Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. Work, school, relationships, and daily hassles can often serve as stressors, or sources of stress. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good stress, or eustress, pushes us to work harder. When this stress becomes overwhelming or hard to manage, it’s called distress and can impact your health.
Stress may manifest in two forms, acute or chronic, and it’s helpful to understand the difference between the two. Acute stress is a response to a specific situation or event, in which stress hormones are released to handle the issue. Examples of acute stress can be a job interview or getting a speeding ticket. Repeated exposure to stress, in which stress hormones are constantly being released in the body, is chronic stress. Chronic stress can wear down the body both physically and mentally. High levels of chronic stress are associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease, obesity, and sleep difficulties.
Everyone experiences stress differently. Responses to stress depend on a complex set of factors including temperament, health, life experiences, beliefs and ideas, and coping skills. Recognizing when you may be experiencing high stress levels is the first step in being able to handle the stress in a healthy way. Managing stress is a learned behavior and takes practice. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Understand how your mind and body respond to stress. How do you know if you’re stressed? Some people may have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or making decisions. Others may feel angry, hopeless, or anxious. Headaches, weight loss or gain, and heart racing are also common symptoms of stress.
- Identify the source(s) of stress. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your family, schoolwork, health, finances, work, relationships, or something else?
- Consider how you currently deal with stress. Are your coping behaviors contributing to or taking away from your well-being?? Which behaviors, if any, would you like to change?
- Practice self-care to manage stress.
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a balanced diet
- Take breaks
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Listen to music
- Talk to friends and family
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Practice the Four A’s of stress management:
- Avoid unnecessary stress (how can you prioritize your time and goals to eliminate additional stress?)
- Alter the situation (what do you have control over that can be changed?)
- Adapt to the stressor (how can the problem be reframed?)
- Accept the things you can’t change (some stressors are unavoidable- what does showing acceptance look like?)
- Reach out for support. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you might consider speaking with a mental health professional who can help you come up with a plan to manage and reduce stress.
Last reviewed/updated: July 28, 2023