Helpful Strategies For Reducing Stress

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Stress may be an unavoidable part of life, but there are often many ways to reduce and manage it effectively. For example, you can stay active, eat a healthy diet, practice mindfulness, seek out opportunities to laugh, and regularly write in a journal. If stress becomes unmanageable and begins to negatively impact your daily life, it can be beneficial to work with a therapist in person or online to identify and address the source of your high stress levels.

What is stress?

According to researchers at the World Health Organization, stress usually refers to strain or pressure—either internal or external—that can alter your functional ability and affect the way you think, act, and feel. From physical effects on the body to drastic changes in your mood and behavior, stress can affect you in many ways. When your brain perceives a threat or other stressor, it can release the neurochemicals adrenaline and cortisol to keep your body on high alert.

Getty/Vadym Pastuk
Find healthy ways to cope with stress

Common symptoms of stress may include:

  • Physical symptoms: Stomachache, headache, muscle tension, chest pain, shifts in sex drive, changes in sleep patterns, and fatigue 
  • Emotional symptoms: Restlessness, anxiety, trouble focusing, sadness, depression, lack of motivation, and constantly feeling overwhelmed 
  • Behavioral symptoms: Overeating or undereating, alcohol or substance use, a noticeable decrease in physical activity, out-of-character outbursts, and social isolation 

Evidence-backed techniques to reduce stress

Stress often has a way of making it seem as if things will never improve, but you may have many options to build an effective, evolving repertoire of coping skills that can help you minimize the effects of stress on your life. 

Educate yourself

One of the best ways to learn to control the effects stress has on your life may be to educate yourself about what stress can do to a person and how it can get worse if left untreated. When you are aware of the various ways stress can alter your thinking, emotions, and behaviors, you may be better prepared to recognize when your reactions are affected.  

Find fun ways to get active

You don’t necessarily need to join a gym or have a dedicated workout schedule to benefit from physical activity. While it can be beneficial for everyone and make up part of proper self-care and overall well-being, exercise can also be a proven stress reliever because it typically makes the brain release neurochemicals that counteract stress hormones.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

A healthy body is generally better prepared to fight off infections and give you the energy necessary to get through the day. One of the crucial aspects of health may be a balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs. You may feel overwhelmed and frequently opt for fast food over something healthy, but these choices can take their toll when your body doesn't have everything it needs to function as it should. Try to work fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet regularly. 

Avoid maladaptive coping skills and unhealthy habits

There are typically two routes you can take to cope with stress. Adaptive coping skills may help you address the problem and find solutions while allowing you to process your emotional reactions to the situation in productive, practical ways. Examples of adaptive coping skills can include information-seeking and problem-solving.

By contrast, maladaptive coping skills, such as wishful thinking and denial, tend to be counterproductive, unhealthy methods to handle stressors that may often leave you feeling worse. 

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

Certain coping strategies to avoid include:

  • Alcohol or substance use
  • Gambling
  • Overeating or under-eating
  • Avoiding the problem
  • Self-destructive, impulsive, or risky behavior
  • Spending money you cannot afford to spend
  • Fixating on the stressor rather than possible solutions

Practice a mindful lifestyle

Many people find significant stress relief in practicing a mindful lifestyle. The use of meditation, deep breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, positive thinking, and yoga can help you recognize stressors early and manage your reactions by focusing on emotional balance. 

Do something that makes you laugh

While it may be a cliché, laughter can truly be the best medicine--or at least one of them. In addition to releasing neurochemicals that can biologically boost your mood, laughter typically has many psychological benefits. Whether you put on your favorite funny movie or call a friend who tells stories that keep you laughing until it hurts, humor can be a tremendous source of stress relief. 

Maintain healthy sleep hygiene

Sleep can be one of the most important functions your body performs, and it can be essential to your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, healthy sleep hygiene may be as important as brushing your teeth, washing raw food, and bathing. A lack of sleep or irregular sleep schedule can have long-term health effects. 

Keep a journal

Writing in a journal can be therapeutic by itself, but it can also be an excellent form of stress relief. Keeping a written record of your emotions, stress, and successful coping mechanisms can help you improve your stress management techniques over time. 

Find healthy ways to cope with stress

Nourish your creative side

Put on your favorite music and nourish your creative side with crafting or other imaginative interests that allow you to get hands-on, such as gardening, sewing, sketching, or painting. These activities should focus your attention on what you are currently doing rather than what your stress says you "should" be doing.

Challenge stressed thoughts

Stress often changes how you think and can make everything seem incredibly urgent or dire. When your thoughts start racing toward worst-case scenarios, try to remember that stress may lie to you, and the situation may not be as it seems at the moment. You might choose to take a step back, challenge your stressed thoughts, and evaluate the situation from an objective perspective. 

Practice self-care

Stress usually can't take as strong a hold when you practice regular self-care, which can entail everything you do to safeguard your physical, emotional, and mental health. When you place a high value on your wellness, you are likely already doing things to reduce your stress levels, either consciously or unconsciously. 

Connect with your social circle

Stress may lead you toward social isolation, but that can often do more harm than good. Rather than giving in to this impulse, try to reach out to friends or family members who reliably provide a calm, soothing environment and allow yourself some low-stress social contact. If you are comfortable, you can explain that you need a stress-free night and ask if they are willing to spend some time together. 

Bask in the unconditional love of your pets

If you have pets, you may already know they can offer a seemingly limitless source of unconditional love. Spending time at the dog park with your four-legged friend or absorbing the rumbling purr of a cat can be a wonderful form of stress relief. 

Know when to reach out for help

The strategies listed above can help you manage the effects of stress independently. However, if you are still experiencing significant stress reactions to the point that they interfere with your ability to function, it may be time to reach out for professional help. Working with a therapist can help you identify the underlying issues exacerbating your stress and find healthy ways to work through them. 

When you’re living with high-stress levels, the last thing you may want to do is go to the effort of seeking out a local therapist who’s taking on new clients, schedule a session, drive to their office, and sit in a waiting room. It may be much more appealing to connect with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort and convenience of your home, which is generally what online therapy platforms empower you to do. Plus, you can generally choose between video calls, phone calls, and online chat, giving you the opportunity to customize your therapy experience.

In general, research shows that online therapy tends to be as effective as in-person therapy, and some studies suggest that it can be especially beneficial for those experiencing the effects of stress. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for the professional help you deserve.


Many strategies may help you handle stress in a healthy way, such as spending time with pets, connecting with your social circle, practicing self-care, challenging negative thoughts, and nourishing your creative side. If you believe you may be unable to manage stress on your own, reaching out for professional help can offer valuable support and guidance.
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