How to deal with stress

You can't always prevent stress, but there are lots of things you can do to manage stress better.

How to deal with stress

Stress causes physical changes in the body designed to help you take on threats or difficulties.

You may notice that your heart pounds, your breathing quickens, your muscles tense and you start to sweat.

This is sometimes known as the 'fight or flight' response.

Once the threat or difficulty passes, these physical effects usually fade. But if you're constantly stressed, your body stays in a state of high alert and you may develop stress-related symptoms.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically, and also how you behave.

How you may feel emotionally

How you may feel mentally

  • racing thoughts
  • constant worrying
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions

How you may feel physically

How you may behave

  • drinking or smoking more
  • snapping at people
  • avoiding things or people you are having problems with

How to tackle stress

You can't always prevent stress, but there are lots of things you can do to manage stress better. You could:

Other things that may help:

  • share your problems with family or friends
  • make more time for your interests and hobbies
  • take a break or holiday
  • take some regular exercise and make sure you are eating healthily
  • make sure you are getting enough sleep (see tips on better sleep)

What causes stress?

Big life changes often create stress, even happy events like having a baby or planning a wedding.

Feeling that you aren't in control of events in your life – for example, if you are diagnosed with a serious illness or you get made redundant – can also cause stress.

Stress may be related to:

  • work – for example, unemployment, a high workload or retirement (see Beat stress at work)
  • family – for example, divorce, relationship difficulties or being a carer
  • housing – for example, moving house or problems with neighbours
  • personal issues – for example, coping with a serious illness, bereavement or financial problems

It's important to tackle the causes of stress in your life if you can. Avoiding problems rather than facing them can make things worse.

However, it's not always possible to change a stressful situation. You may need to accept there's nothing you can do about it and refocus your energies elsewhere. For example, if you're a carer, find ways to take breaks and do the things you enjoy.

When to see your doctor about stress

If you've tried self-help techniques and they aren't working, see your doctor. There are lots of other options open to you, such as guided self-help or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

You may be able to attend a stress management course.

Content supplied by NHS Choices