How To Cope With Stress

Apr 19, 2022 , Stress

How To Cope With Stress

Quick Health Scoop

  • A 2022 survey shows that adults are struggling to cope with all that’s going on in the world these days.
  • If stress persists, it can impact both your mental and physical health.
  • Identify signs of stress (including physical and emotional symptoms) as well as stressful events (such as work stress) that trigger stress.
  • Practice healthy ways to cope with stress (ranging from self-care to relaxation techniques to breathing exercises) to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

According to a February 2022 poll co-conducted by the American Psychological Association, Americans are struggling to cope, with close to two-thirds (63%) saying their lives have been forever changed by the pandemic. [1] Plus, other serious stressors—situations that cause stress—are on the rise, including money woes (87%), supply chain issues (81%) and global uncertainty (81%). [1]

While it’s normal to occasionally feel stressed out, it’s not healthy when stress persists. What happens to the body during stress? Your automatic stress response (a.k.a. “fight or flight” response) activates the sympathetic nervous system. This elevates heart rate, enhances blood circulation, increases breathing rate, and releases stress hormones. Left unchecked, high stress levels can impact both your mental and physical health.

Wondering how to cope with stress? First, you need to be able to identify the signs of stress. Next, you need to find healthy ways to cope with stress.

7 Emotional Signs Of Stress

For starters, learn to recognize how stress shows up in your body. For some people, stress shows up as physical symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, and upset stomach. [2] For others, stress shows up as emotional symptoms, including: [3,4]

  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Irritability or anger
  • Restlessness
  • Sadness or feelings of depression
  • Lack of focus or motivation
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Of course, it’s common for stress to cause both mental and physical symptoms.

In addition to being aware of signs of stress, you should also pinpoint specific stressful situations, whether that’s everyday stress (more short-term, acute stress) or chronic stress (ongoing stressors). Common stressors include health, relationships, work, school, and finances.

What Are 10 Ways To Cope With Stress?

Now, it’s time to start managing stress. You might need to take a trial-and-error approach to get a coping strategy in place. The coping mechanism that works for others might not work for you. How do you cope with stress? Try these stress-management techniques. [5,6]

  1. Eat nutritious, balanced meals. Adopt the “food-as-medicine” philosophy by fueling your body with good-for-you foods. By eating a variety of healthy foods, you’re ensuring that you’re powering up with all the vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients your body needs to help you thrive mentally and physically. Eating healthy also includes staying hydrated, as water plays a critical role in your overall health, responsible for helping every system in your body. Although suggested water intake varies depending on gender, size, lifestyle, and other factors, experts generally recommend that you aim to drink 64 oz. of water per day. [7]
  2. Exercise regularly. Physical activity provides one of the best ways to help relieve stress. In fact, exercise can not only combat stress, but it can also improve sleep. [8] You might prefer solo activities (like walking or running) or group activities (like aerobics classes or basketball leagues). You might enjoy gardening and yardwork. Perhaps you thrive on exploring the great outdoors by kayaking, biking, or hiking. According to the current Physical activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity every week. [9]
  3. Get consistent, adequate sleep. Experts generally recommend adults need seven to nine hours of sleep [10] The health benefits of adequate, quality sleep are far reaching, too. Getting adequate sleep supports a healthy immune system; maintains a healthy weight; decreases your risk for serious health problems; improves your mood and lowers your stress; and improves your focus, memory, and other cognitive functions.[11]
  4. Practice routine and preventive self-care. When you’re stressed out, it’s easy to move into survival mode—do what you have to do to get through the day. But don’t let your health fall by the wayside. Stay on top of routine and preventive care, such as annual exams (physical, dental, vision), cancer screenings, and vaccinations.
  5. Practice relaxation techniques. The antidote to stress? Calm down with relaxation technique Breathing techniques (such as taking deep breaths) can relax your body and slow down your heart rate. [12] Practicing mindfulness helps you focus on “right now” rather than the past or the future. Quieting your mind with meditation, tai chi, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation exercises can also help you relax. You might consider downloading an app that provides guided meditations, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation activities.
  6. Connect with family and friends. Reach out to those you trust to talk about your negative thoughts, share your feelings, and seek advice on positive ways to cope with stress. Sometimes just having a listening ear from an objective person helps. Strong social support may improve your resilience to stress. [13]
  7. Take a break—from news and social media. While it’s important to stay informed, constant bombardment (about recession, inflation, pandemic, and world conflict) can put your stress on overdrive. Limit your screen time and check for news updates just once or twice a day.
  8. Make time to unwind. If you’ve got a hobby you enjoy (such as dancing, cooking, or birdwatching), engage in these joyful activities—even if you need to schedule it like an appointment. If you don’t have a hobby, try something new—learn to play the guitar, plant a vegetable garden, or take a boxing class.
  9. Connect with your community. Get involved with your neighborhood watch group. Volunteer at your child’s school or local nonprofit. Help out a civic organization to fight poverty or social injustice. Attend religious services at a local faith-based organization. If you’re concerned about social distancing and mask-wearing for in-person activities during the ongoing pandemic, try connecting online.
  10. Maintain a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you process your world, identify your problems, and find solutions. Sometimes it can be cathartic just getting worries out of your head and down on paper. Not a writer? Make an art journal by drawing your thoughts out on the page or making a collage of images from magazines.

While it’s critical to know how to cope with stress, it’s equally helpful to know how not to cope. When you’re stressed, avoid unhealthy coping strategies: [2]

  • Don’t overeat.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or using drugs.
  • Don’t get too little (or too much) sleep.

How Do I Know If I'm Too Stressed?

It’s critical to your well-being to effectively manage stress, especially if stress symptoms persist. If you’re struggling to cope with stress, you may be at risk for developing an anxiety disorder if stress disrupts your everyday life, causes you to avoid doing things, and feels like it’s always present. [6] If you’re feeling overwhelmed, turning to alcohol or drugs to cope, or if you have thoughts of self-harm, seek medical attention from a healthcare professional. Your primary care physician can help by offering stress management advice, prescribing medication, or referring you to a mental health professional. [3] 

 

Bottom Line

While it’s normal to feel stressed out from time to time, it’s not healthy when stress persists. Chronic stress can negatively affect both your mental and physical health. Know what your stressors are and be aware of stress symptom—including how they show up physically and mentally. Learn how to cope with stress by using a variety of activities in your stress management toolbox—starting with eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep.

 

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information. 

 

References

  1. American Psychological Association. “Stress In America.” March 10, 2022. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/march-2022-survival-mode
  2. “Learn to manage stress.” March 21, 2022. Accessed on: March 22, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001942.htm.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Stress.” January 28, 2021. Accessed on: March 22, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.” March 24, 2021. Accessed on: March 22, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coping with Stress.” July 22, 2021. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html
  6. National Institute of Mental health. “I’m So Stressed Out! Fact Sheet.” 2022. Accessed on: March 21, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/so-stressed-out-fact-sheet
  7. Cleveland Clinic. “Are There Any Health Benefits to Drinking a Gallon of Water a Day?” February 2, 2021. Accessed on: June 10, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-there-any-health-benefits-to-drinking-a-gallon-of-water-a-day/
  8. American Psychological Association. “Healthy ways to handle life’s stressor” November 1, 2019. Accessed on: March 23, 2022. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/tips
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How much physical activity do adults need?” March 17, 2022. Accessed on: March 22, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Sandra Zagorin, MS, RD

Science and Health Educator

As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.

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