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Manage Stress

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The Basics

Not all stress is bad. Stress can help protect you in a dangerous situation. But preventing and managing chronic (ongoing) stress can help lower your risk for serious health problems like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.

You can prevent or reduce stress by:

  • Planning ahead 
  • Deciding which tasks need to be done first
  • Preparing for stressful events

Some stress is hard to avoid. You can find ways to manage stress by:

  • Noticing when you feel stressed
  • Taking time to relax
  • Getting active and eating healthy
  • Talking to friends and family

What are the signs of stress?
When people are under stress, they may feel:

  • Worried
  • Angry
  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Unable to focus

Stress also affects the body. Physical signs of stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

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What causes stress?
Stress is often caused by some type of change. Even positive changes, like winning a contest or getting a job promotion, can be stressful. Stress can be short-term or long-term.

Common causes of short-term stress:

  • Too much to do and not enough time
  • Lots of little problems in the same day, like a traffic jam or running late
  • Getting lost
  • Having an argument

Common causes of longer-term stress:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Chronic (ongoing) illness
  • Caring for someone with a serious illness
  • Problems at work
  • Money problems

What are the benefits of managing stress?
Managing stress can help you:

  • Sleep better
  • Control your weight
  • Get sick less often and heal faster
  • Lessen neck and back pain
  • Be in a better mood
  • Get along better with family and friends

Take Action!

Being prepared and in control of your situation will help you feel less stress. Follow these 9 tips for preventing and managing stress.

1. Plan your time.
Think ahead about how you are going to use your time. Write a to-do list and figure out what’s most important – do those things first. Be realistic about how long each task will take.

2. Prepare yourself.
Prepare ahead of time for stressful events like a job interview or a hard conversation with a loved one.

  • Picture the event in your mind.
  • Stay positive.
  • Imagine what the room will look like and what you will say.
  • Have a back-up plan.

3. Relax with deep breathing or meditation.
Deep breathing and meditation are 2 ways to relax your muscles and clear your mind.

4. Relax your muscles.
Stress causes tension in your muscles. Try stretching or taking a hot shower to help you relax. Check out these stretches you can do at your desk.

5. Get active.
Physical activity can help prevent and manage stress. It can also help relax your muscles and improve your mood.

  • Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking.
  • Be sure to exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time.
  • Do strengthening activities – like sit-ups or lifting weights – at least 2 days a week.

6. Eat healthy.
Give your body plenty of energy by eating vegetables, fruits, and protein.

7. Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Don’t use alcohol and drugs to manage your stress. If you choose to drink, drink only in moderation. This means no more than 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.

8. Talk to friends and family.
Tell your friends and family if you are feeling stressed. They may be able to help.

9. Get help if you need it.
Stress is a normal part of life. But if your stress doesn’t go away or keeps getting worse, you may need help. Over time, stress can lead to serious problems like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety.

A mental health professional (like a psychologist or social worker) can help treat these conditions with talk therapy (called psychotherapy) or medicines.

Lots of people need help dealing with stress – it’s nothing to be ashamed of!

Learn more about how you can keep your heart healthy.

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Content last updated on: September 28, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133