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Dealing with stress

3-minute read

Everyone feels stress. It’s a normal response to challenging or dangerous situations. A small amount of stress can be a good thing and increase energy and motivation.

But too much stress can make people feel overwhelmed. It can affect quality of life and cause problems with physical and mental health.

There are different ways to deal with stress, and stress affects everyone differently. A good first step is to understand how it affects you so you can deal with it.

The key is to identify what makes you stressed, then take steps to avoid it or reduce the feelings of stress.

Dealing with the symptoms of stress

You can learn to notice the signs in your body that indicate stress is becoming a problem. Signs you may be stressed are:

  • muscle tension
  • headaches
  • poor sleep — or sleeping too much
  • being irritable
  • not having motivation
  • being moody
  • not being able to concentrate
  • feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • relying on alcohol or drugs to cope
  • nervous habits
  • feeling like you can't cope

There are plenty of strategies to reduce stress. When you feel yourself getting stressed, it can help to do relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi or exercise.

A psychologist or counsellor can help you with techniques to problem solve, manage your time and cope with life’s problems.

Removing the causes of stress

Everyone is different. What one person finds stressful, another won’t. It depends on your personality, cultural background, past experiences, stage of life and what support you have around you.

Some common causes of stress are:

  • relationship problems
  • illness
  • conflict
  • death
  • life pressures from work or study
  • experiencing a traumatic event, including physical or emotional abuse
  • having a baby
  • money problems
  • losing a job

Many things that cause stress can be changed, but others are beyond our control. Work out what you can control and take steps to make a change.

For example, if you are one of the many Australians who is stressed by financial issues, setting up a budget or consulting a financial adviser may help.

If the stressor is work, then it may be possible to make changes to your work hours or job duties. If the problem is relationships, take the time to resolve conflicts.

It can help to talk to a friend, doctor or counsellor about removing the causes of stress. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.

Solving problems

Once you have identified the problems that are leading to stress in your life, using this structured problem-solving exercise can help you to find solutions.

  1. List the problems that are worrying or distressing you and write them down.
  2. Identify which problem is causing you the most stress and write it down.
  3. Work out all the options to deal with the problem and write them down.
  4. List the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
  5. Identify the best option to deal with the problem.
  6. List the steps you need to carry out this option.
  7. Carry out the option. Afterwards, think about whether it worked and whether you would do this again.

This technique has been adapted from beyondblue.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know is finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s Symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2019

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