Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress

Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, MA, Robert Segal, MA,
Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress

It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. The bills aren’t going to stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day for all your errands, and your career or family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management.

Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.

Identify the sources of stress in your life

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.

To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

Look at how you currently cope with stress

Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress

These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:

• Smoking
• Drinking too much
• Overeating or undereating
• Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
• Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
• Using pills or drugs to relax
• Sleeping too much
• Procrastinating
• Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
• Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)

Learning healthier ways to manage stress

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

Stress management strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress

Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.

  • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
  • Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
  • Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
  • Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
  • Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
  • Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
  • Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

  • Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
  • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
  • Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.

Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
  • Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
  • Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
  • Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.

Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

  • Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Stress management strategy #6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle

You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
  • Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
Posted on BrainLine June 15, 2011. Reviewed July 26, 2018.

From Used with permission. HelpGuide provides evidence-based mental health education and support to a global audience. Their mission is to empower you with information you can use to help yourself and your loved ones.

Comments (58)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Great tips for managing stress.
Sometimes a long term solution is needed though.
What worked for me was this simple daily morning ritual.
Not only made me more relaxed and stress free but also helped me sleep better.
Hope this helps.

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Thank you for sharing this amazing content with us! Literally, I loved this article.

When I was younger I used to play with Play Dough, now that I'm older, I still play with Play Dough.

it is very helpful.

if we are taking any stress the best way is to calm down our self, listen to light music or go for a walk and think about beautiful things happening around us


Worth Reading :)

Very helpful

it is beneficial to deal with physical and emotion stress.

Stress management is important to live a healthy life

This is very helpful and i hope it will works

Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system. It can help your mind and body adapt. Without it, your body might always be on high alert.

stress is not good for health

I give my stress respect, and I let my mind and body process it. It takes time but more often than expected it is a permanent solution

can we deal with stress by using only one technique.

i totally agree with your point of view.

meditation in prayer

best way is to pray relax mediate and walk in a park

The best thing to reduce stress as per me is to have a cup of coffee with your best buddy and discuss your heart openly.

I give my stress respect, and I let my mind and body process it. It takes time but more often than expected it is a permanent solution.

can we deal with stress by using only one technique.

Hi, Nice Post and its really good for everyone and very helpful for health. Thanks and Good job.

Thanks for the good posts.So helpful.

Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system. It can help your mind and body adapt. Without it, your body might always be on high alert.

I totally agree with your point of view

Thank you that really helped me

this really helped me in quarantine, because I moved back to Egypt back to my family and friends.

My side head is continuously paining due to stress level. Due to lock down, i am continuously working on lap top and having headache and many time it is giving dizziness. I am regularly doing exercise. Please suggest the way forward or particular exercise.

Take a breather between the work. Working continuously on laptop burn out the energy and procrastinate accuracy in work. Take mini breaks to regain your energy. Have a good laugh it will boost good mood. Do chair exercise to stretch your muscles. All this help you to regain your energy and uplift your mood.

This helped me with my project

hey, i am Alexis and i have been so stressed with my family and school. it is just hard to keep everything going in my life because i have always been someone that does everything for everyone else but never for myself. i just want to be happy with myself and everything in my life. i don't want to be the depressed girl with anger issues and anxiety and well its a long list. but i don't know how to help myself relax and that's the first thing that i want to do, before i change anything else because if i can't relax, i am going to explode and i don't think i am going to get better on my own

Alexis, stop expecting so much from yourself and trying to please everyone. Take on things that you can do very well and pass the other things. You are struggling too much and stretching yourself beyond limit. Slow down, take a breather and if you can get a puppy and get your mind off people for a while. Also learn to pray and sing. Its a stress killer! Life is sweet despite Covid virus, so be happy my dear! God bless you!

i think that you should take a deep breath and seperate yourself from the group

and talk to a teacher parent or friend . And talk about this situation and how could you make it better for you and your friends and famliy.

Alexis, sounds like you have a lot of people in your life that care about you and that you care about as well. I think that what you need to do is learn to say "No". The people in your life should be understanding, and if not they aren't worth the extra stress in your life. If you want to help them, they might want to help you. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you have too much on your plate. You are worth the extra effort. It is a win-win,, less on your plate and others get to show you that they appreciate you too. Good Luck.

Stress always occurs especially if there is competition in sport, although the activity itself reduces it. it is about dealing with it during confusion attention to the pleasant things that will work together with the situation we are in.

Interesting. This looks super cool. I haven't read it all yet, but I'll be back to read the rest of it.

Fantastic article, m8

Thank you, it is such a good article :)


Stress relief is easy if you know how to.. Otherwise, need some expert advice or a hug from loved ones.. Yes a tight hug is enough but in this tough life we unable to find it.. SO i have my puppy.. I hug her. And it really works.

hey hey hey, thank for your wonderfully articled work. it really helped me to finish my project in school. so i want you to have a breakfast with me sometime. it your treat hehe.

The article is practical, detail, educative, and helpful. Thank you so much

Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. Stress relievers can help restore calm and serenity to your chaotic life. Find out what makes you happy and work hard for it.

thank you for this