According to a report released by the American Psychological Association, over a quarter of Americans report feeling so stressed that they’re unable to function. It also indicates that 76% of US adults report having experienced at least one-stress related symptom in the past month, including things like headaches, feelings of sadness, anxiety, and more.
It’s safe to say that modern life for most people comes with stressors. The body and mind are equipped with systems and processes to help manage stress in the moment, but engaging them often or constantly over long periods of time can lead to negative health effects. That’s why learning to better manage stress in your daily life can be beneficial. Read on for a brief overview of the stress response, types, and symptoms along with strategies you can try to help manage levels of this feeling in your life.
The Body’s Response To Stress
First, understanding how the body responds to stress can help in both recognizing when you’re experiencing it and gaining motivation to address it. The physiological experience of stress is the body’s way of preparing you to respond to a threat or danger. The cascade of physical and mental reactions is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response. It includes things like an increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, expansion of airways, higher alertness, and the sharpening of senses, all triggered by brain signals and hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol.
This response can be very effective in helping us respond to a true threat, but it’s often an overreaction to daily stressors like traffic jams and work deadlines. If engaged in too frequently, or too consistently over the long term, it can lead to a variety of health problems such as an increased risk of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and others.
Types Of Stress
When working to eliminate stress in your life, it can be helpful to understand the type of stress that you’re experiencing. There are three main types of stress:
- Acute stress is caused by a short-term event, such as planning a wedding or preparing for a job interview.
- Episodic stress is short-term, but it happens repeatedly. For example, meeting regular, work-related deadlines or getting children to school and activities on time every week can cause episodic stress.
- Chronic stress is long-term stress due to major life events, such as a chronic illness or persistent financial troubles.
Each of these forms of stress can develop from and affect any/all areas of your life, including work, relationships, finances, and health.
Common Warning Signs Of Stress
Getting familiar with the common warning signs of stress—particularly chronic stress—can help you take action to cope in healthy ways. Some symptoms of intense stress include:
- Outbursts of anger or crying
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Low appetite
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, and/or hopelessness
- Social withdrawal
- Stomachaches or headaches
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like these recently and your doctor has ruled out other potential health conditions, it could be stress. Learning to manage it in a healthy way is typically the next recommended step.
Tips For Managing Stress
The first tip for decreasing the negative impact of stress is to decrease or eliminate stressors in your life where possible. In addition, you can try the following techniques—some in the moment, others regularly over time—to help yourself be better equipped to manage stress that does arise. Remember to consult with your doctor and/or nutritionist before making significant changes to your eating or exercise routines.
Engage In Deep Breathing
Try taking slow, full breaths in through your nose and exhaling heavily and completely through your mouth. If this works for you, you may also want to explore meditation and/or yoga. Both of these typically involve a focus on breathing along with a sense of mindfulness—which has been associated with decreased stress in recent research studies.
When you’re stressed, it can be helpful to have a healthy outlet for your emotions. Journaling is one example. Research suggests that writing about your thoughts and feelings can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, some of which overlap with symptoms of stress. Doing so for a few minutes before bed each night could help you clear your mind of the day’s worries so stress doesn’t interfere with your sleep, for instance.
Research suggests that aerobic exercise may help reduce stress, increase calm, and even boost emotional resilience—both in the moment and over time. This is likely because physical activity can increase your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and release natural endorphins.
Remember that going to the gym isn’t the only way you can get exercise. Walking, biking, roller skating, swimming, dancing, and hiking are all activities that can be enjoyable and potentially produce positive health effects as well.
Eat A Nutrient-Rich Diet
Regularly eating foods that are known to be rich in essential vitamins and minerals can enhance mental and physical functioning overall. Certain nutrients may even help you become more resilient to stress. For example, a 2021 study indicates that omega-3 fatty acids—commonly found in fatty fish like salmon and anchovies as well as chia seeds, walnuts, and oysters—may have this property.
Humans are social creatures, and feeling well-connected to loved ones and community seems to be linked to both physical and mental health benefits. A study from 2021 even suggests that strong social connections may help increase stress resilience. While this isn’t something you can do in the moment when you feel a spike in stress coming on, working to build strong, healthy connections with others over time may help you be better able to face stressors in the future.
How Therapy Can Help You Cope With Stress
Many people also find therapy to be helpful in their journey toward learning to better manage stress. A trained therapist can provide a safe space where you can process your emotions and frustrations, learn how to reframe distorted thoughts that may be contributing to stress, get equipped with healthy coping mechanisms, and address any symptoms of a mental health condition—such as an anxiety disorder—that you may be experiencing.
That said, many people who are facing challenges related to stress have busy schedules, making it difficult for them to regularly attend in-person therapy appointments. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a more available option. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online therapy can help reduce stress-related symptoms, so you can generally feel confident in choosing this method if it’s more comfortable or convenient for you. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp therapists.
Below are a few testimonies that illustrate just how significant the benefits of online therapy for stress management can be. Let’s take a closer look:
“Tim has given me some amazing insights to contemplate. He has offered me different ways of viewing my problems and approaching them. He has given me concrete tools to use to manage my stress and improve my depression. He is incredibly responsive and helpful. I'm blown away by how much I like this platform and how helpful Tim has been."
"Lynne is very helpful, kind and knows exactly what you need to get better. She helped me with my stress and anxiety, work related issues, and family relationships."
What are 5 ways to relieve stress?
Managing stress can be crucial for our overall health and mental well-being.
Here are five ways to relieve stress:
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation allows you to stay present and reduce anxiety. Regular meditation can help you cope with stress by promoting relaxation and emotional balance.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers. Whether going for a walk, practicing yoga, or hitting the gym, exercise can significantly reduce stress levels.
- Healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables provides essential nutrients that support your body's stress response. Avoiding excessive caffeine, sugar, and processed foods, which can exacerbate stress, may also be beneficial.
- Complementary therapies: You may consider complementary and integrative health approaches like acupuncture, massage therapy, or aromatherapy. These therapies can promote relaxation and reduce stress-related symptoms.
- Social connections: Maintaining strong social connections can be beneficial for managing stress. Spending time with friends and loved ones, talking about your feelings, and seeking support when needed can help you feel less alone and more supported during challenging times.
Understanding how to overcome stress and implementing these tips to manage stress can help you lead a healthier, more balanced life. However, each person's experience with stress may differ, so finding what works best for you will be important. Whether through self-care practices, seeking therapy or counseling, or making lifestyle changes, self-compassion and patience with yourself are essential.
How do you relax when stressed?
When stress interrupts your daily life, finding effective ways to relax is crucial.
Here's how you can unwind and relieve stress:
- Deep breathing: Deep, slow breaths can calm your nervous system. Deep breathing also increases oxygen intake and improves blood flow, reducing stress hormones contributing to the fight-or-flight response.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Tensing and relaxing each muscle group, one at a time, can help release tension and reduce stress levels. This technique can be done lying down or sitting comfortably, making it easy to do anywhere.
- Visualization: Using your imagination to picture a peaceful place or scenario can help you relax and escape stress. You can also listen to guided imagery recordings that help guide your thoughts and promote relaxation.
- Journaling: Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences can be therapeutic and beneficial for managing stress. Journaling can provide a safe space to express yourself, gain perspective, and let go of any negative emotions.
- Music and art: Listening to calming music or engaging in creative activities like drawing or coloring can reduce stress and improve mood. These activities allow you to focus on the present moment, promoting relaxation and self-expression.
- Nature: Spending time in nature or practicing "forest bathing" has been proven to lower stress levels and improve mood-related disorders. Even a short walk in nature can significantly reduce stress and anxiety.
Relaxation techniques not only help you feel better mentally and emotionally but also have physiological benefits by improving blood flow, reducing muscle tension, and lowering stress-related hormones in your body. Incorporating these methods into your routine can help you manage stress more effectively and promote overall well-being.
How do I motivate myself to relax?
Motivating oneself to relax effectively involves recognizing the significance of relaxation for both physical and mental well-being. It's essential to understand that relaxation isn't a luxury but a necessity, benefiting productivity and overall quality of life.
Setting realistic relaxation goals and starting with small steps can help you ease into a relaxation routine. Establishing a regular schedule for relaxation activities, whether reading, meditation, or yoga, is pivotal in making relaxation habitual.
Maintaining a positive attitude towards relaxation is crucial. Instead of viewing it as time wasted, consider it an opportunity to recharge and enhance your overall wellness. Alongside this, developing coping skills, including problem-solving, time management, and seeking social support, can reduce stress and create a conducive environment for relaxation. Building resilience by embracing challenges as growth opportunities and setbacks as learning experiences will enable you to manage stress better and incorporate relaxation into your daily life.
Establishing a relaxation habit takes time and effort, so be patient and compassionate with yourself as you embark on this journey. By prioritizing self-care and incorporating relaxation techniques, you can effectively combat stress even in the most challenging times.
How do you get rid of stress and depression?
Stress and depression are complex challenges that often require a multifaceted approach to treatment. According to Harvard Health Publishing, depression is a serious illness resulting from various factors, including genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, and exposure to stressful events. When we encounter a stressful event, our bodies respond with a cascade of physiological reactions, potentially impacting our mood and mental health.
To address stress and depression, it's important to seek professional help when needed. Mental health professionals can provide therapy and, if necessary, medication to manage symptoms effectively. Additionally, self-care practices such as regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation can help alleviate stress and improve mood.
Building a strong support network of friends and family can provide emotional assistance during challenging times. Engaging in enjoyable activities and setting achievable goals can also contribute to a sense of accomplishment and reduce depressive symptoms. Managing stress and depression often involves a combination of medical intervention, lifestyle changes, and a robust support system.
How do you stay motivated and stress-free?
Staying motivated and stress-free requires a proactive approach to self-care.
Here are some tips to help you maintain a positive mindset and reduce stress levels:
- Setting achievable goals: Having realistic, attainable goals can give you a sense of purpose and motivation. Breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Practicing gratitude: Focusing on the positives in your life and expressing gratitude can improve your overall well-being. Keeping a gratitude journal or giving things you are thankful for with others can help cultivate a positive mindset.
- Maintaining healthy boundaries: Learning to say no and setting boundaries for yourself can help prevent burnout and reduce stress. It's okay to prioritize your well-being and say no to things that may cause unnecessary stress.
- Positive self-talk: Being kind and compassionate towards yourself can help boost your self-confidence and motivation. Whenever you have negative thoughts, try reframing them with more positive and encouraging ones.
While individuals may experience stress and motivation differently, incorporating these practices into your daily life can help you stay motivated and stress-free. Remember that self-care is a continuous process, and it's essential to prioritize your well-being regularly. So be patient and continue to find what works best for you. With time, effort, and self-compassion, you can cultivate a healthy mindset and effectively manage stress.
Why is it important to manage stress?
Managing stress is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress can have severe consequences on various aspects of our health. Chronic stress is linked to numerous adverse conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and weakened immune function. Stress also contributes to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, impacting our overall quality of life.
Furthermore, chronic stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, substance use, and social isolation, exacerbating physical and emotional health problems. Stress can also disrupt sleep patterns, impair cognitive function, and decrease productivity.
Stress management is vital in preventing these negative outcomes. Engaging in stress relief activities, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and spending time with loved ones, helps reduce the harmful effects of stress on our bodies and minds. By proactively managing stress, individuals can enhance their resilience and prevent or manage chronic health conditions.
How do I prepare for a stressful day?
If you know you have a particularly stressful day ahead, preparation is key.
Here are some tips to help you prepare and manage stress more effectively:
- Planning ahead: When you have a stressful day coming up, try to plan as much as possible. Planning could involve organizing tasks, setting reminders, or creating a schedule for the day.
- Getting enough rest: Prioritizing sleep and ensuring adequate rest before a stressful day can help improve your focus and resilience when facing challenges.
- Incorporating relaxation techniques: Incorporating relaxation techniques into your every day routine can help you stay calm and centered, even during stressful times. When you practice deep breathing, meditation, or yoga regularly, you will have these tools to help you manage stress.
- Practicing self-care: Taking care of yourself is crucial for managing stress. Make sure to eat well-balanced meals, stay hydrated, and take breaks when needed throughout the day.
Remember that it's okay to take things one step at a time and make adjustments as needed. With proper preparation and self-care, you can navigate even the most stressful situation more easily and resiliently.
How do you handle stress and pressure?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, stress and pressure can still feel overwhelming. In these moments, it's essential to have coping mechanisms in place to help manage these challenging emotions effectively.
Coping theory, developed by psychologist Richard Lazarus, suggests that individuals use various coping strategies to manage stress. Some common coping mechanisms include:
- Problem-focused coping: This strategy involves actively addressing the source of stress and taking steps to solve or alleviate the problem.
- Emotion-focused coping: This approach involves managing stress-related emotions rather than directly tackling the problem.
While both coping methods can be effective, individuals often find combining the two helpful. For example, if you feel overwhelmed at work, you may use problem-focused coping by creating a to-do list and prioritizing tasks. At the same time, you may also practice emotion-focused coping by taking breaks and practicing deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
Everyone's way of handling stress can be different. Finding your own coping mechanisms may take some trial and error, which is okay. As long as you are taking steps to manage stress healthily, you will be better equipped to handle future stressful situations.
How can I overcome stress in school?
School can be a significant source of stress for many individuals. Between exams, deadlines, and social pressures, having strategies in place to overcome stress can make all the difference.
Here are some tips to help you manage stress in school:
- Prioritizing tasks: When you have multiple assignments and exams, it can be overwhelming. You can prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance to help you manage your workload better.
- Creating a study schedule: Organizing your studying can help reduce stress and improve productivity. Creating a study schedule can also help you avoid cramming for exams and feeling overwhelmed.
- Seeking support: Don't be afraid to seek support from teachers, counselors, or friends when you are feeling stressed in school. Talking to someone about your concerns can provide valuable perspective and support.
- Practicing self-care: It's easy to get caught up in the demands of school and neglect self-care. However, taking care of yourself is crucial for managing stress in school. Make sure to take breaks, engage in activities you enjoy, and prioritize sleep and nutrition.
It's often normal to experience stress in school, but it doesn't have to consume you. By implementing stress management strategies and asking for help, you can overcome stress and thrive in your academic pursuits.
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