How Can I Manage Stress?

Updated:Feb 8,2013

It’s important to learn how to recognize how stress affects you, learn how to deal with it, and develop healthy habits to ease your stress.  What is stressful to one person may not be to another. Stress can come from happy events (a new marriage, job promotion, new home) as well as unhappy events (illness, overwork, family problems).

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s response to change. The body reacts to it by releasing adrenaline (a hormone) that causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up, and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions help you can deal with the situation.

The problems come when stress is constant (chronic) and your body remains in high gear, off and on, for days or weeks at a time.  Chronic stress may cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Not all stress is bad. Speaking to a group or watching a close football game can be stressful, but they can be fun, too. The key is to manage stress properly. Unhealthy responses to stress may lead to health problems in some people.

How does stress make you feel?

Stress affects each of us in different ways. You may have physical signs, emotional signs or both.

  • It can make you feel angry, afraid, excited or helpless.
  • It can make it hard to sleep.
  • It can give you aches in your head, neck, jaw and back.
  • It can lead to habits like smoking, drinking, overeating or drug abuse.
  • You may not even feel it at all, even though your body suffers from it.

How can I cope with it?

Taking steps to manage stress will help you feel more in control of your life. Here are some good ways to cope:

  • Try positive self-talk -- turning negative thoughts into positive ones.  For example, rather than thinking “I can’t do this”, say “I’ll do the best I can”.
  • Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, relax, breathe deeply and think of a peaceful situation.
  • Engage in physical activity regularly. Do what you enjoy — walk, swim, ride a bike or do yoga. Letting go of the tension in your body will help you feel a lot better.
  • Try to do at least one thing every day that you enjoy, even if you only do it for 15 minutes..

How can I live a more relaxed life?

Here are some positive healthy habits you may want to develop to manage stress and live a more relaxed life.

  • Think ahead about what may upset you. Some things you can avoid. For example, spend less time with people who bother you or avoid driving in rush-hour traffic.
  • Learn to say “no.” Don’t promise too much.
  • Give up the bad habits. Too much alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine can increase stress. If you smoke, make the decision to quit now. 
  • Slow down. Try to “pace” not “race.” Plan ahead and allow enough time to get the most important things done.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. 
  • Get organized. Use “To Do” lists to help you focus on your most important tasks. Approach big tasks one step at a time.

How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at

We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

How can family and friends help?

©2012, American Heart Association 

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

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What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
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What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

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What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
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What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

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How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?