How To Cope With Stress During Life’s Challenges

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated May 14, 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 is a common challenge that everyone faces to different degrees throughout life. According to the Stress in America 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association, 76% of adults reported experiencing stress-related health problems in the previous month. Stress can stem from a variety of sources, including work, divorce, health problems, and family conflict, among many other sources. Learning how to cope with stress can be an important factor for your mental and physical health.

Below, we’ll discuss some common physical and emotional signs of stress and tips for coping with stress more effectively.

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Signs of stress in your life

Before you learn how to cope with stress, it may help to learn how to identify it in your life. If you’ve already been used to living with stress, it may be more difficult for you to notice the signs of it during the challenging times that you face. It may not seem so out of place if you feel used to it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a person experiencing stress may notice physical, emotional, and behavioral effects of stress. The following are some of the possible signs of stress: 

  • Physical symptoms like headaches, chest or muscle pain, an upset stomach, or hives 
  • Insomnia or restlessness 
  • Diminished sexual desire
  • Feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression
  • Problems with memory 
  • Excessive alcohol, tobacco, or drug use 
  • Overeating/undereating 
  • Withdrawal and isolation

If you notice these or other health problems that are different from the way you normally feel, it may help to talk with a doctor to rule out any possible causes of the symptoms you’re experiencing. 

Understanding the danger of stress levels

If stress lingers for too long, it can cause numerous physical and mental health problems, which can also lead to even more serious problems. Stress has been linked to problems such as eating disorders, depression, complications with diabetes, and heart problems.

You may not always have control over the fact that sometimes you’ll face stress in life. However, it may help to practice some evidence-based stress management techniques.

How to cope with stress

The following strategies may help you cope with stress more skillfully. While these can be helpful when you’re in the midst of life’s challenges, they may also be useful for handling the small, everyday stresses that you may experience.

Learn to meditate

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Many people find that meditation is an effective form of stress management. While some people associate meditation with certain religious traditions, it can also be used in a completely secular way. Commonly used to help with stress and anxiety, there are several different types of meditation that you can try. Meditation typically involves focusing on the breath and learning to focus your attention. 

If you decide to try mindfulness meditation, you can expect to focus on the present moment while allowing yourself to experience your feelings and thoughts without judging them. As thoughts enter your mind, you can simply let them pass through without attaching emotion to them or judging what you feel.

If you are new to the idea of meditation, there are many apps that you can use to get started. These apps typically include guided meditations, so you can simply press play and get started once you’re in a quiet setting. Practicing meditation on a regular basis when going through life’s challenges may help you learn to cope with the stress and difficult emotions that you may be experiencing.

Focus on self-care

When you’re going through a difficult time in life, it can be easy to lose focus on taking care of yourself. You may get caught up in the stress of the situation, or there may be more demands placed on your time and energy. When this happens, it can become harder to prioritize time for self-care because it feels like there are too many other things happening.

Self-care can include things such as getting enough sleep at night or staying properly nourished. High levels of stress can cause challenges such as insomnia and changes in appetite. You may not feel hungry, which can make it easy to skip meals. Also, you may struggle to fall asleep, so it may feel easier to just try to stay awake.

At the moment, these strategies might seem easier, but when you continue to skip meals or rest, it can affect both your mental health and your physical health. 

Self-care may also include activities such as journaling, exercising, reading, and spending time with friends. It can look different for each person. Finding what works for you can be helpful in learning how to cope with stress.

Prioritize your tasks

Another stress management strategy that may be helpful is learning how to prioritize your tasks. Time management may become a problem if there are extra demands coming at you from every direction. When you are experiencing stress, you may find that it’s difficult to stay on task and get things done. Because of this, it may be helpful to re-establish your priorities for the current situation.

For example, you may have previously been able to take on extra tasks like volunteering, but if you are going through a difficult health situation, it may not be best to do this right now. When you experience a stressful period of life, it may be helpful to take time to sit and think through what your priorities are at that moment of your life. Then, as new situations come up, you can see if they fit within your priorities before agreeing to participate in them.

You may find that it’s helpful to set some activities aside until you’re able to have more control over your stress in a healthy way. This may help you to feel like you’re succeeding at the end of your day instead of constantly falling behind.

Connect with a support system

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Having a strong support system may also help you cope with stress successfully.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), emotional support can serve as a defensive factor when a person is experiencing stress. Despite the benefits of social support, many people report experiencing loneliness and insufficient emotional support. The APA’s Stress in American survey in 2022 showed that 56% of Americans thought that they could have used more emotional support since the pandemic began. 

It may be helpful to work on building a support system even when you feel like things are going well at the moment. You can continue to connect with friends and family during this time instead of waiting until things aren’t going well. 

Also, while it may seem easier to connect with people online, it can also be helpful to have people that you can talk to in person when you experience stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions.

What to do when you’re having trouble managing stress

Sometimes life’s challenges can feel like more stress than you’re able to handle on your own. When you feel like this, it can be helpful to talk with a licensed therapist. Even when you have a support system that you can connect with, there are times when it can be helpful to talk with someone experienced in treating people experiencing stress and anxiety.

If your stress makes it difficult to add traditional therapy to your busy schedule, you may benefit from online therapy, which many studies have demonstrated to be effective. One literature review published in 2017 found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy was effective for generalized anxiety disorder, depression, social anxiety, and substance use disorder, among other conditions.

With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can discuss what you’re experiencing with a therapist via audio, live chat, or videoconferencing. You can also message your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. You may find this helpful if you experience symptoms of stress in between therapy sessions.

Takeaway

Stress is typically a part of life for everyone, but it does not have to be something that has to linger and negatively affect your physical, mental, and emotional health. With the right resources and techniques, you may find that you can cope with stress before it becomes a problem. It may also help to speak with a licensed counselor in your community or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has training and experience in stress management. Take the first step toward coping more effectively with stress and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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