10 Ways to Manage Stress

People calmly meditating, relieving stress

In today’s world, stress is everywhere. You encounter it at work, at home, and at play. The good news is you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association says more than 75% of Americans report feeling at least one symptom of physical or mental stress every month.

Stress may be unavoidable, but you shouldn’t ignore it. Short spurts can be helpful, but constantly feeling stressed negatively impacts your health. Here’s what you need to know to understand stress and to protect your long-term well-being.  

What Happens to Your Body During Stress?

A fast heartbeat or shortness of breath may be the first things you feel when you’re in a stressful situation. But your body’s actual stress response starts in your brain—and a lot happens quickly.

First, your amygdala (part of your brain involved in processing emotions) accepts information from your five senses. Danger triggers an alarm in your hypothalamus, your brain’s control center, which kickstarts your body’s “fight-or-flight” response.

To prompt this reaction, your hypothalamus sends signals to your adrenal glands. These glands pump adrenaline into your bloodstream, increasing your pulse and blood pressure levels. Adrenaline also sparks your body to release blood sugar and fats to boost your muscles. The small airways in your lungs expand so you can breathe faster and deeper, sending extra oxygen to your brain to make you more alert.

Why is Chronic Stress Dangerous?

Typically, your body’s response to stressors is helpful. You may need that extra energy, muscle power, or oxygen to escape a dangerous situation. Or maybe it can help you finish a physically demanding task like completing a long race or moving heavy furniture. Afterward, your heart rate and breathing should slow down, and you start to relax.

If your stress response lingers, you have chronic stress. You may feel overwhelmed or like you’re under constant pressure. Chronic stress can produce a variety of physical and mental symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heart rate

What are the Long-Term Consequences of Stress?

The symptoms of stress can be bothersome and impact your daily life. Untreated chronic stress can also lead to several health problems.

Over time, chronic stress can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis. It may cause skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, and acne. Stress can also cause significant weight gain or loss, and it may lower your sex drive.

Alongside physical problems, chronic stress can cause mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, heavy alcohol use, and other addictions.

10 Ways to Manage Stress

To manage the stress in your life, consider trying these tactics.

  1. Counseling: With counseling or therapy, you can talk about the things that cause stress in your life. A trained counselor helps you identify stressors and teaches you effective coping strategies.
  2. Deep breathing: Slowing your breathing down can reduce your stress and help you calm down. Breathe in deeply through your nose, filling your belly with air and then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this exercise multiple times, focusing on each breath.
  3. Diet: Stress can lead to overeating. Often, ultra-processed, high-sugar foods are most readily at hand. A well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins can provide the vitamins and minerals needed to regulate mood and reduce stress.
  4. Exercise: Regular cardiovascular exercise can lower stress and boost your mood. Physical activity helps you relax and improve your sleep. Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.
  5. Limit caffeine: Too much caffeine can make you feel jumpy, raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate, and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Switching to decaffeinated drinks may relieve these symptoms and lower your stress levels.
  6. Meditation: Guided meditation helps you focus your thoughts and calm down. Research shows that concentration reduces your stress and anxiety. When you meditate regularly, you may carry a sense of calm throughout your day.
  7. Self-care: Don’t forget your “me time.” Self-care can lower stress levels and improve your quality of life. Dedicate time each day for something you enjoy, such as reading a book, practicing a hobby, taking a walk, exercising, or meditating.
  8. Supplements: Some supplements, such as ashwagandha, magnesium, melatonin, and lemon balm, can reduce stress levels. Before taking these supplements, talk with your doctor about any side effects or interactions with current medications or existing conditions.
  9. Time management: Procrastinating or putting things off increases your stress as you try to meet deadlines later. Good time management can relieve that pressure and support better sleep.
  10. Yoga: Yoga is a popular, low-impact form of exercise. It combines stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and mindful, targeted movements to reduce stress and anxiety.

In today’s world, it’s hard to avoid stress altogether. But these strategies can help you handle pressure-filled moments better over time.