Stress is here for a reason. It keeps you alert and ready for whatever challenges life brings. Too much stress, however, can negatively impact your life and your health. Learn about it and how you can effectively manage it with this quick guide.:

What is stress?
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to the demands of day-to-day life. Stress is what happens when the brain perceives a threat and floods your body with a hormones that are designed to help you respond and cope with that threat. This is often called the “flight-or-fight” response.

For us, the so-called “threat” rarely comes in the form of ravenous lions or wolves anymore. It can be financial worries, work deadlines, health issues and parenting problems. And unfortunately, with today’s fast-paced world, the “threats” just keep coming, and our bodies are almost always on high alert--on flight-or-fight mode.

Long periods of high levels of stress lead to serious health problems like depression and heart disease, says Mayo Clinic. Identifying stress warning signs and learning to manage it is an important skill everyone should practice.

Stress warning signs:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain in neck, shoulders or back
  • Upset stomach
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Being irritable, impatient or forgetful

How to find stress relief:
The first step to successfully managing stress is to commit to it. Make it an ongoing goal, and learn to monitor your stress levels. Listen to your body and acknowledge your stress whenever you feel it.

Then, identify your stress triggers. Most people feel stress at work, with their relationships and in financial difficulties. Daily stressors can contribute too, like traffic or trying to get the whole family ready in the morning. Remember that stress can come out of positive events too like a new baby in the family or starting a new job.

Once you know what’s causing you stress, find a solution. If it’s work deadlines, learn to better manage your time. If it’s the traffic, map out another route you can take or find ways to occupy the time and make it productive. Try listening to audiobooks, for example. If it’s a situation you can’t change like high demands at work, Mayo Clinic suggests changing how you react to the situation.

Other concrete ways to manage stress:
1. Have a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps you combat stress by giving you much needed energy and rest, and keeping you far from sickness.

2. Take a time-out. Take a few moments in your day to step back from your problems. This will clear your head and may even help you see the situation from a better light. Try yoga, meditation, listening to music, getting a massage or deep breathing exercises. If you’re having trouble getting started, we recommend the app Headspace. It’s perfect for beginners.

3. Stay positive. Negative thoughts will only fuel stress. Try to keep yourself from worrying too much and keep optimistic – but realistic – instead. You can use self-talk methods like telling yourself “It will work out” or “I’ve got this.” Accept as well that though there are some things you can’t control, you can change how you respond to them.

4. Utilize emergency stress stoppers. Emergency stress stoppers help you deal with stress on the spot. Whenever sudden stressful situations occur, try taking three to five deep breaths. You can also count backwards from ten or escape for a while by going for a walk. When you feel overwhelmed, try breaking down the situation into manageable pieces instead of as facing it as one big problem.

5. Find pleasure. Do something that makes you feel good to combat the stress. Make time for activities you enjoy like spending time with the family, watching a sit-com, reading a book, relaxing in a café, playing sports or crafting. Your hobby can even be trying out new things.

6. Share. Talk about how you feel and your situation with a loved one, friend or counselor. Fostering healthy relationships will also help you manage stress.

Stressful events are a part of life, they don’t really go away. And, stress management can take some time and isn’t a cure-all. But managing your stress levels and increasing your ability to cope will help you live a better life, challenges and all.

Sources: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Heart Association, American Psychological Association, WebMD, Mayo Clinic

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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