Here’s a question we hear all the time: How can I reduce my stress level and remain calm during stressful situations?

Stress is a part of life. Its not a question of whether we’ll have stress in our lives or not, it’s how we react to it and manage it. Plus, it’s helpful to remember that there’s good stress and bad stress. Good stress energizes us and equips us to face challenges, such as participating in sports, competing for new job or a promotion, or taking a trip to an exotic location. Bad stress, on the other hand, depletes us. It can kick in from dealing with problems such as family problems, debt or grief, and any number of other life events. People also commonly point to work as a source of stress – whether it’s feeling overloaded with too many deadlines, the pressure of juggling work and family, or stress due to conflict with colleagues or a boss.

Too much bad stress can have harmful effects on our health  contributing to hypertension, heart disease, weight gain and other medical conditions. Plus, all too often, people turn to unhealthy measures in an attempt to relieve stress, such as drinking too much, eating too much, or relying on drugs.

Here’s the good news: Although you can’t eliminate stress, you can learn stress management techniques. We asked our stress counselors for their best tips on reducing stress in both our personal and professional lives. Here’s what they said:

Track your stress. Consider keeping a journal that you update for 5 or 10 minutes daily. Jot down good and bad things that happened and note anything that caused you stress. Writing is a calm, reflective activity that can focus the mind and have benefits in and of itself. Plus, over time, you may be able to track patterns in your moods and stress, which will give you clues about triggers.

Spend time with the people who replenish you. Sometimes when we are busy or stressed, we don’t make the time to make that quick call or share that cup of tea with a friend, yet making it a top priority to to experience the good feelings we get from people we love can be immensely therapeutic. In addition to spending more time with people who build us up, try to limit your exposure to toxic people who tear you down.

Meditate. Even if you’ve never taken a class in “formal” meditation, you can learn calming techniques. Get in the habit of setting aside a few minutes a day to find a quiet corner in your home or workplace, shut out the day’s distractions, and concentrate on a simple thought – such as memory of a natural or a peaceful place that you love. Concentrate on your breathing.

Express yourself. Don’t bottle up your feelings. It’s okay to cry, to laugh, to be angry. Learn how to tell people your feelings in appropriate ways. Find trusted people you can vent to so that you can get your negative feelings out of your system and move on.

Exercise. It almost doesn’t matter what exercise we do – the benefits of focused physical activity can yield a calming effect on our minds. Yoga is particularly helpful, but do what you like best – walk, run, swim, or take a bike ride.

Immerse yourself in nature. The serenity benefits that exposure to beautiful, natural places can have cannot be overstated. Take a walk in nature and take the time to really take it in. Pay attention to the details and appreciate the wonder.

Learn how to say no. For many of us, this is difficult, particularly to an authority figure or someone we love. Learn how to set limits and put it in practice so you do not get overextended.

Have fun. Do something you enjoy or that gives you satisfaction and focus every day. It can be particularly helpful if it’s a calming activity like listening to music, reading a book, or spending a few minutes with a crossword or jigsaw puzzle.

Get a pet. It might seem like adding another responsibility to your life will add to your stress, but pets can be very therapeutic and pull us out of ourselves. Playing with a cat, talking to a bird or taking daily walks with a dog can relieve stress.

Give yourself a break. Accept that it’s OK to be imperfect or make mistakes. While it’s helpful to learn from our imperfections so that we can resolve to do better the next time, don’t beat yourself up.

Have a lifeline. If your employer offers a Wellness benefit or an Employee Assistance Program, call a coach or a counselor for help if you feel overwhelmed by stress. Plus, many wellness programs offers stress reduction programs that include coaching.

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