Feeling Overwhelmed? Learn These Stress Management Strategies

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Throughout life, it’s normal for us to experience stress from time to time. There are difficult life situations that many people go through which can lead us to feel stressed. 

Learning how to identify and address the stress that you experience in life can be vital. Excessive stress can have a negative impact on you in the short-term and long-term, including impacting your physical and mental health through things like increased blood pressure, decreased immune system function, poor sleep, anxiety, and a greater risk of developing a serious illness. 

Learning how to handle stress—such as by adopting healthy stress-management techniques—can help promote both physical and mental health.

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Signs you may need stress relief

Some people are self-aware and can easily spot the stress in their life. They know how to recognize when it’s coming on and can feel the difference in both their thoughts and bodily sensations. However, some people are so used to feeling stressed that they don’t notice the feeling to be abnormal. Learning how to recognize the signs of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm can be an important first step to being able to get help in this area.

According to Cleveland Clinic, some of the signs of stress include:

  • Trouble sleeping/poor sleep
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Muscle tension
  • Exhaustion
  • Changes in appetite
  • Teeth grinding

This is not by any means an all-inclusive list of symptoms. If you notice physical or mental symptoms in your life that you have not experienced before, it can be important to address them with your physician. They can help you identify whether stress is causing the symptoms, or if there’s another underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

The importance of learning to manage stress

Stress is a part of life. Everyone experiences stressful situations from time to time, and people deal with stress in different ways. While it may not look the same for everyone, it can still impact your health in a negative way. Chronic stress can lead to heart disease, memory impairment, and depression, among other negative outcomes.

It can also impact the way that you deal with people, including family relatives and partners, which can cause relationship problems. When you feel stressed you may find that you have less patience and struggle to handle situations that you normally would be able to handle with ease.

Stress management strategies

The following tips to manage and relieve stress can help you learn to handle it in healthy ways, so that doesn’t get the best of you. As an added bonus, all of these can be considered methods of self-care, too.

Learn the root cause of stress in your life

It can be important to identify what’s causing you stress so that you can take steps to combat it. Once you know what the root cause is, you may be able to start to learn how to address that specific area. If you can’t identify the cause of your stress, create a list of potential stressors. Focus on what is in your control currently and try to let go of the rest. 

You can also utilize your support network and reach out to trusted loved ones for social support and any insight they may have. They may be able to identify the source of your stress with more clarity because of their outside perspective.  

Meditation

Meditation has been known to aid in reducing stress and can be an essential stress management technique to use if you are struggling with uncontrolled thoughts and an overwhelmed mind. Meditation helps you focus your attention and gain awareness of how stress impacts the body. It also teaches you awareness and builds more tolerance for stress as you learn to confront it differently. It is recommended to work with a trained provider that can help you process ongoing life difficulties while you learn techniques inspired by meditation.

If you’ve never tried meditation before, there are many apps that you could consider using that can walk you through the process and teach you how to do it. You can try multiple apps until you find the one that connects with you the most. Particularly if you’re new to meditation or have a hard time focusing, it’s often recommended to meditate in a quiet place.

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Deep breathing

When you begin to feel overwhelmed and stressed, you might experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and shortened breaths. These physical responses that you have can cause your stress to build up.

However, deep breathing is a simple stress management technique that you can use to combat this, which is also known as belly breathing. When you focus on taking a few deep breaths, it can help slow your heart rate and relax your muscle tension. This in turn can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and slows the stress response that may be making things such as concentrating more difficult.

One of the most helpful things about deep breathing as a stress management technique is that you can do it anywhere. If you’re sitting in the middle of your crowded workplace, you can take a few moments to focus on your breathing to lower your stress levels, and you can do it in a way that no one even notices what’s happening.

Additionally, you can combine deep breathing with positive self-talk to help coach yourself through the stress, relax a bit, and feel calmer and more confident while allowing space for a more positive attitude.

Learn to manage your time

Sometimes overcoming stress is as simple as learning how to manage your time more efficiently. If you have a schedule that keeps you running from morning to night, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and experience burnout. This can quickly become an unhealthy way to live as stress can continue to grow.

Learning how to overcome it may be as simple as learning how to control your schedule and allowing yourself breaks in the day to rest and recharge. It may be that you need to look at cutting certain things out of your day if you’re overbooked. Or it may be helpful to look for tasks that you can delegate to someone else. This could even include something as simple as hiring a lawn care service to maintain your yard for you so it’s not one more thing on your list.

Journaling

There are a number of ways that journaling can help you manage stress and feel less overwhelmed. For one, it provides you with a way to get your feelings out of your head and onto paper. As you do this, it can help you to prioritize your thoughts and identify any actions that you can take to address problems.

Journaling also helps you to begin identifying the things that are causing stress in your life, which enables you to get to the root of the problem. And sometimes, your stress journal can be an outlet for you to brain-dump all of the things that you are anxious about. Sometimes seeing things on paper has a way of taking some of the fear away. Plus, spending time on giving yourself the space to be introspective and open about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences can be incredibly rewarding and may result in some potentially surprising (or at least previously unknown) realizations.

Make a list and prioritize your day

Along with time management, it can be helpful to prioritize the tasks that you need to finish. Start by making a list of everything that you’re trying to accomplish. Then, look at the list and choose the things that need your attention first. Some people even like to rank their activities by order of importance.

Once you can see your priorities on the list, you can schedule your day in a way that allows you to address the most pressing issues first. Simply knowing that you have a plan for your day can help you to feel less stressed and overwhelmed because you know what actions to take at what time. Plus, as you see things being crossed off your list, it can help you to feel like you’re accomplishing the things that you need to. This can also help to lower your stress levels. 

Do one thing at a time

For years, people thought that multitasking was a good thing. Now, people are starting to realize that it’s hard to be productive when you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you may find that you’re falling into the trap of multitasking.

Make sure that you’re only focusing on one task at a time. This can allow you to work more quickly on the task because your brain does not have to constantly jump back and forth from more than one subject. As you focus on only one task, it can help you work through your list faster and accomplish more in the day.

Get some physical activity

Exercise and physical activity can be effective ways to help burn off excess stress in a constructive, natural way. Exercise, or even just going for a walk, helps release feel-good hormones that can improve sleep, lower stress, and provide a whole host of other benefits, as well. Incorporating some exercise into your everyday life, whether it’s yoga, hiking, rock climbing, walking, swimming, weightlifting, or dancing, can be healthy for both your mind and body. 

According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress is associated with a plethora of negative side effects, including depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, headaches, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Getting some exercise can help with all of those, including getting higher-quality sleep. As a bonus, focusing on deep breathing not only helps your body power through the activity but naturally reduces stress, as well. Plus, it’s typically much harder to focus on negative thoughts when you’re trying to balance in a yoga pose, lift a challenging weight, or see a gorgeous sunset on a walk.

Eat a healthy diet

It cannot be understated just how much the food that we eat impacts us both physically and mentally. Ensuring that you’re obtaining the nutrients that your body needs can make all the difference in your mood and how well you function mentally and physically throughout the day. Try to eat a balanced diet; this doesn’t have to mean cutting out all “bad” food, but rather focusing on moderation. Junk food may taste good, but because much of it is heavily processed, the nutrition that it offers is significantly lower quality and of much less use to your body than whole, more natural foods like fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and so on. 

If you dislike cooking, that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be a part of your everyday routine and you can still eat out while making healthier choices. You could also choose one day of the week that works for you to do some grocery shopping and meal prep. That way, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat each day or stress about going to the store during the week when you’re already busy with work and everyday responsibilities.

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Online counseling with BetterHelp

If you’re struggling to find relief from stress, you may want to consider talking with a therapist. There are many different techniques that you can use for stress management, and a therapist can help you find the ones that may be most effective for you. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that can connect you with a therapist who has experience with stress. From the comfort of your home, you can learn about different methods of stress relief through phone calls, video chats, or in-app messaging. They can also help you identify the root of your feelings and give you advice for moving forward in a healthy way.

Online counseling can be helpful for those experiencing mental health conditions and other concerns like stress. Researchers have found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions are “effective in treating and preventing a number of stress-related disorders” in different populations. CBT is a framework that teaches people how to turn their negative thoughts into more positive ones. 

Takeaway

Living in overwhelming and stressful times can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. While experiencing some type of stress in life may be inevitable, it doesn’t have to be something that you stay stuck in. With the help of an online therapist and the right stress management strategies, you can learn to overcome it in a healthy way.
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