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15 Stress Tamers for Work, School & Family

Healthy living takes more than eating right and exercising; it also means managing the stress of modern life. The secret to surviving and thriving with stress is knowing how to pull positive effects from it—for ourselves and for our families, too.

Increasingly, researchers are finding serious health consequences that can result from stress. You might find some of these stress signals familiar: tight or throbbing muscles (especially in the neck and lower back), dull headache, unusual thirst or perspiration, digestive issues, jaw pain, weight fluctuations (up or down), and muddled spatial memory (where are those car keys?).

Luckily, science is also offering widely applicable insights into ways to tame that modern stress monster—for workers, students, parents…everyone.

Stress Busters for Everyone

  • Choose your stress response. Everyone naturally responds to different stressors in different ways, but the key to defusing them is recognizing how to unlock the hidden benefits of stress.
  • When stress winds you up, make a habit of winding down. Successful people rely on simple ways to unwind their stress. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates reads before bed. Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t listen to everyone all the time. Legendary investor Warren Buffett plays the ukulele. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg turns off her phone. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos seeks ways to laugh.
  • Commit to getting enough sleep. Fatigue is a powerful stressor. Adults generally need 7-8 hours of quality sleep nightly; neither less nor more is good. If you need to, consider taking a short (up to 30 minutes max) nap if your schedule allows.

For School

  • Look for possibilities, not catastrophes. Focus on positive steps you can take to master a challenge, not on the potential consequences of failure. If those negative thoughts start, you can simply tell them, “no.” (It really works.)  
  • Plan a reward. Make time to do something you enjoy at the end of the day—pick up a book, play fetch with the dog, see a movie, whatever. Believe it or not, your brain is often still working on a problem while the rest of you is having some fun.  
  • Release tension with activity. Getting physical is a perfect way to release the stress energy that builds up in your body. Do something vigorous: go for a run, swim, take a dance class, play ball, anything you like that lets your muscles discharge that stress.
  • Make time for friends. Friends are important allies in helping you cope with normal as well as extraordinary stressors. Don’t let a busy schedule keep you from connecting with them.

For Work

  • Move. Take a walk—even if you only have 10 minutes, get out of your chair. Princeton researchers have found that physical activity “reorganizes the brain,” reducing its stress response, refreshing its focus, and priming it to learn something new.
  • Turn off distractions. Silence email alerts, put your phone away, close that browser—it can all wait (at least temporarily). Use the resulting calm for focused work, uninterrupted thinking, or even deep breathing.
  • Straighten up. Good posture really can make you feel better. Holding your head and shoulders upright actually makes breathing easier and can relax you much more than slumping in your chair.
  • Bust the clutter. UCLA researchers found that just looking at clutter can trigger your body’s stress response. Cleaning up and organizing your space—even if you start small—can give you “visual breathing room” that helps you feel calm and in control.

For Your Family

  • Act on your stress signs before overload hits. As a parent, recognizing your reactions can be very helpful in curbing stress before overload makes you irritable, impatient, or angry.
  • Say “no” sometimes. Resist taking on too much. Simplifying and focusing on what’s really important to you (like bowing out of a bake sale in favor of spending individual time with your kids) can help keep you and your family less frazzled and a lot happier.
  • Practice preventive prep. Planning is worth its weight in gold for reducing stress on family routines and relationships. Prep food for a busy morning the night before…make a spare set of keys for when yours decide to disappear…stay on top of car maintenance so it’s less likely to break down when you’re running late…reserve time with your partner to reconnect and enjoy each other.  
  • Play! Make time to nourish your spirit with fun. See a friend, laugh, draw, play games, dance, explore the backyard with your kids. Not only will you reduce your parental stress, you’ll reconnect with—and share—the joyful parts of yourself.

Stress can’t defeat you if you see it coming and know how to counter its effects. Find the right combination of tactics that work in your life, and you’ll thrive in every situation—even (or especially) the stressful ones.

Stress comes in many forms, some helpful (but most not). Learn more about healthy ways to manage the stresses in your life from the resources we consulted for this article.
Dr. Carmen Harra, “8 Immediate Stress Busters + Serenity Boosters,”, Nov. 30, 2013. Accessed Jul. 21, 2017.
Francesca Castagnoli, “Stress Less: Keys to a Calmer Existence,”, Oct. 1, 2013. Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Child Development Institute, LLC, “Stress Management for Parents,” Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Jen Waak, “5 Stress Busters to Beat a Deadline,” Accessed Jul 25, 2017.
Lindsay Holmes, “10 Weird Signs You’re Stressed Out,”, Jul. 24, 2017. Accessed Aug. 7, 2017.
Margarita Tartakovsky, “5 Stress Busters for Students,” Accessed Jul. 21, 2017. And “5 Ways to Stress Less,” Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Marguerite Ward, “4 Science-Backed Ways to Feel Less Stressed at Work,”, Jun. 13, 2017. Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Martha C. White, “5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Reduce Stress at Work,”, Jan. 22, 2014. Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD, “Eight Immediate Stress-Busters,”, Dec. 1, 2014. Accessed Jul. 20, 2017.
Dr. Michelle Borba, “7 Tricks to Help Stressed Moms Chill Out,”, Jan. 26, 2012. Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.
Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, “Top 10 Stress Busters for Teens,”, Nov. 19, 2014. Accessed Jul. 21, 2017.
Susan Stiffelman, “9 Steps to Stress-Free Parenting,”, Apr. 5, 2012. Accessed Jul. 27, 2017.

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