How to Deal with Stress: 15 Ways to Cope
Stress is all too common nowadays. With to-do lists to tackle, family obligations to take care of, and an endless list of errands to run, it’s no wonder we’re left feeling fried and frazzled at the end of every day.
But while a little bit of stress is no big deal — and it can even be beneficial when you’re up against a deadline — chronic stress can lead to everything from fatigue to high blood pressure, weight gain to heart disease.
There are ways you can deal with stress and get it under control. Keep reading to find out how.
Signs of Stress
Look out for these symptoms and signs stress is starting to get the better of you.
The common signs of stress include:
- Feeling irritable, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up often throughout the night
- Low self-esteem
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of burnout
- Stomach aches
- Losing interest in your job or in socializing
How to Deal with Stress
Here’s how to battle stress and start your journey toward a calmer life.
Exercise can help to improve your physical health, but it can also help battle stress.
Pick a physical activity you enjoy and make time for it each week. Whether it’s hitting the gym, getting out for a run, or even a few gentle yoga stretches, moving your body will help clear your mind and set you up to better handle the challenges you’re going through.
Bonus points if you can pair exercise with other stress-busting activities like getting out into nature or spending time with friends.
2. Take a Break
Your brain and body aren’t designed to work 24/7. Schedule regular breaks throughout the day to recharge, and make sure you’re taking enough time off each week to fully rest and recover.
During the day, get up from your desk and head out for a brisk walk, grab a glass of water, and look at something that isn’t a screen.
At home, if possible, tag team with family members to take a break from child care or caretaking duties.
When looking at your week as a whole, schedule fun and social activities to have breaks to look forward to.
3. Focus on Sleep
Stress can cause sleep problems, but sleep problems can also put stress on the body — causing a vicious circle that’s hard to break.
But getting enough sleep when stressed is easier said than done, especially if anxious thoughts keep you awake or you’re working late into the night on an important project.
Anything you can do to improve your sleep can help with stress, though. Try:
- Doing a relaxing bedtime routine — think yoga, reading, or listening to calming music
- Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, so your bedroom is a sleep sanctuary
- Cutting down on caffeine and avoiding it altogether about six hours before bedtime
If you’re struggling to sleep at night due to stress or a busy workload, try catching up on zzz’s with weekend naps.
4. Take Social Media Breaks
Social media can be a great place to connect with friends or discover new ideas, but it can also be a source of stress. If you find yourself reading bad news or comparing yourself to others, take a social media break.
Delete the apps from your phone and log out of your accounts — this will make it much harder to quickly check them.
If you don’t need, or want, to take a full break, consider cutting down on the amount of time you spend on social media. Check-in once or twice a day, for example, rather than spending whole evenings scrolling through Instagram — we’ve all been there.
5. Get Out into Nature
Getting out into nature has been shown to decrease stress and boost your mood. Add these activities to your schedule:
- Take a walk in the park
- Plan a day trip to a nearby forest or beach
- Sit in your backyard and listen to the birds
- Plan a weekend trip to go hiking or wild swimming
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and help with rumination — which is when your mind keeps going over something again and again.
Research even shows that when you meditate before a stressful event, it reduces the adverse effects of stress.
So, before your next presentation or before having a tricky conversation, take some time to do some deep breaths.
Build meditation into your daily routine, too. Try checking in before breakfast or taking time to wind down with breathing exercises before bed.
7. Make Time for Yourself
Carve out time in your busy schedule for “me time,” and aim to use this time to do activities you enjoy, instead of simply catching up on housework or reading the news.
- Practice an instrument
- Play a sport
- Go for a walk
- Catch up with friends
Try to build me time into each and every week. If you find yourself always skipping it, schedule it in your diary and treat it as you would a meeting with your boss.
8. Make Time for Friends
When we’re stressed, one of the first things to go is socializing. We don’t have time to meet friends for dinner and we don’t feel in the best spirits for a casual coffee date.
But try to push aside these thoughts and make time for friends, especially when life is feeling stressful.
Schedule fun activities to take your mind off things, and open up about how you’re feeling with close friends. Even if they can’t help with the situation, the simple act of talking about it can help you feel lighter.
9. Write Everything Down
Whether you’re stressed from all the work you have to do or you’re ruminating about a financial problem, writing everything down can help.
For those with busy schedules, write down everything you need to get done. Getting it down on paper, or in a notes app, will mean nothing will get forgotten and you can focus on one task at a time.
If you’re stressing about problems like financial worries or losing a loved one, try journaling. Writing down your feelings can help you come to terms with them, and the very act of writing can help you brainstorm solutions or focus on the things you can control.
10. Find Healthy Coping Strategies
It’s easy to turn to alcohol, smoking, or drugs to relieve stress, but this is a slippery slope and won’t help your stress in the long term.
Reach out for help if you find yourself turning to these things to cope and want to cut down or quit.
Replace unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones. Go for a brisk walk, drink a glass of water, or plan social non-smoking and drinking activities to keep you occupied.
11. Improve Your Time Management
If your stress is coming from a packed schedule, and cutting it down or delegating isn’t an option, try some tried-and-true time management techniques to work smarter, not harder.
- Batching similar tasks together to stay in the zone and avoid context switching
- Taking time to plan your weeks and finding your most productive times
- Prioritizing your to-do list and choosing three “must-dos” each day
We’ve shared more on how to improve your time management here.
12. Prioritize Healthy Meals
Eating healthy is hard at the best of times, but it’s especially hard when stressed. If we’re busy, we turn to fast food and ready meals, and if we’re frazzled, we just want surgery snacks and comfort food.
However, your diet can have an impact on your stress levels — not to mention your sleep and your performance, both of which can contribute to more stress if below par.
Focus on eating a balanced diet packed with fruits, veggies, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats.
If a lack of time is stopping you from eating healthfully, try:
- Meal prepping on a Sunday, so you have healthy meals ready for the week
- Stick with simple, straightforward recipes that are still healthy
- Getting a healthy meal subscription service
- Asking for help from a family member
13. Fix the Problem, if Possible
This tip is easier said than done, but sometimes no amount of meditation or nature walks can help, and you need to get to the source of the problem.
Make a list of the things stressing you out and see if you can fix any of these things. It might help to talk them through with a close friend, family member, or a therapist who can help you brainstorm solutions.
If your stress is caused by something temporary, like having tight work deadlines, remind yourself that this stressful time will pass, and schedule some self-care for when you’ll have more time.
If stress is caused by something that isn’t so temporary, see what you can do to solve the problem. This could mean:
- Talking to your boss about reducing your heavy workload or cutting down on your work hours
- Having honest conversations with your partner, family, friends, or difficult colleagues if these relationships are tense
- Hiring a cleaner or getting a meal subscription service to reduce housework
14. Practice Gratitude
Even when you feel like the world is on top of you, take some time to practice gratitude.
Try writing down three things you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep, or simply think through the good things in your life as you’re brushing your teeth each morning.
Alternatively, try building gratitude into your meditation time or when taking a walk.
By focusing on what you’re grateful for, you’ll be training your mind to focus on the positive and you’ll be looking at the bigger picture.
You might be feeling stressed now, but there are still plenty of things going well for you, and plenty of things to be happy about.
15. Ask for Help
You don’t need to do everything in life alone. Ask for help from friends and family, or reach out to professionals.
Asking for help could include:
- Asking a family member to watch your kids once a week or hiring more childcare
- Getting help with caretaker duties, either from friends, family, or professionals
- Talking to a therapist about work pressure or financial worries
If work is the cause of your stress, we’ve covered more on how to deal with stress at work here.