Beat Stress With UB’s Comprehensive Guide to Stress Management – Written by Joyce Marter, LCPC, Psychotherapist & Co-Owner of Urban Balance, LLC

Stress Overview:

Some stress is good as it can sharpen our awareness and motivate us. But too much stress has a negative impact on our minds and bodies and can cause emotional, relational, and medical problems.

Avoid negative ways to reduce stress that may actually cause more harm (i.e. drinking, smoking, over-eating, compulsive shopping, gambling, watching too much TV or video games.) Your stress management tools should promote health and wellness.

Avoid or reduce caffeine (replace your double espresso with a soothing herbal tea.)

Take time and seek help to get organized (with your time, money and at home and office.)

Make sure you have proper rest, nutrition and self care.

You must create time for self care. Many of us tend to the responsibilities of work and home and get caught up in the gerbil wheel of life and neglect to create time for ourselves. We must take care of ourselves first in order to be healthy and effective in our personal and professional lives. If we do not create time for ourselves, our stress can cause medical problems like hypertension, gastrointestinal problems. headaches, etc. Stress can also exacerbate anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Make time for yourself on a daily basis, even if you start with 20 minutes and build from there— schedule it into your calendar rather than leaving it for when you “might” have time. Let go of guilt about self care.

You must take care of yourself in order to function effectively in your life.

Stress Management/Relaxation Recommendations – 7 Steps Toward Balance

1) Practice Deep Breathing—use the power of breath (time and cost efficient.)

  • Some say our breath is what ties together our mind, our body and our spirit. Breath is a major component of meditation and yoga.
  • When we are stressed our fight or flight response is triggered and our breath becomes more shallow and quick.
  • By focusing on slowing and deepening our breathing, we can trick our minds and bodies that we are relaxed and subsequently calm our spirit. We also encouraged to be mindful of the present, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
  • You should inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth
  • Deep breathing should go down to stomach and be so slow that your belly rises before your chest. This is actually how babies breathe.
  • Imagine that you are breathing in whatever you need – peace, strength, serenity – and breathing out your worries, fears, and negative feelings.
  • Practice the Relaxing Breath Exercise recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil, the well-known integrative medicine physician. Sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  5. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
    This seems simple but is an effective natural tranquilizer and the effects while improve over time. Do this breath work it at least twice a day and whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react if possible. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep.

Breathing can increase your awareness, consciousness and connectedness with your body. It can help you better manage your stress at work and home. For more information on breath work, I recommend visiting Dr. Andrew Weil’s website at

2)  Relax your body through proper posture, stretching and exercise

  • Many of us work in sedentary professions, which can exacerbate muscle tension and increase stress. Do a body check. How is your posture? How can you improve your poster when at work? 1. ergonomic work station, 2. feet on floor, 3. back straight, 4. not turning to look at computer screen or colleagues, 5. lower back support.
  • We store feelings as waves of energy in the body. Where do you hold stress in your body? It is common to feel tension in the head, jaw, neck and stomach. Use your breathing exercises to visualize breathing into the area of tension and breathing out the energy it is holding.
  • Take time to stretch and release muscle tension. Even if it is in your office. Takes just a minute to relax your face, jaw, neck, shoulders and body.
  • Exercise is a natural release of endorphins (nature’s antidepressant.) The body is meant to move. Try scheduling in 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes three times a week.
  • Physical contact such as petting your dog, hugging a friend or having sex with your partner is shown to reduce stress.

3)  Practice progressive muscle relaxation techniques

Place your feet on the floor, maintain good posture, relax your hands and close your eyes. Continue to relax and deepen your breath. Focus on your feet. Imagine that they are very heavy against the floor. Then:

  • Relax your  toes and your ankles.
  • Feel your knees. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into your chair.
  • Feel you upper legs and thighs. Feel their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the chair.
  • Feel your abdomen and chest. Sense your breathing. Consciously will them to relax. Deepen your breathing slightly and feel your abdomen and chest sink into the chair.
  • Feel your buttocks and back. Feel the gravity pulling you down into the chair.
  • Feel your hands. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them.
  • Feel your upper arms. Sense their weight. Let them fall into your lap.
  • Feel your shoulders. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and let them lower.
  • Feel your neck. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it and feel it sink into the bed.
  • Feel your head and skull. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it.
  • Feel your mouth and jaw. Pay particular attention to your jaw muscles and unclench them if you need to. Feel your mouth and jaw relax.
  • Feel your eyes. Sense if there is tension in your eyes. Sense if you are forcibly closing your eyelids. Consciously relax your eyelids and feel the tension slide off your eyes.
  • Feel your face and cheeks. Consciously relax them and feel the tension melt away.
  • Mentally scan your body. If you find any place that is still tense, then consciously relax that place and let it sink into the bed. Note how different your muscles feel when they are relaxed from when the were tense. Remember this relaxed feeling. Mentally scan your body periodically throughout the day to identify any areas of tension and release the tension to achieve a relaxed body and calm mind.

4)  Meditate:  Grounding meditation can help clear your mind from the noise

Grounding meditation—Visualize that there is a thick, strong grounding cord extending from your body to the core of the earth that is gently anchoring you to the earth. Your body feels heavy and relaxed in your chair and your feet feel gently pulled to the earth. Imagine that the white light energy that is at the core of the earth is coming through that cord, through your body and released out into the universe. Again, connect with your breath and breathe out your thoughts and let go. Imagine the clear, white light. Continue to breathe deeply. You could continue this for 5 minutes a day or as needed.

Additionally, some people find running, gardening, praying, sewing or music to be meditative. Anything that is repetitive, calming, and helps you get out of your own head. Take a few minutes every day to meditate—combine it with your breathing exercises.

5)  Practice Positive Visualization

Imagery is the language the mind uses to communicate with the body. By visualizing positive things like  a favorite place or the face of a loved one, we can elicit calm and positive feelings. You can visualize the sights, the colors, the smells, the sounds and even the feel of your favorite place to increase the reality of that relaxed feeling.

  • Lie on your back with your eyes closed.
  • Imagine yourself in a favorite, safe, peaceful place. The place may be on a beach or a favorite room our place outside.
  • Imagine you are there. See and feel your surroundings, hear the peaceful sounds, smell the flowers or the barbecue, fell the warmth of the sun and any other sensations that you find. Relax and enjoy it.?
  • You can return to this place any night you need to.

6) Think Positively

Let go of your internal critic that judges you harshly and exacerbates stress. Research supports the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Paying attention to your “self talk”, restructuring negative belief systems and thinking positively.

Have a mantra that cuts you some slack and reduces stress –  “I am only human” – “I am doing the best that I can” – “don’t sweat the small stuff” -“it is what it is,” which reflects acceptance.

Be realistic about what you take on – don’t set yourself up for stress and failure by taking on more than you can handle while continuing to take care of yourself.

7) Access and nurture your positive support network

Plug into your friends and family (not just via text—in person intimacy—talk with them, share with them, laugh with them.) Connecting with others reminds us we are not alone and we helps put our stressors into perspective.

If you want to learn more about these strategies or think your stress has led to anxiety, depression or relationship issues, consider participating in therapy or counseling. Having issues is part of the human condition and we could all benefit from therapy or counseling at different points in our lives.


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