Find Ways to Better Cope with Stressful Events

Stress is a part of life — from minor irritations to major traumatic events. Since the body’s biological responses to stress can harm your mental and physical health, learning to manage your response is important.

The first step to is to know the signs that stress is impacting your health. You may not even know that stressful situations are the cause for some of your health issues.

If you do need to better manage stress, it helps to identify what kind of stress you’re dealing with. The ways to manage everyday stressful situations are different than the methods needed for managing traumatic stress. And there are differences in how to manage short-term and long-term stress. 

Signs of Stress

Knowing the common signs of stress can help you make a plan to handle them. Trying to reduce stress is worth it: Stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.

Stress can alter memory and other brain functions, causing changes in mood or anxiety. Stress may be why you get a headache or feel forgetful.

Stress also can cause physical pain and illness. It can lead to chest pain or a fast heartbeat. Stress can set off abdominal pain and bloating and other gut issues. It can also lead to muscle tension and cause back, shoulder and neck pain. Other signs include general aches and pains, insomnia, fatigue and frequent colds.

Types of Stress

It’s important to know what kind of stress you have. The ways you can use to reduce or manage it better can depend on the causes.

Short-term Stress
Short-term, or acute, stress springs from a short-term trigger. Like an argument with a family member or fender bender on the way to work. It’s unsettling, but it may pass quickly. You might be able to work through it by taking some deep breaths or a brisk walk around the block. Find tips for handling anxiety and acute stress with exercise and other techniques from the Anxiety & Depression Association of Americaleaving site icon 

Chronic Stress
Chronic stress happens when issues don’t let up, says the American Psychological Associationleaving site icon There are many causes of chronic stress. Some are things you can control, like having certain people in your life or taking on too much. But some causes you can’t change, like long-term illness or poverty.

This long lasting stress can trigger health problems like fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, digestive illnesses, heart problems, psychological issues and more.

It’s important to remove the causes of chronic stress that you can and learn healthy ways to manage your response to the things you can’t change.

Healthy Ways to Cope

There are many healthy ways to help manage stress. The first step may be reducing or eliminating some of the causes of your stress, like relationships that aren’t healthy. Try limiting the tasks you find stressful. Think about dropping some duties or relaxing your standards. Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.

But many stressful situations can’t be removed from our lives. That’s where managing stress better comes into play. Finding ways to handle stress better can help keep it from having such a negative impact on your physical and mental health.

Changing Your Perspective
How you perceive your stressful experiences has a lot to do with how big an impact it has on you. There are ways to help reduce how many things make you feel stressed and how intensely you experience it. 

One way to manage stress is building mental resilience. Mental resilience is the ability to adapt to change, stressful situations, everyday problems, traumatic events and other types of adversity.

Also aim to reframe your thinking. Research supports the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. It centers on understanding that our thoughts influence our emotions, which then influence our actions. Reframing your thoughts can help manage your emotions, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.

Practicing Self-Care
Self-care plays an important role in improving your health and quality of life. Try:

  • Taking time to relax. Explore new ways to de-stress. A wellness program or app may help. Consider meditation and breathing exercises. Plan regular times for these activities.
  • Being grateful. Remind yourself of the good things in your life. Write them down.
  • Curbing negative thoughts. Be compassionate with yourself, like you would be with a loved one.

Managing Stress from Trauma
Stress from traumatic events leaving site icon can have serious effects, both immediately and long term. Research shows these steps can help:

  • Turn to your loved ones. Ask your family and friends for support. When you’re ready, talk to them about your experience and your feelings.
  • Have patience. It’s normal to try to avoid thinking about a traumatic event. But avoiding it too much can increase the time it takes to heal. And it can lead to behaviors that may prevent you from getting better, like staying home alone, sleeping too much or misusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Find healthy ways to manage. Along with healthy food, exercise and sleep, find coping strategies that work for you. Music, art, meditation, rest and spending time in nature may help.
Ask for Help

If symptoms of stress are still affecting you even after you’ve tried to manage them, it may be time to get professional help. Ask your health care provider to help you get started.

Finding the right professional is easier when you understand the different areas of expertise and training. The National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI HelpLine leaving site icon gives tips on how to find mental health professionals and resources in your area.

It may also be helpful to learn about the different levels of care available for you, or for a loved one who may need help. Levels of mental health care are the types of health care offered based on symptoms.

And the National Council for Mental Wellbeing offers a list of resources leaving site icon for many kinds of mental health issues.

If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, get help right away. You can call or text 988 or visit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifelineleaving site icon

Sources: Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress, leaving site icon Anxiety & Depression Association of America; 11 healthy ways to handle life’s stressors, leaving site icon American Psychological Association, 2023; How to cope with traumatic stressleaving site icon