Stress and How to Manage It

Stress is the body’s way of responding to a demand, challenge, or threat. These demands can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Stress is necessary, and is not always a negative thing. In fact, eustress (a positive type of stress) has been found to be beneficial to wellbeing and motivation, and is present when a person feels energised, excited, and engages in positive challenges.

Humans need a certain amount of stress, at times, as it can provide short-term energy to face challenges, help to motivate people to perform necessary tasks, or lead to changing or leaving a problematic situation. Our stress system (also known as the fight-or-flight response) is a part of our survival response, and helps to keep us safe when we are in danger or under threat. However, it when it is frequently triggered at lower levels and sustained for longer periods, it can become counterproductive in some instances.

When demands placed upon us outweigh our perceived resources to cope, and/or stress persists for long periods, stress can become problematic. It can cause discomfort or distress, and result in a range of issues including lowered immune functioning, sleep problems, mood swings, irritability, difficulty with concentration or memory, increased alcohol or drug use, headaches and muscle tension, medical/physical issues, and mental ill-health.

The good news is that there are ways to reduce stress and decrease the risk of the negative effects of excessive stress. Sometimes we can make changes to the sources of stress (e.g. making changes to a situation), otherwise we can improve the way that we respond to stress and manage it more effectively. This may include:

  • Practical problem solving – e.g. financial stress might be alleviated by budgeting, obtaining financial advice/counselling, etc; time management or overwhelm may be alleviated by scheduling and prioritising tasks, delegating, etc.

  • Identifying and monitoring the signs that you are becoming stressed. E.g. tiredness, sleep difficulties, irritability, moodiness, feeling anxious, loss of energy or motivation, muscle tension, headaches, difficulty relaxing or winding down, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, withdrawing from usual activities or social interactions, increased use of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, getting sick more often, changes in appetite, etc.

  • Identifying and utilising the things that you personally find helpful to manage stress.

  • Take care of your body – the mind-body link is both strong and important to assist you to face challenges and feel good within yourself. Sleep, nutrition, and physical activity are particularly important for physical self-care. Exercise, eat well and prioritise sleep. See your doctor if you are getting sick more often or think that screening for certain deficiencies or conditions could be helpful.
    • Exercise in particular has been found to be highly effective in decreasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and improving blood flow to the body and brain, and increasing clarity of thinking.

  • Focusing on finding balance – between work, family, other commitments, leisure time, sleep/rest, etc.

  • Setting boundaries and/or saying “no” or “not right now” to some things.

  • Make time for relaxing and enjoyable activities – make it a priority by scheduling it in to you day or your week. This may be formal relaxation activities such as listening to visualisations or relaxation exercises on an app or other format, or taking time to do the things that you know help you to relax, such as taking a bath, fishing, craft, social gatherings, reading, listening to music, etc.

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness has been found to be highly effective in reducing stress and protecting against the over-production of stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Read more about mindfulness. This Way Up also have an Introduction to Mindfulness course here:

  • Schedule in holidays. It’s important to have something to look forward to. Don’t keep delaying taking leave to have a break from work and your usual daily commitments. If finances are tight, plan a “staycation” and schedule some fun things to do on your holidays.

  • Use cognitive strategies to address unhelpful thinking or dwelling. The way that we think about events influences how we feel about them. If we find it difficult to manage negative or worried thoughts, and get caught up in unhelpful thought patterns, our stress will increase. Notice if you are “catastrophising” (worst case scenario), only thinking in black and white terms (ignoring the “grey” areas), or using “emotional reasoning” (“I feel this way, therefore it must be this way”) etc. Try taking alternative perspectives to a situation – it can be helpful to write these down. Challenge worries or emotionally loaded thinking with more balanced and logical reasoning.

  • Watch your language – how we talk to ourselves (internal monologue) influences how we feel. If you are hard on yourself or criticising yourself (e.g. telling yourself that you “should” do X, or that you are “incompetent” or “weak” etc), you will feel worse and more overwhelmed. Practice self-compassion: be kind to yourself and give yourself a break!

  • Ask for help and support. This may be practical or emotional support from a trusted family member or friend, or assistance from a health professional or psychologist / counsellor (which may include through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)).

Page Last Updated: 11 November 2021