How to Recognize and Manage Stress

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Stress is an inevitable part of life, but recognizing its symptoms and employing healthy management techniques can help keep it under control.

It’s almost impossible to avoid stress in our lives. A hectic day at work, the birth of a child, a fight with your spouse, or dealing with the death of a family member can all be stressful. Because stress can come at any time from a variety of sources, it’s important to learn how to recognize that you’re stressed and have some techniques ready to manage it and keep it under control.

What is Stress?

When you are challenged by unusual circumstances, you can feel stress. Your body goes into the fight-or-flight response – speeding up your heart and breathing faster to give you more energy to deal with what’s stressing you. The fight-or-flight response is intended to be short-term, to get you out of the occasional bad situation. When stress becomes chronic, it causes bigger problems.

Causes of Stress

The reasons for stress can be either short- or long-term. Short-term causes may include:

  • Having a lot of things to do at work or school
  • Tight deadlines
  • Being late or behind schedule
  • Getting criticized or being in an argument
  • Losing a job 

Long-term causes of stress may include:

  • Financial problems
  • Being chronically ill
  • Taking care of someone who is sick
  • The death of a loved one

Stress Symptoms

When you’re stressed, you may feel worried, angry, irritable, frustrated, or depressed. Stress can also result in physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight gain or loss

Because we’re all unique individuals, stress can manifest itself differently in each person. Be aware of how your body typically responds to stress, so that you’ll know what to look for and can take action early to manage the stress. 

Stress Management Techniques

Some people who are under stress try to relieve it through unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol or overeating. Others may turn to smoking cigarettes or using drugs as a way to cope. There are much safer and healthier strategies that can be effective.

  • Figure out what causes stress for you. Track your stress, writing down when you feel stress and what might have caused it. Also note what you did to deal with it. Over time you can review your notes to identify what created your stress most often.
  • Avoid stressful situations. Once you know what situations you find stressful, you can think of ways to either avoid them or make them less stressful. Be willing to experiment with different solutions and be honest about what works best.  
  • Better manage your time. Doing too much at once can produce stress. Instead, establish priorities so that you’re doing the most important things first. Let less important tasks wait. 
  • Limit consumption of social media or news. Information overload can be stressful. Taking breaks from your screens or setting a limit on how much you use them each day will help curb stress. Avoid consuming news or other information about topics you find stressful.
  • Make time to relax. Spending time on activities or hobbies you enjoy will help calm you down and make stress fade away. For example, listening to music or reading a book are good ways to relax.
  • Relax your body. There are many ways you can learn to relax your body and put your mind at ease. They include yoga, meditation, exercises like tai chi and qi gong, massage, and aromatherapy. 
  • Take care of your health. Exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and getting enough sleep are all important for counteracting the effects of stress.
  • Talk about your concerns. Keeping problems bottled up inside can be stressful. Talk to a friend, family member, or a neighbor about what’s troubling you. They may be able to provide support.
  • Write about it. Many people find that writing about things that are bothering them in a journal can be therapeutic.
  • Ask for help. Trying to do challenging tasks by yourself can be frustrating and stressful. Learning to ask someone else for help when you need it will keep you from getting stressed out. 
  • Learn to say no. Turning down some requests for your time can relieve stress and free up hours for relaxation.
  • Let it go. If you are worried about things that are beyond your control, letting go and learning to accept the situation can ease stress.

We hope you’ll be able to use these techniques to prevent stress or alleviate it. If your stress isn’t going away or is getting worse, please see a physician or mental health professional. Stress can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety, so it’s important to get professional help before those issues take hold. 

Read about more ways to reduce stress from our health library.