We've all got stress -- but far too many of us are content to live with it, push it aside, bottle it up, and, eventually, fall victim to its ugly consequences. Not all stress is bad, of course: It can keep us striving to reach new goals and make our lives worthwhile -- exciting, even. But when your emotions and health are compromised, it's time to hit the brakes and plot out a new course.
Ready to feel better fast? Follow these step-by-step directions for navigating those everyday bumps in the road, getting rid of unnecessary sources of anxiety, and developing a healthier relationship with those you can't avoid.
On your Stress-Relief journey, you'll first learn to identify areas of your life that need extra attention. Your sources of stress may be clear to you already -- or they may take a few weeks to surface while you observe your daily patterns. In Step 2 and Step 3, you'll set goals and learn coping strategies needed to reach them. Finally, Step 4 is about making long-term changes to prevent stress, rather than just reacting to it.
Print out your Stress-Relief Road Map and think about how long you'd like to spend on each step, whether it's a few days or a few weeks. Use this timeline to keep you on track, but don't be afraid to slow down, back up, or skip ahead if you find that different strategies work better at different times.
Ask yourself: What health-related effects of stress have you already noticed in your life?
If you haven't considered (or you've chosen to ignore) the harmful effects that stress can have on your mind and body, you're overlooking a major threat to your well-being.
Taking a long, hard look at the potential consequences of unrelenting, unaddressed anxiety can help us realize that we need to make a change, before it's too late.
The most efficient way to home in on specific stress triggers is to start a journal. Commit to writing down, at least once a day for at least 10 minutes, everything that evoked a negative or stressful reaction -- the place and time of day, the source of the stress, and your reaction. You can do this either throughout the day, or before bed at night. (If nighttime stress journaling affects your sleep, do this earlier instead.)
Also take a few minutes to write down the positive points in your day: When did you feel the most relaxed, the most joyous, and the most fulfilled? Keep these thoughts with you as you put your journal away.
We can't tell you what your individual sources of stress are -- but we can guess that at least some of them fall into a larger category of universal problems: money, relationships, work-life balance, health (yours and your loved ones'), and time-management issues. Sound familiar? Our list of common stress triggers may provide some insight into your own situation.
Worrying does little to make our lives better. At best, it's counterproductive; at worst, it inhibits our thoughts, drains our energy, and even makes us sick. "Think of it as a negative thought loop," explains psychotherapist Stephen Cope, author of "The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living." Since it never closes on a satisfying answer, worry only begets more worrying.
The driving factor behind worry is fear -- but fear of what? That depends on your worry profile. We asked experts to identify six types of worriers, and to show us how each can get a handle on their hand-wringing.
Can't sleep when there's laundry to be folded. Can't enjoy a good book when you have bills to pay. Does the thought of making a mistake give you heart palpitations? Welcome to the club.
Here's the thing, though: While the right dose of perfection can boost your satisfaction, too much can be paralyzing. There's a difference, after all, between holding yourself to a high standard and holding yourself to an unattainable one.
Now's the time to stop and reexamine what you've learned so far: Have you identified your stress triggers? The things you tend to worry about? The areas in your life where you're trying a bit too hard to be perfect? Have you spent at least a few days journaling about your recent ups and downs -- and have you recognized the patterns and problems that need fixing?
Once you've come to grips with your most pressing stress issues (congrats -- that's half the battle!), move on to Step 2 and start setting the goals you'll need to wave them goodbye.