The best stress reducers

I’ve written a number of posts about how to reduce acute stress (often linking to articles on the matter). So as we’re coming to the close of the school year, when stress can be especially high for students, here are five stress reducers, and where appropriate, some links to past posts with more information.

1. Don’t assume it’s bad.
Some students assume that a stressful feeling is a sign they’re not prepared for what’s to come. But stress is often just your body’s way of rising to a challenge. See this past post, and watch referenced TED talk, for more information. Sure, if you’re worried because you haven’t started a huge project that’s due in 24 hours, you’ve got a problem worth addressing. But a feeling of worry about a big test you’ve studied hard for is likely just your body gearing up. Take it as a good sign.

2. Focus on the parts you can control.
Say you’re responsible for the junior prom, and you’re worrying constantly about things that could go wrong. What if the DJ doesn’t show up? What if it rains and the outdoor check-in tables don’t have any coverage? What if your classmates don’t like the décor or the music? A Harvard psychologist reminds you that the first step to addressing stress is to focus on the parts you can control (and let go of the parts you cannot). Confirm with the DJ. Have a back-up location for the check-in tables. And resolve to be resilient if some people don’t agree with the choices you and your committee made. You can’t guarantee everything will work perfectly. But directing some of that nervous energy into the parts you can control certainly increases your odds.

3. Attack what’s eating you.
Procrastination is not your ally in stress treatment. In fact, even one of the most successful CEOs admits that his stress often comes from ignoring those things he should be paying attention to. The good news is that relief is often just a little focused effort away. So acknowledge where inaction is making you worry, then use the advice in this recent post to attack it.

4. Sleep on it.
In the seven years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve seen an ever increasing number of experts—with scientific evidence in hand—praising the power of a good night’s sleep (even the US military agrees). In fact, an extra hour of sleep is more likely to improve your performance on a test than an extra hour of studying will (more on that here). And if you don’t think you can find the time for more z’s, you might try eliminating the snooze button from your morning routine.

5. Try just saying no to stress.
Sometimes stress has less to do with reality and a whole lot more to do with the way you’re reacting to something. If that’s the case, the good news is that you’re in charge of you, and you have the power to change how you’re responding, as this past post reminds you.

Some reasonable, and temporary, bouts of stress are normal—successful people just find ways to manage them. But if a feeling of stress is becoming your natural state of being, get serious about addressing it so you can redirect that energy to more productive, and hopefully enjoyable, pursuits.