One of the best ways to protect your health is to reduce the unhealthy stress in your life. Research continues to show us that too much stress robs us of sleep, causes us to gain or lose too much weight, causes headaches, etc. Too much stress also destroys emotional ties with the people we live and work with on a daily basis. Although you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, here are some steps you can take to manage your stress in ways that lead to greater health and happiness.

Value your time
Practice saying “no” to added demands on your personal time. Consider what’s really important to you and your family when deciding how to use your time. Reevaluate your priorities as your family changes over your lifespan. When faced with a demanding project, break it into manageable steps and avoid procrastination. When you achieve a goal — no matter how small — celebrate your accomplishments. Help children learn by teaching the skills needed to successfully accomplish a task. Once completed, they can teach you how to have a joyful celebration!

Build fun and relaxation into your daily and long-term plans
Think of something fun or relaxing you can do regularly, even if you can only take five minutes a day to do it. It could be dancing to a favorite song, reading something light or funny or simply sitting and doing nothing. Once you have built five minutes of relaxation time into each day, try to increase your relaxation time little by little. Laughter is also a great stress reliever. Keep a sense of humor and laugh often. Avoid taking everything too seriously. Ask yourself what will be important a year from now? Five years from now?

Invest in your physical health
Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and sleep enough hours. Plan ahead to have healthy food for you and your family, and time for physical activities you enjoy. Many sleep problems are avoided when you get some exercise during the day. Parents know that children do better when they have a predictable routine. We never outgrow the need for routine. We know what we need; it is up to each of us to value ourselves enough to make the time to meet our own needs.

Establish networks of cooperation, support and friendship at work and in your community
Listen well, and communicate your needs and preferences clearly. Develop problem-solving skills and explore a variety of alternatives or resources to meet your needs. Take advantage of the resources in your community (kids’ clubs, for example, can give parents a break, can provide fulfilling activities for kids, and can reinforce the values you want your kids to learn). Learn to delegate responsibilities to capable others. Work with others to establish more family-friendly policies in the community and the workplace.

This article is an adaptation of MU Extension publication GH6651, Stress Management and the Challenge of Balance.