How to Manage Stress: Top Strategies for Stress Relief

Everyone experiences stress. Some people experience stress as a part of their everyday lives, while others feel it less frequently.

As your brain responds to perceived threats, so does your body. Stress can be motivating at manageable levels, but can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t know how to release it from your body or if you’re constantly facing new stressors before you can work through previous ones.

Stress can build up and cause problems to your health. With the right stress-relieving strategies, you can deal with stress that pops up in your everyday life and prevent it from affecting you.

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What Is Stress?

Stress is a feeling of emotional and 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. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health.

There are two types of stress:

  • Acute stress is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations and occurs when you do something new or exciting.
  • Chronic stress lasts for a long period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is classified as chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don’t realize it is a problem. If you don’t find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems.

How Stress Affects the Body and Mind

When we experience stress, our autonomic nervous system automatically releases hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, to prepare our body to fight or run away. Several changes can take place during this process, including an increased heart rate, flushed skin, and dilated pupils. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.

What Is the Autonomic Nervous System?

The autonomic nervous system is a component of the peripheral nervous system which regulates involuntary physiologic processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, and sexual arousal. It contains three divisions: the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is the one responsible for the fight-or-flight response.

Your fight-or-flight response alerts you to danger and helps you survive, but when it is triggered over and over, it can cause wear and tear on your body. 

Continued activation of the fight-or-flight response has been linked to: 

  • Increased sugar and fat cravings 
  • Storing sugar as fat more readily around internal organs
  • Eventual central nervous system dysfunction and damage
  • Structural brain changes and shrinking 
  • Memory difficulties

Animal studies tell us that stress affects the bidirectional communication line between your brain and gut, leading to digestive issues including irritable bowel syndrome.

Stress is a known risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It triggers and aggravates many mental health conditions and physical ailments.

Physical and emotional symptoms of prolonged stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Decreased sex drive (libido) or trouble having sex
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion or stomach problems
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weak immune system

7 Strategies for Stress Relief

In the moment, there are many ways to reduce your immediate stress response back to a baseline of calm. It does, however, require realizing that your stress levels are climbing to counterproductive levels and then making the conscious decision to destress.

The ultimate goal is to calm your nervous system, and there are several ways to do this:

  1. Deep-breathing exercise: Even five minutes of deep breathing can help. Working this into a daily routine of adequate sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise will help you build emotional resilience and counteract stress. 
  2. Support: Maintain a support system of friends and family. Talk to them about your concerns, and reach out for help as needed. Also consider talking to a therapist if you are feeling really overwhelmed.
  3. Physical activity: Exercise when you feel symptoms of stress coming on. Even a short walk can boost your mood.
  4. Positive mindset: At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished, not what you didn’t get done.
  5. Short-term goals: Set goals for your day, week, and month. Narrowing your view will help you feel more in control of the moment and long-term tasks.
  6. Meditation: Meditating has been shown to lead to small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of stress, such as anxiety, depression, and pain.
  7. Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy with essential oils like lavender, frankincense, and chamomile can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality. 

Summary

Stress is the body’s natural response to perceived threats and tension. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, which initiates a series of changes in your body, including an increased heart rate and high blood pressure. A normal amount of stress can be helpful, but chronic stress can lead to a number of physical and emotional problems. You can keep that from becoming a problem by practicing stress-relieving strategies such as meditation and regularly maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

A Word From Verywell

Stress is one of those things we all experience that seems manageable until it’s not. The good news is that stress is highly manageable, especially when it’s at low levels.

It’s best to confront your stressors as soon as possible, and yes, this may require developing some other skills like self-confidence and speaking up for yourself, but it is doable.

You have to deal with stress every day. Look at that as an opportunity to practice stress-relieving strategies. If you keep practicing them, you’ll notice great changes in how you react to stress triggers, and this can have a positive ripple effect on every aspect of your health and life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the quickest way to reduce stress? 

Some of the quickest ways to reduce stress include hugging someone, listening to a happy song, smiling, meditating, and dancing.

Which exercises will provide the most stress relief? 

The exercises that will provide you with the most stress relief are those you enjoy. Whether that’s walking, gardening, doing yoga at home, swimming, or playing sports, it’s most beneficial when you feel the reward from engaging in something that feels good to you.

Why is stress relief important?

Stress relief is important because it can help prevent mental and physical health issues. It also defends you against the stress caused by daily stressors, which are normal and expected, so it doesn’t build up and cause other problems.

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