Stress Management Techniques

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD Last updated:

Everyone experiences stress on many occasions and for many different reasons. However, some people can manage and reduce their stress effectively, while others become overwhelmed by their anxieties and worries. Learning and utilizing stress management techniques can help to reduce the impact of stress on your general well-being.

What is stress management?

Stress occurs when an individual is faced with worries or fears, and it is a natural bodily response that prompts action. While stress is good in small amounts and can help with decision-making and protect safety and well-being, ongoing or persistent stress can have harmful effects on the body and mind [1].

Stress can cause changes in mood and behavior, such as irritability, anger, and social withdrawal. Additionally, it can lead to physical sensations, such as increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, and stomach pain. If stress is not managed effectively and timely, it can lead to severe physical and mental health consequences [1][2].

Stress management involves using self-care and stress-relieving techniques to reduce and manage the physical and emotional consequences of stress and prevent a decline in health and functioning [3][4].

How to relieve stress: Top techniques

People will experience stress for different reasons and respond to stress in different ways. As such, techniques that could be very helpful for one person may be unhelpful for another. It can be a good idea to try several methods to find out what works for you and not to be disheartened if a specific technique is not helpful [1].

Understanding the cause

Take time to try and work out what is causing your stress by noticing when it feels at its worst. Being aware of the physical and emotional symptoms of stress can help you to recognize if there are specific triggers. If you can find the root cause of your stress and it can be managed, you can begin to make positive changes to improve it [5][6].

Making changes

Once you understand what is causing you to feel stressed, you can start to make changes in your life by implementing positive practices or reducing harmful habits.

For example, you may feel extremely stressed and burnt out by your job. This may be helped by taking some time off work to rest and recharge. Similarly, you might notice that you don’t use your assigned breaks, which you can change, or that you need extra breaks during your workday, which you could request from your employer.

If the root cause of your stress is something you can change to accommodate for and reduce, then you can begin to make these changes. If it is something that will go away on its own or that cannot be managed, other techniques to alleviate stress may be more helpful [4][5].


You might feel stressed when faced with everyday requirements, such as planning and attending appointments for your family, managing deadlines, organizing activities, or remembering to pay the bills. In this case, writing lists or adding specific events to a calendar could help you keep track of everything.

Making a list of small tasks that need to be completed can help to break up overwhelming and unmanageable responsibilities. Setting small goals can help you feel more in control of your time and give a sense of achievement as list items are completed [2][6].

Taking time for yourself

It is important to take time to do things you enjoy. This could be engaging in fun activities with your friends, watching a movie, or learning a new skill. Ensuring you do enjoyable activities can help to reduce the impact of stressful triggers and give you a break from responsibilities and challenging situations [3].

Talking to others

Talking to friends and family about the things that are causing you stress can be very beneficial. Your loved ones can be there to listen, give advice, or validate your experiences. Having and utilizing a support system can help to reduce emotional distress and anxiety [1][4].

Similarly, if you experience work-related stress, it may be helpful to talk with your employer so that they can understand your difficulties and help you to find ways to manage your stress at work [2].


Studies show that exercising is an effective way to reduce stress while improving health and fitness. Try to find an exercise you enjoy and can regularly engage in, such as running, walking, swimming, or yoga [1].

Exercise releases endorphins which help to improve physical and mental well-being. At the same time, it reduces stress hormones, which can take a toll on the body. Regular exercise has been found to improve sleep, mood, self-esteem, energy levels, and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression [7].

Relaxation and breathing exercises

Stress is often associated with many physical symptoms, such as elevated heart rate, muscle tension, shaking, nausea, and stomach pain. Utilizing relaxation exercises can help reduce these symptoms, thereby also reducing the psychological symptoms of stress.

You could take time to do relaxing activities such as taking a bath or listening to music. Similarly, there are several relaxation exercises that you could research and try, such as body scanning, which helps you to focus on and release tension in each part of the body [8].

Additionally, breathing exercises can effectively reduce physical symptoms of stress. Many people find it helpful to count as they breathe in, hold their breath, and release their breath. Try this exercise by counting to 5 for each stage, or choose a longer or shorter time to suit you [9].


Mindfulness can be a very effective way to reduce stress as it helps you to focus on the present moment, so it can help to distract from stressful past or future situations. By being aware of your thoughts, sensations, and the things happening around you, you can learn not to focus on negative thoughts, which will reduce your feelings of stress [5][10].

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. For example, remind yourself to take note of all the smells or sounds you encounter as you go about your day. This can help to bring your focus back to the present and not on any worries or negative thoughts you are experiencing [8].

Similarly, mindfulness can be the practice of becoming more aware of thoughts as they enter your head. This allows you to consider if the thought will be helpful or harmful and if it is something you want or need to focus on. Over time, you could learn to use mindfulness to help you remove these harmful thoughts rather than dwelling on them, which can help you feel calmer.

Other known practices of mindfulness include yoga and meditation, which help to bring focus to the physical body and breath. Again, this can help you to feel calmer, reduce physical tension, and reduce harmful thoughts [10].

Eating a healthy diet

Being physically healthy can have a very positive impact on mental health. Many foods can improve mood and stress while also improving physical health. This includes foods high in vitamins and minerals, such as vegetables, fruits, fish, and grains. Studies also show that processed and high-sugar foods can negatively impact mental health [11].

Therefore, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can help reduce stress. Similarly, drinking plenty of water is also essential, as hydration can impact mental and physical well-being [5].

Getting plenty of sleep

Getting plenty of good quality sleep is very important to mental health. Unfortunately, stress can contribute to insomnia and other sleep disturbances; conversely, sleep disturbances can contribute to stress [12].

Forming and maintaining a routine for bedtime and practicing good sleep hygiene can help to improve sleep quality and quantity. This might include [1][12]:

  • Having a set time to go to sleep and wake up every day
  • Not using devices such as your phone or television just before bed
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol just before bed
  • Doing a relaxing activity before going to sleep, such as having a bath or reading
  • Not taking naps during the day
  • Ensuring your bedroom is quiet and dark while you sleep

Avoiding caffeine

Consuming a lot of caffeine can contribute to symptoms of stress, so it is advised to reduce or avoid drinking caffeinated beverages if you regularly experience stress.

Similarly, it is recommended to avoid or reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, as these can worsen sleep, increase stress, and create additional issues in your life [5][6].

Common causes of stress

Stress can be caused by life events and circumstances such as [2][6]:

  • Work-related stress, such as upcoming presentations or deadlines, facing disciplinary action, and unemployment.
  • Health-related stress, such as finding out about a severe or terminal illness, caring for a loved one who is very unwell, or loss of functional abilities due to injury.
  • Relationships, such as divorce, infidelities, loss of a loved one, or family difficulties.
  • Finances, such as loss of income, debt, or unsuccessful investments.
  • Exciting or positive events, such as pregnancies, weddings, moving houses, or promotions.

Stress can also be linked to mental health conditions, such as [5][13]:

When to seek professional help

If you experience ongoing stress that is worsening, causing significant impairments in functioning, or not improving with self-care techniques, you may need professional help. Excessive and persistent stress may be linked to a mental health condition, so seeking a diagnosis and treatment plan can be beneficial [2][13].

Stress causes the release of several chemicals and hormones in the body, including cortisol and adrenaline, which are not harmful in small amounts and may even be helpful in certain situations.

If stress continues for a long time or regularly reoccurs, this is known as chronic stress. Chronic stress causes an excessive and persistent release of these chemicals, which can result in the development or exacerbation of many physical and mental health conditions, such as heart problems, anxiety, and depression [2][5].

Living with chronic stress can be very harmful, and it should be treated professionally if it cannot be managed with self-care. Stress and stress-related conditions, such as PTSD, OCD, and anxiety disorders, are often treated with specialized therapy and may require medication [2][6].

If you need professional help with stress, you should contact your doctor. They can advise on available medications and therapeutic treatments and may be able to refer you to a specialist [5].

  1. World Health Organization. (2023). Stress. WHO. Retrieved from
  2. Mind. (2022). Stress. Mind. Retrieved from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reviewed 2021). Coping With Stress. CDC. Retrieved from
  4. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). 10 Stress Busters. NHS. Retrieved from
  5. Mental Health Foundation. (2023). How To Manage and Reduce Stress. Mental Health. Retrieved from
  6. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Stress. NHS. Retrieved from
  7. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (Updated 2022). Physical Activity Reduces Stress. ADAA. Retrieved from
  8. Mind. (2022). Relaxation Exercises. Mind. Retrieved from
  9. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Breathing Exercises for Stress. NHS. Retrieved from
  10. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Mindfulness. NHS. Retrieved from
  11. Selhub, E. (2022). Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food. Harvard Health. Retrieved from
  12. Suni, E., & Dimitriu, A. (Updated 2023). Mental Health and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from
  13. Davis, M.T., Holmes, S.E., Pietrzak, R.H., & Esterlis, I. (2017). Neurobiology of Chronic Stress-Related Psychiatric Disorders: Evidence from Molecular Imaging Studies. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)1, 2470547017710916. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 26th 2023, Last edited: Feb 21st 2024

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD
Medical Reviewer Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD LSW, MSW

Dr. Jenni Jacobsen, PhD is a medical reviewer, licensed social worker, and behavioral health consultant, holding a PhD in clinical psychology.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 25th 2023