How to manage stress: Tips for relieving stress and how to spot it

Stress is inevitable, and can even occur without your knowledge. It can come from work, home life, or just about anywhere, and the more it builds up, the less you feel like you are in control. That’s why it’s important to establish regular stress management techniques in your routine.

Without a set plan for dealing with stress in a healthy way, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy habits that relieve stress in the short term but cause it to increase in the long term. Read on to discover new ways to manage your stress and find out which ones might work for you.

What Is Stress?

Stress is the mind and body’s response to perceived fear, threat, or danger. Everyone’s way of regulating their emotions in times of stress differs, which is why everyone’s response to stress is different. 

When struggling to cope with stress, emotions can become dysregulated, which causes common symptoms of stress to occur, like irritability, anxiety, depression, or difficulty concentrating. 

What Are the Signs of Stress?

Signs of stress will vary from person to person, but some of the common signs of stress include the following:

  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns, increased heart rate, and digestive issues/stomach cramping.
  • Cognitive symptoms, such as racing thoughts, constant worrying, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and decreased decision making abilities (indecisiveness or apathy).
  • Emotional symptoms, such as mood swings, irritable mood, anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, and a lack of motivation

Stress can impede the way you function, increasing its effects as the stress continues to worsen, which is why it is important to learn to manage and deal with your stress as or before it happens.

What Are 5 Positive Ways to Deal With Stress?

There are many ways to deal with stress, but not all of them are helpful and positive. It’s important to implement healthy, positive stress management strategies into your life, whether you’re currently stressed or not. Some examples include:

  1. Exercise: Regular physical activity is vital in reducing the effects of stress. Whether you take a walk, run/jog, or play your favorite sport, getting your body moving on a regular basis will release endorphins in your body, which are natural stress-fighting hormones. Exercise helps to decrease anxiety, improve overall mood, and improve sleep.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Practicing deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and body, relieving mental and physical stress.
  3. Time management: Prioritizing tasks and creating a schedule to manage your time effectively can help to alleviate stress. By breaking down tasks to smaller, manageable steps, you can prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed and even proactively avoid stress. 
  4. Social support: Seeking support from your friends, family, or other sources such as a support group can give you emotional encouragement and offer different perspectives on how to cope with stress. 
  5. Self-care: Taking care of yourself is vital in managing stress. Engaging in activities that you enjoy, practicing self compassion, getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in hobbies and interests will all help to stress. Figure out which tactics resonate with you and what you need, and work to integrate them into your routine going forward.

Not every form of stress relief will be effective for everyone, so be open and don’t be afraid to try multiple strategies and leave behind ones that don’t work for you.

What Are 3 Easy Ways to Relieve Stress?

There are many ways to relieve stress as mentioned above, but there are a few that are simpler and easier to start implementing than others. Some examples of easy ways to relieve stress are:

  1. Deep breathing: By taking a moment to slow down and notice your breath, slowly inhaling deeply through your nose, holding for a few seconds, then exhaling through the mouth, you have restored oxygen to the brain. Deep breathing triggers a relaxation response in your body, helping to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm, especially during a spike in stress or anxiety.
  2. Physical activity: By engaging in a quick burst of physical activity to release pent up tension, which can be as simple as a brisk walk, you can quickly release pent up tension and give your body some feel-good endorphins. 
  3. Mindfulness or meditation: By taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness, participate in a guided meditation, sit in quiet, or notice the space around you and breathe it all in, you can center your thoughts and release stress and boost relaxation.

How to Relieve Stress Quickly

Unfortunately, relieving stress is sometimes not a quick process. It’d be great if we could turn off anxiety like flipping a switch, but stress management techniques often take time and practice to generate results. 

Though it might not seem like it, it’s similar to going to the gym one time and expecting to walk away with bodybuilder muscles. You will not see instant results from implementing stress management techniques in your life, but with consistent practice, positive results will start to occur over time.

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10 Ways to Cope With Stress

Though we’ve given you some overall building blocks for managing stress, it can be even more helpful to have more specific examples of healthy stress management techniques. That being said, here are some specific actions you can take that fall into the above categories:

  1. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Though drugs and alcohol can offer a quick dose of stress relief, using them consistently to alleviate stress can cause depression, anxiety, and other side effects over time. Additionally, this can lead to abuse and dependency, which can cause serious mental and physical harm. 
  2. Find a creative hobby or interest to engage in. Read a new book. Watch that new TV series you have been meaning to see. Go see a movie. Ride your bike. Take a new dance class. Get involved in something exciting and stimulating that you enjoy!
  3. Take screen breaks when watching news stories and scrolling social media. Allowing for some time and space away can help you refocus on the present. 
  4. Connect to nature. Go to a new park, hike, or take a walk and notice the sounds and sensations around you. Try pairing it with deep breathing to slow down. 
  5. Have a good sleep routine. Avoid oversleeping or undersleeping. Try to practice a consistent sleep routine that your mind and body look forward to and anticipate decompression time one hour before sleep cycle to allow for sound sleep.
  6. Talk to others about what is going on in your life. Connect with your friend, family, and any other support in your life who is positively encouraging to you to gain extra support during a stressful time. 
  7. Practice keeping a gratitude list. Write out or name to yourself three things you are grateful for each day. Try to write something different out each day. Gratitude allows for a healthy shift in perspective to allow for positive or hopeful thoughts when things seem challenging. 
  8. Reduce caffeine and sugar intake. Both caffeine and sugar can spike up anxiety. 
  9. Practice self-care. Do what feels nurturing and comforting to you—for instance, a hot bubble bath, making a cup of tea, calling a friend to catch up, journaling, planning a day off, trying a new restaurant, or just taking time to slow down and catch your breath throughout your day.
  10. Have good boundaries. Try to not overextend yourself and have an intention to create time and space for yourself outside of work, school, and other obligations or responsibilities.

Now that you have examples to work from, you can start establishing new routines and habits that will help you relieve and prevent stress. Whether you decide to make big changes or start small, putting any amount of energy into healthy stress relief practices will pay off over time.

You can manage stress by working out, managing time, reducing screen time, and having healthy boundaries

Table of contents

What Is Stress?

What Are 5 Positive Ways to Deal With Stress?

10 Ways to Cope With Stress

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Christine Ridley, Resident in Counseling in Winston-Salem, NC

Christine Ridley, LCSW

Christine Ridley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in adolescent and adult anxiety, depression, mood and thought disorders, addictive behaviors, and co-dependency issues.

Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Hannah DeWitt

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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  • Sathyapalan, T., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. PubMed, 16, 1057–1072.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on October 8, 2012

    Author: Anthony Centore, PhD

  • Updated on July 20, 2023

    Authors: Hannah DeWitt; Christine Ridley, LCSW

    Reviewer: Laura Harris, LCMHC

    Changes: Updated by a Thriveworks clinician in collaboration with our editorial team, adding additional information about stress, including the signs of stress, healthy ways to manage stress, simple ways to manage stress, and whether it’s possible to relieve stress quickly; article was clinically reviewed to double confirm accuracy and enhance value.

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