10 Ways to Cope with Stressful Times

Hand reaching through darkness indicating stress

During these stressful times you will need your vigor and resiliency more than ever, so take time to invest in your health and wellbeing. You won’t be able to share the best parts of your character, talents, and personality if you don’t optimally take care of yourself – body, mind, and spirit. Here are 10 ways to cope with stressful times:

1. Invest in your relationships.

More than any other factor, the relationships we have with the people in our lives determine our happiness and health. Eat with your family, play with your pals, call your mother, read to your kids or grandchildren, or have lunch with your friends. Just a few relationships based on love, trust, and mutual respect can enable you to repel stress like a duck sheds water off its back.

Build a network of family and friends, and make it a priority to stay connected. Your job will not take care of you if you are sick or infirm, your loved ones will.

Bond with your neighbors; few things in life are as valuable as a good friend next door or just down the block. Neighborhood buddies provide a unique and mutually beneficial source of security, companionship, and friendship.

I feel so lucky to have one of my very best pals, Ken, just two doors down. One of us is always spontaneously dropping over for a glass of wine, or pausing to chat in the front yard (while our dogs soil each other’s lawns).

2. Forget the grudges.

A friend from Ireland said to me:

“Do you know what Irish Alzheimer’s is? You forget everything but the grudges.”

Life is too short to waste time and energy on hatred. Make peace with your past so it won’t ruin the present. Forgive everyone and everything.

3. Do not skip your heart medications.

They will protect your system from the ravages of stress hormones during these tumultuous times. If you can’t afford your meds, talk to us. We can usually find an inexpensive generic version, or we can get you free meds by using samples or pharmaceutical assistance programs.

4. Avoid comfort/junk foods.

Many people try to relieve their worries by indulging themselves with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Not only won’t this help to lower stress, but it will also leave you feeling guilty and physically miserable 30 minutes later. Instead, have a cup of tea, or go for a walk, or go outside and do some yard work.

5. Do not take yourself so seriously.

Nobody else does!

Laugh and smile more. It will scare away the energy vampires. One of my patients recently joked, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine.

Hearty laughter from the belly causes real and significant reductions in blood pressure and cortisol (one of the major stress hormones). You are in charge of your own happiness. Make time to do the things that you most enjoy. The activities that allow us to feel true to our nature will energize us.

6. Stay optimistic.

Have faith – this too shall pass! Live in the moment. Mark Twain once wrote,

“I am an old man and have known a great many devastating troubles; fortunately, most of them never actually happened.”

Attitudes are contagious. Try to hang around with positive and happy people, and their enthusiasm for life will rub off on you.

Dan Buettner noted that among all of the healthy 100-year-olds he interviewed around the world,

“There wasn’t a grump in the bunch.”

Don’t ruminate about past problems or hard times; focus on the happy ones instead.

7. Slow down.

For a moment each day, slow down! Remind yourself of the blessings in your life. The band Alabama sang:

“I’m in a hurry to get things done. I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I have to do is to live and die. I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”

Try starting your day with a few minutes of gratitude; it will help to lower your stress level and set a more centered and serene tone for the day.

8. Get your sleep.

Your dreams will never come true if you don’t allow yourself enough time to dream. Problems that feel dark, ominous, and disheartening after a long, nerve-racking day usually seem much less daunting when you awaken fully rested and refreshed to a bright new dawn.

Adequate sleep can also help keep your weight under control. One recent study involving a group of college students found that by adding two hours of sleep per night, they ate 300 fewer calories per day. Sleep deprivation accentuates the spikes in stress hormones like cortisol that cause cravings for high-calorie junk food.

9. Get and stay fit and active.

Get outside and walk. For most people, brisk walking is the single best exercise – one that you can and should do each day. It is an ideal activity to do with a companion, whether human or canine. And it is an exercise that you can often fit in anywhere, anytime.

A walk in the morning can help you to start the day relaxed, a mid-day stroll can dissipate work tension. After a hard day, a walk can cleanse the stress from your system, and a stroll after a meal can aid digestion.

When possible, get outside daily to get some fresh air and sunshine. You were not designed to live a mole-like existence. Outdoor activities in nature will reinvigorate you.

10. Get a pet.

One patient insisted he became emotionally attached to his pet snake during college. I told him mammals are better pets if you’re looking for the “warm, fuzzies.” I wrote him a prescription for:

“One dog (generic substitution permitted). To be taken for a walk once daily (or more often as needed). Refills: unlimited.”


So when stressed, cope with it. Don’t let it get you down. Use some or all of these ways to cope with stressful times.

About the Author:

Dr. James O’Keefe is a practicing preventive cardiologist at Cardiovascular Consultants of the Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute located in Kansas City, MO. He is actively involved with clinical research, has published over 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and is the lead author of several books including The Forever Young Diet & Lifestyle.

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