Seven Tips On Handling Stressful Scenarios

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Daily stress can arise from a variety of sources, including work, relationships, health, and many more. Stressful situations are a normal part of life, and the body’s stress response is a natural mechanism. However, chronic or extreme stress that isn’t managed in a healthy way has the potential to negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health over both the short and long term. Below, we’ll discuss handling stressful scenarios with practical tips and forms of support.

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The importance of management for physical and mental health

Stress can be a normal and even healthy reaction in some scenarios. Scientists believe our ancestors developed the stress response as a mechanism of survival in moments of danger. It can motivate us, excite us, and help us safeguard ourselves against potential threats. However, excessive or chronic perceived stress in daily life can negatively affect well-being in significant ways. For example, it can:

  • Increase inflammation in the body
  • Decrease immune system functioning
  • Increase heart rate and blood pressure
  • Raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious illnesses and complications
  • Increase your likelihood of substance misuse and other unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Cause or contribute to mental health conditions depression or anxiety

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

If you’re not sure whether you may be experiencing chronic or otherwise problematic stress, you might try taking a free stress assessment from only high-quality sources that are reputable and research-backed. Tools like these can help you recognize whether you may be experiencing signs of potentially harmful stress levels, from irritability and feeling overwhelmed to difficulty sleeping and physical reactions like muscle tension. Experiencing these and other signs may indicate that it’s time to adopt healthy stress-management strategies or seek additional support.


Types of challenging circumstances

What constitutes a stressful situation may look different for each person. It can be a single event, a series of events, or an ongoing situation that adds up or changes over time. Single instances of stress could be caused by things like:

  • Losing a loved one
  • Moving to a new area
  • Having a baby or adopting
  • Changing jobs
  • Getting divorced
  • Declaring bankruptcy

Some examples of causes of chronic stress may include:

  • Living in poverty
  • Living with chronic pain or another chronic physical health condition
  • Having an overbooked schedule
  • Working long hours
  • Having an unsafe living situation
  • Ongoing conflict with a family member or significant other
  • Lived experiences of discrimination

Managing Demanding Situations: Seven Tips

Whether you’re experiencing a one-off major stressor or an accumulation of ongoing stressors, it can be important for your health to learn positive techniques for managing their effects. The following seven tips can be helpful examples of ways to relieve stress or increase your resilience to it.

1. Step back and evaluate the situation realistically

When facing stress, it may help to start by pausing to mindfully and realistically assess the situation. Since our bodies automatically allocate a large portion of our resources and faculties to dealing with the potential threat when we feel stressed, we may experience decreased cognitive functioning

One potential result of this is a tendency to catastrophize, or to view a given scenario and its consequences as worse than they are. Stepping back, taking some deep breaths, and then evaluating the facts of the present situation can help you react appropriately and not increase your stress more than may be necessary. This tip is not intended to minimize any stressful situation or experience of trauma. However, it can be helpful to be aware of these possible distorted functions of the brain under stress and to question your own thoughts accordingly.

You may also find it helpful to talk to a loved one to gain an outside perspective on the situation. They may be able to help you see things that you could be missing, such as possible solutions or an alternative way of viewing the problem. In addition, a therapist may be able to provide insight into your concerns and help you reframe your thought processes in a way that limits stress in the moment. We’ll discuss this option in more depth below.

2. Learn to identify your feelings

It can be easy to go about a busy day without taking time to notice and identify your feelings. As a result, emotions you may have been overlooking or avoiding could hit you all at once later, potentially causing an even greater negative impact on your well-being. Getting into a practice of recognizing and naming what you feel in everyday scenarios could help you become better able to do this during times of stress, which could empower you to identify what you need and take constructive action. 

Regularly practicing mindfulness could help you learn to become more aware of your feelings so you can better cope with stress. As one study on the topic reports, a long-term mindfulness practice may help “promote greater awareness and acceptance of emotional experience rather than the suppression of emotions.” Similarly, keeping a stress journal to record instances that made you feel stressed and the mechanisms that did or did not help could be useful in identifying patterns.

3. Adopt a positive attitude when possible

Stress can sometimes cause us to view a given situation or even ourselves in an overly negative light. This habit could prevent you from finding solutions to the problem at hand or doing things that may alleviate stress. While it’s generally not healthy to bottle up your feelings and always force yourself to look on the bright side, adopting a positive or at least more realistic attitude could help in such scenarios.

To engage in positive psychology practices, it may help to first identify how negative thoughts appear in your life. There are many types of negative or distorted thinking patterns, including catastrophizing, polarizing, filtering out positive thoughts, and blaming yourself. If you can learn to identify and replace such negative thought patterns, you may find that you’re better equipped to navigate stressful moments. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises—done either on your own or, for maximum effectiveness, with a trained therapist—are designed to help in this process and may be worth exploring.

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4. Be proactive

Stressful scenarios often occur when we find ourselves behind on a task or unprepared for an event. While not everything can be anticipated or planned for, being more intentional and proactive could help you decrease stress in the future. 

To start, you might consider examining the ways you organize your time and prepare for the future. Digital calendars, virtual to-do lists, custom planners, and productivity apps and techniques could help you keep track of your time and tasks so you may avoid stress from missed deadlines or forgotten to-dos. Reflecting on past scenarios that caught you unprepared and caused stress could also be helpful. For example, if you had a flat tire on the way to work and realized you didn’t have a spare, making sure to get one now could help you reduce stress the next time you get a flat.

5. Find helpful and sustainable ways to care for yourself

During stressful times, practicing self-care can be particularly important. When you’re short on time or overwhelmed, you may not feel like eating, exercising, or spending time with friends, but these activities may help improve your stress resilience and your physical and emotional well-being.

Various peer-reviewed studies from high-quality sources suggest that many self-care activities can lead to reductions in stress. For example, the results of some studies indicate that meditation may help decrease stress levels. Other practices, such as frequent exercise, a regular sleep schedule, time spent in nature, and eating nutritious foods, have been linked to potentially lower stress as well. For best results, you might consider developing a set of self-care practices that you can work into your normal routine in a sustainable way.

6. Reach out for support

Stressful scenarios may be easier to handle when you have people who can provide you with care and guidance. Your support network could consist of friends and family, spiritual leaders, career mentors, neighbors, or others you trust. If you’re experiencing stress from a particular source, you might also benefit from spending time with people who have been through the same—such as those who are experiencing grief, burnout, a career change later in life, etc. Joining a support group is one way to get and stay connected with such individuals.

7. Consider meeting with a therapist

If you’re looking for additional support in coping with stress, you might also consider meeting with a licensed mental health professional. A qualified therapist, for example, can act as a listening ear, help you learn how to recognize and shift distorted thoughts through CBT, and support you in developing healthy coping mechanisms and self-care techniques that work for you. 

Those whose stress symptoms or busy schedules make it difficult to travel to traditional in-office therapy sessions might explore online therapy instead. Numerous studies point to both online and in-person therapy as potentially effective methods of managing stress. In a content-accurate study on the efficacy of online CBT in particular, the findings suggest that treatment helped improve the mental health and well-being of the participants, all of whom fit the criteria for a stress-related adjustment disorder when the treatment began. 

With online therapy, you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an internet connection, which can eliminate the stress of having to commute to a therapist’s office. Instead, you can communicate with an online therapist via phone, videoconference, or in-app messaging for support with the stress you may be experiencing.


Stress can affect us in a variety of ways and at many different times in our lives, but it is generally possible to manage it with the right tools and support. If you’re looking for support in navigating stress, you might try techniques like learning to identify your feelings, being more proactive and organized, and reaching out to your support network. A therapist can be a valuable resource in learning to manage stress better as well.

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