Life is stressful—that’s a basic fact. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes. Of course, major life events, such as a sickness in the family or financial woes, are universally stressful. There are other, less obvious day-to-day stresses, though, many of which impact individuals differently. (One of the key concepts regarding stress is that “stress is in the eye of the beholder.”) Sometimes stress can stem from happy things. Think about how exciting moving to a new home can be or how joyous welcoming a new baby is—and how very stressful, too!

Here’s another basic fact: you can’t control anything that happens in life, and you can’t control anybody. For many of us, that feels scary and unsettling. But there’s good news: we do have some control—the control that lies within us and gives us the ability to manage our reactions.

There is clear scientific evidence that there is a relationship between stress and health. Being able to control your level of stress will improve your physical health and your quality of life.

There are several useful techniques that can help you learn to keep stress under your control.

Deep breathing. Take in a breath through your nose that goes past your throat and past your chest into your solar plexus (the area right below your rib cage). Imagine taking in the kind of breath that you would if you were walking past a bakery and smelling the wonderful aromas. Hold it for a few moments. Now release it slowly through your lips, which are opened slightly. Imagine that you are blowing on candles that are lit on a birthday cake. (It’s not your birthday, though, so you can’t blow them out; you can only make the flames flicker.) By breathing this way, you are taking the necessary steps to begin relaxing your body.
Relax your body. When you notice that your body is tense, imagine breathing into that area, and relax it. In order to help you learn to notice when your body is tight, practice tensing up and then relaxing your body parts, starting from your toes and moving up your body. This exercise will help you become aware of the difference between how you feel when you are tense and when you are relaxed. If your body is tight, you will be less likely to flow with a stressful situation that may come your way.
Learn to meditate. Mediation is a practice that helps you learn to focus your attention. Sit upright, and focus on your breath. Some people also like to count to 10 and then start again or use a mantra (a six-syllable phrase from Buddha’s teachings) to assist in keeping their attention. When a thought comes, notice it, acknowledge it, and let it go. This tool takes patience and practice but is a wonderful way to help you learn to “let go” and therefore more effectively deal with stress.

There are many times when I realize I am starting to become stressed—perhaps I am in a traffic jam and I’m late for a doctor’s appointment, or I’ve agreed to take on one project too many and am rushing to meet a deadline. Once I realize I’m becoming stressed because I can feel my body getting tense, I assess the situation and accept the fact that being stressed will be counterproductive. More specifically, I can’t change the fact that there’s a traffic jam, so maybe I’ll enjoy the scenery. Or by being anxious about the deadline, I’m not giving the work my full attention, so I take a moment to inhale a long, slow breath (as I’ve outlined above) and choose to let go of what’s bothering me. In just a moment’s time I’m back on track and more focused.

Though stress is a part of life, it need not adversely affect it. By learning to improve the way you deal with your reactions, you will improve the quality of your life!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

A psychologist in private practice, Dr. Karen Sherman specializes in relationships and lifestyle issues. Her first book, Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last, was published in 2004, and The Choice is Yours: Rewire Your Past to Create a New Future will soon be published. She’s in the media frequently for her expert opinion and also does speaking engagements, workshops, and tele-seminars. She’s dedicated to helping people learn how to make choices that will offer them richer lives, both individually and in relationships. You can subscribe to her free newsletter at