Effective ways to manage & reduce stress

We’ve all experienced stress at some point in our lives, whether it’s the demands of your job, a significant, upcoming event like a wedding or moving house, financial pressures or the death of a loved one, and even relationships and divorce, stress can affect us all.

So what exactly is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to danger or a threat. Whether this stress is real or in your mind, your body’s defences start to kick in and internally sends out a ‘fight or flight’ response.

This is your body’s way of trying to protect you and it can help you stay focused, energic and alert.

Stress isn’t always a bad thing, in fact a little bit of stress can actually be a positive. It can help you perform better under pressure and motivate you to do your best.

However, if you’re constantly stressed then you may find your body and mind will start to suffer as a result.

Symptoms of stress

Stress symptoms may come and go, but these are common ways that stress may have an effect on your mind and body:

Emotional symptoms

  • Brain fog and a lack of concentration
  • Feeling angry or confused
  • Irritableness
  • Feeling impatient
  • Constantly worrying

Physical symptoms

  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating more or loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Tiredness, headaches and dizziness

There are also plenty more symptoms you can experience and it all depends on how stressed you are, what’s stressing you out and how you handle stress.

It can also depend on how long it has been manifesting.

How to reduce stress

Take a note of any unhealthy stress coping habits

Start by looking at how you respond to stress. Keeping a journal of what’s stressing you out and noting down what you do as a result can help you track how you deal with stress and if it’s helping or hindering your stress levels.

For instance, are you:

  • Eating more unhealthy foods?
  • Smoking?
  • Drinking too much alcohol?
  • Mindlessly watching TV without paying attention?
  • Sleeping more?
  • Avoiding social situations?
  • Starting arguments or having outbursts because of your stress levels?

Habits like drinking to help you relax and eating takeaways, sweets and fatty foods may give you a short sense of relief and satisfaction, but these lifestyle choices are actually increasing your levels of stress. That’s because they give you a short buzz but your blood sugar levels rapidly drop shortly after consuming these, so you end up feeling more depressed and stressed than before.

Plus, sitting in front of the TV all night isn’t great for your mental health or sleep in general, which brings us to our next point…

Start being more active

Research has consistently proven that physical activity helps reduce your body's stress hormones such as cortisol, and enhanced your mood by releasing ‘endorphins’ which are basically happy chemicals that give you more energy and act as natural painkillers.

Exercising also helps combat sleep problems and can increase your confidence levels too.

Start by finding an exercise routine or an activity you enjoy, such as walking, dancing or a gym class like yoga, or aim to exercise for 30 minutes, three times a week.

Try to change your perspective

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re under a lot of stress, but there are a few simply ways you can change your view on the situation. Firstly, think about the reason you are actually stressed and try to put it into perspective. Is the problem within your control? Will you care about it within a month or a year? If not, try and relax and reduce expectations.

Instead of aiming for perfection every time, aim for ‘good enough’ and think about all the positive things that you’ve done, rather than focus on the negatives.

Start a stress-busting hobby

As mentioned earlier, sitting in front of the TV isn’t good for your mental health and can increase stress levels, especially if you have something on your mind and you’re letting it take control.

There are lots of hobbies out there and you could even combine exercising with something you enjoy e.g. joining a swimming club, going to a Zumba dancing class. If you’re looking for something traditional, look for a book club or join an art class in your spare time.

Engaging with people and getting involved in a new activity really helps reduce your stress levels and relax.

Volunteer & help others

Helping others is an excellent way to boost your mood and put your own situation into perspective. Start by googling local volunteering projects in your area or if you can’t commit to volunteering, try doing something nice and positive for someone else every day.

Reduce your caffeine & alcohol intake

Caffeine can increase your adrenaline and heart rate, but also has negative effects. That’s because your mood plummets once your body recognises its no longer getting a hit from these types of drinks.

Too much alcohol may improve your mood in the moment, but this can also cause more stress, as your body has to work harder to detox and function, and you may also feel brain fog the following day. All of which is putting additional pressure on your body and in turn, causing more stress.

Practice deep breathing

When you’re stressed, you active your sympathetic nervous system, which is what causes your body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode. During this time, stress hormones are released and cause physical symptoms like quicker breath and a faster heartbeat.

Deep breathing exercises can really help you relax during this time and there are many types, including There are several types of deep breathing exercises, including abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration.

This helps you gain awareness of your breath and slow down your heart rate by making your breaths slower and deeper.

Spend quality time with friends & family (and pets)

Social support from friends and family can really help you through a stressful period of your life.

Even just calling someone on the phone or meeting a loved one for lunch can really boost your mood. Being part of a social network can also give you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can really help you mentally through stressful periods.

While both men and women benefit from this, a study found that for women in particular who spent time with friends and children released oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called "tend and befriend," and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.

Having a pet has also been proven to release oxytocin that promotes a positive mood and helps relieve stress by giving you purpose and responsibility, as well as companionship. If you don’t have a pet yourself, offer to pet sit for a friend or family member or visit them to play with their pet for an hour to help forget about your stress.

Prioritise & let go of what you can’t control

Finally, it’s important to understand that you may not be able to control everything. If you’re planning a big event or have a presentation coming up at work, the more prepared you are and the better you plan, the less stress this will cause.

It’s also good to note that your to do list may never get completed, so it’s good to prioritise and deal with items on the list that are causing you the most stress, and remember to be kind to yourself and not beat yourself up too much if you don’t complete everything.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Next review: 25 July 2022