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Stress busting - ways to reduce and manage stress

For many of us, stress is part of everyday life. So learning ways to manage or reduce it is important. But it isn't just about finding ways to relax more. According to clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Edelman, and author of Change Your Thinking, it's about managing your time more effectively, problem solving, and learning to say 'no' sometimes. It can also be about knowing what you can control and what you can't.

Tips for managing and reducing stress 

Try to maintain a healthy balance of work and leisure

Ensure you have enough time to relax each day - activities that are absorbing and engaging may also help you connect with other people.

Make time for regular exercise

Besides helping you relax physically by easing muscle tension, regular exercise also boosts energy levels and improves stamina. This can act as a buffer against stress.

"When your energy levels are low, your threshold for coping with stress may be lower too, but when you feel strong and energised, it may help you cope better with problems," Dr Edelman explains.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep may make it easier to deal with stress. Watch your alcohol intake too. Alcohol may help you feel more relaxed at first, but long-term drinking to cope with stress can lead to a range of health and social problems. It’s also likely that overdoing alcohol may actually make you feel more stressed and has also been linked with depression.

When problems arise ask ‘what can I do about this?’

Problems are an unavoidable part of life and a cause of stress. But taking steps to look for solutions can make you feel better by giving you a sense of control. Talking problems over with other people can often give you a fresh perspective and help you to solve them.

Be flexible with your thinking

While we need to look for solutions to problems that cause us stress, we also need to recognise that there are some things in our lives that we can’t control. Try to focus on the things you can control. Remember that being able to accept situations that are beyond your control is, paradoxically, a way of exercising control because you choose to let it go.

Learn to say no

Try not to over-commit yourself, especially at times when you’re more likely to feel stressed.

Plan ahead

If you know there’s a stressful event or period coming up, try to find ways to take the pressure off.

Be open to change

Sometimes the only way to reduce stress in your life is to change something or give something up, for example, changing your job or taking some time out from a toxic friendship.

Find a relaxation technique that works for you

Everyone has different ways of relaxing - reading a book, listening to music or watching TV. But it’s also useful to have something extra - a technique that can put you into a deeper state of relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety, especially if you’re anxiety prone. Deep relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, can cause physical changes including slowing down breathing and heart rate and relaxing muscle tension - the opposite of the fight or flight response.

Deep relaxation techniques 

Progressive muscle relaxation

This involves consciously relaxing each muscle group from the feet to the face, one by one. This can also be done by first tensing each muscle for a few seconds and then relaxing it. It’s important not to rush this process and to allow each muscle group to relax a little before moving on to the next one. This muscle relaxation generally takes about 10 minutes.


Meditation is a way of stilling the mind to give it a break from its usual thinking pattern. There are different ways of doing this, including:

  • Focusing on an object or sound while letting go of any thoughts that arise. You can focus on your breath, a mantra (a word or a phrase that you repeat to yourself or out loud), or on a physical object like a candle or picture.
  • Mindfulness meditation. This is the practice of slowing down and examining your thought processes, and learning to be in the moment. It involves focusing on your breathing, thoughts, feelings, and even physical sensations like taste or touch - but doing so in a detached way. The idea is to calm the mind by simply being at one with what’s going on, without judging it or reacting to it and without letting your focus drift to the past, the future or anything that’s not happening in the moment. You can practise mindfulness in a sitting position like you would with meditation generally, but you can also do it during everyday activities like walking, washing or eating as long as it’s safe and practical to do so, says Edelman.

Meditation may work best for a calming effect if it’s done for 20 minutes daily. Learning to meditate can be harder than progressive muscle relaxation because it’s normal for the mind to wander, but it gets easier with practice. Once you become aware that your mind has strayed, let go of your thoughts and return to the meditation.

Further information 

Beyond Blue. Reducing stress fact sheet

The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Stress Management

Duke Medicine. How to bring more mindfulness into your life


Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Stress Management. [online] Boston, MA: Massachusetts General Hospital. C2011 [accessed 24 May 2011] Available from:

Black Dog Institute. Exercise and Depression. [online] Randwick, NSW: Black Dog Institute. c2010 [accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: (PDF, 110Kb)

DrugInfo Clearinghouse. The effects of alcohol on the young brain: for workers. [online] Melbourne, VIC: Australian Drug Foundation. 2005. [accessed 20 Aug 2010] Available from:

Edelman S. Change Your Thinking. Da Capo Press: Cambridge, MA. 2007.

Last published: 30 July 2011

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