Stress can help…to a point

Stress management tools are part of your early warning system.

Feelings of tension alert you to things you need to take care of, so you can move on to more important things, like getting your work done and having fun with your kids.

When your early warning system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it’s less like the whirring of a well-functioning motor and more like the annoying high-pitched beep of a super-sensitive smoke alarm. Stress management tools keep your warning system working at its best.

Here’s how it looks when your system is on high alert: tension in your chest, a distracting headache, upset stomach, jumbled thoughts. Maybe you know the path through the mess, but you still can’t get your brain around it.

If you’re like most people, you want the stressful feelings to stop. Changing the way you think, reorganizing your job, and sorting things out with your partner are hard to do in the heat of the moment You need something that will help you make a shift to a calmer self right away.

How do you get calm, clear, and focused now?

Navigation and your stress management tools

Stress Management ToolsMy mother was a pilot for a short time, just before World War II. It’s easy, she said, to see where you’re going when you’re flying over familiar terrain, and high up where you have perspective.

But what if you don’t have that perspective?

It was a cloudy day when her instruments failed. She lost her visual cues, the broad brushstrokes of mountains and hills and valleys that normally led her back to the base. She also lost use of the gauges that normally told her how far she was from the ground and when she was on the right path.

She had no choice to but to drop below the cloud cover and fly low. But without the perspective of height, how could she tell where she was?

Stress is usually about what you don’t know

It’s about facing uncertainty. You’re not sure how it’s going to turn out – the presentation, the party, the surgery, the exam. You don’t know how people will react to your performance, your speech, your report.

You need to re-orient, and fast. But fast doesn’t necessarily mean big.

Know how to change direction

My mother had to change direction. But she couldn’t do it all at once. She didn’t have the information, and mistakes would have been, shall we say, costly.

She said to me, “When you’re in trouble, you have to think small.”

The further you are from your destination, she explained, the smaller the change you want to make. A change of just one degree could mean ending up a hundreds of miles off course.

It was much safer, she said, to make small changes, and often. In fact, long-term change is the result of a dozen or more short-term course corrections.

When her instruments were out, she decided to contact with the radio operators every 5 minutes or so. They told her how far off course she was, and each time she made a tiny change. Those small changes added up to the big changes she needed to get safely home.

The surprising truth about habits

Can One-Minute Stress Management tools make a lasting difference in your life?

That depends on how often you use the tools, and of course the kind of stress you’re dealing with. Some of my clients find that practicing them solo – but often – does the trick.

But if you’re like most of my clients, you’ll find the path easier with an experienced guide. It can be reassuring to have someone in your corner, reminding you to tap into your dreams, nudging you to keep going, helping you troubleshoot sticky situations.

But whether you’re solo or with a coach, these stress management tools will give you a chance to slow down, reflect, and make the kinds of small adjustments that over time can be life-changing.

1. Breathe

Here’s a simple, powerful way to reduce stress: Breathe.

Amazing things will happen. When you breathe your blood pressure drops, your metabolism slows, and your muscles relax. Instead of setting aside 10 or 20 minutes a day to meditate, how about setting aside one minute, 10 or 20 times a day? Breathing consciously and purposefully is one of the best stress management tools. Set an alarm to remind you, on the hour, to breathe.

2. Move

When you only have a minute, you have to make it count. Take a brisk walk around the building, or jog in place. Blast some music into your headphones and dance. Do your favorite yoga pose. Anything that nudges you out of the chair and gets your blood circulating will help. The Mayo Clinic includes exercise as one of the top stress management tools. Make sure the movement you choose is safe for you, and see what you can do with a minute!

3. Plan

Planning can make you happier, and it’s one of the most effective stress management tools. Skeptical? Here’s what I mean: My client Anna was the kind of woman who prided herself on doing excellent work, and it was unusual for her to procrastinate.

Maybe it was the kitchen remodel she was in the middle of, or perhaps it was having her 22 year old son at home for the summer, or it could have been any of the demanding projects she was dealing with. But here she was, not making progress on an important project, and her client who was expecting something spectacular…soon. Anna didn’t see how she was going to make it happen.

So Anna and I sat down to plan, step-by-step, a workable path through the dozen or so urgent projects she was facing. When we finished, her eyes were sparkling and she had a smile on her face. She finished within the week.

4. Laugh

It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re laughing. Turn off the news for a while and read something funny. Listen to your favorite comedian, take in a comedy show, watch a “kitten” video on YouTube, or simply notice the funny moments that are part of everyday life. Here’s a start: Act Two of a Podcast from This American Life, where a woman tells a joke that is so funny to herself that she can hardly tell it. Laughter is a fabulous stress management tool. Even the act of smiling can create a positive shift in your mood.

5. Touch

Hugs can reduce stress and boost your immune system. One study followed 400 people for two weeks, and found that more social support and more hugs meant a healthier immune system. The physical contact seems to be part of the picture, because massage seems to have the same benefit. No one around that you want to hug at the moment? You’ll get the same benefit if you hug yourself.

Adjust your course often

These five stress management tools might seem too simple, but remember, it’s repetition that counts. Make small changes often.

Use them at work, at home, in line at the grocery store, or when you’re talking with someone and struggling for the right words to say. Use them when you are about to give a presentation, take a test, or sing for your friends. Use them when your ten year old comes home sad because he didn’t get the part in his school play, or when your teen is mad that you didn’t let her stay out until 2:00am on a Monday morning.

Any time you feel stress coming on, these stress management tools to navigate. They will help you stay on course until you regain your perspective.

Happy navigating!

Author's Bio: 

Pat LaDouceur, PhD, is author of the forthcoming book, The Remarkable Power of Small Choices: Simple Actions that Shape Your Life. She is a licensed psychotherapist (CA24003), Board Certified Neurofeedback practitioner, author, speaker, and former Director of Operations at a nonprofit agency. For almost three decades, Pat has taught staff, students, and her private clients to be more confident, focused and connected at work and in meaningful relationships. If you like what you're reading, sign up for her Anxiety-Free News at