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
- 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:
- Unable to focus
Stress also affects your body. Physical signs of stress include:
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
- Tense muscles
- Frequent or more serious colds
Stress is different for everyone. Take this quiz to better understand your stress.
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 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:
Take Action: Food and Alcohol
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
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.
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health