What Is Stress and How Do I Manage It? (2023)

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. But what’s stressful to you may not be the same as what’s stressful to others. You might also have your own way of managing that stress.

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The intensity and duration of your stress response will depend on many factors that range from your personality to your support system.

And although it may often feel unpleasant, stress is an evolutionary necessity. More importantly, it can be managed. When it isn’t, though, it may develop into an acute or chronic stress disorder.

Stress is the body’s natural response to a stressor. A stressor is a trigger that may cause you to experience physical, emotional, or mental distress and pressure.

In other words, stress is a physical sensation and a feeling of being overwhelmed and not able to deal with the pressures caused by a stressor.

Your mental and physical reactions to a stressor serve a purpose.

For example, in a hazardous situation, stress puts your body in “fight or flight” mode. In this heightened state of alert, your body and brain are doing everything possible to increase your chances of surviving that perceived or real threat.

You may also have a stress reaction to events that might not be life-threatening, like job deadlines or school assignments. In these scenarios, when managed well, stress could help you focus and accomplish your goals at an optimal level.

When stress has this potential for a positive outcome, it’s usually referred to as eustress. When, on the other hand, stress leads you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, we refer to it as distress.

In the short and long run, distress may impact your mental health and sense of well-being.

Mental health professionals usually consider three main types of negative stress responses. They each have their own signs and symptoms and may vary in duration too.

Acute stress disorder (ASD)

To reach a diagnosis of acute stress disorder, symptoms must last between 3 days and 1 month. A trigger is usually a traumatic event that causes an intense reaction.

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Symptoms of acute stress disorder include:

  • feeling emotionally detached or numb
  • dissociative amnesia
  • derealization and depersonalization
  • flashbacks or recurring images from the traumatic event
  • hypervigilance and constant state of alert
  • anxiety symptoms

For example, after experiencing a jarring car accident, you might start:

  • avoiding vehicles altogether
  • feeling muscle tension when riding in a car
  • having nightmares about the car accident
  • experiencing panic attacks with or without an evident cause

If symptoms last for more than a month, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is possible.

Episodic acute stress disorder

Folks with episodic acute stress disorder experience intense and heightened distress from everyday challenges. In other words, if you live with this condition, you periodically experience intense and extreme stress reactions to relatively simple stressors.

Contrary to acute stress disorder, which is caused by one traumatic experience, episodic acute stress is a response to several stressors that might not be considered such by people without the condition.

For example, if you have episodic acute stress disorder, you might have an intense stress response from deciding what to do for lunch today, and again later on from thinking about an important report you need to submit tomorrow.

Some people with type A personality develop this condition.

Symptoms of episodic acute stress disorder may include:

  • irritability and poor anger management
  • heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • muscular stiffness and pain
  • panic attacks and other signs of anxiety
  • chronic illnesses

Chronic stress

Left unchecked, stress responses can become a chronic condition such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Ongoing stress keeps your nervous system in overdrive. Your cortisol and adrenaline levels are constantly coursing at higher levels, and your body and mind don’t get the opportunity to wind down.

While acute and episodic stress symptoms will eventually ease, chronic stress holds the sympathetic nervous system hostage in a heightened state for an extended and undefined amount of time.

Triggers for chronic stress can vary from person to person, and they may include chronic illness, abuse, racism, and lack of rest and sleep.

Some signs and symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • frequent headaches
  • irritability
  • brain fog
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • physical conditions like acid reflux, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive disorders

Maybe you’re late to an appointment because of traffic, or you’re a new parent who hasn’t gotten enough sleep for a while. Life is full of potential stressors, and your threshold for managing these triggers depends on many factors.

What may cause you stress is not necessarily what stresses someone else. We are all unique in our responses and in how we interpret events. While some people get excited by speaking in public, others may experience a panic attack in the same situation.

There are also a few important life events that tend to be more stressful for everyone.

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A well-known tool used by health professionals to measure the amount of stress someone’s experiencing is the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. According to this scale, the most stressful life events are:

  1. death of a spouse
  2. divorce
  3. marital separation
  4. incarceration
  5. death of a close family member
  6. major injury or illness
  7. marriage
  8. being fired from a job
  9. marital reconciliation
  10. retirement
  11. drastic change in the health of a family member
  12. pregnancy

Extreme life changes, such as a pandemic, for example, may also trigger intense stress reactions in many people.

Contributing factors

Any stimulus you experience throughout the day has the potential to activate a stress response.

Different stimuli may cause different biological stress reactions, resulting in physical, psychological, or psychosocial stress. Sometimes, the same stimulus might cause more than one type of stress reaction.

Hypothetically, if you procrastinated on your work presentation and found yourself standing in front of your bosses unprepared, you may feel all three types of stress simultaneously: the physical stress reaction of a stomach ache from nerves; the psychological stress of worrying that this will end your chances at promotion; and the psychosocial stress of fearing ostracization for failing to perform to an expected standard.

What else can cause specific stress responses?

Physical stress

  • acute or chronic disease
  • injury
  • poor nutrition
  • lack of quality sleep

Psychological stress

  • worry
  • guilt
  • mental health conditions
  • attachment style
  • grief

Psychosocial stress

  • relationships
  • employment
  • isolation
  • racism

Not everyone reacts the same way to these potential stressors. Your body may adapt better to fewer hours of sleep, or you may not find isolation as unpleasant as other people. If this is the case, your reaction to these stressors would not be as intense.

Your personality also plays an important role in the emotional narrative you craft around stress stimuli.

Your genetic makeup, past experiences, negative thinking patterns and cognitive distortions, and tendency to catastrophize can contribute to how intensely you react to a given situation.

At the same time, stressors don’t exist in a vacuum. They can become exacerbated or subdued due to other circumstances in your life.

In general, factors like a strong support network may positively impact overall mental wellness and your ability to manage stress.

You might also overcome a stressful obstacle when the stressor only happens occasionally. When faced with the same stressor every day, though, you’re likely to handle it better on day 1 than on day 82, for example.

In other words, the longer you’re exposed to an stressor, the greater the impact it will have on you.

Examples of long-term stressors include:

  • a toxic workplace
  • a chronic illness
  • poverty
  • racism and discrimination
  • relationship conflict

Acute stress effects

When you’re exposed to a stressor, your brain and hormones immediately signal your body to be alert. You can thank the hormone epinephrine, more famously known as adrenaline, for symptoms such as:

  • rapid heart rate
  • focused vision and alertness
  • tensed muscles
  • increased lung capacity

If the stressful event is ongoing, your body will release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol keeps your body in this high-performance state until the peril has passed.

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Sometimes, the body gets so hyped up on cortisol that it can’t switch off its high state of alert, even after the threat is gone.

Chronic stress effects

A body that won’t wind down from ACTH and adrenaline can be impacted psychologically, physically, and emotionally.

Left in high-stress mode, your body may respond by developing more symptoms.

These symptoms may be physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.

Physiological effects

Emotional and psychological effects

  • low energy and motivation
  • anxiety
  • irritability and anger
  • low self-esteem
  • changes in mood

Cognitive effects

  • cognitive distortions
  • memory challenges
  • learning difficulties
  • poor concentration
  • brain fog
  • intrusive thoughts

Social and behavioral effects

  • social withdrawal
  • changes in routines
  • substance abuse
  • relationship conflicts

Stress is inevitable throughout your life, but it can be managed to reduce the chance it affects you in the long term.

Consider these tips to better manage your stress reaction:

1. Take a walk in nature

You don’t have to drive to a mountain resort to feel the stress-relieving benefits of nature. To start coping with stress, find any green space, like:

  • a park
  • a bench under a tree
  • a friend’s backyard

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that spending just 20 minutes outdoors is associated with the biggest drop in cortisol levels when compared with other stress-reducing initiatives.

Presuming you have to walk to your nature destination, getting outside also has the stress-reducing bonus of some light exercise to help stabilize your sympathetic nervous system.

2. Learn new breathing techniques

Perhaps the most accessible stress reliever is built right into your body. Deep breathing and breathing techniques like belly breathing signal to your brain that it’s time to chill out.

Focusing on your breath is a long-held tenet of meditation for stress.

Learning to control your breathing can keep you anchored in the present moment. Sometimes, reminding yourself of what’s real and happening right now calms your nerves about the future and frustrations about the past.

3. Develop routines that work for you

Change is part of life. But a large part of life is also under your control. Developing a solid routine that promotes your mental wellness is a healthy way to minimize the potential stressful impact of change.

For example, sticking to a routine might help you maintain better sleep or eating habits.

When you know that certain parts of your day are guaranteed to happen, it prevents last-minute decisions that can result in stress.

Particularly during the pandemic, when the days may seem long and unformed, introducing some structure can help our brains and bodies adjust and reduce stress levels.

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4. Power down blue screens

Are you using your phone as a tool, or are you addicted to scrolling?

Some studies have found an association between cell phone overuse and increased levels of stress, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.

To curb your phone use, consider setting limits on the time you spend with it, particularly before bedtime.

Shutting the phone down 30 minutes before bedtime has been shown to have the potential to improve quality of sleep, working memory, and positive emotions during the day.

5. Organize your stress triggers

You know what may push your buttons. It may be overdue bills or setting up a doctor’s appointment.

Ignoring unpleasant tasks may feel easier than confronting them in the moment. But out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind, and not resolving things as they arise could clutter your mind with stress.

Consider tackling the junk drawer, making the appointment today, and revamping your important document filing system.

Developing a systematic approach to areas of your life that cause routine stress may leave you feeling lighter and more competent.

Even if you know how to manage stress, there are times when stressors have a greater impact and your responses may be more intense.

It’s natural to need extra help once in a while.

If you feel stress is impacting your day-to-day life, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

It is especially important to seek this support if you’re experiencing symptoms of acute stress disorder.

Getting the necessary help can help manage stress before it impacts other aspects of your life.

Let’s recap

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Stress is a natural, biological response to life’s challenges. However, you may react to some of these challenges more intensely, leading you to experience extreme and long-term symptoms.

All types of stress can be managed, though. If you’re having a difficult time dealing with stressors or have experienced a traumatic event, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

These resources may help:

FAQs

How do you manage stress essay? ›

Strategies for Stress Management

Try to avoid people who stress you out. Further, if you cannot avoid a stressful situation, try altering it. Express your feelings don't bottle them up and manage your time better. Moreover, you can also adapt to the stressor if you can't change it.

What is a stress? ›

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Stress is your body's reaction to a challenge or demand.

Why is it important to manage stress? ›

Preventing and managing long-term stress can lower your risk for other conditions — like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression. You can prevent or reduce stress by: Planning ahead. Deciding which tasks to do first.

What is the reason of stress? ›

Don't have much or any control over the outcome of a situation. Have responsibilities that you find overwhelming. Don't have enough work, activities or change in your life. Experience discrimination, hate or abuse.

How do you handle stress simple answer? ›

Here are some steps you can take to cope with a stressful situation.
  1. Understand the Situation. Take some time to think about the situation you're facing. Try to describe your situation in a sentence or two. ...
  2. Commit to a Positive Attitude. A positive attitude helps stop you from being dragged down by unhappy feelings.

What are the 5 main ways to manage stress? ›

5 tips to manage stress
  • Use guided meditation. Guided meditation is a great way to distract yourself from the stress of day-to-day life. ...
  • Practice deep breathing. ...
  • Maintain physical exercise and good nutrition. ...
  • Manage social media time. ...
  • Connect with others.
10 Dec 2018

What is stress management in your own words? ›

The stress management meaning is to reduce the negative impacts caused by stress and to improve a person's physical and mental well-being. Stress management may include self-care, managing one's response to stress, and making changes to one's life when in a stressful situation.

What is stress and its examples? ›

Stress means physical or mental tension. An example of stress is the pressure to finish three large projects by the end of the day. An example of stress is discomfort and pain in your arms from carrying too heavy of an item.

What are 5 causes of stress? ›

Stress Causes
  • Being bullied.
  • Working too hard.
  • Losing a job.
  • Marriage or relationship problems.
  • Recent break up or divorce.
  • Death in the family.
  • Difficulty in school.
  • Family problems.
1 Nov 2021

How do I know if I'm stress? ›

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.

How do you prepare for stress? ›

5 Steps You Need to Take to Prepare Yourself for a Stressful Situation
  1. Understand Your Stressors. Every stressful situation is a combination of small stressors. ...
  2. Make a Plan. Now, you know your stressors and have some knowledge how to deal with them. ...
  3. Visualize Success. ...
  4. Reward Yourself. ...
  5. Reserve Time for Relaxation.
12 Jun 2017

What is the first step in handling stress? ›

5-step guide to managing stress
  1. Step 1: Identify whether you are stressed.
  2. Step 2: Identify your stressor.
  3. Step 3: Identify the reason for stressor.
  4. Step 4: Identify and apply an appropriate stress management strategy.
  5. Step 5: Evaluate.

What happens if you don't manage stress? ›

Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

What causes stress at home? ›

Homegrown stress can be traced to numerous sources – a noisy environment, an unhappy spouse, financial worries, or even mundane domestic duties such as doing the laundry or mowing the lawn. Stress is not a subject to be taken lightly.

What is a great stress reliever? ›

Fortunately, several evidence-based strategies can help you reduce stress and improve your overall psychological well-being. Exercise, mindfulness, spending time with a pet, minimizing screen time, and getting outside more often are all effective methods.

What is the best medicine for stress? ›

The most common medications to manage symptoms of stress are tranquilizers, beta-blockers, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), among others. Additional treatments may include acupuncture and herbal remedies.
...
Common types
  • alprazolam (Xanax)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • diazepam (Valium)
30 Aug 2022

What are the 3 keys to managing stress? ›

This article presents the three most important keys to managing stress, sleep, weekly “recharge” time and daily breaks.

What are the 7 steps in managing stress? ›

7 Ways to Manage Your Stress
  • Track your stressors. Use a journal to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. ...
  • Set limits. ...
  • Tap into your support system. ...
  • Make one health-related commitment. ...
  • Manage your devices. ...
  • Enhance your sleep quality. ...
  • Seek additional help.
5 Jun 2018

What is stress in daily life? ›

Everyday stress simply calls awareness to a situation that needs attention. It reminds us to slow down, steady ourselves, focus, and get ready. We tackle these everyday stressors by studying for exams, practicing a class presentation, or thinking about how to work it out with a friend.

What is stress in simple sentence? ›

Sentence stress is the pattern of stressed and unstressed words across a sentence. Normally this emphasis is on words that carry important information, although this can change significantly, depending on the specific meaning the speaker wants to communicate.

What is the most common stress? ›

Work stress tops the list, according to surveys. Forty percent of U.S. workers admit to experiencing office stress, and one-quarter say work is the biggest source of stress in their lives.

Does crying relieve stress? ›

Many people associate crying with feeling sad and making them feel worse, but in reality, crying can help improve your mood - emotional tears release stress hormones. Your stress level lowers when you cry, which can help you sleep better and strengthen your immune system.

How does stress affect a woman's body? ›

Common symptoms of stress in women include: Physical. Headaches, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, pain (most commonly in the back and neck), overeating/under eating, skin problems, drug and alcohol misuse, lack of energy, upset stomach, less interest in sex/other things you used to enjoy.

How does stress affect your body? ›

If you're constantly under stress, you can have physical symptoms, such as headaches, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and problems with sex and sleep. Stress can also lead to emotional problems, depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry.

What are 12 ways to manage stress? ›

12 Ways To Eliminate Stress At Work
  • Act Rather Than React. "We experience stress when we feel that situations are out of our control," says Melnick. ...
  • Take A Deep Breath. ...
  • Eliminate Interruptions. ...
  • Schedule Your Day For Energy And Focus. ...
  • Eat Right And Sleep Well. ...
  • Change Your Story. ...
  • Cool Down Quickly. ...
  • Identify Self-Imposed Stress.
20 Mar 2013

What are 3 ways to reduce stress? ›

Habits that may help include:
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get out in the sunlight.
  • Drink less alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Set a sleep schedule.
  • Don't look at your electronics 30-60 minutes before bed.
  • Try meditation or other forms of relaxation at bedtime.
14 Sept 2021

What are the 4 steps to help reduce stress? ›

Four Steps to Reduce Stress
  • Create schedules and use checklists. To minimize stress and last minute tasks, keep track of all of the important things you need to accomplish and then prioritize them. ...
  • Take time for yourself. Life is busy. ...
  • Exercise and relax. ...
  • Set Small Goals.
14 Jul 2020

What are 10 ways to manage stress? ›

10 Ways to Manage Everyday Stress
  1. Balance work and play. Make time to work on your tasks and goals (like schoolwork, chores, or practice). ...
  2. Plan your day. ...
  3. Stick to your plan. ...
  4. Ask for help when you need it. ...
  5. Use the positive energy of stress. ...
  6. Deal with problems as they come up. ...
  7. Eat good foods. ...
  8. Get enough sleep.

How do you know you are stressed? ›

If you are stressed, you might feel: Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up. Over-burdened or overwhelmed. Anxious, nervous or afraid.

What are the 8 ways to overcome stress? ›

10 Tips to Manage Stress
  • 1.Exercise.
  • 2.Relax Your Muscles.
  • 3.Deep Breathing.
  • 4.Eat Well.
  • 5.Slow Down.
  • 6.Take a Break.
  • 7.Make Time for Hobbies.
  • 8.Talk About Your Problems.
29 Apr 2021

Videos

1. How stress affects your brain - Madhumita Murgia
(TED-Ed)
2. How to Manage Stress? | Sadhguru
(Sadhguru)
3. Tips for Managing Stress
(Mind, the mental health charity)
4. Take Control of Stress
(Every Mind Matters)
5. Consequences of stress and how to manage it
(American Heart Association)
6. Bupa | Inside Health | How to manage stress
(Bupa UK)
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