- Stress: Ways to Ease Stress
- How can we handle stress in healthy ways?
- What to do if you have trouble sleeping
- 10 stress busters
- What you can do to address stress
- Be active
- Take control
- Connect with people
- Have some 'me time'
- Challenge yourself
- Avoid unhealthy habits
- Help other people
- Work smarter, not harder
- Try to be positive
- Accept the things you can't change
- Struggling with stress?
- Managing stress in daily life
- When to see your GP about your stress levels
- Recognising your stress triggers
- Take action to tackle stress
- Breathing and relaxation exercises
- Get stress support
- Coping With Stress
- Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
- Helping Others Cope
- Helping Children and Youth Cope with Stress
- Mental Health and Crisis
Stress: Ways to Ease Stress
Stress refers to your body's reaction to challenges and demands. Stress can be positive or negative and there are healthy ways to deal with it. Sleeping well is important in stress management.
Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or demand.
Everyone experiences stress, which can be triggered by a range of events, from small daily hassles to major changes a divorce or job loss. The stress response includes physical components such an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger.
Although we often think of it as being negative, stress can also come from positive changes in your life, getting a promotion at work or having a new baby.
How can we handle stress in healthy ways?
Stress serves an important purpose—it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger.
However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems.
A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
- Eat and drink to optimize your health. Some people try to reduce stress by drinking alcohol or eating too much. These actions may seem to help in the moment, but actually may add to stress in the long run. Caffeine also can compound the effects of stress. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet can help to combat stress.
- Exercise regularly. In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever. Consider non-competitive aerobic exercise, strengthening with weights, or movement activities yoga or Tai Chi, and set reasonable goals for yourself. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins—natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
- Stop using tobacco and nicotine products. People who use nicotine often refer to it as a stress reliever. However, nicotine actually places more stress on the body by increasing physical arousal and reducing blood flow and breathing.
- Study and practice relaxation techniques. Taking the time to relax every day helps to manage stress and to protect the body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques, such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. There are many online and smart phone apps that provide guidance on these techniques; although some entail purchase costs, many are available free of charge.
- Reduce triggers of stress. If you are most people, your life may be filled with too many demands and too little time. For the most part, these demands are ones we have chosen. You can free up time by practicing time-management skills asking for help when it’s appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and reserving time to take care of yourself.
- Examine your values and live by them. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is. Use your values when choosing your activities.
- Assert yourself. It’s okay to say “No” to demands on your time and energy that will place too much stress on you. You don’t have always have to meet the expectations of others.
- Set realistic goals and expectations. It's okay—and healthy—to realize you cannot be 100% successful at everything all at once. Be mindful of the things you can control and work on accepting the things that you can’t control.
- Sell yourself to yourself. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. Have a healthy sense of self-esteem.
There are several other methods you can use to relax or reduce stress, including:
Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these techniques or other suggestions.
Biofeedback helps a person learn stress reduction skills by providing information about muscle tension, heart rate, and other vital signs as a person attempts to relax. It is used to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain.
Biofeedback can be used to help you learn how your body responds in stressful situations, and how to cope better. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full- blown.
What to do if you have trouble sleeping
You may experience insomnia (an inability to sleep) because of discomfort, stress from personal concerns, or side effects from your medications. If you cannot sleep, try these tips:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Make sure your bed and surroundings are comfortable. Arrange the pillows so you can maintain a comfortable position.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping only. Don't work or watch TV in your bedroom.
- Avoid napping too much during the day. At the same time, remember to balance activity with periods of rest.
- If you feel nervous or anxious, talk to your spouse, partner, or a trusted friend. Get your troubles off your mind.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Do not rely on sleeping pills. They can be harmful when taken with other medications. Use them only if recommended for a brief period by your healthcare provider if other non-medication methods don’t work.
- Take diuretics, or «water pills,» earlier if possible, so you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
- If you can't sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Don't stay in bed worrying about when you're going to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine, but don’t exercise within two to three hours before the time you go to bed.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2020.
10 stress busters
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If you're stressed, whether by your job or something more personal, the first step to feeling better is to identify the cause.
The most unhelpful thing you can do is turn to something unhealthy to help you cope, such as smoking or drinking.
«In life, there's always a solution to a problem,» says Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster.
«Not taking control of the situation and doing nothing will only make your problems worse.»
He says the keys to good stress management are building emotional strength, being in control of your situation, having a good social network, and adopting a positive outlook.
Check out our selection of stress-busting apps in the NHS Apps Library.
What you can do to address stress
These are Professor Cooper's top 10 stress-busting suggestions:
Exercise won't make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you're feeling, clearing your thoughts and letting you deal with your problems more calmly.
For more advice, read how being active helps mental wellbeing.
Get started with exercise
There's a solution to any problem. «If you remain passive, thinking, 'I can't do anything about my problem', your stress will get worse,» says Professor Cooper.
«That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing.»
The act of taking control is in itself empowering, and it's a crucial part of finding a solution that satisfies you and not someone else.
Get tips on how to manage your time
Connect with people
A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way.
«If you don't connect with people, you won't have support to turn to when you need help,» says Professor Cooper.
The activities we do with friends help us relax. We often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever.
«Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems,» says Professor Cooper.
Read about some other ways relationships help our wellbeing.
Have some 'me time'
Here in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe, meaning we often don't spend enough time doing things we really enjoy.
«We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise,» says Professor Cooper.
He recommends setting aside a couple of nights a week for some quality «me time» away from work.
«By earmarking those 2 days, it means you won't be tempted to work overtime,» he says.
Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps build confidence. This will help you deal with stress.
«By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person,» says Professor Cooper.
«It arms you with knowledge and makes you want to do things rather than be passive, such as watching TV all the time.»
Avoid unhealthy habits
Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping.
«Men more than women are ly to do this. We call this avoidance behaviour,» says Professor Cooper. «Women are better at seeking support from their social circle.»
In the long term, these crutches won't solve your problems. They'll just create new ones.
«It's putting your head in the sand,» says Professor Cooper. «It might provide temporary relief, but it won't make the problems disappear. You need to tackle the cause of your stress.»
Help other people
Professor Cooper says evidence shows that people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, become more resilient.
«Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective,» says Professor Cooper. «The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel.»
If you don't have time to volunteer, try to do someone a favour every day. It can be something as small as helping someone cross the road or going on a coffee run for colleagues.
Find out more about giving for mental wellbeing
Work smarter, not harder
Working smarter means prioritising your work, concentrating on the tasks that'll make a real difference.
«Leave the least important tasks to last,» says Cooper. «Accept that your in-tray will always be full. Don't expect it to be empty at the end of the day.»
Get tips on how to manage your time better
Try to be positive
Look for the positives in life, and things for which you're grateful.
«People don't always appreciate what they have,» says Professor Cooper. «Try to be glass half full instead of glass half empty,» he says.
Try writing down 3 things that went well, or for which you're grateful, at the end of every day.
In this audio guide, a doctor helps you to replace negative thoughts with more positive thinking.
Accept the things you can't change
Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over.
«If your company is going under and is making redundancies, for example, there's nothing you can do about it,» says Professor Cooper.
«In a situation that, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job.»
In this audio guide, a doctor explains what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a good night's sleep.
Page last reviewed: 20 November 2018
Next review due: 20 November 2021
Struggling with stress?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
Many of life’s demands can cause stress, particularly work, relationships and money problems. And, when you feel stressed, it can get in the way of sorting out these demands, or can even affect everything you do.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.
You may feel anxious, irritable or low in self esteem, and you may have racing thoughts, worry constantly or go over things in your head. You may notice that you lose your temper more easily, drink more or act unreasonably.
You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness.
Stress causes a surge of hormones in your body. These stress hormones are released to enable you to deal with pressures or threats – the so-called «fight or flight» response.
Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you're constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress.
Managing stress in daily life
Stress is not an illness itself, but it can cause serious illness if it isn't addressed. It's important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking.
There is little you can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time-management techniques.
Studies have found that mindfulness courses, where participants are taught simple meditations across a series of weeks, can also help to reduce stress and improve mood.
When to see your GP about your stress levels
If you've tried self-help techniques and they aren't working, you should go to see your GP. They may suggest other coping techniques for you to try or recommend some form of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
If your stress is causing serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, you may need to take medication or further tests.
Mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression, are the reason for one-in-five visits to a GP.
Recognising your stress triggers
If you're not sure what's causing your stress, keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two-to-four weeks. Then review it to spot the triggers.
Things you might want to write down include:
- the date, time and place of a stressful episode
- what you were doing
- who you were with
- how you felt emotionally
- what you were thinking
- what you started doing
- how you felt physically
- a stress rating (0-10 where 10 is the most stressed you could ever feel)
You can use the diary to:
- work out what triggers your stress
- work out how you operate under pressure
- develop better coping mechanisms
Doctors sometimes recommend keeping a stress diary to help them diagnose stress.
Take action to tackle stress
There's no quick-fix cure for stress, and no single method will work for everyone. However, there are simple things you can do to change the common life problems that can cause stress or make stress a problem. These include relaxation techniques, exercise and talking the issues through.
Breathing and relaxation exercises
Many people find exercises that focus on breathing and muscle relaxation to be helpful in relieving stress. The playlist below will help you to understand how stress works and start feeling better. These exercises can be done anywhere and are designed to help you feel more relaxed in general, as well as helping you feel calmer if you are becoming stressed.
This playlist is free to download, and you can also stream it using the Soundcloud website or app. You can download and listen to individual tracks if there are particular exercises that work best for you. If you're listening to it for the first time, it's best to start from the beginning.
To access a BSL version of this playlist, click here.
Find out more by checking out these 10 stress busters.
Get stress support
Because talking through the issues is one of the key ways to tackle stress, you may find it useful to attend a stress management group or class. These are sometimes run in doctors’ surgeries or community centres. The classes help people identify the cause of their stress and develop effective coping techniques.
It's always better to talk about your anxieties or stresses sooner rather than later. You may wish to phone a helpline such as Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87, open 6pm-2am Monday to Thursday and 24 hours at the weekend, from 6pm Friday to 6am Monday) where their advisors can listen and help you figure out ways of coping.
Ask your GP for more information if you're interested in attending a stress support group. You can also use the search directory to find emotional support services in your area.
Coping With Stress
Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.
After a traumatic event, people may have strong and lingering reactions. Learning healthy ways to cope and getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.
The symptoms may be physical or emotional. Common reactions to a stressful event can include:
- Feelings of fear, shock, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares, concentrating, and making decisions
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during traumatic events such as mass shootings, natural disasters, or pandemics. Below are ways that you can help yourself, others, and your community manage stress.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress. Here are some healthy ways you can deal with stress:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about the traumatic event constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
- Take care of your body.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
- Connect with others. Talk with peopleexternal icon you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. If social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
- Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.
Check out Taking Care of Your Emotional Health for more information and resources.
Helping Others Cope
Taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. During times of social distancing, it is especially important to stay connected with your friends and family. Helping others cope with stress through phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated.
Helping Children and Youth Cope with Stress
Children and youth often struggle with how to cope with stress. Youth can be particularly overwhelmed when their stress is connected to a traumatic event— a natural disaster, family loss, school shootings, or community violence. Parents, caregivers, and educators can take steps to provide stability and support that help young people feel better.
Tips for Parents and Caregivers
It is natural for children to worry when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking to your children about these events can help put frightening information into a more balanced setting. Monitor what children see and hear about stressful events happening in their lives. Here are some suggestions to help children cope:
- Maintain a normal routine. Helping children wake up, go to sleep, and eat meals at regular times provide them a sense of stability.
- Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings and share some of yours. After a traumatic event, it is important for children to feel they can share their feelings and that you understand their fears and worries.
- Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Any changes in behavior may be signs that your child is having trouble and may need support.
- Stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of safety and security. Reassure your child about his or her safety and well-being. Discuss ways that you, the school, and the community are taking steps to keep them safe.
- Connect with others. Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers about ways to help your child cope. It is often helpful for parents, schools, and health professionals to work together for the well-being of all children in stressful times.
Tips for Kids and Teens
After a traumatic event, it is normal to feel anxious about your safety and security. Even if you were not directly involved, you may worry about whether this type of event may someday affect you. Check out the tips below for some ideas to help deal with these fears.
- Talk to and stay connected to others. Talking with someone you trust can help you make sense your experience. If you are not sure where to turn, call your local crisis intervention center or a national hotline.
- Take care of yourself. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, and keep a normal routine.
- Take information breaks. Pictures and stories about a disaster can increase worry and other stressful feelings. Taking breaks from the news, Internet, and conversations about the disaster can help calm you down.
Tips for School Personnel
School personnel can help their students restore their sense of safety by talking with the children about their fears. Other tips for school personnel include:
- Reach out and talk. Create opportunities to have students talk, but do not force them. You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation.
- Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students withdrawing from friends? Acting out? These changes may be early signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
- Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom and school schedule can provide a sense of stability and safety. Encourage students to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.
- Take care of yourself. You are better able to support your students if you are healthy, coping and taking care of yourself first. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
Mental Health and Crisis
Resources and Social Support Services
- If you are struggling to cope, there are many ways to get help. Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
- During times of extreme stress, people may have thoughts of suicide. Suicide is preventable and help is available. More about the risk of suicide, signs to watch for, and how to respond if you notice these signs in yourself or a friend or a loved one, can be found here.
- Free and confidential crisis resources can also help you or a loved one connect with a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
After a natural disaster, it’s normal to feel different and strong emotions. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Resources to help with coping and stress after a natural disaster are available for teens as well as parents and professionals.
For Families and Children
For People at Higher Risk for Serious Illness
For Healthcare Workers and First Responders
For Other Workers