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How to Handle Stress: 7 Essential Tips (You May Not Be Using)

Stress experts all dish out the obvious: eat well, exercise regularly, get restful sleep, meditate. SURELY there’s more? Here are some tips to take you beyond the basics.

Karen Nimmo
May 28 · 4 min read

You’re stressed out.

You’re fatigued, irritable, sleeping too little or too much, overwhelmed — plagued by a nagging feeling you just can’t get on top of the load — or that you’re not doing enough with your life.

Truth serum: so is everyone else. Everyone has “stuff” to deal with, problems to work through, people that wind them up ( or hurt them). But some people navigate it better than others.

People who ride the stress waves with ease, are always in good humour, who you like being around, who are quietly (or noisily — that’s okay too) making their unique contribution to the Greater Good.

These are the people we need to copy.

But how? How can we deal with stress, increase our life satisfaction ratio in a sea of sh*t and generally feel okay in the world.

Here’s are some fresh ideas for getting there.

How to Handle Stress: 7 Essential Tips (You May Not Be Using)

1. Ditch positive thinking.

Positive thinking as a concept is so worn out by self-help gurus that it makes most of us feel like sighing or vomiting. Or both. But there is no getting away from the truth: that an optimistic, stable outlook is hugely helpful for your mental health. So a better approach is to keep it real — to face the reality of negative events — but tell yourself that you will be able to work through your difficulties and get to a place that feels okay. Even if it takes time.

2. Pull your head out from under that rock.

When difficult things happen, it’s tempting to crawl under the nearest rock until they go away. Trouble is, they don’t go away — not really. They just lie in wait for you. Allow time to process your feelings but don’t hide or get stuck in a pattern of avoidance. Face up to your difficulties and, if you played a part in creating them, face up to that too. Staying under the rock will feed negative emotions like guilt, shame and fear; it will also undermine your confidence. So come up into the light. Talk about what’s troubling you. Trust (and train) yourself to problem solve. Bite off one small piece at a time. And seek help if, and when, you need it.

3. Let go of sh*t quicker than you do.

Hanging on to the bad or negative feelings from past events or trauma can keep us stuck — for years, even forever. So when you feel yourself spinning in circles with old pain, seek out ways to navigate it. Reframing your story, and being able to put tough times or trauma into its rightful place, can be the beginning of healing.

4. Have regrets.

When people say they have no regrets I look at them with an eyebrow raised. Why not? Have they never uttered a mean word or treated someone poorly? Hail the Saints who walk amongst us! It is important to have regrets because we can (or should) learn from them. The trick is to separate the regrets we could control from those we couldn’t — because there’s a big difference. Where events were beyond our control, or we made poor choices, we should go easy on ourselves. Life is (often) quite long and no-one gets it right every time. Where we could have done things better, or behaved differently, we need to bank the lesson and commit to not repeating it.

5. Adapt or (nearly) die.

The phrase is really “adapt or die” but that’s too brutal for use in a psychological context. But being able to adapt, or think flexibly, is the hallmark of resilience. Change is inevitable: things will happen unexpectedly in both good and bad directions. Sometimes, especially where loss of grief, need time to process and recover. but being able to adapt to new situations will ultimately influence our happiness.

6. Breathe (even if you refuse to meditate).

If you’re still walking around saying that you don’t like breathing exercises (or yoga or meditation) it has to be said: you are so last decade. You don’t have to be Buddha-like or meditate daily or fill your phone with rain or white noise apps. But learning to breathe properly — from your diaphragm or stomach instead of letting it catch high up in your lungs — is an essential life skill. Slow, steady breathing is good for everything, including panic attacks, all kinds of stress, inducing calm, creativity, problem solving — even weight loss. So if you’re not there already, get on board.

7. Read or write or make bad art.

“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.” — Kurt Vonnegut

I came across Vonnegut’s quote (in a story by N.A. Turner) and I love it. I’m adding “bad art” here because flexing your creative muscle is so helpful for taking yourself out of your head and into your body — and the world. Making good art is fantastic, if you can manage it. But making bad art — ugly, weird and/or of absolutely no use at all — sets you free.


Enjoyed this? Check out my new book Busy as F*ck , a DIY approach to therapy in a stressed-out world. Available as an ebook or in paperback at Australian and New Zealand bookstores. Other territories coming soon.

Join my email list here for and receive a free gift: Seeing Someone: a brief guide to psychology, therapy and coaching. Enjoy!

On The Couch

Understanding yourself is the key to great results and optimum living. Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo offers help for your difficulties and a blueprint for fulfilling your potential.

Karen Nimmo

Written by

Clinical psychologist, writer, still learning how to live. Author of 3 books, including Busy As F*ck: 10 on-the-couch sessions for busy people everywhere.

On The Couch

Understanding yourself is the key to great results and optimum living. Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo offers help for your difficulties and a blueprint for fulfilling your potential.

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