Learn Healthy Anxiety Coping Skills To Manage Stress

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Stress is a standard part of the human experience; it can affect your thoughts, actions, and emotions. In some cases, anxiety disorders can develop as a result of extreme, persistent stress reactions. 

While life is often unavoidably stressful, you have options for how you choose to manage those feelings. Read on to learn more about how anxiety therapy can help you develop practical coping skills to process your emotions in healthy ways.

What is stress?

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Do you have trouble managing your stress levels?

Researchers at the World Health Organization define stress as internal or external strain and pressure that can interfere with your ability to function in daily life and affect how you think, act, and feel. Stress can lead to or worsen physical symptoms and illnesses, cause drastic changes to behavior and mood, or affect your mind and body in ways you may never think to relate to the emotional state. 

“Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to safeguard you against threats from predators and other aggressors,” said mental health experts at the Mayo Clinic. “The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body's processes.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, common stress symptoms include:

  • Behavioral: Stress may cause you to overeat or undereat, isolate yourself socially, turn to alcohol or substance use as a coping mechanism, show a noticeable decrease in physical activity, or have out-of-character outbursts. 
  • Physical: Many people with stress experience symptoms such as stomachache, muscle tension, headache, changes in sex drive, chest pain, fatigue, and shifts in sleeping habits. 
  • Emotional: Stress can make you feel restless or anxious, have trouble focusing, feel intense sadness which can develop into depression after two weeks, experience a lack of motivation, and constantly feel overwhelmed. 

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.

Types of stress

There are many kinds of stress that can affect our bodies in a variety of ways.

  • Acute stress is short-term and the most commonly encountered stress people experience in daily life. Many people undergo this type of stress after overwhelming traumatic experiences or major life changes, generally lasting less than a month. 
  • Chronic stress is persistent and can feel inescapable. It often stems from long-term situations like job issues or marriage troubles. This type of stress can also develop after childhood trauma or adult traumatic experiences. 
  • Episodic acute stress may feel like a way of life. As your body and brain become accustomed to the reactions stress causes, you may develop habits for how you react to stressors, frequently leading to further ongoing distress. 
  • Eustress can be positive stressors that may feel fun or energizing, motivating you through adrenaline surges. This type of stress can give you the extra push necessary to reach the finish line, whether running a race or working on an important project. 

How stress can affect you

When you’re feeling stressed, your body produces stress hormones, which can build up over time. The longer you maintain excess levels of stress hormones in your body, the more you may notice changes to your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Chronic stress puts additional wear and tear on your body, aging you before your years and adversely affecting your overall well-being. Some of the symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Frequent stomachaches, diarrhea, ulcers, or other digestive issues
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol, which are all risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions
  • A weakened immune system 
  • Cognitive concerns like anxiety, depression, trouble with decision-making or memory, and insomnia
  • Changes in eating habits, which can affect your weight
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How anxiety treatments help manage stress

Anxiety treatments center around psychotherapy and medication. Comprehensive treatment plans often also include developing practical coping skills that manage stress and evolve with you and meaningful lifestyle, thought patterns, or behavioral changes.

Psychotherapy

Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help patients explore the connection between how they think and the way they feel. Working with a therapist can help you identify negative thought patterns and work to reshape them into healthier habits. 

Medication

If your doctor or psychiatrist thinks medication is a good fit for your symptoms and situation, they may prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant prescription medicine. It’s important to remember that medication treats the symptoms but not the underlying issues. 

Robust and regular self-care

Self-care involves all your methods to safeguard your physical, mental, and emotional well-being and health. Develop regular routines that make you feel healthy, stable, and safety. Self-care helps you become the best version of yourself when the necessities are no longer a concern. 

Helpful tips for coping with stress

When you know what triggers your stress and anxiety, selecting an appropriate coping skill to help you through it can be easier. Developing a collection of healthy, practical coping mechanisms can help you manage your stress so it doesn’t influence how you think, act, and feel as much.

  • Identify your stress triggers and develop methods to help you overcome them. 
  • Establish and maintain healthy sleep hygiene.
  • Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. 
  • Challenge stressed thoughts with positive thinking.
  • Set a timer for your stress and only allow yourself to let it control you for that time. 
  • Practice positive affirmations to help you balance negative emotions related to stress. 

Practice a mindful lifestyle and relaxation techniques

Many people have found stress and anxiety relief through practicing a mindful lifestyle. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques can help reduce the impact of stress reactions while building your awareness of your feelings and ability to express them to others. 

Keep a journal to track your progress

Writing in a journal daily can help you in many ways. First, you have to examine your feelings to write about them. A journal can help you track your stress triggers and what coping skills helped you. 

Maintain healthy sleep hygiene

Harvard Medical School researchers said there’s a strong link between negative shifts in your mood or outlook and a lack of adequate sleep. According to the details, even temporary disruptions to your regular sleep schedule can change your mindset and attitude. Persistent poor sleep hygiene can lead to adverse effects on your mental and physical health. 

Work with a licensed therapist regularly

If you plan to work with a licensed therapist but don't know what kind of treatment would suit you best, the following therapies are often used to help patients manage stress and emotional reactions. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Group Therapy

Know when to reach out for help

If your stress symptoms interfere with your ability to function in one or more areas of your life, consider the benefits you may gain from reaching out to a mental health professional for support and guidance. Managing stress can be difficult, but you can minimize the symptoms' impact on your life with treatment.

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Do you have trouble managing your stress levels?

How therapy can help you manage stress

Anxiety disorders are essentially extreme stress symptoms that have escalated into mental health conditions. Working with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp can use anxiety treatments like CBT to help you find healthy ways to manage your stress. Parents or caregivers seeking online therapy for children from 12 to 19 can contact TeenCounseling for assistance. 

Recent psychological studies show that online CBT treatment can offer comparable results to in-person therapies. Virtual treatments generally cost less and have shorter wait times, making mental health treatment accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Many patients said discussing individual information with a therapist was easier due to the additional physical distance. Others praised the convenience of receiving treatment from home, making participating in sessions more reliably possible. A trusting relationship with your therapist and regular therapy attendance can boost outcomes. 

Takeaway

Stress is an emotion everyone feels, but if you don’t know healthy ways to process it or leave it untreated, you may experience physical, emotional, and, psychological problems. The information provided in this article may offer some insight into how anxiety treatments can help relieve stress symptoms.
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