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Behavioral Techniques for Stress: To Help You Reduce Stress

Behavioral Techniques for Stress: To Help You Reduce Stress

These days nearly everyone is exposed to some level of stress. Managing stress and reducing stress in your life is a good idea and a good practice. This is easier said than done in many cases. There are many different techniques out there.

The problem is not being aware of enough of them and practicing them on a regular enough basis so that the stress levels are kept as low as practically possible. Some techniques are easier to apply in your life than others. Everyone has a set of stress management tools that they use.

A big issue is that learning about different stress management tools is very informal and in a lot of cases, completely chance driven. Then another issue is that over time, as different stages in life are reached, the stress management tools used earlier may no longer be applicable.

Student Interested In Behavioral Techniques For StressFor instance, a student living at home with parents has a different set of stresses than a student who lives away from home and away from parents. Once a student completes their education and finds a job, that person has another set of stresses set upon them. The stress management techniques for each may be different, even though it is the same person who is experiencing the stresses. A stress management technique that worked well as a student living at home with parents may not work well when that person finds a job living away from home and away from their parents.

First I am going to talk a bit about the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle. The main point there, is showing how important our thoughts are, how they help determine our feelings, which in turn affects our behavior. If the cycle is “not good”, it can lead to a downward cycle. However, if the cycle is “good”, it can lead to an upward cycle.

Then I want to show an example of a simple everyday event experienced by a few different people and their different behaviors based on that event. Again, the main point here is showing the link between thoughts and feelings and behavior. This is an example of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Cycle in action.

Then I explain a behavioral technique to manage daily to do lists, scheduling and planning. This is an approach that is done on purpose and by design. By following this approach, writing tasks to do, assigning them to other people where possible, assigning the importance of the tasks and the urgently helps us to focus on the important tasks. By knowing that the unimportant non-urgent tasks are just that and are written down, helps us to focus on the important tasks. This is a great stress buster.

Then I explain another behavioral technique to reduce stress. This is an extremely simple and effective approach in a lot of cases, and is well worth knowing and using when required.

Let’s continue.

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Cycle

One set of stress management tools is to use behavioral techniques for stress. CBT is short for cognitive behavioral Therapy. This shows that our thoughts influence our feelings which in turn affects our behavior, and the cycle continues.

For instance a “bad” cycle might look like this: The thought is “I’m unwell” which could lead to an “anxious” feeling which could lead to a “go into myself” behavior and so the cycle continues in a downward direction.

A “good” cycle might look like this: The thought is “I’m doing OK” which could lead to an “upbeat” feeling which could lead to “making choices” behavior and so the cycle continues in an upward direction which is good for reducing stress and is good for life in general.

One good practice when you have some time is to repeat silently to yourself positive affirmations that are applicable in your case and that can help create good feelings. I find repeating silently to myself one or two or three positive affirmations is helpful. Examples include “I’m doing OK”, “I’m doing fine” and “I have things to work on”.

Repeating them silently to yourself in a safe secure place where you do not need to be 100% focused on another activity and you do not need to be 100% alert is a good idea. Therefore, do not do this when driving a car or operating machinery or anything similar. A great place to do this is your bedroom.

Different behavior by different people based on the same event

Story About Different Behaviors Towards The Same Emergency EventWhen an event happens in life, different people attach different meanings to those events and as a result, they behave in different ways than other people.

For example say Mary invited Andrea, Bridget, Catherine and Debbie for a dinner party. At the last minute, one of Mary’s children had to be taken to hospital out of the blue. Mary had to jump in the car and get to the hospital quickly and she did not have time to phone her 4 friends to explain what happened and to cancel the dinner party with a ‘good understandable reason’. She gets to the hospital and is told her child is getting medical attention. She will be able to see her child in a few minutes. She is informed that the child is not in any danger and will be back to their usual self in a few days. Phew.

Mary at this stage, sends a brief text message to Andrea, Bridget, Catherine and Debbie canceling the dinner party with no explanation and promising to reschedule later. She does not have the time to phone each of them separately and provide a detailed explanation as the hospital staff inform her that she can see her child now. Mary goes in to see her child who is now doing OK.

Now, each person who got the brief unexpected text behaves in a different way based on their feelings.

Andrea says to herself “well, when Mary reschedules later, there is no way that I am going to go”. Andrea feels insulted that Mary did not give her a proper phone call to explain what happened. Andrea thinks that Mary sent the text message at the last minute on purpose to insult her.

Bridget says to herself “that is not like Mary. Something really important must have happened to make Mary cancels this dinner party at the last minute. I will give Mary a ring tomorrow afternoon and find out more”. Bridget is concerned about Mary and gives her some space.

Catherine who was thinking of not going anyway thinks that Mary somehow detected her reluctance to go. Catherine is feeling that she would have not been good company at the party and was feeling upset before she got the text message. Once Catherine got the text message, she was more upset. She was feeling sorry for herself. She decides to call it an early night and retreats to the safety of her bed.

Debbie is thinking of all the times she had Mary over to her dinner parties. Debbie is thinking that Mary did not appreciate the amount of effort to have a dinner party. Debbie has decided that she is not ever going to invite Mary over to one of her dinner parties in the future. Debbie is furious.

The same event and four different behavioral responses based on how the person understood the same event which was influenced by their feelings before and after they got the text message.

The primary takeaway here, is to note that the same event generated a number of different responses from each of the four people. We need to note the negative here and come up with positive ways of continuing on. If we can replace the false negative thinking process with a true positive thinking process it can help greatly. This is done by rephrasing the experience in a different way so that the outlook looks more positive. This is where CBT techniques can help.

Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that it was Dr Harry Barry, author of the best selling book, Anxiety and Panic: How to reshape your anxious mind and brain (learn why I like this book here) who discusses this CBT example and concept in his book in some detail.

Daily To Do Lists, Scheduling and Planning

This is one of the different behavioral techniques for stress to help you reduce stress. If you do not plan out in outline what you are going to do for the day, you could end up being more stressed than you needed to be.

It is important to spend a few minutes at the start of the day deciding on purpose and by design what you plan to do that day. It is also important to ensure that you plan in some relaxing or recharging activities into your daily plan and actually do these activities, no matter what. For instance, one of my daily tasks is to practice meditation every single day, no matter what. This is important time to me. You could consider doing it too.

Having a weekly routine can help greatly. Like every Saturday, do the washing and clean the house. Like every Friday evening, do a big shop. Like every Tuesday, do a small shop. These tasks just get done almost automatically on the assigned day.

Regarding the daily plan, simply write out the tasks, a few words for each task is enough. Going through the tasks, determine what tasks could be assigned to someone else, and assign those tasks to those people. For instance, a mother might assign the task of cleaning a bedroom to the person whose bedroom it is, as that person is now old enough to tidy their own room and it is also a reasonable request.

Back to the list of tasks, against each of the remaining tasks, assign a value of 1, 2 or 3. A value is “1” is important and is urgent. A value of “2” is important and is not urgent and a value of “3” is everything else. Then determine how much time is required to do these tasks. At this stage, you may determine that some tasks with a “3” against them, are just not going to get done today. At this stage, simply cross of those tasks off the list and write “not today” against them. Some of these tasks with a “3” against them are simply never going to get done, and as they are not important and not urgent, this is most likely OK.

Then roughly plan and schedule your plan for the day, remembering to plan in the activities that you need to do at certain times. If you are a parent who needs to pick up a child from the school, this is a task that needs to be done at a certain time.

Ideally as each task is completed, simply cross of the completed tasks as they are completed.

The main idea here is to do the important tasks, knowing that the less important tasks will be worked on if ever when the time is right. This frees you up to work on the important tasks.

Ask yourself, Will this be important in 5 years time?

A Great Behavioral Technique For Stress Is To Remember This Clock Based ObservationThis is another behavioral techniques for stress to help you reduce stress. Whenever you are feeling stressed, ask yourself silently the question “Will this be important in 5 years time?”

Many times when you ask yourself this question the answer is No. If so, silently say to yourself “Oh, this is not important. Moving on” and move on.

If the answer is Yes, determine what you can do about this right now. You might need to give yourself some time, so deciding to think more about this when you have some time might be a good approach. Decide to allot some time to look at this in more detail and actually do this at the assigned date and time is a great idea.

A quote from Catherine Pulsifer

“When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question: Will this matter in 5 years from now? If yes, then do something about the situation. If no, then let it go.” by Catherine Pulsifer

I find that the concept behind this quote is mind-blowing. If something or someone is annoying you in such a way that you are becoming stressed, than just simply say to yourself something like the above question, for example “Is this really important, 5 years from you?” Quite often, if not always, you will find that the answer is “No”. When you do, see what happens to your stress levels. I find that they drop down a lot. Hopefully you will too.

Of course, if the answer is “Yes”, then like Catherine Pulsifer suggests, “then do something about the situation.”

This is a very simple and effective technique to manage your stress levels. You might like me, have been aware of this concept however just didn’t put it into use. Once you are aware of it very deliberately and very intentionally, you may find that you start to use this concept very much on purpose, and in the process, it may also help your stress levels go down.

Will You Practice These Behavioral Techniques For Stress?

Happy Faces Who Practice Behavioral Techniques For StressNow that you know some things about the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle, try to ensure when possible that you are in control of your thoughts. The moment you realize “oh, not a great thought”, just acknowledge it and move on. Meditation is useful here, as it helps with the process of acknowledging the thought and then you go back to the main focus of attention, so you do not get sucked into a “not great” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle.

You also understand how the same event was understood by four different people and you saw how potentially the same event could lead to different behaviors by different people based partially by their individual feelings at the time of the event. This is important to note. You may need to learn how to rephrase when necessary so that you do not get sucked into a “not great” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) cycle.

You also now have a behavioral technique to manage daily to do lists, scheduling and planning. Of course, you may tweak the approach to better suit your individual situation, however you know that managing, scheduling and planning helps to reduce your stress levels and is well worth the few minutes at the start of the day to do.

You also know that when you get into a stressful situation, that asking yourself silently the “Will this be important in 5 years time?” question may reduce the stress. If so, great.

This article is part of my Relaxation series of articles. My Relaxation Techniques article outlines 23 different techniques. If you want to learn about these, you can read them here.

Meet David Who Runs This Website
Article by:
David from WorkFromHomeNotes.com
Hi, I'm David, the guy behind Work From Home Notes.

I work from home. I've written guides, reviews, tips and notes that help people work from home. I include my experiences of my work from home journey.

26 thoughts on “Behavioral Techniques for Stress: To Help You Reduce Stress”

  1. This is really informative. Usually people go to a therapist to get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but it is actually really easy to implement some of the exercises into your everyday life.

    I really like the question “Will it be important in 5 years”. It really helps to put things into perspective and prioritize.

    I definitely tend to spin into a negative cycle, especially when I tell stories about the past. Oftentimes, I think that these stories are funny but then I find myself ruminating about them. It does help to connect back to the moment during these times.

    Thanks for the helpful article!

    • Yes, that is correct. You do not need to go to a therapist to get CBT. There are some really good exercises you can do by yourself. There are some good self-help books out there that will provide a wealth of information. Now if after trying the self-help route to get CBT and it is not yet successful, you may need to go to a therapist that practices CBT. Just know that not all therapists know CBT or are skilled in CBT.

      I myself really love the “will it be important in 5 years time?” question. I sometimes start of feeling stressed about something, then I ask myself that question, discover again the answer is No and move on with the rest of my day. I just wish I learned about this technique years ago.

      Ruminating about things in a negative sense is something you may need to learn to manage better, especially if you are ruminating about things that might happen in the future, and you are telling yourself of all the bad horrible things that may happen.

      I think that everyone, including you and I could really benefit from being less stressed.


  2. I wish I would have read this several years ago while I was still working too many hours and of course constantly stressed to meet impossible deadlines. My stress ended up causing me to develop type 2 diabetes, because I was not taking care of myself physically, mentally or psychologically. This information would have made me realize I needed to deal with these issues instead of trying to please everyone at home and at work. I have written an article about the relationship between stress and low testosterone and meditation and relaxation along with proper diet and sleep all are included in managing stress.
    Thank you for all this great information!

    • Hi Curtis,

      Thank you for dropping by. Stress is something that sneaks up on a lot of people including me. Over the last while, I have been learning a lot about different techniques that help me to manage my stress, and I share some of those techniques here. Not all, because not all of the different techniques I tried worked for me, and so I do not include those techniques. I hope that you were able or are able to manage the type 2 diabetes that you developed and are managing to keep stress at bay or at least the stress today is manageable and at a low level.


  3. Very well written article. I totally agree with you all of this info. I especially love the making a list of things you have to do for the day. My wife and I do this everyday and it really does help so we don’t get all crazy by not knowing what we have to do for the day. Thanks for all the info. and other ideas to reduce stress.

    • Hi Fred,

      Thanks for leaving me this comment. My experience of stress, is that it can kind of sneak up on you. You know it is there, and then, it is really there. The main idea is to deploy a number of stress management techniques on a regular basis so that the stress levels are lowered a bit, with the expectation that the stress level is kept at bay. Yes, making a list helps to keep the focus on things that are really important and helps to keep focus on scheduled tasks for the day. Of course, there may be occassions that you need to do something unplanned as keeping to the list is just a guideline. If a family member needs attention somewhere else, that takes priority.


  4. Thank you for this helpful article.
    I especially relate to the dinner party story. People are quick to fabricate their own conclusions to a situation without making an effort to find out the true story. Even easier is to just by default assume the best intentions until proven otherwise.

    • The dinner party story is a bit extreme and I hope that in real life that a simple cancellation of a dinner party like that would not result in so many negative feelings in a number of the quests that were invited to that cancelled party. It boils down to how people think and over time, people can without realising it, fall in to that way of feeling based partly on their life experiences. It is important to keep on eye on your thinking processes to see if this is happening to you and if so, to reframe the situation, sometimes a quick chat with the other person resolves the situation quickly.

      By the way, I really liked your suggestion: “Even easier is to just by default assume the best intentions until proven otherwise.” That is very powerful. I hope that I remember it the next time I should use that suggestion. And I hope other readers of this blog remember it also. πŸ™‚


  5. Hi and thanks for these tips.

    I personally try not to get stressed. That is easier said than done sometimes but getting oneself too much pressure is often ending with being stressed.

    I try to do my day to day tasks, not too much but so that it is enough to improve my life.

    I see you recommend meditation, I like this practice too. I often use meditation during the lunch break for getting back my energy.

    I also try to keep my sight on the good things we already have in life rather than focusing on things that are missing or could be better.

    It is very satesfying to see the things we have and enjoy them, even it’s not that much πŸ™‚

    • Hi Stefan,

      Thank you for adding your comments. I found your ways of managing stress interesting.

      Meditation is a great way to manage stress along with other benefits as well. There are many different meditation techniques out there, so I think it is important that you learn and practice a few different ones to see which ones work best for you. Also over time, it is an idea to change the meditation techniques that you use as you become aware of additional techniques. You may not like all of them, however some of them you may really like and find really useful and really effective.

      Some time back, when one of my brothers suggested I give meditation a go, I did an online course to get “up to speed”. Thanks to it and my determination, I now practice meditation every day. I learned a number of different meditation techniques in that course that I enjoy. Click here to read my review of that course.


  6. Hi David.
    You have a wonderful post here. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is true with how busy this world is it causes even more stress. While some people can handle this very well others have a much harder time. I love the tips you have given. I think my favorite is to ask your self if this will be important in 5 years. I can see that this may give people a new look as to is this something worrying about it. I really appreciate your consideration on this issues.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Thank you, I appreciate your comments. The tip about asking yourself the will this be important in 5 years time question is a really good one, and it also is not one that I thought off myself. This is actually part of a quote from Catherine Pulsifer where she said “When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question: Will this matter in 5 years from now? If yes, then do something about the situation. If no, then let it go.”

      I really love this stress management technique. πŸ™‚


  7. Personally IΒ΄m a person who is stressed a lot, and always my wife gets angry because my stress is sometimes for silly things, she always tells me that it is not good for my health and that I should worry less about things, than for example If there is a situation that really needs attention, then I must act with time and find a solution to that and avoid worry and stress.

    Another of the tips that my wife helped me is to be more organized with my activities, that in a certain way has also helped me feel less worry because I donΒ΄t have enough time.

    Reading this post reminded me a lot of what my wife does for me and how she has come to take care of me.

    This information is quite good and functional.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Hi Emmanuel,

      Stress is part of the human experience. Most people experience stress in one form or another. Individuals learn how to manage it using techniques that they have picked up from other people and other life experiences, for example reading the tips on this website.

      Sometimes though, despite our best efforts, in using techniques to manage stress, a thing called life may on occasion send stress our way. That is why it is important in my view, to be aware of a number of different proven effective techniques and to practice them when appropriate and regularly.


  8. It’s a good tip to ask oneself whether what one is worried about will be important five years from now. Looking back five years, I don’t even remember what things were stressing me out, but I that there was something.

    When dealing with stress, I’ve found guided meditaion and subliminals to be very helpful. There are tons of free ones on YouTube. Herbal teas are also a good way of relieving stress.

    • I love your point that you do not remember what you were stressing about 5 years ago. πŸ™‚

      There are also guided meditation sessions in the Insight Timer App which are free to access in online mode. You can see my review of the Insight Timer App here.

      I have cut down a lot on coffee (from about 6-7 mugs of coffee per day to about 1-2 mugs of coffee per week), increased my intake of ‘normal’ tea and of ‘green’ tea to about 2-3 mugs per day.


  9. Yeah everyone has their own set of stress. I think you are so enlightened on this point. Usually we tend to get bogged down by our own stress, and hardly put ourselves in others’ shoes to consider what kind of stress they are experiencing. 

    You have explained the CBT cycle so well, I can understand it clearly now. I love the illustration in your post too. It brings across the very important idea that your thoughts control your feelings, which in turn affect your behaviour. 

    Personally, I use deep breathing, going into nature, as well as drawing to reduce my stress. 

    I also love your technique in asking whether it will still be important in 5 years’ time. It really brings the issue into clearer perspective. 

    • Hi Joo,

      Indeed, everyone has their own set of stresses at different phases in their lives. Stress is a part of the human experience, so everyone experiences it in one form or another. Some people are able to manage it better than others for various reasons.

      I think learning about different techniques and practicing those techniques when required can only help people to manage stress better. For instance knowing about the CBT cycle can only help people assuming that they remember enough of the cycle to put it into use for themselves. Knowing the “will this be important in 5 years time” question is a good one when one remembers this when the stress appears.

      I actually discuss some of the techniques you mention you do elsewhere on this site excluding the drawing one. I never got around to writing about that as a technique. Mainly because I do not actually draw myself. I did a few months back actually purchase some drawing paper, some colouring pencils, a pencil sharpener and a rubber so I am good to go on this one when I get the time.


  10. This is great CBT is very much like NLP. Having trained in both, I must say they very beneficial to one who is looking to improve their outlook on life. I enjoyed CBT because it retrained my brain on how to thiink differently. 

    I also enjoyed the perception one has based on the same scenario. Good for to bring that in, as it shows not everyone thinks alike.  I can defintely see myself change my thinking to better reflect my new outlook on life. Thanks for the great article. 

    • Hi Jag,

      I am pleased that you enjoyed the perception section within the article of how a number of different people read different things into a fairly simple example. One thing to bear in mind, is that a person depending on how relaxed or stressed that they are, can actually behave in different ways to the same event. 

      This is one reason why I think it is so important to have a daily meditation practice to help people to “pause” during the day and to “recharge”.

      I hope that you are able to use your CBT knowledge and your NLP knowledge to help you navigate successfully in this interesting modern world of ours.


  11. I had a bad situation of extreme stress in my life about 18 years ago working at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and I couldn’t handle the work because of the law aspect. It ended very badly and I wound up in a mental hospital so stress can be very detrimental and I respect your article.

    My life is much more balanced and low stress now, but I will keep your techniques in mind to stay balanced. Perhaps you could do an article on recognizing when you are in a real stressful condition because from my experience I can say that I wasn’t aware of how much the stress was negatively affecting me in the incident of my life 18 years ago. I only realized it in hindsight.

    • Hi Alexander,

      I am sorry to hear about your case of extreme stress about 18 years ago. It sounds though that you have recovered and are moving on with the rest of your life. Good for you. Well done. 

      The problem with the case of something like stress or anxiety or any of its close ‘cousins’ is that people are so busy before the event that they do not necessary know that the problem is going to get worst. People continue on as before and as they always did. Then, it can strike. 

      This is one of the reasons why people recommend a work life balance and to reduce stress. These days people are recommended to do daily exercise, eat in a healthy manner, get enough high quality sleep, laugh a bit, enjoy ‘quality time’, take holidays and to enjoy life. However a lot of people do not do these things on a regular enough basis and their lives get out of synch, without them realizing that it could become serious, especially if they have been subject to stress over an expanded period of time. 

      Building a daily meditation practice for yourself is just a great idea because of its many benefits.


  12. David, my wife has had problems with stress for many years, and we have been trying to stay ahead if it.  Sometimes it gets so bad she will have a panic attack and just melt down.  I really didn’t know very much about cognitive behavioral therapy, but your article is fascinating.  I will be studying your website much closer.

    Thank you for so much insight of treatments and processes that we didn’t know about.  As my wife and I get older, I need to stay on top of todays breakthroughs.  Thank you so much for sharing this information!    Clay

    • Hi Clay,

      I am sorry to hear that your wife suffers from stress and suffers panic attacks. They are the worst.

      This website has many articles that I think she and you will find useful.

      1) Consider doing guided Meditation sessions online using the Insight Timer App. See my review of the Insight Timer App here.

      2) Consider reading the excellent book “Anxiety And Panic: How To Reshape Your Anxious Mind And Brain”. See my review of this here. This book discusses CBT in some practical and useful detail from the point of view of someone who suffers panic attacks, and outlines a number of approaches which may help your wife.

      3) Consider reading my Stress Management Techniques article. And consider doing as many of them that are practically applicable.

      Of course, there are more articles on this website, but I think that these would be the ones of special interest for your wife and you.


  13. Having a routine helps me stay stress free.  I found that it keeps my time and my house running smoothly.  I find that not having a plan and just trying to focus on the next task that is in front of your face is stressful as it is.

    I do schedule a cleaning day each week, but I try to make sure that I declutter every single day.  Piles of mail, unsorted laundry, a coat strung over a jacket instead of being in the closet, all these things creat a stressful environment.

    And one last thing that has helped me, being outside for just a few minutes each day.  I like to be outside, away from electronics, and just be in the moment. No headphones!

    I never thought about the “Will this be important in the next 5 years” approach, but I will definitely start using that one.

    • Hi James,

      Like you, when I am outside, I don’t use headphones or electronics, well, apart from the mobile phone, which is just in “receive phone calls mode” or even in silent mode, as I like to get away from it all. 

      The “Will this be important in the next 5 years” one is a good one to use. I find that it is so simple that I sometimes forget that one. One reason why I like replying back to people who comment on my website posts is that you remind me of this one. πŸ™‚



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