How to identify and manage stress

Exercise, breathing techniques, and medication can help you manage stress as you get older.

How to identify and manage stress

We all experience a little stress from time to time. It’s not so hard to handle when we’re young. But as we age, coping with stress isn’t as easy anymore. “We tend to have less resilience to stress, and older adults often find that stress affects them differently now,” says Dr. Michelle Dossett, an internal and integrative medicine specialist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine.

Changes in response

What’s different about coping with stress when we’re older? “Our cells are aging. Heart fitness and lung capacity decline, especially if you’re sedentary,” says Dr. Dossett. That keeps us from adequately accommodating the body’s natural stress response (see “What does stress do to your body?”).

If you have a chronic disease, which is already a burden on the body, it’s even harder to bounce back physically from the toll the stress response takes.

You may also feel a difference mentally. “Normally when we’re stressed, our brains get flooded with stress hormones, the midbrain takes over, and the front of the brain—which controls concentration, attention, and decision-making—works less well. Stress hormones in the brain can also contribute to short-term memory problems that are unrelated to dementia or age-related memory loss. Restorative sleep helps to flush stress hormones from the brain. However, many older adults have sleep problems. Stress may make it more difficult to fall back asleep, and the inability to clear these stress hormones from the brain during sleep means that the cognitive effects of stress can worsen over time,” says Dr. Dossett.

Changes in triggers

When you were younger, your stressors may have been a busy day at the office or a crying child. “Stressors that tend to affect seniors are the loss of a loved one; too much unstructured time on your hands; a change in relationships with children; or a loss of physical abilities, such as vision, hearing, balance, or mobility,” says Dr. Dossett.

Symptoms of stress may include tension headaches, indigestion, heart palpitations, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, anxiety, irritability, crying, or overeating. If any of these symptoms are interfering with your quality of life, Dr. Dossett suggests that you seek help.

What you should do

If you’re feeling stressed, Dr. Dossett recommends talking about your concerns with loved ones and getting a physical check-up. “Stress may be having a physical impact on you that you’re unaware of,” says Dr. Dossett. Treatment may include addressing an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise is also important, as is nurturing yourself by pursuing activities that bring you joy, and making time to socialize.

A big part of stress management focuses on triggering the opposite of the stress response: the relaxation response, which helps lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. Techniques to elicit the response include yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing exercises. “One breathing exercise is to inhale slowly, mentally counting 1–2–3–4, and then exhale slowly, silently counting 4–3–2–1,” says Dr. Dossett. Another treatment for stress is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify negative thinking and replace it with healthy or positive thoughts. “These are great skills, but they often don’t work right away. So you may need medications, such as antidepressants, as a bridge,” says Dr. Dossett.

What does stress do to your body?

When the brain senses danger or a need to fight, it sounds the alarm for action: it tells the muscles to tighten and signals the adrenal glands to release stress hormones—such as adrenaline and cortisol. Those hormones make you breathe faster, getting more oxygen to your muscles, and they trigger the release of sugar and fat into the blood, giving your cells more energy. To accommodate these needs, your heart beats faster and your blood pressure goes up. These physical changes are all part of the stress response, which is helpful if you need to jump out of the way of danger. Once the brain senses safety, body function returns to normal.

Emotional support is an important protective factor for dealing with life’s difficulties, while loneliness has been associated with a wide variety of health problems including high blood pressure, diminished immunity, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.

How to identify and manage stress

Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life — but too much stress can affect your emotional and physical wellbeing. According to APA’s 2015 Stress in America survey 1 , average stress levels today are slightly higher than they were in 2014. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is “a great deal of stress” and one is “little or no stress,” American adults rated their stress level at a 5.1 today, up from 4.9 in 2014. But worrisomely, a significantly greater percentage of adults reported experiencing a stress level of 8 or higher on the 10-point scale. Twenty-four percent of American adults reported this extreme level of stress in 2015, up from 18 percent the previous year.

Emotional support is an important protective factor for dealing with life’s difficulties. The 2015 survey found the average stress level for those with emotional support was 5.0 out of 10, compared to 6.3 for those without such support.

Loneliness has been associated with a wide variety of health problems including high blood pressure, diminished immunity, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. 2 In fact, low levels of social support have even been linked to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and cancer. 3

The good news is that there are ways to seek out such support, and to nurture your supportive relationships.

The benefits of social support

As important as social support is, many Americans don’t feel they have access to this valuable resource. When asked if there is someone they can ask for emotional support, such as talking over problems or helping make difficult decisions, 70 percent said yes. However, more than half (55 percent) also said they could have used at least a little more emotional support.

In fact, experts say, almost all of us benefit from social and emotional support. And though it may seem counterintuitive, having strong social support can actually make you more able to cope with problems on your own, by improving your self-esteem and sense of autonomy.

You don’t need a huge network of friends and family to benefit from social support, however. Some people find camaraderie among just a handful of people, be they co-workers, neighbors or friends from their church or religious institution, for instance.

Yet social skills don’t always come naturally. Some people have trouble making social connections. Many others lose established connections due to life changes such as retirement, relocation or the death of a loved one. In any case, it’s possible to forge new connections to reap the benefits of a healthy support network.

Grow your support network

Cast a wide net. When it comes to your social supports, one size doesn’t fit all. You may not have someone you can confide in about everything — and that’s okay. Maybe you have a colleague you can talk to about problems at work, and a neighbor who lends an ear when you have difficulties with your kids. Look to different relationships for different kinds of support. But remember to look to people you can trust and count on, to avoid disappointing, negative interactions that can make you feel worse.

Be proactive. Often people expect others to reach out to them, and then feel rejected when people don’t go out of their way to do so. To get the most out of your social relationships, you have to make an effort. Make time for friends and family. Reach out to lend a hand or just say hello. If you’re there for others, they’ll be more likely to be there for you. And in fact, when it comes to longevity, research suggests that providing social support to friends and family may be even more important than receiving it. 4

Take advantage of technology. It’s nice to sit down with a friend face-to-face, but it isn’t always possible. Luckily, technology makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with loved ones far away. Write an email, send a text message or make a date for a video chat. Don’t rely too heavily on digital connections, however. Some research suggests that face-to-face interactions are most beneficial.

Follow your interests. Do you like to hike, sing, make jewelry, play tennis, get involved in local politics? You’re more likely to connect with people who like the things you like. Join a club, sign up for a class or take on a volunteer position that will allow you to meet others who share your interests. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make friends overnight. Try to enjoy the experience as you get to know others over time.

Seek out peer support. If you’re dealing with a specific stressful situation — such as caring for a family member or dealing with a chronic illness — you may not find the support you need from your current network. Consider joining a support group to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges.

Improve your social skills. If you feel awkward in social situations and just don’t know what to say, try asking simple questions about the other person to get the ball rolling. If you’re shy, it can be less intimidating to get to know others over shared activities — such as a bike ride or a knitting class — rather than just hanging out and talking. If you feel particularly anxious in social situations, consider talking to a therapist with experience in social anxiety and social-skills training.

Ask for help. If you lack a strong support network and aren’t sure where to start, there are resources you can turn to. Places of worship, senior and community centers, local libraries, refugee and immigrant groups, neighborhood health clinics and local branches of national organizations such as Catholic Charities or the YMCA/YWCA may be able to help you identify services, support groups and other programs in your community.

Seek professional help

If you’re feeling stressed and don’t have anyone to rely on, psychologists can help. As experts in human behavior, psychologists can help you develop strategies to manage stress and improve your social skills. Use the APA’s Psychologist Locator Service to find a psychologist in your area. You can also visit www.mentalhealth.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that offers resources in English and Spanish.

1 For full survey results and methodology, please visit stressinamerica.org.

2 Masi, C.M., Chen, H., Hawkley, L.C., and Cacioppo, J.T. (2011). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Personality and Social Psychology Review 15(3), 219-266.

3 Uchino, B.N. Understanding the links between social support and physical health. (2009). Perspectives on Psychological Science 4(3), 236-255.

4 Brown, S.L., Nesse, R.M. Vinokur, A.D., and Smith, D.M. (2003). Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: Results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science 14(4), 320-327.

Thanks to psychologists Mary Alvord, PhD, Bert Uchino, PhD, and Vaile Wright, PhD, who assisted with this article.

Not all stress is bad. But long-term stress can lead to health problems.

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
  • Preparing for stressful events

Some stress is hard to avoid. You can find ways to manage stress by:

  • Noticing when you feel stressed
  • Taking time to relax
  • Getting active and eating healthy
  • Talking to friends and family

The Basics: Signs and Health Effects

What are the signs of stress?

When you’re under stress, you may feel:

  • Worried
  • Angry
  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Unable to focus

Stress also affects your body. Physical signs of stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

The Basics: Causes of Stress

What causes stress?

Stress is how the body reacts to a challenge or demand.

Change is often a cause of stress. Even positive changes, like having a baby or getting a job promotion, can be stressful.

Stress can be short-term or long-term.

Common causes of short-term stress:

  • Needing to do a lot in a short amount of time
  • Having a lot of small problems in the same day, like getting stuck in traffic jam or running late
  • Getting ready for a work or school presentation
  • Having an argument

Common causes of long-term stress:

  • Having problems at work or at home
  • Having money problems
  • Having a long-term illness
  • Taking care of someone with an illness
  • Dealing with the death of a loved one

The Basics: Benefits of Lower Stress

What are the benefits of managing stress?

Over time, long-term stress can lead to health problems. Managing stress can help you:

  • Sleep better
  • Control your weight
  • Get sick less often
  • Feel better faster when you do get sick
  • Have less muscle tension
  • Be in a better mood
  • Get along better with family and friends

Take Action: Plan and Prepare

You can’t always avoid stress, but you can take steps to deal with stress in a positive way. Follow these tips for preventing and managing stress.

Being prepared and feeling in control of your situation might help lower your stress.

Plan your time.

Think ahead about how you’re going to use your time. Write a to-do list and figure out what’s most important — then do that thing first. Be realistic about how long each task will take.

Prepare yourself.

Prepare ahead for stressful events like a hard conversation with a loved one. You can:

  • Picture what the room will look like and what you’ll say
  • Think about different ways the conversation could go — and how you could respond
  • Have a plan for ending the conversation early if you need time to think

Take Action: Relax

Relax with deep breathing or meditation.

Deep breathing and meditation can help relax your muscles and clear your mind. You can:

Relax your muscles.

Stress causes tension in your muscles. Try stretching or taking a hot shower to help you relax. Check out these stretches you can do.

Take Action: Get Active

Regular physical activity can help prevent and manage stress . It can also help relax your muscles and improve your mood. So get active:

  • Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — try going for a bike ride or taking a walk
  • Do strengthening activities — like push-ups or lifting weights — at least 2 days a week

Remember, any amount of physical activity is better than none!

Read more about:

  • How to get active
  • How physical activity can help prevent and manage stress

Take Action: Food and Alcohol

Eat healthy.

Give your body plenty of energy by eating healthy — including vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins. Get tips for healthy eating.

Drink alcohol only in moderation.

Avoid using alcohol or other drugs to manage stress. If you choose to drink, drink only in moderation. This means:

  • 1 drink or less in a day for women
  • 2 drinks or less in a day for men

Take Action: Get Support

Talk to friends and family.

Tell your friends and family if you’re feeling stressed. They may be able to help. Learn how friends and family can help you feel less stressed.

Get help if you need it.

Stress is a normal part of life. But if your stress doesn’t go away or keeps getting worse, you may need help. Over time, stress can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety.

  • If you’re feeling down or hopeless, talk with your doctor about depression
  • If you’re feeling anxious, find out how to get help for anxiety
  • If you’ve lived through a traumatic event (like a major accident, crime, or natural disaster), find out about treatment for PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder

A mental health professional (like a psychologist or social worker) can help treat these conditions with talk therapy (called psychotherapy) or medicine. Learn more about talk therapy.

Finally, keep in mind that lots of people need help dealing with stress — it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Content last updated June 10, 2021

Reviewer Information

This information on stress management was adapted from materials from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Office on Women’s Health.

Reviewed by:
Natalie Zeigler
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health

How to identify and manage stress

Your kids may be having a serious case of the feels these days—from sadness and anxiety to feeling disconnected, lonely, and bored. And no wonder! While most of us are not certified art therapists, we can still incorporate a few art therapy activities to help them identify and manage their emotions.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a therapeutic process that integrates psychotherapy and art. It can help kids explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, relieve stress, and ease anxiety and depression.

Krista Reinhardt-Ruprecht, a registered psychotherapist, explains how art therapy works. “When we’re stuck in feeling states,” she says, “we are in the right hemisphere, low in the brain, and it’s hard to climb out of that. When we use our hands to make art, we trigger our left hemisphere to come back online. Meanwhile, we are making an internal emotion into an external piece of art, which can help us by looking at it as separate from who we are.”

Here are a few simple art therapy activities that will help your kids identify and manage their feelings.

1. Create mandalas

How to identify and manage stress

Drawing figures with repeated patterns, like mandalas, is good for regulating emotions and the nervous system. It can help kids focus their attention and calm down. After drawing them, they can color them in!

2. Picture your emotions

One of Reinhardt-Ruprecht’s favorite activities with clients is creating Anger Monsters. She asks her client to picture in their head, and then draw on paper, what their anger looks like. As a result, says Reinhardt-Ruprecht, “Anger gets to have its own identity. We can bring the anger out—look at it, how ugly it is—and then we can find out what it needs.”

More tips on helping kids express their feelings through art from Psychology Today.

3. Make art from nature

How to identify and manage stress

Working with natural materials is soothing and helps ground us. Plus, you can find beautiful materials to work with by just taking a walk outside. Make nature bracelets, sun-catchers, or create beautiful weavings with natural materials. For more ideas, check out 25 Fun and Easy Nature Crafts and Activities.

4. Transform something

Reinhardt-Ruprecht recently helped a patient who was struggling with our current world state of affairs. Together, they sat down and made a list of all the terrible things about COVID-19. Then they tore the list up and used the pieces to create a piece of art, turning something ugly into something beautiful.

5. Piece things together

How to identify and manage stress

Creating collages is a very therapeutic activity with a two-fold benefit. The physical sensation of handling different materials and textures—soft, scratchy, rigid—is very comforting. And the creative process of putting things together in a new and different way helps organize and calm your brain.

For more collage inspiration, check out Collage Art: 50+ Ideas.

6. Create a magazine photo mashup

Dr. Cathy Malchiodi explains the process of magazine photo collage as “using images to create a visual narrative that enhances the dialogue between client and therapist.”

A simple way to do this at home is to have your child cut out images from magazines that catch their eye. Then give them a piece of paper and glue and have them arrange the images in a collection. If they are willing, ask them to narrate their process as they go.

7. Make masks

In art therapy, creating or decorating a mask often leads to exploring different aspects of our personality. Sometimes we can create a mask that reveals feelings that are hard to express. Give your child a pre-formed mask or make one out of paper and give them free rein to embellish it however they’d like. When they are finished, ask them to tell you the story of the mask.

8. Family sculpture

One of Dr. Malchiodi’s recommended activities as an art therapist is to encourage kids to create a family sculpture out of clay. The size, shape, and arrangement of family members invites conversations about the important people and relationships in their life.

What art activities have you used with kids that have really had beneficial effects? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

We all feel stress at one time or another. It’s a normal and healthy reaction to change or a challenge. But stress that goes on for more than a few weeks can affect your health. Keep stress from making you sick by learning healthy ways to manage it.

Information

LEARN TO RECOGNIZE STRESS

The first step in managing stress is recognizing it in your life. Everyone feels stress in a different way. You may get angry or irritable, lose sleep, or have headaches or stomach upset. What are your signs of stress? Once you know what signals to look for, you can start to manage it.

Also identify the situations that cause you stress. These are called stressors. Your stressors could be family, school, work, relationships, money, or health problems. Once you understand where your stress is coming from, you can come up with ways to deal with your stressors.

AVOID UNHEALTHY STRESS RELIEF

When you feel stressed, you may fall back on unhealthy behaviors to help you relax. These may include:

  • Eating too much
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough

These behaviors may help you feel better at first, but they may hurt you more than they help. Instead, use the tips below to find healthy ways to reduce your stress.

FIND HEALTHY STRESS BUSTERS

There are many healthy ways to manage stress. Try a few and see which ones work best for you.

  • Recognize the things you can’t change. Accepting that you can’t change certain things allows you to let go and not get upset. For instance, you cannot change the fact that you have to drive during rush hour. But you can look for ways to relax during your commute, such as listening to a podcast or book.
  • Avoid stressful situations. When you can, remove yourself from the source of stress. For example, if your family squabbles during the holidays, give yourself a breather and go out for a walk or drive.
  • Get exercise. Getting physical activity every day is one of the easiest and best ways to cope with stress. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good. It can also help you release built-up energy or frustration. Find something you enjoy, whether it is walking, cycling, softball, swimming, or dancing, and do it for at least 30 minutes on most days.
  • Change your outlook. Try to develop a more positive attitude toward challenges. You can do this by replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, rather than thinking, “Why does everything always go wrong?” change this thought to, “I can find a way to get through this.” It may seem hard or silly at first, but with practice, you may find it helps turn your outlook around.
  • Do something you enjoy. When stress has you down, do something you enjoy to help pick you up. It could be as simple as reading a good book, listening to music, watching a favorite movie, or having dinner with a friend. Or, take up a new hobby or class. Whatever you choose, try to do at least one thing a day that’s just for you.
  • Learn new ways to relax. Practicing relaxation techniques is a great way to handle daily stress. Relaxation techniques help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. There are many types, from deep breathing and meditation to yoga and tai chi. Take a class, or try learning from books, videos, or online sources.
  • Connect with loved ones. Do not let stress get in the way of being social. Spending time with family and friends can help you feel better and forget about your stress. Confiding in a friend may also help you work out your problems.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can help you think more clearly and have more energy. This will make it easier to handle any problems that crop up. Aim for about 7 to 9 hours each night.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods helps fuel your body and mind. Skip the high-sugar snack foods and load up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and lean proteins.
  • Learn to say no. If your stress comes from taking on too much at home or work, learn to set limits. Ask others for help when you need it.

If you can’t manage stress on your own, you may want to talk with your health care provider. Or consider seeing a therapist or counselor who can help you find other ways to deal with your stress. Depending on the cause of your stress, you also may find it helps to join a support group.

From Meditation to Journaling, Three Highly Effective Ways to Manage Stress

Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Karen Cilli is a fact-checker for Verywell Mind. She has an extensive background in research, with 33 years of experience as a reference librarian and educator.

Siri Berting / Blend Images / Getty Images

According to the annual Stress in America survey, most Americans of all ages are stressed, and a significant proportion feels their coping abilities are inadequate. Further, they report feeling that stress is affecting their health, both physically and emotionally.

The survey results tend to fluctuate a little each year, but the findings generally show the same pattern: People face a variety of stressors, and they need to find effective ways to relieve stress in their lives. Stress is more the rule than the exception. It's important to manage your stress levels in a healthy way; below are a few strategies that may help you.

Calming Coping Strategies

First, it’s helpful to calm your physiology so you reverse your stress response. When your stress response is triggered, you process information differently and you can feel physically and emotionally taxed. If this state is prolonged, it can escalate to chronic stress.

One useful tip to calm yourself is to go to a quiet place and take deep, long breaths. Breathe in, hold for five seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times. This exercise can help soothe your nerves and slow a racing heart. Other calming strategies might include meditation and aromatherapy.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

With emotion-focused coping strategies, like maintaining a sense of humor and cultivating optimism, the situation doesn’t change, but your perception of it does. These strategies are great to use in situations where you have little ability to control what happens, and you need to see your stressors as a challenge instead of a threat. Other emotion-focused techniques for coping with stress include:

  • Journaling about your emotions
  • Practicing loving-kindness meditation to increase self-compassion
  • Using visualization strategies to increase positive feelings

Solution-Focused Coping Strategies

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to change a situation, but often you’ll find an opportunity to take action and actually change the circumstances you face. Solution-focused coping strategies can be very effective for stress relief; often a small change is all that’s required to make a huge shift in how you feel.

For one thing, one change can lead to other changes, so that a chain reaction of positive change is created, opportunities are opened up, and life changes significantly. Also, once an action is taken, the sense of being trapped with no options—a recipe for stress—can dissipate quickly.

It’s important to be thoughtful about which actions to take, as each situation may call for a unique solution, but a less-stressed mind can more easily choose the most beneficial course of action. While these techniques can be time-consuming, reducing your stress is necessary to improve your well-being and mental and physical health. Solution-focused techniques include the following:

  • Using time-management strategies when you feel overwhelmed by a busy schedule
  • Talking to HR if you feel overwhelming demands or harassment at work
  • Using conflict-resolution strategies to mitigate the stress in a relationship

If your stress levels do not decrease, it may be a good idea to talk to a therapist or your primary healthcare provider. They can help you identify ways to minimize your stress and develop nutrition and exercise plans to maintain your health as you handle your other obligations. Through coping strategies and good self-care, you can manage your stress healthfully and avoid long-term problems.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can change your mindset to cope with stress in a healthy way.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone has stress in their lives, and stress levels vary depending on the day. Having healthy coping strategies in place can help you keep your stress at a manageable level. If, however, you're struggling to manage your stress, seek professional help. A mental health provider can help you manage your stress in a healthy way.

Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.

Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.

Psychosocial stress affects most of us from time to time and can take a significant toll. It is the result of a cognitive appraisal (your mental interpretation) of what is at stake and what can be done about it. More simply put, psychosocial stress results when we look at a perceived social threat in our lives (real or even imagined) and discern that it may require resources we don't have.  

What Is Psychosocial Stress?

Examples of psychosocial stress can include anything that translates to a perceived threat to our social status, social esteem, respect, and/or acceptance within a group; threat to our self-worth; or a threat that we feel we have no control over. All of these threats can lead to a stress response in the body. These can be some of the most taxing stressors to deal with, as they can make us feel unsupported and alienated. This can make it more difficult to cope.  

When psychosocial stress triggers a stress response, the body releases a group of stress hormones including cortisol, epinephrine (or adrenalin), and dopamine, which leads to a burst of energy as well as other changes in the body (including the fight-or-flight response).

The changes brought about by stress hormones can be helpful in the short term, but can be damaging in the long run. For example, cortisol can improve the body’s functioning by increasing available energy (so that fighting or fleeing is more possible) but can lead to suppression of the immune system as well as a host of other effects.  

Epinephrine can also mobilize energy, but create negative psychological and physical outcomes with prolonged exposure. That’s why it’s important to manage psychosocial stress in our lives so that the stress response is only triggered when necessary. It’s also important to learn stress relief techniques to effectively reverse the stress response so we don’t experience prolonged states of stress or chronic stress.  

There are several ways to manage psychosocial stress, because it involves factors on the outside (what we're dealing with) and the inside (our thoughts about it), and can affect multiple areas of our lives. Here are some strategies that can help.

Develop Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict is an almost inevitable part of any relationship. People are going to have disagreements and are going to want different things. The way we manage conflict can create significant psychosocial stress but if you can work on your conflict resolution skills, that can help at least half of the equation: You can change what you bring to the situation, you can diffuse some of the negativity, and you can model healthier behavior. This can greatly minimize the stress felt by all involved.  

Focus on Supportive Friends and Avoid Drama

If you think about it, you know who you can trust to support you and who you can’t. Simply spending more time with those who make your life easier and minimizing time spent with those who make you feel stressed can cut down on a lot of the psychosocial stress you experience. It won’t cut out all of the stress you experience, but it can stop a lot of it.

Try a Shift in Perspective

Sometimes we feel angered or threatened by things that don't affect us that much, and the stress we feel as a result isn't necessary. Changing how you look at something, or just shifting what you focus on can make a difference in your stress levels—it can make something that seems like a big deal feel less so. When put in a different perspective, everything can feel less stressful.  

Find Stress Management Strategies That Work for You

Finding ways to manage your overall stress level can help you to be less reactive to psychosocial stress, or any specific stressor. The key is to find something that works well for you and something that fits well in your life and with your personality.  

Members of the steering group, and others involved in the project, should understand HSE’s Management Standards. These highlight the six main risk factors for work-related stress and indicate good management practice in each of these areas.

Understand how the Management Standards translate to your organisation

These risk factors do not always act individually and often overlap, combine or interact. Try to think of the job as a whole and avoid taking action on just one element of the work – a holistic approach is likely to produce the best result. For example, you may have a job that has high demand and limited scope to reduce this significantly. But by providing additional support and improving working relationships, the pressure may be reduced.

By necessity, the standards are high level and aspirational. It is useful to consider how the statements could be applied in your operational situation – what would a particular standard look like in your organisation?

HSE does not expect an employer to meet all the standards. They represent a target for the organisation, goals that employers should be working towards through an ongoing process of risk assessment and continuous improvement.

Focus on organisational level issues

When assessing the risks to your employees, first focus on organisational level issues that potentially impact on a group and possibly large numbers of employees. It is more effective to remove a stressor or significantly reduce its impact than it is to manage lots of individual cases.

If you fail to remove a stressor more people could be affected and those ‘treated’ for stress would be coming back to the same stressor on their return to work.

Once you have put in place an organisational approach, you need to consider how to help those who may already be experiencing problems. Or there may be some issues that still require action, for example an inexperienced manager may still need additional training to become effective or someone with a mental health condition may still need reasonable adjustments to be made.

Before you begin the next step, you should ensure that members of the steering group and others involved in running the risk assessment process have a clear understanding of the Management Standards approach, including:

  • the six standards
  • how the approach translates to your organisation
  • work-related stress risk factors that may be specific to your organisation or workplace
  • focusing on preventing and managing the root causes of work-related stress
  • focusing on exploring organisational level issues

Step 2: Who can be harmed and how will guide you through the next stage of the approach.

For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.

  • 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
  • Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It’s better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests that frequency is most important.
  • Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
  • Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
  • Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It’s often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.
  • Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.

Resources

If you are the parent of a college-aged child with an anxiety disorder, here are some tips to help with managing his or her anxiety.

Most jobs involve some degree of stress, and this can affect people at all levels within an organisation, including frontline employees, managers and senior leaders.

Some stress is reasonable, but it becomes an issue when it is excessive and ongoing. There are some strategies everyone can adopt to manage and reduce their own stress levels, as well as find a positive work-life balance.

What do we mean by ‘workplace stress’?

Workplace stress can occur when there is a mismatch between the requirements of the role, your capabilities and resources and supports available.

Everyone knows what stress feels like and we’ve probably all experienced it at some stage – at home, school or work, or while getting outside our comfort zone, but while this stress is normal, if it is ongoing, it can become a problem.

There are common stressors in most roles but also specific stressors for certain roles.

Find out more about specific stressors for these specific roles:

“A challenging and fulfilling job in a good workplace can be great, but if work starts to take over and we lose the balance, it gets stressful. The ability to have some control over your own workload definitely contributes to the impact work has on your life.”

Signs of work stress

Stress is a normal response to the demands of work. It can be beneficial in short bursts, helping you stay alert and perform at your best.

However, prolonged or excessive job stress can be damaging to your mental health. Stress can contribute to the development of anxiety and/or depression, and may cause an existing condition to worsen.

As well as affecting your relationships and life outside work, stress can increase your risk of injury, fatigue and burnout.

Signs of stress

Physical signs of stress

  • chest pain or a pounding heart
  • fatigue
  • reduced interest in sex
  • nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
  • getting colds more often
  • muscle tension, pains and headaches
  • episodes of fast, shallow breathing and excessive sweating
  • loss or change of appetite
  • sleeping problems

Non-physical signs of stress

  • feeling overwhelmed or frustrated
  • feeling guilty or unhappy
  • being irritable
  • losing confidence and being indecisive
  • thinking negatively
  • having racing thoughts
  • memory problems
  • excessive worrying.

Contributing factors to work stress

  • working long hours or overtime, working through breaks or taking work home
  • doing shift work
  • time pressure, working too hard or too fast, or unrealistic targets
  • having limited control over how you do your work
  • limited input into broader decisions by the business
  • not receiving enough support from supervisors, managers and/or co-workers
  • job insecurity
  • high mental task demands, work that requires high-level decision making
  • a lack of role clarity
  • poor communication
  • conflict with colleagues or managers
  • bullying
  • low levels of recognition and reward
  • work that is emotionally disturbing or requires high emotional involvement
  • poorly managed change, lack of organizational justice
  • discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnicity, race or sexuality.

Understanding your own stress

Knowing what is contributing to your stress enables you look at the right strategies to manage it. You may have identified several things in the list above. It can be useful to track your mood to help identify what things are impacting on your stress levels.