By: Michael S. Broder, Special to Octane
Stress protects you when you’re in danger, helps you rise to challenges, and sharpens your concentration when it’s time to focus. Does this sound like you when you’re stressed out? For many, the answer is no! When working the way it’s meant to, stress can be very productive. But when stress is chronic, it isn’t serving you and can really take a toll on your health, affecting sleep, mood, concentration, immune functioning and blood pressure as well as many other biological processes. When stress feels like it’s getting out of hand, it’s time to take some steps to get it back under control.
Here a few strategies to help you do just that:
• Set priorities. Make a “to-do” list of the things in your life that need to be taken care of and put them in order, starting with items that need to be accomplished first. By using your time to get major obligations out of the way, you’ll feel more productive and even satisfied by crossing the big things off your list. Prioritizing will also help keep your focus off of the trivia that eats up your time.
• Ask for help. You’re not alone! Everyone has certain times that are more hectic than others. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Take a look at your list and see, for example, if there’s anything that can be delegated to someone else.
• Schedule for pleasure. When thinking about your priorities it’s important to include activities that help you let off a little steam. These can include hobbies that you find relaxing, playing a sport, getting a massage, or watching a movie. It’s easy to let relaxing activities fall by the way side, but in the long run, these might be just as important as any other obligation. Participating in a relaxing activity you enjoy will at the very least, give your body a stress-free break and can reduce your heart rate, slow your breath, and calm you down, providing you with many positive health benefits like lower blood pressure and increased immune functioning. 
• Change your menu. Healthful eating habits are part of low-stress living. Managing your diet choices will contribute to reducing stress and increasing your overall well-being. Some people eat poorly when they are stressed, and as a result are more stressed because of the effects of unhealthy eating. Whichever is the case for you (or perhaps both), making small changes — as studies have shown — like decreasing sugar, caffeine or alcohol can help to make you more immune to stress.
• Don’t skimp on the sleep. Stress also reduces the amount and quality of sleep you get. Build a “power down hour” into your evening, when you turn off the electronics and do something calming like drinking a cup of chamomile tea or reading a book an hour before bedtime.
• Get a move on. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Exercise improves your mood by releasing “feel-good” chemicals in your brain, thus reducing stress.
• Relaxation exercises. Practice relaxation strategies on a regular basis. These can be short meditations, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation strategies, or visualizations. I offer some very user friendly examples of these in my book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential.
There are many tools to use to get your stress under control. Start just by trying some of the ones that speak to you and soon you’ll no longer be letting stress run your life!