Exploring Healthy Ways To Cope With Anxiety And Stress

Updated March 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress and anxiety are standard human emotions that everyone experiences during their lives. However, many people have trouble processing their feelings for various reasons and can develop mental health conditions. Read on to better understand how stress and anxiety affect your thoughts and behaviors and how therapy can help you develop healthy ways to cope with your symptoms. 

Defining Anxiety And Stress

Stress And Anxiety Don't Need To Take Over Your Life

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is the mental processes your brain and body undergo in response to dangerous, difficult, or dramatic situations—often characterized by tension, physical changes, and anxious thoughts. Anxiety is a temporary experience that should fade as the circumstances change. However, the human brain is a complex organic machine, and neural pathways can sometimes deviate from expected patterns, creating altered responses to stressors and developing into anxiety disorders where symptoms linger and worsen over time. 

In general, stress means strain or pressure. People experience stress in many ways—physical stress can be caused by disease or illness and can interfere with body function; emotional stress, such as grief, can substantially impact your mood, thought patterns, and actions; and psychological stress, like fear, can trigger your body’s fight or flight response as a reaction to perceived danger. While stress can significantly influence your life, it is not a diagnosable mental health condition. It is, however, often a symptom and contribution factor of several diagnosable disorders.  

“Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that irritating headache, your frequent insomnia, or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the cause.” — Mayo Clinic

Types Of Stress

  • Acute—Short-term stress most commonly encountered in daily life. 

  • Chronic—Persistent stress that feels inescapable and often stems from long-term situations, such as marriage troubles or a difficult job. Chronic stress can also result from childhood trauma or traumatic experiences as an adult.  

  • Episodic Acute—This type of stress can feel like a way of life. You may habitually react to stressors a certain way, leading to ongoing distress.  

  • Eustress—Positive stress that can feel energizing and fun, motivating you with adrenaline surges. Examples might include a rush of energy upon seeing the finish line of a race or feeling pressure to finish a critical project milestone.  

How Stress And Anxiety Can Affect Your Life

Many people with anxiety disorders can feel like they are constantly facing danger, leaving their bodies “stuck” in fight or flight mode. One of the qualifiers for anxiety disorders is the disruptive influence they have on your functional abilities. Anxiety can interfere with your capacity to perform in many areas of your life, such as school, work, or effective communication in personal relationships. 

When your body is subjected to high-stress levels for an extended period, you may produce excessive stress hormones and begin noticing effects on your health. Chronic stress effects can cause additional wear and tear on your body, aging you faster and damaging your overall health and well-being.

Digestive System

Many people with chronic stress experience frequent stomachaches and diarrhea. 

Weight Gain Or Loss

Stress can cause changes to your eating habits. You may overeat and gain weight, potentially putting you at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes. Significant weight loss can also damage your health.

Immune System

Chronic stress damages your immune system, making it easier for you to catch colds and other infections. 

Nervous System

Long-term stress can affect your brain in many ways. It often leads to problems with anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory, and decision-making. 

Cardiovascular System

People with chronic stress often have increased blood pressure, heart rate, and blood fats like cholesterol. These symptoms are risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. 

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Understanding The Symptoms Of Stress And Anxiety

Both stress and anxiety have similar symptoms and often respond well to similar coping strategies. People experiencing stress may have multiple mental and physical symptoms related to a specific external stressor. However, excessive worries don’t fade for those with anxiety disorders, even without an apparent stressor to cause them. 

Common Anxiety Symptoms

  • Physical—Headache, increased heart rate, hyperventilation or other breathing troubles, fatigue, stomachache, shaking, sweating, unexplained pain 

  • Emotional—Mood swings, stress, disorientation, persistent nervous feeling, irritability, “brain fog” or mind going blank, trouble concentrating or making decisions, difficulty controlling worry, intense sense of impending doom 

  • Behavioral—Actively avoiding the places, people, and situations that may cause anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, shifts in eating habits 

Common Stress Symptoms

  • Physical—Headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, stomachache, shifts in sleep habits 

  • Emotional—Anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, trouble focusing, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, sadness or depression  

  • Behavioral— Overeating or undereating, out-of-character outbursts, substance or alcohol use, social withdrawal, decrease in physical activity

Anxiety And Stress-Related Disorders

Several anxiety and stress-related disorders may describe your symptoms and could help your healthcare provider form a diagnosis to develop a treatment plan. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Persistently feeling worried, anxious, or fearful about multiple aspects of your life. Symptoms often interfere with more than one area of your daily life. 

Panic Disorder

Sudden, overwhelming periods of fear and anxiety lasting several minutes and causing stress about future panic attacks. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety related to fear of rejection, humiliation, and judgment in social and performance situations. 

Phobia-Related Disorder

Intense reactions of fear and aversion in response to a specific feared object or circumstance which often pose little risk of danger. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Extreme stress reactions when separated from the people you’ve formed emotional attachments to, often with nightmares of being parted from loved ones and an intense dislike of being alone. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Persistent stress symptoms and reactions months or even years after a traumatic event. You may have flashbacks, nightmares, or unexpected triggers related to your trauma. 

Acute Stress Disorder

Responses to acute or episodic acute stress similar to PTSD but with a shorter duration.

Adjustment Disorder

Short-term difficulties adjusting to stressors with an identifiable cause. This disorder often relates to situational stressors and may fade as you adapt to the changes in your life. 

Finding Healthy Coping Skills For Stress And Anxiety

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Stress And Anxiety Don't Need To Take Over Your Life

  • Identify your anxiety and stress triggers

  • Evaluate the situation to determine if your reaction suits the circumstances.

  • Challenge anxious and stressed thoughts. Your brain can lie to you, and your feelings don’t always reflect the reality of the situation. 

  • Balance fear with positive thinking.

  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

  • Reach out for professional help if your symptoms interfere with your ability to function in daily life. 

Treatments For Anxiety And Stress

The most common treatments for anxiety and stress-related disorders include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two approaches. A recent study shows that the combination of talk therapy and medication is the most successful treatment strategy for many people. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most common treatment for anxiety disorders and for managing stress reactions. Focus on identifying harmful thought patterns and behaviors with the professional support and guidance of a licensed therapist, working to shift toward healthier, more productive habits. 

Why Is Self-Care, And Why Do You Need It?

Beyond the things required to keep you alive, your body and mind have additional needs. Self-care is the habits you develop to meet your needs and defend your well-being by helping you find balance and present the best version of yourself. You cannot properly care for others if you don’t care for yourself. As the cliché says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Self-Care Tips For Managing Stress And Anxiety

  • Find ways to enjoy the sensory sensations around you. Many people benefit from focusing on the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches available to aid in self-care. 

  • Maintain a healthy diet, regular sleep schedule, and routine physical activity

  • Keep a journal to keep track of your emotions and how you coped

  • Avoid alcohol and substance use

  • Practice a mindful lifestyle with meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga to help improve focus and discipline. 

  • Use positive affirmations to reassure yourself

  • Establish an evolving repertoire of coping skills

  • Focus on positive thinking

How Therapy Can Help Manage Stress And Anxiety Symptoms

If you’re having trouble managing your reactions to stress and anxiety to the point that they interfere with your ability to function, consider working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform such as BetterHelp. For children from 12 to 19, TeenCounseling can provide assistance. With flexible appointment formats, fitting therapy into your busy schedule has never been so simple. A qualified therapist can help you learn healthy, practical ways to cope with stress and anxiety while learning to recognize and process your emotions effectively.  

According to a recent study, online cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective as in-person treatments—and in some cases, more effective. Medical professionals agree that the effectiveness and duration of therapeutic outcomes increase with the number of sessions attended. Many online CBT patients said the convenience of receiving treatment at home made it possible to participate in more sessions. Patients also frequently said they found it easier to disclose personal details with a therapist due to the added physical distance of teletherapy. 


Many people face challenges with controlling their emotional reactions to stress and anxiety. The information provided in this article may offer insight into the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of stress and anxiety—and how therapy can help you find healthy ways to cope with your symptoms.  

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