What is stress management?
Stress comes in all shapes and sizes and can stem from just about any aspect of life, from major transitions to the countless little tasks that make up daily life. Definitions of stress vary, but most include the idea of mental, physical, or emotional tension. When you’re stressed, you might feel overwhelmed, have trouble relaxing or sleeping, or experience other symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Different things feel stressful to different people, but all of us have experienced life stress one way or another. In fact, stress can even be helpful; it might motivate you to achieve your goals or give you energy to complete a task. But when stress becomes too frequent or intense, it can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health.
Stress management refers to a range of strategies for understanding and alleviating stress, so that you can learn to make the stresses in your life work for you rather than against you.
How common is stress?
Stress is extremely common in the United States. A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association indicates that 80% of survey participants had experienced at least one symptom of stress in the previous month. The sources of participants’ stress varied widely, but some of the most common causes were the U.S. political climate, work, and economic pressure.
The same study states that women report higher average levels of stress than men do.
What are some symptoms of stress?
Everyone reacts to stress differently, but the following are a few of the most common symptoms:
Anxiety or worry: You may be frequently preoccupied or find your thoughts racing.
Feeling overwhelmed: Stress can make you feel like you’re not able to manage all of your life’s demands.
Conflicts with friends, family, and colleagues: You may be irritable and less patient with others.
Physical symptoms: Stress often comes with physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive troubles.
Difficulty sleeping: You might have trouble falling asleep or wake up feeling unrested.
Different types of stress
Again, stress comes in countless forms, but some common forms of stress include:
Day-to-day stressors: Your packed schedule, your pinging phone, your endless to-do list: All of these aspects of your daily life can contribute to overall stress.
Relationship-related stress: You might experience stress as a result of challenges in your relationships with friends, family, or significant others.
Work-related stress: Work and career concerns are very common sources of stress, from conflicts with coworkers or bosses to burnout and work-life balance.
Major life changes: Any big change is likely to come with some degree of stress, even a happy change like getting married or landing a dream job.
Stress related to discrimination: Individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability often experience stress as a result.
Stress related to politics or current events: The American Psychological Association reports that concern over the state of the country was a leading source of stress for Americans in 2017. News stories, world events, and even broad social issues like inequality can all be significant sources of personal stress.
What to do if you’re experiencing challenges related to stress
If you’re looking for tools to manage the stress in your life, consider the following options:
Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you understand your stress and learn proven techniques for managing it. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
Check-ups: Because stress can be related to medical conditions, it’s important to stay up-to-date with your medical appointments. Scheduling a check-up with your primary care doctor can help you rule out physical conditions that may contribute to your symptoms. Your doctor can also help you plan nutritional strategies for alleviating stress, like avoiding caffeine or eating a more balanced diet.
Exercise: Some studies show that regular physical activity can decrease symptoms of anxiety, which often go along with stress.
Meditation or mindfulness practices. You can experiment with meditation or other mindfulness practices through classes or apps. Studies have shown that these practices can help reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety that may accompany stress.
Creative pursuits: Visual arts, performing arts, and creative writing can all be helpful ways to diffuse your body’s stress response and add fulfilling activities to your daily life.
Nature: Studies suggest that spending time in a natural setting—even a city park—can have beneficial effects on individuals’ stress levels.
What should I look for in a therapist for stress management?
Therapists differ in their approaches to treating existential challenges. Common approaches include:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)