Stress Relief: Changing Your Response

You are the only person responsible for your thoughts and actions. This simple idea is your most powerful tool for managing stress. Start by having realistic expectations. Then learn to recognize what you can—and can't—control. Finally, think about ways to change your response. With practice, you can learn to let go of stressful ways of thinking. You are the only person responsible for your thoughts and actions.

Have realistic expectations

Stressed woman driver.

When it comes to events that cause you stress, ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations?

  • How likely is it that my expectations, good or bad, will be met? Are they realistic?

  • If they aren't met, do I have to respond by feeling badly? How can I work with other outcomes?

Understand what you can do

To get better at managing stress, try these tips:

  • Put the stressor in perspective. Will being late to work really get you fired?

  • Be flexible and look for answers. If you’re stuck in traffic and your car is stopped or you are not the driver, try calling to let people know you’re on the way.

  • Plan ahead for next time. If being late is a worry, plan to leave a few minutes earlier.

Make mountains into molehills

A common cause of stress is feeling as if you have to solve all your problems at once. To shake this feeling, learn to take things one step at a time. Try to break big problems into smaller tasks that you can handle. That way, worries that seem like mountains become little hills you can climb over. Remember, taking small steps will carry you forward. If you find you can’t manage your stress, or your reactions are becoming more frequent or violent, get professional help.