Health Conditions

Manage Stress

Manage Stress

The Basics

Overview

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
  • Finding solutions to problems you’re having
  • Talking to friends and family

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

Stress can also lead to a weakened immune system (the system in the body that fights infections), which could make you more likely to get sick. 

Stress is different for everyone. Take this quiz to better understand your stress.

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

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
  • 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

Relax

Relax with deep breathing or meditation.

Deep breathing and meditation can help relax your muscles and clear your mind. Learn about breathing, meditation, and other ways to ease stress.

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.

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:

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 

Learn more about drinking in moderation.

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.

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 April 8, 2022

Reviewer Information

This information on depression was adapted from materials from the National Institute of Mental Health, NIHSeniorHealth.gov, and the Office on Women’s Health.

Reviewed by:
Krystal Lewis, PhD
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health