Navigating Stress Healthfully: How To Live Well Under Pressure

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Stress can be a normal human reaction to both positive and negative situations, manifesting with mental and physical symptoms. Scientifically supported stress management techniques can promote resiliency in many, appealing to a range of individual stress responses. This guide explores some of the most common stress-management strategies, as well as common causes and symptoms of stress to support you in your preventative care strategy. 

What is a stress response? 

Stress can be a natural response to new or challenging situations. During a stress response, your body may release stress hormones like cortisol to help your body respond to the perceived threat and enhance your reaction speed. Current scientific evidence suggests that chronic stress may predispose the brain to mental health conditions, such as anxiety and mood disorders. Episodes of overwhelming stress can potentially happen to anyone. During these episodes, the stress in someone’s life might become too much to handle, causing one to experience difficulty controlling emotions and completing daily activities (e.g., going to work or engaging in social interaction). In severe situations, this persistent stress can potentially lead to a nervous breakdown or other mental health crisis. Lifestyle changes, stress management techniques and online therapy can all be useful tools in helping someone to have a higher overall quality of life, even if they are experiencing stressful external circumstances. 

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What are common symptoms of stress?

Symptoms of chronic stress may vary from person to person. While stress may be a standalone experience for some people, it could be an indication of a secondary mental health condition. A licensed mental health professional can help to determine if a person may be experiencing symptoms due to stress alone, or symptoms that may be a result of something else. They can also offer insight and recommendations for working through it in as healthy of a way as possible. 

Here are some common signs that an episode of stress might be impacting a person’s life: 

  • Social withdrawal: This can take on several different forms, and may look like someone missing school or work, communicating less with friends and family, skipping favorite activities or spending more time alone. Physical symptoms and panic attacks: There are many different symptoms that could indicate chronic stress, a panic attack or generalized stress that is affecting one’s life. Symptoms can include sweating, nausea, trembling, rapid heart rate, chills, hot flashes, shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, fainting or asense of impending doom, 
  • Lifestyle changes: Overeating, loss of appetite, fatigue, low energy levels, insomnia, oversleeping, reduced physical activity and substance use** may indicate the presence of chronic or overwhelming stress. 

Mood swings and intense emotions: Those who are experiencing periods of stress may have difficulty with emotional control. As a result, they may experience impatience, irritability, agitation, nightmares or excessive worry.

Potential causes of  stress

Overwhelming stress can have a wide range of causes, and generally occurs on an individual basis. Understanding the possible causes can promote a stronger preventative care strategy, building general awareness of contributing factors to the condition. We’ve listed some examples below: 

  • A significant life event, like moving to a new city or getting a new job
  • Anxiety disorders, depression, or another mental health condition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Financial struggles
  • Substance use disorder
  • Toxic work environments
  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Starting a relationship or getting married
  • Going through a breakup or divorce
  • Abuse* (*any form, including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or emotional types)
  • Grief or trauma 
  • Isolation
  • Chronic health conditions

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

*If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse in any form, please consider reaching out right away to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

We want to note: One person’s tolerance for or experience of stress might differ from another’s, but this doesn’t mean one person is weaker or less capable of coping. Learning healthy ways to handle stress can help people feel better equipped to work through difficult situations or stress disorders.
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Is online therapy effective for those experiencing stress? 

Once the cause of stress has been determined, one may consider attending online therapy. It’s been scientifically suggested as a  convenient option for those experiencing overwhelming stress, as it can eliminate lengthy commutes and other barriers to mental health care. According to the American Psychological Association, online therapy can offer many of the same benefits as in-person therapy for many. Online sessions can also ease stress about therapy because they can be done from home on any device with an internet connection.

Treatment options for overwhelming stress

There are several different types of medically-reviewed strategies to try if you’re experiencing stress. We’ve summarized several of them below: 

Talk to your doctor

 Some health conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to those of overwhelming stress. A healthcare provider can examine the symptoms and run any necessary tests that might help rule out possible underlying health conditions. This knowledge alone can support you in living a healthier life, as you’ll have the assurance of what your condition is (if any). Your provider may also be able to support you with a medication or supplement regimen to help you attain a higher quality of life. 


Medication may help alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders and make them easier to handle. A licensed psychiatrist or physician can help a person determine if it’s in their best interest to try medication, even as a temporary solution to address mental illness.. We always recommend speaking with your provider before beginning any route of medication or supplementation to ensure that it’s the best possible thing for your unique health needs. 


Speaking with a qualified mental health professional about overwhelming stress and challenges in life can be beneficial for some. Additionally, therapy can help identify the cause(s) of stress and coping mechanisms or lifestyle changes that might ease the symptoms.  


Self-care is considered by many to be an informal form of stress management, and can help people care for themselves during periods of stress. Examples of healthy self-care habits can include:

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  • Journaling
  • Listening to music or playing an instrument
  • Drawing, painting or coloring
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising
  • Walking in nature
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Doing yoga
  • Personal hygiene activities (e.g., taking a bath)
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Getting on a good sleep schedule for your needs
  • Meditating
  • Cooking or baking
  • Doing puzzles or brain games 
  • Making time for favorite hobbies (i.e., board games, video games, scrapbooking, reading, gardening or playing a sport — whatever this looks like for you!)

Many may feel like they won’t have time for self-care during a period of stress. However, self-care can be helpful even in small doses — such as 10-20 minutes each day.

How can online therapy help those experiencing stress? 

 In many cases, those experiencing stress may find the thought of going out for personal self-care needs overwhelming or unattainable — presenting a possible barrier to care. Online therapy is considered a more convenient option for many, as it can be used any time from the smart device of your choosing. 


Life can be stressful. Learning how to navigate stress in a healthy way can be a helpful tool to help you build resiliency and confidence over time. If you think you might be experiencing overwhelming stress, the help of a mental health professional’s guidance and support may be helpful to avoid any further mental breakdown. A licensed therapist, like those at BetterHelp, can help you identify and work through the causes of stress in your life — potentially bringing you to a healthy resolution. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your specific area of need.
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