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Navigating Stress One Small Step at a Time

Right now, there’s a pile-up of stressors. On top of the regular challenges of life, we’re dealing with a pandemic and so much uncertainty: Will kids go back to full-time, face-to-face school in the fall? Will we be able to travel internationally or take a cruise? Will we shake hands and see our families? Will we return to our offices? Will life ever look the same?

And these questions don’t have clear-cut, definitive answers, which only spikes our stress levels.

According to Stacie Cooper, Psy.D, a teen/young adult transition coach and co-author of The Mindfulness Workbook for Teen Self-Harm, stress can deplete our inner resources, energy, and our ability to thoughtfully choose healthy coping and self-care strategies.

Consequently, Cooper said, “It is common to resort to unhealthy, negative coping behaviors and thought patterns in times of stress, change, and adversity…”

So, we ruminate about worst-case scenarios, isolate ourselves, lose sleep, and generally sink into our overwhelmed feelings. Which, of course, is understandable. It’s hard to care for ourselves when we’re trying to care for others and not let everything collapse.

And, thankfully, we don’t have to perform grand gestures to reduce our stress and feel better overall. We can take small, relatively simple actions (which aren’t going to add to our stress!).

For example, Cooper suggested these five stress-reducing strategies:

  • Take a walk and focus on your five senses. What do you see and hear? What do you taste, feel, and smell?
  • Tune into your body, noticing where you’re experiencing tension or pain. Take deep breaths, sending those areas extra care.
  • Tap into your creativity to brainstorm a helpful solution. As Cooper noted, people have been hosting Netflix movie-watching parties and Zoom virtual game nights, and meeting with friends at parks for socially distant picnics.
  • Jot down three things or people you’re grateful for and why you’re grateful for them. Or, pen a letter of gratitude to a loved one and send it.
  • Take a time-out. When you’re overwhelmed, particularly during a stressful interaction, simple say: “I need a moment. I’ll be right back.” Then find a quiet space, close your eyes, tune into your body, and breathe.

Here are five other small actions you can try when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone. Call, text, or email a friend about how you’re feeling, and ask them how they’re doing.
  • Walk around your home and find 10 things to donate to someone or someplace that really needs it.
  • Jot down everything that’s stressing you out, and identify a single action you can take right now.
  • Name one lesson you can learn during this difficult time or this difficult day.
  • Practice a yoga pose. If you’re having trouble sleeping, stretching your body can help. For example, you can try child’s pose, legs up the wall, or cat-cow pose to soothe any physical (or emotional and mental) tension.

When most days feel stressful, it’s hard not to become consumed by that stress. Acknowledge how you’re feeling. Acknowledge how awful things might be. Acknowledge that these feelings will pass, and things will improve. And take a small, caring step that supports your well-being—like one of the ideas from above.

Photo by Brad Knight on Unsplash

Navigating Stress One Small Step at a Time

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). Navigating Stress One Small Step at a Time. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2020
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