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How to Relieve Stress: A 5-Step Plan to Feeling Good

Stress may be a part of life, but it doesn’t have to get the best of you. Follow these everyday ways to stay calm, happy and healthy, from a Johns Hopkins expert on managing stress.

What the Experts Do
Taking Steps Toward Stress Relief

“I certainly get stressed, but exercise is part of my de-stressing,” says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H. “I’m a big activity tracker. I make sure to get 10,000 steps every day. When the kids go to bed, I go to my elliptical trainer, which faces a flat-screen TV. I decompress, watch whatever I might have watched anyway, and get to my 10,000 steps.”

Stress knows no age boundaries. In fact, getting older comes with its own set of triggers that put you on edge, such as personal health issues, retirement worries and concerns for loved ones.

“If you’re not managing stress, you’re going to have a harder time maintaining good health as you get older,” says Johns Hopkins stress-management expert Michelle Carlstrom, L.C.S.W.-C.

She has mapped an easy-to-follow plan for how to relieve stress—at any age.

Identify your triggers.

Once you know where your stress is coming from—a relationship, kids, workload, a health problem—you can take practical steps to reduce, prevent or cope with the situation. If a friend is pushing your buttons, for example, changing your perspective or your expectations may allow you to keep this close bond. Similarly, you probably can’t prevent an overwhelming workload, but you can look for realistic ways to reduce the demands on your time.

Stay active.

Any form of physical activity releases feel-good endorphins. Taking short walking breaks several times a day is a powerful tool in managing stress.

Find your “pause” button.

“It often feels like life is a sprint,” says Carlstrom. “But what’s forgotten is that after a sprint your body needs to recover.” The takeaway is to allow yourself the time to rest and recover after, for example, a tough period caring for a family member, or after a personal setback.

Spend time in silence.

Quiet time gives your mental functions a chance to recharge. Even five minutes of letting thoughts come and go without distraction will have benefits for managing stress. Carlstrom says this quiet time can come in many forms: prayer, meditation, secluded walks or gazing at the sky, for instance.

Plan your fun.

“Our days are often highly regulated, but rarely do we really plan out our fun for the day or the week,” says Carlstrom. Studies show that the most beneficial kind of fun, with regard to health, is the kind we put effort into.

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