Coping Mechanisms For Stress: What Works And What Doesn’t

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Stephanie Deaver, LCSW

Are you feeling stressed? Does it feel like there are too many situations that you don’t have a solution for? Are you trying to do more than you have time to do? Is just reading through this list leaving you feeling stressed? It’s normal to experience stress and it’s something that everyone deals with. However, it doesn’t have to get the best of you. There are plenty of coping mechanisms for stress that can help you turn things around. The trick is learning what works and what doesn’t.

Are You Struggling With Stressful Situations?


There are many different reasons why people experience stress. For example, you may be going through a big life change. This could include things like getting a new job, losing an old job, getting a divorce, or going through a messy break-up. It could even be a positive experience like becoming a first-time parent or buying your first house.

You may not have a large stressful situation that you’re dealing with. It may be that you’re experiencing everyday stress that is starting to feel like more than you can handle. Even small stresses can begin to build up and feel like they’re impacting every area of your life.

If you’re at the point of feeling like you’re struggling with stress, it can be very important to learn what coping strategies work and which ones don’t as you move forward in addressing it.

Why You Need to Reduce Stress

It’s important to learn how to reduce stress in your life because if you don’t, you may notice that it negatively impacts your mental health and physical health. When you let these symptoms go, they can continue to grow into larger problems. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms you may experience include:

  • Chest pain
  • Tense muscles
  • Stomach troubles
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Unmotivated
  • Irritability
  • Change in eating habits
  • Restlessness

These symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that stress can cause. It can also cause more serious health concerns like diabetes, heart problems, and depression.

Learning stress management strategies can help you work on living a healthier life physically and mentally.

Coping Strategies that Cause More Harm

Substance Use or Abuse


Sometimes people turn to things like drugs and alcohol in an effort to cope with their stress. It may feel like life is too overwhelming for them at the moment. They may believe that whatever the substance is that they’re using is able to help them better handle the stress that they’re experiencing. However, that’s not the case, as substance use and abuse can add to the problems of a stressful situation instead of solving them.

Substance abuse comes with many challenges and stresses of its own. It can have a negative impact on all of the relationships in your life, your employment, and your physical and mental health. It’s also been found that those who have struggled in the past with substance abuse may be more likely to relapse when under stress. So, not only is substance use an unhealthy and ineffective form of stress management, but it’s also unhelpful for those who have experienced substance abuse in the past to learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress.

  • Striving for Perfection or Trying Harder

Some people fall under the belief of thinking that they just need to try harder in order to succeed at overcoming stress. They feel like if they just work a little harder or improve their skills a little more, they will be able to turn their situation around. However, striving for perfection can backfire by creating even more stress in their life.

Perfectionism can lead to stress and burnout. Trying to cope with the stress in your life by striving to be perfect may only make your problems larger.

  • Other Escape Behaviors

Escape behaviors include things like going shopping or binging on Netflix. They’re things that may seem like they’re helping your stress at the moment, but in the long run, you’re not actually doing anything to cope with stress. You’re simply masking it instead.

You may also find that escape behaviors add to your problems instead of helping them. For example, if you’re overwhelmed with your day and you end up binging on Netflix, you may find that you are even more behind in the things that you need to get done. Or, if you go on a shopping spree in an effort to deal with stress that you’re experiencing in a different area of your life, you may spend money that you shouldn’t and end up with financial stress as well.

Coping Strategies That Work

It’s important to note that what works best for one person may not be what works best for another when it comes to addressing stress. There are many different stress management techniques that you may find to be useful in your life. Below are some ideas that may be able to help. It can be helpful for you to try multiple strategies until you find what works best for you.

  • Learning to Identify the Main Problem

If you are under stress, you may feel like it’s coming from every area of your life. However, it’s likely that there are a few main things that are causing you to struggle. Learning how to identify what the main problems are can be an important first step in addressing and coping with stress.

When you know what’s causing stress, then you can do a better job of finding what coping mechanisms may be best at addressing it. For example, if you are experiencing stress over a relationship in your life, it may impact you at work as well. However, simply trying to use time management techniques to address your stress at work is not getting to the root cause of where your stress is coming from. Instead, if you learn how to handle the stress in your relationship, you may find that you start experiencing less stress at work as well.

  • Meditation

Meditation can be an effective coping mechanism for stress. When you are meditating, you are usually practicing deep breathing techniques and calming your mind. Together these things can help calm your body and ease the physical symptoms of stress that you may be experiencing.

Meditation also helps you learn how to be in the present moment without allowing the emotions that you experience to overwhelm you. It can help you learn how to feel your feelings and experience your thoughts without negatively judging them. This can help you to calm yourself and find peace even when you’re going through stressful situations.

  • Exercising or Doing Physical Activity

Exercise can be helpful when you’re struggling with stress because physical activity releases mood-boosting hormones in your brain. So, even if you’re struggling with stress at the moment, you may feel a little better once you exercise. While this most likely doesn’t do anything to address the root cause of your stress, it can be an effective way to release the tension that you’re experiencing in your body.

Exercise can also be helpful in relieving stress because it gives you something else to focus your attention on for a short period of time. And, it can help you sleep better at night, which can be an added benefit since some people struggle with insomnia as a result of stress.

  • Prioritizing Your Time and Attention

It’s possible that you are experiencing higher levels of stress because you are overwhelmed with all that you need to accomplish. You may have a to-do list that is jam-packed with work and personal activities that are demanding your attention. If you’re struggling to see how you can accomplish everything that you need to, it can start to feel stressful.

Learning how to prioritize your time can be one of the coping strategies that you find effective.

For example, you may want to block time out of your schedule that you only use for self-care. This can be a time used on anything that helps to recharge you and leave you feeling refreshed. Or, you may want to make a list of the things that are your top three priorities. Then anytime you are asked to do something or take on another task, you can see if it aligns with your priorities before agreeing to do it.

  • Talking to a Therapist

Unfortunately, many people believe that therapists should only be used by people who are having serious mental health challenges in their lives. This, along with the mental health stigma, stops many people from getting the help that they need with stress and anxiety.

Licensed therapists, like those at BetterHelp, are able to assist people in getting to the root cause of their stress. They are also experienced and educated in stress management techniques that work for different situations and different people. Remember, what works for someone else may not be the best fit for you when dealing with stress.

You don’t need to be having serious mental challenges to talk with a therapist. They can help you learn how to deal with everyday stress in a healthy way.

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