Take Your First Step in Stress Management

Create your personal plan

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your stress. This tool contains several strategies known to help people better cope with stress. Pick as many of the listed options that make sense to you and/or write in your own. Your selections will appear in a downloadable document you can save or print.

This plan may help you feel better about some of the stress in your life. It does not replace medical advice. If you feel like your stress is too much to handle, reach out for support. Doctors, counselors, and health professionals are trained to help. Learn how to ask for help here.

By creating a personalized plan, you’ll be prepared with a range of healthy coping strategies to draw from next time you’re feeling stressed. For more information about stress and how to deal with it, check out this article.  Or follow the links provided throughout the plan for more in depth explanations of each strategy. You can also visit our YouTube channel to see the strategies in action.

Let’s get started!

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Identify and then Tackle the Problem

Before you can manage stress you've got to identify what's stressing you out in the first place. This can be accomplished by asking yourself, “Is this a real tiger or a paper tiger?” Real tigers threaten your safety and must be addressed. Paper tigers only feel threatening, but can't really harm you. Once you get a handle on the problem then you can determine what's needed to solve it.

What do I treat like a real tiger?

In order to stop your body from kicking into fight or flight mode, ask yourself: Is this a real threat that can harm me or does it just feel like a threat? Asking this question forces you to slow down, take a step back and really think about the problem clearly. How you react to a big test is a great example. If you see the test as a real threat, your body will treat it as if you’re in danger and it will be hard to focus.

To learn more about this, click here. Now think about something in your own life that you treat like a real tiger.

Something I treat like a real tiger is:

Why isn't this a real threat?

Reminding yourself that every problem is not a real tiger reduces stress. If you understand that the problem is just a paper tiger, you’ll be able to think clearly, perform better and problem solve. When you’re feeling stressed, remind yourself that you are not facing a real tiger.

This is not a real threat because:

How is this problem temporary?

Sometimes when a problem strikes, people tend to imagine it may lead to bigger, long-lasting issues. In truth, most problems are temporary and their importance lessens over time. Recognizing this helps you think about the issue more realistically and calms your nerves.

To learn more about this strategy, click here. Now ask yourself, “How will I feel about this a week or month from now?” It probably won’t feel so bad.

This problem is temporary because:

What are the good things in my life?

It’s important to understand good things can be permanent. You are deserving of the good circumstances you find yourself in. The challenge is to welcome and appreciate good things, rather than assume they will be taken away.

To learn more about this, click here. Now think about the good things in your life. You deserve them!

Some of the good, permanent things in my life include:

What can't I solve YET?

While it may not be possible to solve a given problem in the moment, it does not mean it can’t be solved eventually. It may just require more time and effort. It’s as easy as adding a simple, but powerful, word to your vocabulary: YET. “I can’t solve this problem,” becomes “I can’t solve this problem…YET.” 

To learn more about this strategy, click here. Now think about something that causes you stress. For example, I can’t decide what college to apply to YET. Now try it yourself. In the box below type this sentence “I can’t (fill in your own problem here) YET.”

I can’t _____ YET:

Break Mountains Down Into Hills

One way to gain control of a problem is to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Sometimes stress feels like a “mountain” that must somehow be overcome. If you see it this way you can’t imagine climbing it to the top.

Instead, think about the problem as a bunch of hills resting next to each other. Focus on one hill at a time. As you do so, each smaller “summit” appears more reachable. You'll feel less overwhelmed. As you approach each hill, focus energy only on the single hill in front of you. When that hill is conquered, then look towards the next one. All of the sudden, the top of the mountain is within reach.

What's my mountain?

Standing at the bottom of a mountain can be daunting. It appears impossible to climb. That’s sometimes what it feels like when you’re stressed.

A problem that sometimes feels like a mountain is:

Which hill can I attack first?

To gain confidence, it helps to attack a piece of the problem that is easily solvable first. Getting something (anything!) accomplished is often all it takes to get going. It’s not the easy way out. It’s the smart way to get started! 

To learn more about this strategy, click here. Now think about how you can break up problems into smaller pieces that can be tackled one at a time.

I can break up large problems into smaller pieces by:

Avoid What Stresses You When Possible

Some problems deserve full and focused attention. Others are undeserving of energy and are best avoided. It's possible to take active steps to avoid certain people, places, and things that stress you out. It's wise to focus your energy and choose not to waste it on unnecessary distractions. It's smart to avoid triggers that create stress.

Think about bullies. A bully in the classroom may need to be confronted by involving responsible adults. A bully in the neighborhood (who only acts up if you walk by his/her house) can be avoided. The smart thing is to choose a different route.

What problem can I avoid?

There are many problems that can be avoided altogether. It could be a person, a place, an uncomfortable memory, or anything that causes you to feel stressed.

To learn more about this strategy, click here. Now think about what problems in your life you can avoid.

A problem I can avoid is:

How can I avoid this problem?

Many problems do not have to be confronted. Rather, you’re best off avoiding them in the first place. Creating space between yourself and what causes you stress is smart and brave. Think about how you can create space between yourself and those things that stress you out.

Here’s how I can avoid this problem:

Conserve Energy

People who waste energy worrying about things they can’t change don’t have enough left to address fixable problems. Not every problem is worth attacking. Some problems may be upsetting but ultimately don’t matter. Other problems (like bad weather) may be annoying, but can not be changed (that game you were excited about is simply rained out). To conserve energy for the things you can handle, you've got to learn to let go of problems that can’t be fixed.

What problem is not worth worrying about?

There are some problems that are not worth worrying about because they are out of your control. Letting go of things out of your control is empowering. It allows you to focus on those things you can change.

To learn more about this strategy, click here. Now think about what problems are out of your control and not worth worrying about.

A problem that is out of my control and not worth worrying about is:

How can I shift focus onto things I can change?

Once you let go of problems out of your control, you can focus on those things you can impact. For example, everyone wants to be liked by other people. But sometimes in the struggle to fit in you might hide parts of yourself that are unique. It’s nearly impossible to change the bigger issue — you simply can’t force people to like you. What you can do, however, is be true to yourself and focus your energy on those friends who like you for who you really are.

Let go of what you can’t change, and focus on what you do have control over. How can you shift focus away from things out of your control and onto things you can change?

I can shift focus onto things I can change by:

The Power of Exercise

In stressful times, exercise restores your ability to calm down and regain focus. When stressed, the body pumps adrenaline, a hormone that shouts, “Hey, get moving!” The instinct is to fight or flee. Standing still allows stress hormones to re-circulate, unused and confused about the lack of attention. The continued presence of adrenaline builds tension and anxiety.

Exercise tells the body to move on. One key way to manage stress is to follow the messages the body sends. Your body is telling you to run...so run! You'll be able to focus better and have more energy after exercise.

What type of exercise is best for me?

Consider getting involved in activities you enjoy that don’t require going to a gym or joining a sports team. Examples include walking, bike riding, hiking or yoga. If you like it, you’ll be more likely to stick with it!

To learn more about how exercise helps manage stress, click here. Now think about what kind of exercise you enjoy most.

The best type of exercise for me is:

When can I find time to exercise?

Making time to get moving every day is important for your mind, body, stress level, and overall well-being. Exercise can even help you do better in school — it improves your ability to think clearly, focus, and remember what you’ve studied. Commit to finding time in your schedule to get active!

The best time for me to exercise is:

Active Relaxation

When stressed, it's normal to feel out of control. When relaxed, everything slows down and you can maintain the presence and clarity of mind needed to make wise decisions and problem-solve. But you can't just snap your fingers and be relaxed. Sometimes you need to take active steps to reach a true state of calm.

What are some basic strategies to relax?

There are several basic strategies you can use to actively relax.

Deep Breathing: Deep, calm breathing can relax your mind and body. Concentrate on your breath. Notice how the air goes in and out of your abdomen. Sometimes it helps to count — breathe in to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 6 or 8 (whatever is most comfortable) then breathe out again to the count of 4.

Good Posture: Sometimes posture impacts stress levels. Focus on sitting up straight, bring your shoulders back and rest your hands comfortably on your lap. Stretch your legs out with your feet planted on the ground (don’t let them shake). If your body is calm, your mind will calm too.

Aromatherapy: Breathing in soothing aromas can be calming. Place a drop of fragrant oil on a cotton ball and breathe in the scent. Or use fragrances found naturally in things like flowers, pine needles and other evergreens, or citrus peels.

To learn more about these strategies, click here. Now think about which of these basic ways to relax will work for you.

The strategy that will work best to help me relax is: 

What are some advanced strategies to relax?

There are also more advanced strategies that take some practice to perfect. But they can still make a difference from the first time you try them! Many of these strategies are best learned by following an instructor (in person or online). Click here for more details.

Yoga: Yoga includes a combination of breathing, movement, and posture. You concentrate on slow, deep breathing as you de-stress through movement.

Meditation: Meditation comes in many forms. But the core of it is breathing awareness, which can be combined with movement and envisioning things that help you relax.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is about engaging with the moment. It’s about having an open mind, accepting thoughts about the past and future, but remaining focused on the present.

Progressive Relaxation: With progressive relaxation, you systematically move awareness through the body. You focus all attention on each body part (from head to toe) while laying down and breathing calmly and deeply. As you focus on each muscle, commit to relaxing it completely.

Consider which of these more advanced ways of relaxing will work for you.

This strategy will take practice but will help me feel more relaxed:

What else can I do to relax?

Now it’s your turn. What can you do to put your mind and body at ease? What relaxes you?

Eat Well

Eating well builds a healthy, resilient body. Nutrition plays a huge role in the ability to manage daily stress and impacts future health. Nutrition is tightly tied to the cycle of stress. When stressed, hormones drive you toward unhealthy eating habits. These unhealthy foods may offer temporary comfort but hurt the ability to manage challenges in the longer term.

How can I eat healthy?

Healthy eating entails a well-balanced diet with a combination of whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. It’s about learning how food makes you feel and focusing on eating food that provides you with energy that lasts throughout the day.

To learn more about nutrition and eating well, click here. Now check out the below list of healthy eating habits, and select those that you will try.

To eat healthy I will:

Sleep Well

Too often, it’s become a badge of honor to work yourself to the bone and sacrifice sleep. It's like a competition to see who gets the least amount of sleep. Sleeping less does not mean you are accomplishing more or working harder. Sleep is in an investment in your quality of life. Sleep affects health, mood, and your ability to think clearly. Stressful situations are easily managed when well-rested but can put you over the deep end when tired.

Why am I struggling with sleep?

The most common cause of fatigue is simple: teens aren’t spending enough time in bed. This can be related to too much time on school work, gaming, or cell phone use. It can also be related to worrying in bed. Stimulants like caffeine can also interfere with sleep. Treating the bed as a workspace is another culprit of poor sleep. If you are like most teens, you aren’t getting the 9-10 hours a night that experts recommend.

To learn more about the importance of sleep, click here. Check out the list below of some common reasons why people struggle with sleep and determine what is getting in the way of your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

These are reasons why I struggle with getting enough sleep:

How can I get a better night's sleep?

Prioritizing sleep provides important benefits and must be taken seriously! Possibly the easiest way to improve sleep is to avoid drinking caffeine or eating food right before bed. The body is also impacted by light, so turn those phones onto night mode. The bed must be kept as a place for sleep. Do your homework and worrying someplace else! And give yourself time to unwind – a warm shower, listening to calming music or reading can help.

Take a look at the strategies for improving sleep below and think about what you can do.

This is what I can do to help get a better night’s sleep:

Instant Vacations

Sometimes taking a “time-out” and stepping back from everyday life is calming. One strategy for managing stress is to temporarily remove yourself from thinking about what is stressing you out. These “instant vacations” allow you to recharge and return stronger and more focused to face the challenge. This strategy is about getting far away from problems in a thoughtful, planned way.

What instant vacation will work for me?

Instant vacations involve getting away without having to go anywhere at all! Good instant vacations allow the body to relax and the mind to be fully occupied, so there is no room for negative thinking. One of the best instant vacations is reading because the mind must focus on imagining the sights, sounds, and experiences of the characters. Others include working on a hobby or pursuing a creative outlet (drawing, painting, dancing).

To learn more about these strategies, click here. Now think about what you can do to “get away” from it all.

I will take these” instant vacations” to clear my mind of stress:

Release Emotional Tension

Emotions are a natural and essential part of being human. They can bring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. To handle stress it's important to learn to manage and release emotions in a healthy way.

How can I release my emotions?

One way to release emotions is to express them with anything that completes this sentence, “I _________ it out!” Ideas include wrote, danced, talked, and many more.

To learn about these strategies, click here. Now think about what you can do to get those pent-up emotions out in a healthy way.

I can release emotions by filling in this blank, “I ___ it out”:

The Power of Contribution

Devoting yourself to making a difference in the lives of others helps both you and your community. Contributing to the community has many benefits. When you give, it feels good. You get reinforcing thank-yous. You gain perspective on your own problems. Perhaps most importantly, you learn that people give not out of pity, but because they want to. So in your time of need, you'll understand that reaching out for help is an act of strength.

How can I contribute to my community?

Contribution can take many forms: formally volunteering at a soup kitchen, tutoring the kids that live next door, or offering to do the grocery shopping for your parents. As long as you do something to make someone else’s life simpler or happier, you are doing good.

For more on this strategy, click here. Now consider ways you can give back to your community.

I can give back to my community by:

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