Stress Management Tips and Techniques for Busy Professionals, Students, and Parents

By Alex Hoffmann on August, 11 2020

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

We can all use less stress in our lives. The 2020 Stress in America survey found that Americans report their stress levels at a 5.4, higher than in 2019 when stress levels were rated at 4.9. 

Stress is a fact of life. From working professionals to students to parents, we all have unique stains that may significantly reduce our happiness and quality of life if left unaddressed. The good news is, you can proactively address the causes of your anxiety and mitigate the extent to which it disrupts your life. 

Start by pinpointing the specific causes of your stress, consider solutions for handling those stressors, and start living life feeling happier, stronger, and less anxious.

 

Pinpoint the Sources of Stress

You don’t have to accept stress as a fact of life. Instead, grab a pen and a couple of pieces of paper and write an exhaustive list of any stressors in your life. Some examples of everyday stresses include:

  • Marital problems
  • Academic projects
  • Moving to a new home
  • Deadlines at work
  • Underemployment or unemployment
  • Changing jobs
  • Kids
  • Major life events
  • Lack of time

The last stressor, lack of time, is one of the most pervasive causes of stress. OnePoll, a survey-led market research specialist based in Bristol, determined the average American has merely half an hour of free time each week. Between work, continued learning, parenting responsibilities, taking care of yourself, yard chores, and beyond, it seems as though there is hardly any time remaining for the fun things in life. 

Once you write down all the sources of your stress, from time to relationship challenges, you may even feel some immediate relief. Simply putting it all down can be therapeutic in allowing you to finally see it all in front of you, rather than letting it swirl around in your head. 

However, writing down your sources of stress is only the first step to conquering those stresses and getting the most out of life. Next, it’s time to address the challenges.

 

Address the Causes of the Stress

The next step is to write down what you can do to reduce or even eliminate your stress. As an example, if you’re worried about a deadline at work or school, consider that the actual cause of the stress might be your procrastination, which is delaying progress. 

In addressing the causes of stress, look at how your inaction, bad habits, and/or attitude contribute to the buildup of stress in addition to outside factors, like family life, work-life, or global crises. When you get to the root of your cause, you might find that others play a role in your stressful life, yet they’re not the sole cause of the problems. In other words, you likely have more control over the stress in your life than you think. When you recognize this and act accordingly, you can start to do your part to minimize your stress.

Here are some ways to dig into those potential stressors.

 

Create a Stress Notebook on Your Smartphone

It’s easy to lose sight of the exact stressors in our life because there is little free time remaining for introspection amidst hectic work and school days. Add the pressure to maintain friendships, parenting duties, and household responsibilities into the mix and overlooking the actual causes of stress proves that much harder. 

Identify what boosts your stress levels by keeping track of triggers and causes with a notetaking app on your smartphone. When something or someone stresses you out, add that specific stressor to the list. Review this list weekly and it will be easier to uncover common themes and trends that reveal the causes of your stress.

 

Mind Your Breathing

You’re that much more likely to take quick and short breaths when stressed out. If you feel your blood pressure rising or are quickly triggered by noises, co-workers, or other stimuli, it is time to mind your breathing. Shift from shallow breathing to taking deep breaths, which is proven to reduce stress.  

This deep breathing technique to fight stress is simple: Close your eyes, breathe in deeply for four seconds, hold the inhalation for another four consecutive seconds and exhale for four more seconds.  

Repeat this breathing exercise five times, open your eyes, and you may notice you feel less stressed and more relaxed. This stress-reduction technique is referred to as abdominal breathing. This type of breathing stabilizes blood pressure and also lowers the heartbeat.

When tuning into your breath to relieve stress, do your best to refrain from thinking about the sources of your stress. Clear your mind, focus on your breathing, and the pressure will begin to drift away.

 

Exercise More

Exercising for just 20-30 minutes has been proven to create a calming effect that can last several hours after finishing. Physical activity releases these “happy chemicals” within the brain known as endorphins. These endorphins will overpower your stress, ultimately helping you feel that much better about yourself and your position in life.  

If you’re worried about spending money on exercise, remember that there is no need to spend $60 a month on a gym membership. You can easily work up a sweat in your home with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and planks. Other home-based workout options include free weights, resistance bands, and fitness video games such as the Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure.  

Though exercise will not eliminate stress, it can provide the relief you’re looking for. Aim for a 20-30 minute workout (the proven standard that reduces stress) at least four times each week and don’t forget about low-impact exercise options as well, including dancing, taking walks, doing yoga, rollerblading, or playing tennis.

 

Spend More Time With Friends and Family

Spending time with people you love has been proven to reduce stress and increase vitality. If you don’t have a lot of close family or friends, consider joining a book club or sports club, which will provide you with an outlet to connect and let the stress melt away.

 

Confront the Causes of Your Stress 

Living with stress that can be proactively addressed isn’t necessary. Use these tips and ideas to figure out what is causing stress in your life and then take action. Make more time to move your body, spend time with loved ones, focus on your breath, and keep notes on what stresses come up regularly. Give your stress the attention it needs to release the tension and start feeling less anxious and, more importantly, happier!

 

References

Powell, T. J., & Enright, S. J. (2015). Anxiety and Stress Management. Taylor & Francis Limited.

Schmall, T. (2019).  Six in ten Americans struggle to keep up with day-to-day tasks. https://nypost.com/2019/03/28/six-in-ten-americans-struggle-to-keep-up-with-day-to-day-tasks/

Tetrick, L. E., & Winslow, C. J. (2015). Workplace Stress Management Interventions and Health Promotion. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032414-111341.

Varvogli, L., & Darviri, C. (2011). Stress Management Techniques: Evidence-Based Procedures That Reduce Stress and Promote Health. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.851.7680&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255

https://www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing 

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-daily-task-americans-are-neglecting-the-most 

https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2013/05000/stress_relief__the_role_of_exercise_in_stress.6.aspx 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2858810/ 

https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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