How to manage stress

Explains what stress is, what might cause it and how it can affect you. Includes information about ways you can help yourself and how to get support.

Your stories


Jessica blogs about her experience of stress and how she has found ways of coping.

Jessica Carmody
Posted on 05/11/2014

How dancing helped me cope

Shalini, one of our Happy Monday ambassadors, blogs about how dancing helped her through tough times

Posted on 07/03/2014

Getting 'mental healthy' for 2015

Dave talks about how he intends to stay 'mental healthy' in 2015.

Dave Chawner
Posted on 06/01/2015

How can I be more resilient?

Taking steps to look after your wellbeing can help you deal with pressure, and reduce the impact that stress has on your life. This is sometimes called developing emotional resilience – the ability to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in your life.

For example, you can:

(For more tips on building your emotional resilience, see our pages on improving your wellbeing, and increasing your self-esteem.)

Make some lifestyle changes

There are some general changes that you can make to your lifestyle that could help you feel more able to cope with pressure and stressful situations.

  • Practise being straightforward and assertive in communicating with others. If people are making unreasonable or unrealistic demands on you, be prepared to tell them how you feel and say no. (The organisation Mind Tools provides tips on assertiveness on their website.)
  • Use relaxation techniques. You may already know what helps you relax, like having a bath, listening to music or taking your dog for a walk. If you know that a certain activity helps you feel more relaxed, make sure you set aside time to do it. (See our pages on relaxation for lots more ideas.)
  • Develop your interests and hobbies. Finding an activity that's completely different from the things causing you stress is a great way to get away from everyday pressures. If stress is making you feel lonely or isolated, shared hobbies can also be a good way to meet new people.
  • Make time for your friends. When you've got a lot on this might seem hard, but it can help you feel more positive and less isolated. Chatting to friends about the things you find difficult can help you keep things in perspective – and you can do the same for them. Laughing and smiling with them will also produce hormones that help you to relax.
  • Find balance in your life. You may find that one part of your life, such as your job or taking care of young children, is taking up almost all of your time and energy. Try making a decision to focus some of your energy on other parts of your life, like family, friends or hobbies. It's not easy, but this can help spread the weight of pressures in your life, and make everything feel lighter.

When I'm stressed, I take myself away from everyone, into another room or somewhere quiet – even just for five minutes – and sing to myself. Not full on belting out a tune, but just quietly or even humming to myself, really calms me down.

Look after your physical health

Taking steps to look after your physical health can help you manage stress and lessen the impact on your overall mental health.

  • Get good sleep. Stress can make it difficult for you to sleep, and you may develop sleep problems. Being well-rested can increase your ability to deal with difficult situations.
  • Be more physically active. Physical activity is important for reducing stress levels and preventing some of its damaging effects on the body (so long as you don't overdo it).
  • Eat healthily. When you're stressed, it can be tempting to eat too much of the wrong kinds of food or to eat too little. But what you eat, and when you eat, can make a big difference to how well you feel. See our pages on food and mood for more tips.

Give yourself a break

Learning to be kinder to yourself in general can help you control the amount of pressure you feel in different situations, which can help you feel less stressed.

  • Reward yourself for achievements  even small things like finishing a piece of work or making a decision. You could take a walk, read a book, treat yourself to food you enjoy, or simply tell yourself "well done".
  • Get a change of scenery. You might want to go outside, go to a friend’s house or go to a café for a break – even if it's just for a short time.
  • Take a break or holiday. Time away from your normal routine can help you relax and feel refreshed. Even spending a day in a different place can help you feel more able to face stress.
  • Resolve conflicts, if you can. Although this can sometimes be hard, speaking to a manager, colleague or family member about problems in your relationship with them can help you find ways to move forward.
  • Forgive yourself when you make a mistake, or don't achieve something you hoped for. Try to remember that nobody's perfect, and putting extra pressure on yourself doesn't help.

I say to myself, "be kind to yourself – do what will help you relax right now".

I distract myself from my [...] worry by doing a puzzle or playing a game.

Use your support network

Remember that whatever you're going through that's causing you stress, you don't have to cope with it alone.

  • Friends and family. Sometimes just telling the people close to you how you're feeling can make a big difference – and they might be able to help you out in other ways too.
  • Support at work, such as your line manager, human resources (HR) department, union representatives, or employee assistance schemes. Try not to worry that talking to your manager or colleagues about stress will be seen as a sign of weakness – your wellbeing is important and responsible employers will take it seriously. If you're worried that the culture in your workplace might not be very supportive, you might find it helpful to take a look at:
  • Support at university or college, such as your tutors, student union or student services. (See our pages on how to cope with student life for more tips on accessing support as a student.)
  • Peer support. Sometimes sharing your experiences with people who've been through something similar can help you feel less alone. Elefriends and Big White Wall both offer supportive online communities where you can talk openly about stress and your mental health. (For guidance on using these services safely, see our pages on staying safe online.)
  • Specialist websites and organisations. For example:
  • Your GP. If you feel like you need some professional support, you can speak to your doctor. They can check your overall health, and help you access treatments. They could also recommend that you take some time off work, university or college, and sign a medical note for you.

 [It helps me to] hug, fuss and play with my kittens!

This information was published in March 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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