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
    • Take a deep breath through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out.
    • Exhale through pursed lips as if you were whistling.
    • Repeat 3-10 times, and take your time with each breath.
  • 4-7-8 breathing
    • Inhale slowly through your nose for four seconds.
    • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
    • Exhale completely out of your mouth for eight seconds.
    • Repeat until you feel calm.
  • Create mindful moments
    • Pay attention to your breath during times of transition or when you’re waiting.
    • Examples: Waiting for the microwave or the printer to make your copies
    • Take three mindful breaths during difficult moments.
    • Try mindful walking and paying attention to your body and feet as you move.
    • Begin each meeting by noticing the sensations of sitting and breathing.
  • Pursed lip breathing
    • Sit in a comfortable position with your neck and shoulders relaxed.
    • Inhale slowly through your nostrils for two seconds.
    • Pucker your lips as if you’re giving a kiss and exhale out of your mouth for four seconds.
    • Keep your exhale slow and steady while breathing out.
    • Repeat 5-10 times, and take your time with each breath.
  • Box breathing
    • Begin by exhaling for four seconds.
    • Hold your lungs empty for four seconds.
    • Inhale for four seconds.
    • Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds.
    • Repeat 5-10 times, and take your time with each breath.

Sweat it out

Exercise reduces your body’s stress hormone levels, boosts your endorphins, which are your brain’s “feel-good hormones,” and provides opportunities to clear your head. Your mind will be distracted from the worries of daily stress when your body is busy. Almost any type of exercise can help!

Most people find that using large muscle groups in a rhythmic, repetitive fashion works best, which is known as “meditation in motion.”

  • Walk or jog
    • Even a 20-minute stroll can clear the mind and reduce stress.
    • This is an easy way to also include the whole family, including your pets.
  • Yoga
    • Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to reduce stress because it helps your nervous system relax, calm the mind, and lower cortisol levels in the body.
    • Try the Real Flex workout video or find additional yoga classes online or in your area.
  • Stress-busting exercises
    • Examples: Swimming, cycling, strength training, dancing, boxing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), seated exercises or ab exercises, tai-chi, martial arts, team sports, and anything outdoors

Everyone has a different stress-relief response to different exercises. Take your time experimenting, and don’t compare yourself to your friends and family. Find what works for you!

Clear the clutter

Your environment can be a reflection of your stress. According to the University of Minnesota, studies have shown when your home or work area is cluttered, covered in paper, or “to-do” piles, you’re more likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed.

  • Declutter
    • Take time to declutter, toss, or recycle what you don’t need, and organize the rest.
    • Examples: Old magazines and newspapers, expired pantry items, clothes you no longer wear, toys that are no longer used

If you need help, professional organizers can work wonders. The National Association of Professional Organizers ( is one place to find an organizer.


Clearing your mind and recharging your body can help you alleviate stress. It’s essential for your well-being. You need to put your oxygen mask on first before putting one on others!

  • Practice self-care
    • Engage in regular self-care and build moments into your day so you can recover.
    • Examples: Take breaks, drink water, eat balanced meals, move, get enough sleep
  • Schedule time for you
    • Schedule time into your calendar for the things you love, even if it’s a few minutes!
    • Examples: Hobbies, reading, going to a concert, dancing, creativity
  • Spend time in nature
    • Being in nature reduces anger, fear, and stress.
    • Get outside and find a peaceful spot that is visually pleasing.
  • Get adequate sleep
    • The American Psychological Association has found that good quality sleep lessens stress hormone levels throughout the body.
    • Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night by incorporating a healthy sleep routine.
    • Sleep is just as, if not more, important for children. Work together to create a routine that encourages good quality sleep for their age group.

Put healthy actions into practice

It’s challenging to make healthy decisions when stressed, and repeating the same typical, unhealthy pattern is normal. Here are some important reminders as you get started:

  • It takes practice to change
    • Habits take time to change, including managing your stress, so be patient with yourself and your progress.
    • The key ingredients to change are awareness, motivation, effort, and time.
  • Recall previous successes
    • Reflect on the challenges you’ve experienced and overcome in your life.
    • Remember what strategies you used to overcome them and that you can do it again.
    • A helpful way to recall previous successes is to keep a journal.
  • Practice self-compassion
    • Be kind to yourself as you change your response to stress.
    • Celebrate when you can take a healthy action and reflect on your learnings.
  • Believe in yourself
    • Make a list of your strengths and past accomplishments you’re proud of achieving.
    • Set realistic and specific goals that you can feel confident reaching.

Managing your stress starts with awareness. As you tune in to your mind and body, you can make different, healthier choices. These strategies can be used together as a family, as well. Start by discussing the importance of managing stress, and work to include everyone in strategies that are suitable for their age.

What healthy actions will you take this week? How would you like to manage stress?

Create a plan, write it down, ask for support, and don’t forget to believe in yourself!