4. Take a deep breath and then try to see yourself in someone else’s shoes. As for your dimwit boss and others who seem to try to annoy you, know that they are probably experiencing just as much inner turmoil as they are creating around them, says Jay Winner, M.D., a family physician, stress-management teacher in Santa Barbara, California, and author of Stress Management Made Simple: Effective Ways to Beat Stress for Better Health. “When people are rude, they are usually suffering in one way or another,” says Dr. Winner.
5. Use the otherwise stressful time of waiting in line as a chance to relax. When you make a split decision about which line of cars to pull behind at a tollbooth or which line of carts to stand behind at the grocery store, chances are some other line will move more quickly. In the worst-case scenario, one of the customers in front of you needs not one, but two price checks — and then comes up short on cash and must void out some of the items the clerk just rang up. Rather than sending your stress hormones into the stratosphere as you steam over your bad luck, think about how busy you usually are and recognize the time — in reality, usually just a few minutes — as a gift in which you can just relax, says Dr. Winner. “As you wait, think about things in life for which you are grateful, meditate on your breath, talk to one of the other customers, or look at a magazine.”
6. Develop a ritual in the morning that focuses on calmness, beauty, people who support you, or anything that helps you feel a sense of peace. You might, for example, spend a few moments reminding yourself of your blessings. Joan Lang, M.D., chair of the department of psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says she finds daily balance each morning by making a mental note to do something spiritual, something nurturing for herself and for someone else, and something physical. Your ritual might involve sitting outside (weather permitting), taking in your surroundings, and appreciating the sounds of the birds and the sights of sun glistening off the leaves and grass. If you can’t sit outdoors, go to a room in your home that you find calming. Settle down, take a few deep breaths, and call to mind three people or things that make your life worth living. As your inner gratitude builds, pledge to commit one small act during the day that will help someone else — either someone you know or a perfect stranger — experience this same inner gratitude.
7. Twice a day, breathe deeply for three to five minutes. As you breathe, focus your mind on your breath and push all other distracting thoughts from your consciousness, suggests Rocco Lo Bosco, a massage therapist, yoga instructor, and author of Buddha Wept.
8. Walk the stress off. Stress hormones prepare your body for a physical response. A healthy way to respond to a rush of stress, then, is to get physical. Go for a brisk 15-minute walk and burn off your nervous energy. Use the time to think through the issue and return to a positive, peaceful frame of mind.
9. When you get out of bed in the morning, spend a few minutes consciously sensing your body from toes to head. Focus on the feet first. Notice how they feel from the inside out and mentally relax them. Then move upward to your ankles, then to your knees, on up your legs to your torso, chest, upper back, neck, head, and face. As you get used to the technique, you can bring your awareness inside your body and focus on relaxing each body part whenever you start to feel stressed, suggests Lo Bosco.
10. Designate one person to whom you can vent your frustrations. Complaining widely about your work or family frustrations is not a healthy hobby to have — not only does it keep you in a negative frame of mind, but it’s not very good for your professional or personal relationships either. The solution: Designate one trustworthy friend or family member to be your confidant. Someone who is discreet and knows just to listen and not to attempt to solve all your problems. Use that person to listen as you openly voice your stresses and how they are affecting you. Then, to the rest of the world, present yourself as positive and in control. Admit to stress, but don’t detail it. You’ll be amazed at how acting that way can make it a reality!
11. When you’re ready to rip out your hair, phone a friend. People who have strong social ties live longer. A diversionary conversation with a close romantic partner, friend, or family member helps prevent stress hormones from triggering high blood pressure and other health complications.
12. Don’t take the bait. If you really wanted to, you could spend your entire life angry at the world — at the rude salesclerks, the bad bosses, the crazy drivers, the lousy politicians, the unfair prices for a good piece of salmon. Happy, low-stress people choose not to get angry, even when the opportunity is dangled right in front of them. Practice this. The next time someone does something that could — maybe even should — anger you, smile instead and say to yourself, “I’m not going to take the bait.”
13. Don’t respond to anger with anger. Confrontations tend to escalate. Next time you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of aggression, don’t automatically respond with the same. Take a breath, pause, then respond calmly and honestly, without undue defensiveness. If the other person won’t engage constructively or is being irrational, then smile and excuse yourself, with the message that you’ll be happy to discuss the issue when the person regains his composure or reason.
14. Carry around a lucky “rabbit’s foot” that helps you feel calm. Your “rabbit’s foot” might come in the form of a photograph of your grandchildren, a favorite poem, or a Bible verse. Carry it around and focus on it whenever you need to relax, suggests Scott Sheperd, Ph.D., author of Who’s In Charge? Attacking the Stress Myth.
15. Every night before bed, take five minutes to look over your day. Instead of asking yourself, “How did my day go?” ask “How did I handle my day, and how does that compare with six months ago?” Focusing on what you can control — your response to stress — will help you feel more in control.
16. Decompress with a single alcoholic drink at the end of the day. Not only will it help prevent heart disease — one of the side effects of stress — but it will also disable your psychological inhibitions. “When we let our guard down a bit, we can ventilate some of our emotions and feelings that we would otherwise harbor within us,” says James Campbell Quick, M.D., a distinguished professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Just be sure to stop at one drink.