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Managing Stress in Your Life

Updated on March 22, 2010

How to manage your stress level

Managing stress in your life

Not enough hours in the day? Feel like things are getting the best of you?

It might help you to know that you’re not alone. As a nation we’re feeling increasingly under pressure and stress is becoming a major cause of sickness absence from work.

There are many potential causes of stress, from moving house or an endless to-do-list to relationship problems or loneliness. Some stress can be a positive thing by helping to motivate us into action. But an overwhelming amount of pressure has negative effects on both our immediate and long-term health.1,2

It’s important to remember that what causes stress for one person may have little effect on another and that we all deal with stress in different ways.

Stress symptoms

Stress can affect people in various ways - common symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Irritability, mood swings and frequent crying
  • Anxiety and low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness and headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleeping problems
  • Digestive problems

Sound familiar?

Combat stress

Recognize your stress

The first thing to do is to take some time to identify the sources of stress in your life. How do they make you feel? Is there anything you can do about them? Perhaps you are expecting too much of yourself or others, which leaves you feeling frustrated.

Once you know your stress triggers you can make a plan to reduce the number of stressors in your life. It also helps to learn to recognize your own symptoms of stress so you can react quickly when you see the signs.

Physical activity

Doing some activity, whether it’s walking, dancing, swimming or running, helps to lift your mood and beat stress.3

Exercise outdoors if you can for a better mental boost. Aim to do at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week, but more if you can.

Eat well

When we are stressed we often don't eat properly, which in turn can add to the negative effects of stress.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber is a great stress buster.

Swapping refined carbohydrates (like cookies or candy) for complex carbs (like wholegrain bread, brown rice and baked potatoes) will help to combat mood swings and keep you feeling full and energized for longer.

Wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables provide your body with plenty of fiber and vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system and keep your heart healthy. The parts of your body that are often be victims of stress.

Drinking plenty of water and cutting down on caffeine (found in tea, coffee and cola) are also good well-being moves.

It’s important not to rely on props such as alcohol or tobacco when you’re under pressure. Although they may sometimes feel they are helping with your stress in the short-term, they’ll add to it in the long run.


Find time to relax each day without feeling guilty. Do something you enjoy, that fits easily into your life. This could be reading, listening to music, or enjoying a warm bath. It doesn't have to take long, but it should be a regular part of your day.

Try sitting somewhere quiet and practicing deep breathing. Take long deep breaths, focusing on each breath in and out, and nothing else. Feel your stomach and chest fill with air each time your breath in.

Just this simple exercise can provide immediate relief from many of the symptoms of stress.

Be proactive

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, co-worker or professional counselor, talking can help you to cope with the stresses and strains of life.


  1. Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study. Tarani Chandola, Eric Brunner and Michael Marmot. British Medical Journal, Published online 20 January 2006. Visited February 2008.
  2. Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working men and women. Melchior M et al. Psychological Medicine 2007: 37 (8), 1119-1129.
  3. Exercisers achieve greater acute exercise-induced mood enhancement than nonexercisers. Hoffman MD. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008: 89(2); 358-363.


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