Learn to manage stress
We all feel stress at one time or another. It's a normal and healthy reaction to change or a challenge. But stress that goes on for more than a few weeks can affect your health. Keep stress from making you sick by learning healthy ways to manage it.
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE STRESS
The first step in managing stress is recognizing it in your life. Everyone feels stress in a different way. You may get angry or irritable, lose sleep, or have headaches or stomach upset. What are your signs of stress? Once you know what signals to look for, you can start to manage it.
Also identify the situations that cause you stress. These are called stressors. Your stressors could be family, school, work, relationships, money, or health problems. Once you understand where your stress is coming from, you can come up with ways to deal with your stressors.
AVOID UNHEALTHY STRESS RELIEF
When you feel stressed, you may fall back on unhealthy behaviors to help you relax. These may include:
- Eating too much
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
These behaviors may help you feel better at first, but they may hurt you more than they help. Instead, use the tips below to find healthy ways to reduce your stress.
FIND HEALTHY STRESS BUSTERS
There are many healthy ways to manage stress. Try a few and see which ones work best for you.
- Recognize the things you can't change. Accepting that you can't change certain things allows you to let go and not get upset. For instance, you cannot change the fact that you have to drive during rush hour. But you can look for ways to relax during your commute, such as listening to a podcast or book.
- Avoid stressful situations. When you can, remove yourself from the source of stress. For example, if your family squabbles during the holidays, give yourself a breather and go out for a walk or drive.
- Get exercise. Getting physical activity every day is one of the easiest and best ways to cope with stress. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good. It can also help you release built-up energy or frustration. Find something you enjoy, whether it is walking, cycling, softball, swimming, or dancing, and do it for at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Change your outlook. Try to develop a more positive attitude toward challenges. You can do this by replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, rather than thinking, "Why does everything always go wrong?" change this thought to, "I can find a way to get through this." It may seem hard or silly at first, but with practice, you may find it helps turn your outlook around.
- Do something you enjoy. When stress has you down, do something you enjoy to help pick you up. It could be as simple as reading a good book, listening to music, watching a favorite movie, or having dinner with a friend. Or, take up a new hobby or class. Whatever you choose, try to do at least one thing a day that's just for you.
- Learn new ways to relax. Practicing relaxation techniques is a great way to handle daily stress. Relaxation techniques help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. There are many types, from deep breathing and meditation to yoga and tai chi. Take a class, or try learning from books, videos, or online sources.
- Connect with loved ones. Do not let stress get in the way of being social. Spending time with family and friends can help you feel better and forget about your stress. Confiding in a friend may also help you work out your problems.
- Get enough sleep. Getting a good night's sleep can help you think more clearly and have more energy. This will make it easier to handle any problems that crop up. Aim for about 7 to 9 hours each night.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods helps fuel your body and mind. Skip the high-sugar snack foods and load up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and lean proteins.
- Learn to say no. If your stress comes from taking on too much at home or work, learn to set limits. Ask others for help when you need it.
If you can't manage stress on your own, you may want to talk with your health care provider. Or consider seeing a therapist or counselor who can help you find other ways to deal with your stress. Depending on the cause of your stress, you also may find it helps to join a support group.
How Well Are You Managing Stress?
Which of the following situations cause stress?Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." Any major change can cause stress, even good change. Changing how you react to stress and doing relaxation exercises can help.
Stress produces the following changes in the body:Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." Stress causes changes in the body that can make it harder for your body to fight disease. Talk to your doctor about how you can better control your body’s natural response to stress.
Ongoing stress can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "True." Some stress is healthy, but excessive stress can cause health problems, or make them worse. Talk to your doctor if you think some of your symptoms are related to stress.
Which of the following are symptoms of stress?Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." Stress doesn’t always produce clear symptoms. Even minor symptoms, such as upset stomach, stiff neck, or hiccups can be related to stress. If you notice symptoms of stress, take time to relax every day.
Children rarely feel stress.Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "False." Children often feel stress because they can't communicate their feelings. Physical symptoms, such as stomach aches, can be a sign of stress in a child. If you are a parent, try to lower your own stress level. When you are stressed, it can cause stress in your child.
Some studies show that job stress may be as bad for your health as smoking or not exercising.Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "True." Stress makes it hard to concentrate, causes sleeplessness, and increases the risk for illness, back problems, accidents, and lost time from work. Think about ways to take stress out of your work life. Take time to go for a walk during lunch, or find other ways to relax during the work day.
Which of the following activities can help you feel less stress?Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." Spending time with friends, going for a run, playing with your dog, or doing deep breathing or meditation can lower your stress level. Try different ways to relieve stress and see what works best for you.
Over-the-counter medicines can relieve stress.Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "False." Medicine can't make stress go away, but it can help you manage stress symptoms. Pain relievers can help ease tension headaches, and antacids and laxatives help an upset stomach. A better idea is to learn healthy ways to deal with stress. If you can't manage stress on your own, talk with a therapist.
Which of the following activities can help you ward off the effects of stress?Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." All of these activities improve your health and help you deal with stress. To make stress easier to handle, eat a balanced healthy diet, exercise daily, and express your feelings to friends, loved ones, a therapist, or in a journal.
Which of the following help you learn to relax?Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "All of the above." There are many different relaxation techniques that can help you deal with stress. Talk to your doctor about what type of relaxation therapy is right for you.
Living a stressful life is unavoidable.Correct Answer
The correct answer is: "False." Most people feel stress, but you can learn to manage it and even avoid it. Making healthy changes in your habits, learning to say no, setting priorities, and leading a healthful lifestyle are just a few ways you can combat stress. Talk with your health care provider about how to manage the stress in your life.
Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 06/04/2021.
Ahmed SM, Hershberger PJ, Lemkau JP. Psychosocial influences on health. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 3.
American Academy of Family Physicians - familydoctor.org website. Managing daily stress. familydoctor.org/stress-how-to-cope-better-with-lifes-challenges/. Updated August 21, 2020. Accessed June 04, 2021.
National Institute of Mental Health website. 5 things you should know about stress. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.html. Accessed March 10, 2021.