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 stress affects you so you can deal with it.
What are the signs of stress?
You can learn to notice the signs in your body that indicate stress is becoming a problem. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy methods such as drinking or smoking.
Signs that you may be stressed include:
- muscle tension and headaches
- poor sleep — or sleeping too much
- being irritable or moody
- not having motivation
- not being able to concentrate
- relying on alcohol or drugs to cope
- feeling overwhelmed or anxious or like you can't cope
Removing or reducing the causes of stress
It is important to identify what makes you stressed, then take steps to avoid it or reduce the feelings 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 include:
- family or relationship breakdowns
- death of a loved one
- experiencing a traumatic event, including physical or emotional abuse
- losing a job
- having a baby
- money problems
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, it may be possible to change 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.
How to solve problems
Once you have identified the problems that are leading to stress in your life, this structured problem-solving exercise can help you to find solutions.
- List the problems that are worrying or distressing you and write them down.
- Identify which problem is causing you the most stress and write it down.
- Work out all the options to deal with the problem and write them down.
- List the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
- Identify the best option to deal with the problem.
- List the steps you need to carry out this option.
- Carry out the option. Afterwards, think about whether it worked and whether you would do this again.
This technique has been adapted from Beyond Blue.
What are some strategies to reduce stress?
It may not be possible to remove the stress from your life, but managing your stress may help you to get things done.
Below are some ideas for managing stress.
- Take charge — deal with unhelpful sources of stress before they build up and become a bigger problem.
- Make choices — look at areas in your life where you could manage your situation better or change the way you respond.
- If you’re already feeling stressed, consider postponing major changes like changing jobs or moving house.
- Sort out any personal conflicts or relationship problems by communicating honestly and seeking counselling.
- Spend time doing things you enjoy.
- Try to avoid long hours at work. Learn to say no.
- Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
If you’re feeling stressed, it’s a good idea to have a general health check with your doctor. You can talk to your doctor about ways to help you bounce back and cope with stress.
What are practical ways to reduce the impact of stress?
Life is often stressful, but there are things you can do to become more resilient and cope with life’s ups and downs.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can relieve tension, relax the mind and reduce anxiety.
- Time management: Developing regular routines and planning ahead can reduce the chaos that can lead to stress.
- Spend time with family or friends: Being with people you find uplifting, resolving personal conflicts, and talking about your feelings can help.
- Look after your health: Maintain a healthy diet, ensure you get enough sleep and avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope.
- Do things you enjoy.
- Change your thinking: Sometimes stress is more about our perceptions or attitudes to a situation than the situation itself. Unrealistic expectations of yourself or others can lead to stress. If you have a tendency to negative thinking, it can help to write down these thoughts, try to come up with a more realistic view and focus on the positive.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT): This involves working with a therapist to change your thinking patterns.
When to seek help
If stress is affecting your work, school, home life or relationships, and you feel you can’t manage it alone or with support from a loved one, seek help from a doctor who may refer you to a psychologist.
The Australian Psychological Society has a ‘Find a Psychologist’ service, which can be used to locate a psychologist in your local area — call 1800 333 497.
Resources and support
- Suicide Call Back Service (for anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467
- Lifeline (for anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online
- Mensline Australia — call 1300 78 99 78
- Beyond Blue online forums and helpline — or call 1300 22 4636
Other resources include:
- This Way Up's stress management course
- ReachOut.com's Breathe app
- Mindspot's wellbeing course, which aims to reduce stress and anxiety
- Beyond Blue’s mental health coaching service, NewAccess, which provides free and accessible services for anyone finding it hard to manage stress (available in parts of ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria)
- Black Dog Institute’s myCompass self-help tool for mental health
- MoneySmart’s free resources to deal with money issues
Not sure what to do next?
If you or someone you know are 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 2021