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How to Relieve Stress: A 6-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.

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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.”

“Experiencing stress is inevitable, but managed well, stress can promote emotional and intellectual growth and resilience as we age,” says Johns Hopkin stress management expert Frances Callahan, LCSW-C.

She has mapped an easy-to-follow plan for how to manage 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 sometimes reduce or prevent the stress. After giving the matter some focused thought, you may identify practical steps to improve the situation.  Even if changing the trigger isn’t possible, a shift in perspective may help mitigate stress.   For example, if a friend is pushing your buttons, stepping back and adjusting your expectations may allow you to keep this close bond. 

Stay connected.

Maintaining, improving, and increasing healthy relationships with supportive friends and family powerfully promotes resilience. Many find that connections with a faith family, neighbors, and even pets, help them feel positive and energetic, even if children and grandchildren aren’t close at hand.  

Stay active.

Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins. Taking short walking breaks several times a day is a powerful tool for channeling stress.  Exercising or joining yoga, dance, or tai chi classes with friends also helps achieve step 2—staying connected.

Find your “pause” button.

“After experiencing times of great change, high demand, or significant loss, it’s essential to press pause and rest. Often creating time and space for rest means saying “no” to invitations and requests for help, at least temporarily,” says Callahan.  Consider spending quiet time daily:  contemplation, reflection, and breathing fosters resilience and calm.

Plan your fun.

To prevent the daily rush from consuming your life, plan your fun for the day, week, month, or year.  Callahan recommends, “instead of channel surfing, make a date to watch a special program, alone or with a loved one.  Plan a monthly game night with friends and ask them to bring goodies to share.  Identify fun activities that suit you, and schedule them.”

Reframe your thinking about stress itself.

Stress responses, including faster heart rate and breathing, evolved to improve our performance in stressful situations. Reminding yourself of stress’s evolutionary value may improve your performance and paradoxically reduce feelings of stress, in that you’re not adding “stress about stress” to the stress the original trigger aroused.  

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