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Stress is a natural part of our lives. But when it becomes overwhelming, what can we do?

What is Stress and is it Normal?

Everyone experiences stress at various times in their lives. It is a normal reaction that occurs when you encounter changes or challenges (stressors). Your body responds physically and mentally to stress. These “stress responses” help your body adjust to new situations.

Sometimes stress can be a good thing

As an example, it’s natural and helpful to feel a bit of stress before taking an important exam. A stress response might help you stay alert longer and even work harder. Stress can also help you to stay motivated and ready to avoid danger.

However, without relief or periods of relaxation, stress can become a problem for your health and well-being.

How Can I Manage My Stress?

Since prolonged stress can affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally, here are some valuable tips from Cleveland Clinic to relieve your stress symptoms:

Relaxation techniques

  • Laugh more: Studies show that laughing reduces the stress hormone cortisol. It also boosts your mood. You can watch a funny show, or get together with someone who makes you laugh.
  • Calm your mind: Mindfulness, meditation, massage therapy, and deep breathing exercises can lower your heart rate and calm your mind. Maybe listen to your favorite tunes or to soothing sounds.

Physical techniques

  • Be physically active: Walking outside or exercising with friends can help boost your mood. You can also try mindful physical exercises like yoga or tai chi.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Aim for more fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also cut back on fatty foods, caffeine, and sugar.
  • Improve your sleep habits: Turn off electronics, create a soothing environment, and unwind with a book or warm bath to help you sleep better.
  • Stop using substances: Cut back on alcohol and quit smoking. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association national helpline at 1.800.662.HELP (4357) if you need help overcoming a substance use disorder.

Cognitive techniques

  • Keep a journal: Write down the day’s accomplishments. You can also capture positive events of the day or write three things you are grateful for.
  • Make “me time”: Try to do at least one thing a day that’s just for you. It could be getting together with a friend, reading a book, meditating, or working on a hobby.
  • Seek help: A mental health professional can help you learn techniques to manage stress better. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven technique that can help you change how you respond to life stressors.
  • Share your feelings: When you feel overwhelmed, connect with a trusted friend or loved one. Hearing a voice often helps, either in person or on the phone.
  • Take control: Use lists or smartphone apps to better manage your time and to-do lists. Try planning your day the evening before, so you know what to expect — and what you might need to postpone. Give yourself permission to say no to the requests of other people.

Remember, it’s natural and normal to be stressed sometimes. Stress cannot be completely eliminated. But you can use stress management techniques to help how you respond to stressful situations.

Helpful Resources to Manage Stress:

Talking with your healthcare provider is always a good first step to help you manage your stress and find healthy ways to minimize it.

If you are unsure if stress is a problem in your life, this stress quiz may help:

Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by stressful events and experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Mental Health Crisis Lifeline at 988.