Advance with MUSC Health

Five Ways to Manage Stress Now

Advance With MUSC Health
January 02, 2024
Man standing in front of a tree with head tilted up and eyes closed.

During the holidays and throughout the year, there are times when we all could use some quick and concrete tools to better manage the stress that unfolds during the day.

“My work with patients focuses on teaching skills to help manage stress in the moment, throughout the day,” says Jeffrey Pavlacic, Ph.D., clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow in the MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “It’s about finding and using the skill that works for you specifically; you have to try them out and see what fits with your lifestyle and schedule.”

Here, he shares five things you can do now to manage daily stress.

  1. Take time to focus on your breathing. “When we’re stressed, our heart rate increases, which can impact our breathing,” says Pavlacic. “During stressful moments, take slow, deep breaths. Doing this even a few minutes a day can be helpful. To practice, try inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, holding for four counts and then repeating that cycle.”

    Practical tip: Set a reminder on your cell phone or other device to practice breathing a few times a day. Or place a sticky note where you’ll see it regularly, such as on your desk, near a kitchen or bathroom sink or in your workspace.
  2. Schedule pleasant activities that encourage you to move and bring fulfillment. “This might be taking a walking break at work, spending time with others, getting regular exercise, being with a pet or going out to eat.”

    Practical tip: Make sure these activities are enjoyable and bring you meaning. You might take an inventory of what you value, such as social activities, family or gym time. Then schedule small activities that line up with these values. “Start small and slowly increase these activities over time to ensure success and find what works with your schedule and routine,” says Pavlacic.
  3. Relax your muscles. Different muscle groups can be in a state of tension during stressful events. “The neck and shoulders are a place a lot of people hold tension. Try tensing and releasing different muscle groups. For example, I might tense my forearm muscle for five to 10 seconds, then notice the feeling of relaxation when I release. The action of tensing and relaxing muscles can help teach our bodies to relax. This technique can also be helpful before bed.”

    Practical tip: “Set a timer to check in with your body. If you notice areas of tension, practice tensing and then releasing each muscle group to teach your body how to relax. Again, start small and slowly increase this practice over time.”
  4. Practice mindfulness. “Mindfulness is about paying attention to what’s going around us, in the here and now. This includes taking the time to notice any emotions as they come up. We can also practice mindfulness by checking in with or noticing what’s going on around us. For example, if I’m eating, I might pay full attention to the smell, texture and taste of my meal.”

    Practical tip: “When noticing emotions, it can be helpful to tell yourself, ‘I’m having a thought or feeling that…’ This can give you some distance from difficult thoughts and feelings.”
  5. Connect with others. Having social connections and support is shown to help reduce the effects of stress. “Share a meal or go for a walk with someone, head to the park or place where you’ll have the chance to talk or be with others,” says Pavlacic.

    Practical tip: Ask for help when you need it, whether from a family member, friend, or professional. Many communities have resources for building social support networks, such as groups or clubs.

To learn more or schedule an appointment, call 843-792-9162 or visit MUSC Health Psychiatric Services: Mental Health Care.