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5 Different Ways to Manage Stress

Finding ways to manage stress is key to overcoming and coping with difficult situations. Stress management refers to techniques that help curb the emotional, mental, and physical effects of stress. It encompasses a variety of methods, with some generalized strategies that improve your health and resilience. Tapping into these methods offers a reprieve from life’s challenges as well as a way to prioritize your well-being and minimize feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, or isolation.

Stress management tips
Stress management is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle

Stress is a natural, bodily response arising from your fight or flight instinct. Various emotions and signs characterize stress. For example, you may feel irritable, tense, or fatigued while under duress or pressure. Your exact response and sensitivity to stress depend on your personality, health, genetic disposition, and individual circumstances. The causes of stress are likewise unique. Common causes include financial struggles, workplace responsibilities, and health issues.

It’s important to note that stress isn’t inherently negative. More so, not all causes are detrimental. Stress arises from positive circumstances that prompt both benefits and uncertainties. Furthermore, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and even be lost or confused about how to manage stress. What is detrimental is if this response lasts a long time and isn’t addressed or coped with to minimize its effects.

The exact duration of stress depends on whether you experience acute, episodic, or chronic stress. The last of which is especially harmful to your health as it links to anxiety, depression, heart disease, lack of mood regulation, and overall diminished quality of life. Consequently, it’s important to employ stress management techniques to alleviate these aspects and find relief.

Below is a comprehensive overview of five effective strategies for managing stress, as shown in Figure 1. We also cover the causes and types of stress, as well as its effects on our wellbeing. 

Techniques for managing stress
Figure 1. This infographic depicts five effective ways to manage stress.

1. Engage in exercise

Engaging in exercise improves your fitness and health, which helps curb the physical side effects of high stress. For instance, muscle tension, fatigue, and weight fluctuations often arise if you’re under constant duress. Exercise alleviates these symptoms by increasing blood flow. This helps relax tight muscles and enhance overall energy levels. Additionally, regular physical activity stabilizes weight, as it burns calories and builds muscle.

Exercise is also important because it releases endorphins. These neurotransmitters in the brain act as natural stress and pain relievers. They elevate your mood and enhance cognitive functioning, which is vital in countering the effects of stress on both body and mind. Furthermore, exercise is an effective way to manage stress at any age. The paper, “The Effects Of Physical Activity On Psychological Stress In An Adolescent Population” by researchers Norris, Carroll, and Cochrane echoes this sentiment. Their study reports that teenagers who exercise feel less stressed and less depressed based on a pool of only exercising twice a week for 25 to 30 minutes.

To achieve similar benefits outlined in this study, incorporate physical activities you enjoy into your daily routine. Some examples include walking, jogging, yoga, or recreational sports like football or basketball. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly and at least two days of muscle strengthening. That said, some activity is better than none and you should prioritize your safety if you’re unable to do certain exercises. Start small if you’re new to exercise and gradually increase intensity and duration. Consistency is key, so set realistic goals and schedule appropriately to make exercise a part of your routine.

2. Maintain a healthy diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is another aspect of stress management that calls for a balanced mix of nutrients and consistent meals. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats are all aspects of a healthy diet. This approach is essential for managing stress as eating well helps stabilize your mood, boost your energy levels, and improve overall physical health. Similar to exercise, your diet minimizes the negative effects of chronic or acute stress.

Furthermore, nutrients directly affect your brain’s function. This in turn influences the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and stress levels. Several studies examine this relationship. For instance, the 2019 research paper, “Increasing Dietary Carbohydrate as Part of a Healthy Whole Food Diet Intervention,” reports that a diet high in added sugars and saturated fats may contribute to higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone and affects your stress response. Accordingly, high cortisol leads to various health issues linked to chronic or episodic stress.

Eating healthily is an important part of reducing cortisol and the physiological aspects of stress. To achieve a healthy diet, focus on whole, unprocessed foods. Minimize your intake of sugary snacks, beverages, and refined carbs. A varied, balanced diet allows you to intake vital nutrients and provide enough energy to help you overcome the sources of stress. Additionally, moderated caffeine and alcohol consumption is key as excessive amounts exacerbate symptoms of stress, such as anxiety and disrupted sleep patterns.

3. Get adequate sleep

Adequate sleep means getting the rest necessary to revitalize your mind and body. Sleep is crucial to managing stress as it enhances your cognitive function and mood regulation and modulates cortisol levels. This in turn is critical for stress recovery, as well as better decision-making and emotional balance in the face of difficult situations. Conversely, not getting enough sleep worsens stress. It impairs your judgment and increases irritability while exacerbating physical side effects like chronic fatigue.

The average adult requires 7 hours per night. However, sleep needs vary among individuals, similar to other biological functions. You may require 8 or 9 hours, or potentially even less to gain the benefits of sleep and curb the effects of stress. Determine how much you need but speak with a professional if stress is impairing the quality of your sleep, and you’re unable to achieve adequate rest.

Achieving adequate sleep to manage stress means you need to establish a consistent routine. Set a schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Improve your sleep hygiene and bedtime habits by winding down before bed, limiting screen time, and creating an environment to enhances your sleep quality. This means sleeping in a dark, cool room with breathable bedding and a pillow that supports your neck-body alignment. Enacting such changes makes room for comfortable sleep, allowing you to get adequate rest and combat daily stressors.

4. Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques refer to activities that offer stress relief. This includes but is not limited to yoga, meditation, painting, dancing, reading, and knitting. Practicing relaxation techniques is important because it provides a reprieve from daily stressors. Doing something to unwind and recenter yourself helps you recharge your mental and emotional batteries. It additionally enhances your ability to cope with daily challenges and maintain a clearer, more focused mindset once you tackle them

Furthermore, there is a significant biological factor to relaxation that helps lower your stress levels. Soothing activities like yoga or knitting trigger a part of your nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is part of your body’s relaxation response and promotes rest and recovery. It helps to reduce your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress hormone levels. It additionally allows your body to shift away from a fight or flight response—the physiological root of stress–and enter a more calm state.

There are many ways to practice relaxation. For instance, you may try deep breathing exercises, meditation, or tai chi to soothe your body. Recreational activities, like painting, knitting, and crocheting are often relaxing and promote rest. Select a technique or pastime that works for you, then incorporate it into your daily routine. Some activities like deep breathing exercises can be practiced amid stressful events, such as a time crunch at work, while others are beneficial for winding down at the end of the day, such as in the case of tai chi or painting. In either case, such techniques help reduce your stress levels, improve mental clarity, and enhance overall well-being.

5. Converse with friends and family

Conversing with friends and family offers stress relief by providing a sense of support and escape. This consists of meaningful communication and being honest about your experiences or struggles. Who you choose to open up to makes up your support system, which is vital in combating the isolation and emotional upheaval stress often elicits.

Furthermore, a support system potentially offers different perspectives on the source of your stress. This is beneficial for problem-solving or providing new avenues of stress management you didn’t consider before. If you don’t have a stable support system to rely on, consider speaking with a counselor, therapist, helping, or another professional. These individuals provide services for stress management and help you develop coping strategies specific to your needs and circumstances.

If it’s available to you, turn to your friends and family for support during difficult periods. Make regular communication a priority, whether it’s through face-to-face meetings or digital means such as texting. Open up about your feelings and ask for guidance and comfort as you need to. Doing so helps you feel less alone and establishes a line of dialogue about ongoing events in your life. Your loved ones may be unaware of the extent of your stress, so it’s important to be honest and open with them. Advocate for yourself by expressing what you need as meaningful conversations may strengthen overall stress resilience.

What is stress?

Stress is a physiological reaction to a challenging situation. It is a protective mechanism rooted in your body’s instinct to survive and activates a fight or flight response when you encounter threats or perceived dangers. This physiological trigger prepares you to either confront situations or escape them. Even if the source isn’t physically harmful, your brain may nonetheless perceive it as psychologically or emotionally harmful which warrants a response.

Causes of stress vary. For example, financial difficulties, work deadlines, or relationship conflicts are all common reasons to feel under pressure and out of control, which prompts stress. Signs of this reaction manifest differently depending on your personality, its triggers, and the gravity of the situation. Common signs include irritability, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. You may also have physical reactions like a rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, or headaches.

Your body’s stress response is sometimes beneficial as it primes you to take action and find solutions. However, this response poses short and long-term health effects if it’s chronic or episodic. Managing stress is consequently vital to your well-being, calling for strategies to mitigate side effects and allow you to better cope with difficult circumstances. Exercise, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, spending time with loved ones, and practicing relaxing activities like meditation are effective ways to manage stress.

Why do people experience stress?

People experience stress because they’re faced with difficult circumstances that trigger a physiological response. Everyone experiences a degree of stress in their lifetime as it’s a natural human reaction. However, the cause and severity of this response varies according to your circumstances. You may be more sensitive to certain triggers due to genetic predispositions, past trauma, personality traits, or your current environment. Factors such as a lack of a support network, poor coping mechanisms, and existing mental health conditions additionally heighten stress sensitivity.

Conversely, you may demonstrate stress resilience. This means you’re more equipped to recognize and manage difficult situations. The brain perceives these situations as threats, but you have the experience or wherewithal to tackle them objectively and apply coping skills. In turn, you’re able to positively adapt, stay focused under pressure, and bounce back from setbacks. That said, how you respond depends on the source of the stress, and why it prompts such a reaction. There may be barriers preventing you from approaching the situation objectively, whereas others confront it with greater calm and focus.

What are the common causes of stress?

The list below outlines five of the most common causes of stress.

  • Work-related stress: Workplace circumstances are a common source of duress for adults. For example, an excessive workload, lack of control over job duties, and challenging environments prompt feelings of pressure and anxiety, which creates stress.
  • Financial struggles: Finances generate fears about income, the burden of debt, and having inadequate savings for your future needs. Consequently, they’re one of the most common contributors to stress in adults.
  • Relationship issues: Another point of stress in your life may be interpersonal issues. Conflict with partners, family, friends, or colleagues causes emotional anguish and leads to fears or anxiety about how to confront these issues. A poor support network additionally generates feelings of loneliness, which adds to stress levels.
  • Health concerns: Health issues create stress due to uncertainty, physical and mental strain, or the financial burden of caring for your health. Additionally, chronic conditions, injuries, mental illness, or caring for someone with significant health problems causes stress.
  • Major life changes: If you’ve undergone significant changes in your life, then it’s normal to feel stressed. This encompasses events such as moving to a new location, changing jobs, marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one.

Stress doesn’t solely manifest in negative situations, as listed in the causes above. You may feel stress surrounding positive events, such as at the start of a new relationship or promotion. These events trigger a physiological reaction and generate feelings of fear, anxiety, or similar because they come with uncertainties. Additionally, they pose personal challenges you may feel unequipped to handle, leading to mental and physical duress. It’s important to find ways to manage stress effectively as these events offer positives that benefit you and shouldn’t be deterred by the negative.

How long does stress last?

How long stress lasts depends on your circumstances. It is either a short-term or long-term concern. How well you manage triggers additionally impacts its duration. Management strategies such as exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, and relying on your support system all provide stress relief and reduce its duration. Conversely, a lack of coping mechanisms or management skills prolongs it.

The type and duration of stress fall into three categories. Firstly, acute stress refers to short-lived moments of duress. It stems from specific situations that are often resolved quickly, with physiological and emotional reactions lasting from a few minutes to a few days. Secondly, episodic acute stress is the repeated appearance of triggers or difficult situations. The episodes are short-term but consistent, with periods of relief. It may last anywhere between weeks or months. Finally, chronic stress is long-term. It results from ongoing situations that are unmanageable with little to no relief, such as persistent financial worries or abusive relationships. It may last for months or even years if it’s not properly addressed.

Does stress make one’s lifestyle miserable?

Yes, stress can make one’s lifestyle miserable, and stress management is a key element in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Keep in mind that some stress is healthy and expected. It’s a natural bodily response and is often beneficial for completing tasks and staying on schedule. However, chronic or episodic stress diminishes your quality of life. It impacts your mental and physical health in various ways, leading to sleep problems, chronic fatigue, irritability, and reduced productivity and focus. Chronic stress is particularly detrimental as it links to heart disease, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Such effects impair your well-being and life satisfaction because they may lead to more significant health issues.

Is stress bad?

No, stress isn’t necessarily bad. It is an innate function rooted in your fight-or-flight response. This works to keep you alive and respond to threats. In cases where you are not in physical danger, stress still helps you confront challenges by prompting physiological signals to enhance your focus and energy. However, it becomes detrimental if it is chronic. Without effective ways to manage stress, you may experience health issues that decrease your quality of life. However, if managed effectively, it is a physiological motivator to do your best and overcome difficulties.

Does using daily planner apps help prevent stress?

Yes, using daily planner apps helps prevent stress. These apps organize your tasks and set priorities, which allows you to manage your time more efficiently. This in turn alleviates feelings of overwhelm and supports you to stay on task. They’re consequently a practical way of managing work-related stress or other time-sensitive challenges. By providing a clear overview of daily obligations and reminders, you feel more in control of difficult situations and confident to tackle solutions.