Here are some practical hints on how you can deal effectively with stress and tension.

Talk it out

When something concerns you, talk it out with someone you can trust - a good friend, colleague, partner, parent or counsellor.

Talking it out can help relieve your tension and see the problem more clearly. It can then be easier to do something about it.

Take things one at a time

Sometimes the workload or concern can seem so great that it feels impossible to cope. Don't try to do everything at once - but take it a little at a time.

Set priorities by tackling the most urgent problem or task while you set the rest aside. As you complete this task, then move onto the next urgent one, and so on. Acknowledge each completion.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

Take a breather

Sometimes it can help to take a break if things are building up.

Lose yourself in an enjoyable non-demanding activity - such as reading a book, going for a walk.

This can help you return to the problem with a clearer mind.

Keep a balance in life

Often when people are really stressed they neglect other aspects of their life and the importance of having a balance in all areas. This can lead to an increase in the stress they are feeling.

  • Make time for recreation: Many people drive themselves so hard they don't allow time for recreation, which is essential for good health. Get involved in a hobby or sport so that you have some time to forget about work or other stressors. This can also open up opportunities for meeting new friends and increasing your support networks.
  • Take time out for exercise: Regular exercise helps 'burn off' tension. It also improves fitness and physical well-being, enabling you to cope better with your stress. Sophisticated or expensive programs are not necessary. It can help though to do the activity with someone else, which can increase enjoyment and motivation. For example, arrange to go for a walk regularly with a friend or join a team sport. This way you are more likely to do it. Pick something that is realistic for you given your present level of fitness, time available and the environment in which you live. To be effective, your exercise program needs to be done regularly.
  • Practice healthy eating habits: Experiencing stress and nervous tension uses up many important nutrients which if not replaced or eaten in adequate amounts, can leave you feeling tired, run down, irritable and less able to cope with stress. When people are under extreme stress, their eating habits are often affected. Some people stop eating, others eat for comfort (and this is usually 'comfort food' like chocolate, chips, cakes etc). Try to eat from a wide range of food including fruit, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, some dairy food and some protein (meat, fish, lentils, pulses) each day. If you are craving high fat or sugar foods to get that immediate (but temporary) lift try fruit juice instead or dried fruit, nuts, raw vegetables or a piece of fruit.
  • Get some sleep: Often sleep is affected by stress. Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before going to bed. Engage in some quiet activities to 'wind down' at the end of your day. Reading, watching TV, listening to music, meditation, prayer, or a pleasant bath or shower can help ease you into a relaxed state for sleep. 

Avoid additional pressures

Learn to say 'no' sometimes. It is often not helpful to be looking after everyone else's needs and neglecting your own.

It can be important to set boundaries and limits. This may involve you needing to prioritise things in your life and making some decisions about what is possible for you to do at that time. Make sure that you still keep a balance in your life though.

Practise relaxation methods

There are many of these, some mystical or creative, some very practical and down to earth.

Choose the one that suits you best.

Regular daily relaxation practice is a very good way to lower your stress and help you cope.

Resolve conflict

Conflict with and angry feelings towards others happen to all of us from time to time.

Talk things over calmly and honestly with the other person to try to resolve the situation. State your own position and feelings and listen to the other point of view.

Anger does not often allow for constructive discussion. It can be good to work off anger in some physical way such as gardening, exercise, cleaning etc so you can cool down and view the situation more clearly.

Sometimes it can help to practice what you want to say in a calm and clear way before you speak with the other person. This can help you get across the message that you want them to receive.

Give in sometimes

Stand your ground on issues of which you are sure and which are important to you.

However, if you are frequently quarreling and arguing, you could sometimes be wrong.

Sometimes you will gain more cooperation from others by yielding. Work out what things you are prepared to compromise on.

Be positive with others

Just as you should not expect too much of yourself, try not to be overcritical of others.

Each person has their own virtues, abilities and values - learn to recognise these as well as people's shortcomings.

Instead of being critical of another's behaviour, focus also on their good points and help to develop them.

Be available

Many of us feel unloved, neglected, slighted or left out. However, often we are misreading cues that others are putting out - sometimes they are waiting for us to make the first move, or they may be experiencing problems in an unrelated area that is impacting on their moods. Instead of always waiting to be approached, try making an approach yourself.