How to manage stress

By Anne Holub Nov 19, 2020 • 6 min

School, work, family… we all juggle different sources of stress every day. You might worry about arriving late to an important appointment. Or you could be losing sleep over finances and bills. Little or big, stress can affect us mentally and physically in sometimes troubling ways. The good news is that it's often possible to manage stress with regular time and attention.

What does stress look like?

Stress comes in many forms, and can be positive (like working hard to meet a deadline) or negative (like breaking up with a significant other). It can manifest itself in many ways that affect our minds and bodies, too. Stress can come in the form of one bad event, such as a car accident, or ongoing problems that build up over time, like financial insecurity. Dealing with these stressors is an important factor in maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing.

How long-term stress can be harmful

When we're stressed for a long time, it can affect our health. Sometimes called chronic stress, this ongoing form of stress can put you at risk for problems, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Digestive problems, like upset stomach
  • Low libido (sex drive)
  • Erectile dysfunction (trouble getting or keeping an erection)
  • Fertility problems in both men and women
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Weakened immune system
  • Fast breathing, which can leave you feeling short of breath
  • Heartburn
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Depression

How to get help for stress (and help others)

It's important to realize that you're not alone in your stress management. Sometimes when we're stressed, we feel the urge to withdraw and isolate from friends and family. But when we deal with stressful events we need our support system around us.

Providing social support to others can actually be a stress reliever, as long as you prioritize caring for yourself, too. If you see a friend, family member or coworker struggling with stress, you can reach out to offer your assistance. This might mean you simply let them know that you're willing to help shoulder their workload or even invite them for a quick bit of exercise or a mental break.

Methods to reduce stress

Here are some ways to manage stress:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Give yourself a break. Treat yourself to a massage, relax in a bath or read a book.
  • Carve out time for your hobbies and favorite activities.
  • Use calming techniques. Practice mindful meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or tai chi or listen to soothing music.
  • Make it a priority to connect with others who support you. Have family dinners or catch up with friends on video chats.
  • Don't use alcohol or drugs to escape stress and problems. They may seem like a temporary solution, but over time, alcohol and drug use can add to your stress.
  • Stay busy. Take your mind off your stressors by offering to help a friend or volunteering in your community.
  • Seek help. Talk to your health care provider or therapist about stressors in your life, and discuss ways you can lessen or avoid building up stress to an unmanageable level. Or reach out to professional services for mental health and stress relief:
    • Telemedicine mental health services. Start a video call with a therapist now.
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
    • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
    • 24/7 Crisis Text Line: text NAMI to 741-741

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