Completely banishing stress from your life may never be an attainable goal. Nor, some would argue, should it be. If you consistently try your hardest and seek new endeavours, you will naturally feel challenged and sometimes even stressed. This is all part of personal growth. But sometimes stress threatens to overwhelm you.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize its negative toll, and to prevent it from getting a grip on you in the first place. These strategies provide you with a sense of control over your life and/or the situation. They also boost your mood and your confidence in handling a stressful situation.

Usually there is no one right or wrong way to cope with a stressful situation. The idea is to have as much information—as many “tools in your toolbox”—as possible.

For stressors that are uncontrollable, the key is to adapt your response to the needs of the situation and/or manage your cognitive or emotional responses in order to minimize stress. For example:

  • Remind yourself that you successfully have handled similar situations in the past.
  • Reassure yourself that you will be fine regardless of what happens.
  • Find some humour in the situation.
  • Reward yourself afterward with something enjoyable.
  • Find a trusted friend to talk with about the experience.
  • Use relaxation exercises to control your physical response to the situation.
  • Make a list of similar situations and how you successfully managed them in the past.
  • Ask others what they have done in similar situations to prepare yourself.
  • Expect surprises in your life and in these situations, and don’t let being stressed add to your stress.

For stressors you have some control over, you can do things to actively respond to the situation. For example:

  • Make a list of stressors, so that you can prioritize them and tackle them one at a time, in order to minimize feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Change aspects of a stressful situation that give you problems. Rearrange your schedule, have a problem-solving discussion with the bothersome person, organize your workspace, schedule some time for a break, take a brief walk or ask someone for help.
  • Expect surprises in your life and in these situations, and don’t let being stressed add to your stress.

Develop systematic problem-solving skills:

  • Identify the stressful situation.
  • Define it as an objective, solvable problem.
  • Brainstorm solutions—don’t evaluate them yet!
  • Anticipate the possible outcomes of each solution.
  • Choose a solution and act on it.
  • Evaluate the results and start over if necessary.
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. Give it your best shot and learn from the experiences.

Improve your coping skills. Practice assertive communication and problem-solving. Find someone who successfully handles stress and imitate him/her. Surround yourself with confident and competent people. Take care of yourself physically; learn yoga, relaxation exercises and deep muscle relaxation skills.

Plan and prepare in advance for problematic situations. For example, anticipate problems and develop a game plan for how to respond, including reminding yourself that the situation has occurred before and that you have survived it before.

Make lifestyle changes that are conducive to healthy and less stressful living. Exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, maintain a well-balanced diet and eat regular meals, try to balance work and personal life, schedule time for personal recreation, stay involved with family and friends, and limit social contact with people who are chronically negative.