woman showing signs of stress

Learn 5 Ways to Manage Stress for Better Mental Health

Discover 5 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Your Mental Health Right Now

Stress is a part of everyday life. But constant, elevated stress levels can take a toll on your mental and physical health, making daily life challenging.

Identifying stressors and practicing healthy ways to cope with stress can help you reduce its impact on your daily life and the chances it will adversely affect you long-term.

Here’s an overview of how chronic stress can affect you and 5 practical ways to manage stress for better mental health.

What is Stress?

Stress is your response to anything that threatens your physical, emotional, or financial health or survival.

In the short term, a positive stress response can help boost your energy, improve your memory and motivate you to meet difficult challenges.

However long-term or chronic negative stress can lead to physical conditions such as heart disease and mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.

While stress itself is not a mental illness, when the term ‘stress’ is used in a clinical sense, it refers to a situation that causes discomfort and distress for a person and can lead to other mental health problems.

What Causes Stress?

As a health problem, stress occurs when a person feels that the demands made on them exceed their ability to cope.

There are many factors that can cause stress. Examples include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed: You can’t keep up with the demands being made on you.
  • Financial pressure: You don’t have enough money to meet your needs.
  • Loss: You have lost something or someone important to you.
  • Change: You have to change something about yourself or your life.

Factors from your environment (work, home, school) to your lifestyle and emotional and physical conditions can all contribute to feeling stressed.

How You Respond to Stress

How you experience and respond to stress can vary from person to person. An individual’s attitude, personality and general approach to life may also influence how they respond.

What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another, while some people are better able to manage stress than others.

Factors may include:

  • Your life experiences and history
  • How you think about a problem
  • How severely the problem affects you
  • How anxious you feel generally
  • How important the outcome is to you
  • Whether you have a strong support network

 Physical Response

When you feel stressed, your body releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that activate your nervous system.

These chemicals can be good or bad. They can make you feel energized, focused, or calm.

The amount of time you spend experiencing these chemicals determines whether you feel happy or sad, angry or relaxed.

man holding happy and sad pictures of his face

When you experience chronic stress, your body releases more of these chemicals than it should, which can cause physical changes and illness.

Some common physical symptoms of stress are:

  • Lethargy, body fatigue, lack of energy
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal issues (upset stomach, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea)
  • Aches and pains, tightness in muscles
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, short breathing
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Nervousness, anxiety
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw, grinding teeth

Emotional Response

Negative emotions may be symptomatic of your stress response. Negative emotions are unpleasant and disruptive emotional reactions, while not inherently bad, can be a problem when they persist and interfere with your everyday life.

Emotional symptoms of stress can include:

  • Moodiness, irritability
  • Anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed, lacking control
  • Difficulty relaxing, restless
  • Loneliness, avoidance
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety, panic

Cognitive Response

Stress can affect your cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that your brain degenerates from repeated exposure to stress. Working memory, attention, response inhibition and cognitive flexibility have all been found to be impaired by stress.

Cognitive impact of stress can include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Racing thoughts, lack of focus
  • Constant worrying
  • Poor judgment
  • Pessimism

Behavioural Response

Behavioural symptoms of stress can include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Procrastination
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Nervous behaviours (nail-biting, fidgeting, pacing)

Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Untreated long-term stress can turn into mental health illnesses such as anxiety or depression.

Anxiety shares the same physical and biological elements as stress. However, with anxiety disorders stress-induced neurotransmitters and hormones stay ramped up and your mind gets stuck in repetitive worry, or panic-driven thought loops.

Similarly with depression, the condition affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.

If you’re feeling unwell and having trouble coping with everyday life, it’s important get the right diagnosis to understand what’s causing how you feel and how best to manage.

woman doing yoga to ease stress

Ways to Help Manage Stress

A balanced lifestyle and coping strategies can help you manage stress. Here’s five simple ways you can help reduce the impact of stress in your life for better mental health.

  1. Exercise – Regular exercise is a great way to manage stress. It can also help improve memory, help you sleep better, and boost your overall mood. Any activity that gets you moving will be beneficial. You’ll start to feel the benefits straight away, but it’s important to make exercise a healthy habit to help you long-term.
  2. Eat well – Many people eat unhealthy snacks when stressed. However, there’s a strong link between what you eat and how you feel. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoiding sweet and fatty foods can help improve your mental health. Eating well can also help you get a better night’s sleep, give you more energy and improve your concentration.
  3. Sleep well – a good sleep routine and getting enough sleep can help you better deal with stress and give you more energy. Quality sleep is a mental health superpower.
  4. Relax – Find time to relax each day (try meditation or deep breathing) and try to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. When you spend time with people you care about, who care about you, this can help you feel connected and supported.
  5. Talk about it – Talking about things that are stressing you may help you feel less overwhelmed. If you don’t have a good support network, consider talking to a mental health professional.

More Stress Less Tips

If you’re exposed to long term stressors, learning effective coping, self-care and problem-solving strategies can help reduce your stress and build resilience. Try to:

  • Understand what situations make you feel stressed
  • Understand what situations you can and can’t control
  • Keep yourself healthy with good nutrition, exercise and regular relaxation
  • Try to do happy things every day
  • Get help when you need it

Get Help Managing Stress and Anxiety

Stressful events can happen to anyone, and high levels of daily stress can be overwhelming. Finding ways to cope with stress can help you tackle it head-on.

However, if stress is a daily occurrence and is causing symptoms of anxiety or depression, it may be time to consider talking with a mental health professional.

If you’re constantly worrying and find yourself unable to detach from your anxious thoughts, reach out to our team for a chat.