Start 2024 in a healthy mindset with tips from Dartmouth Health experts on managing, reducing stress

Illustration of main pushing down dial on "stress" meter

It’s so important to take time every day to reflect on the good parts of our world and how we want to build on those. Only you have control over where you focus your attention.

Catherine C. Schuman, PhD

The holidays are a lot of fun, but can also be stressful. As the season winds down and a new year is about to begin, it’s a good time to implement stress-reducing techniques in 2024 to improve mental, physical and emotional health.

“One of the most common sources of stress is feeling like we are not good enough,” said Catherine C. Schuman, PhD, a psychologist with Dartmouth Health’s Cheshire Medical Center. “Other significant stressors include difficult interactions with others, not having enough minutes in the day, feeling like there isn’t enough money, being a parent, work stress, and missing loved ones during celebrations and holidays.”

When you feel stressed, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is helpful in short spurts, boosting immunity and limiting inflammation, but if you feel stress regularly, too much cortisol can decrease white blood cells that fight off infection, such as colds and viruses. Chronic stress over time correlates to conditions like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity, sleep problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety. As we age, stress affects our immune response more acutely.

“Humans have the ability to improve the way we cope with stress, trauma, and anxiety. These are not things to ignore,” said Robert E. Brady, PhD, director of Anxiety Disorders Service at Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. “Stress is a normal part of life, and can even be beneficial, but chronic stress and worry in the absence of true threats, that is ‘false alarms’ for danger, can have real consequences on our overall health. The good news is we are living in a time when it’s much more socially acceptable to talk about these things, and we have a variety of tools at our disposal to alleviate toxic stress and live happier, healthier lives.”

Reducing your stress is an effective way to help your body fight illness, but stress comes in many different forms, so strategies for managing it can look different for everyone. Schuman offers the following variety of tips for mitigating stress to help individuals find what might work best for them.

  • Spend time with people you enjoy.
  • Plan for healthy food that is easy to make or eat.
  • Drink six to eight glasses (48-64 ounces) of water per day.
  • Abstain from electronics within two hours of bedtime.
  • Allow for eight hours of sleep at night and use a consistent bedtime.
  • Plan for time outside, including activities such as walking, hiking and exploring.
  • Walk for 20 minutes a day, and if possible, before noon.
  • If you are used to regular exercise, make sure you maintain your regular schedule.
  • Allow time for quiet activities, reading, listening to music, puzzles, hobbies, and enjoyable activities.
  • Make time for activities that are fun for you.
  • Volunteer some time in your community.

Compassionate self-awareness can go a long way in managing and reducing stress. Schuman explains this means being mindful of your negative thoughts and self-talk, replacing them with neutral, constructive, or positive thoughts.

“It’s important to make sure your thoughts and self-talk are supported by feedback and evidence from the world,” Schuman said. “If you find yourself having recurring unhelpful or negative thoughts, it’s time to work toward building more balanced thoughts. It’s so important to take time every day to reflect on the good parts of our world and how we want to build on those. Only you have control over where you focus your attention.”

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 56 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, which includes Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital, and multiple clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Bennington and Windsor, VT; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.