Four strategies for preventing or reducing stress
Wendy Rubinyi, Instructional Design Specialist — Independent Contractor; Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency; and Heather M. Lee, Project Manager — Extension Center for Family Development
While stress is a normal part of life, extended periods of stress can be damaging. Experts frequently describe four types of strategies that can help or reduce stress.
Take Care of Yourself
Here are some simple things you can do to take care of yourself.
- Get physical exercise. This is the single most effective method for dealing with stress.
- Practice good nutritional habits. This includes eating healthy, nutritious foods and avoiding overeating. Also avoid eating junk foods with too much fat or sugar. Eating the right foods gives your body the proper fuel it needs to function. Avoid eating junk foods with too much fat or sugar.
- Don't abuse alcohol or drugs. Obviously, too much alcohol or drugs impairs your health and your thinking.
- Get enough sleep. Sufficient sleep is essential for proper physical and mental functioning.
- Use relaxation methods to control the "fight-or-flight" response and reduce stress.
Talk It Out
For many, talking through the issue(s) can work wonders at reducing stress levels. Here are some suggestions.
- Talk with someone else. Talk over how you feel about what is happening in your life with someone who cares and will listen. Meaningful conversations help you see things more clearly, as well as reduce stress.
- Engage in positive self-talk. Control those voices in your head: Challenge negative self-talk and practice positive self-talk. Stop continually scolding yourself and give yourself some mental pats on the back when warranted. Not surprisingly, negative self-talk increases your stress level, while positive self-talk reduces it.
- Reframe events and situations. Focus on the silver lining instead of the dark cloud. You can choose to define events and situations in ways that reduce your stress level.
Develop Good Lifestyle Habits
It can be hard to develop good habits when you feel your life is falling apart at the seams! These tips can help you get started.
- Practice taking responsibility for your choices. If you're used to sharing (or giving) the credit or blame with another, such as your ex-spouse, it can take practice to get out of the "reactor" mode and see yourself as the primary actor, or decision maker, in your life.
- Don't abuse alcohol or drugs. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to temporarily "escape" a stressful or sad situation. If you do use alcohol or drugs while stressed, just stay mindful that it doesn't become abuse. For more information, see When does alcohol or drug use become an abuse?
- Develop a sense of independence. This is related to the preceding point about taking responsibility for your choices. You also need to continually remind yourself that you are capable of meeting your own needs and can be self-sustaining without your ex-spouse. A sense of independence will also help keep you from feeling angry, manipulated, or helpless. Obviously, this reduces stress, too.
- Clarify your values and set priorities to learn what is important to you personally, without the other parent. Then reorder your life so that it reflects your values. You'll feel less stress.
- Manage your time so you are spending more of it on the things that are important to you. Again, you'll feel less stress.
- Practice writing out a daily schedule if you're not used to managing your own time. Guess what? You'll feel less stress.
Develop a Support System
Having adequate positive support is extremely important for your well-being. Follow these suggestions to strengthen your own social support network.
- Build and maintain strong support systems. Support systems are also called "networks," because they involve other people and organizations. You need to build and maintain relationships with others to promote your own and your children's well-being – as well as reduce your stress level. Some of your support systems will stay the same following divorce or separation, but you may need to develop new support systems.
- Understand the need for intimacy. We're not talking about romantic intimacy, but the intimacy required for a strong support system. You need a small group of people you can trust with your darkest secrets and greatest joys — a group where you can be mutually vulnerable. During a family transition like divorce or separation, it is especially important to have this kind of intimacy with other adults so you don't burden your children with "grown up" issues.
- Learn assertiveness skills. Assertiveness is another lifestyle habit you should develop (see above), but we note it here because sufficient assertive skills will help you make the best use of your support system. This is especially important for addressing needs previously met with the help of the other parent. Of course, this reduces the stress in your life.
- Be a wise "consumer." This is related to developing assertiveness skills. As you build a new support system, you'll find that some so-called advocates may not have your best interests at heart. You need to be a wise "consumer" of support services, whether it's help from friends or organizations. Again — this reduces stress.
American Psychological Association. (n.d). Stress tip sheet.
Mayo Clinic. (2013). Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress.
Parental Stress — Reviews the interacting factors in family stress and the effects of stress on parents.
Dealing with stress: A Web-based Educational Series — Online workshops help you identify and battle the stress. For those in agriculture or anyone experiencing stress.
When Does Alcohol or Drug Use Become an Abuse? — Many people turn to alcohol or drugs when they are sad. Use this tool to get clarity on the situation and determine if you need help.
Identifying sources of support and friendship — Identify your support system to help get you through a crisis.
Resources for families — Free web-based resources for families experiencing a family transition like divorce or separation.