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Self-Help for Stress

There is not much you can do to prevent stress but there are many things you can do to manage stressful situations more effectively and reduce the impact of stress on your health. The first step is to be able to identify what can trigger your stress so you can work out effective coping techniques and learn to avoid situations that tend to cause you stress.

Stress diary:

Keeping a stress diary for a few weeks is an effective stress management tool as it will help you become more aware of the situations which lead you to become stressed.

Note down the date, time and place of the stressful episode, and answer the following questions:

  • What were you doing?

  • Who were you with?

  • How did you feel emotionally?

  • What were your thoughts?

  • What did you start doing?

  • How did you feel physically?

Give the episode a stress rating (0 to 10 where 10 is the most stressed you could ever be).

Use the diary to:

  • Know what triggers your stress.

  • Know how effective you are under pressure.

  • Develop better coping mechanisms.

Learn how to relax:

Relaxation, such as deep breathing, can help to relieve your stress symptoms. It can help you calm down and take a step back from a stressful situation.

If you feel yourself getting stressed, try to soften those feelings by relaxing your muscles and taking deep breaths. Start by breathing in for three seconds before breathing out for a little longer.

Continue these deep breathing exercises until you feel calmer and ready to continue what you were doing. It might be better to do something else rather than continue with the stressful task.

Relaxation techniques may not get rid of the cause of your stress but you will probably feel more able to deal with it once you have released the tension in your body and cleared your thoughts.

Don't worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It is a skill that needs to be learned and will improve with practice.

You can also relieve tension by having some time to yourself, doing whatever you enjoy, such as:

  • having a warm bath

  • reading 

  • listening to music

  • occupying yourself with a hobby

  • exercising

Talk to someone:

Just talking to someone is helpful. Talking can work by either distracting you from your stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension by discussing it.

Stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend or work colleague can help you find solutions to your stress and put problems into perspective.

Take control:

Stress can be triggered by a problem that may on the surface seem impossible to solve. Learning how to find solutions to your problems will help you feel more in control thereby lowering your stress.

One problem-solving technique involves writing down the problem and coming up with as many possible solutions as you can. Decide on the good and bad points of each one and select the best solution.

Write down each step that you need to do as part of the solution: what will be done, how will it be done, when will it be done, who is involved and where will it take place.


Food and drink can have a big impact on your mood and feelings. Sugary snacks and drinks, such as soft drinks, give your body a temporary energy boost followed by a sharp drop in energy. This "sugar crash" can make you feel tired or irritable, and unable to concentrate.

Eating at regular times and not skipping meals can make a big difference to your ability to deal with stress. This will allow your body to release a steady stream of energy throughout the day, which will improve your concentration and mood.

A healthy, balanced diet consists of food from the five main food groups:

  • protein, such as meat, fish, cheese, tofu and eggs

  • carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes

  • dairy, such as cheese, milk and yoghurts

  • fruit and vegetables (aim for at least five portions a day)

  • fats and sugars, such as nuts, avocados and sweet food


Try to reduce the amount of coffee, tea and cola that you drink. These all contain caffeine, which can drive up stress levels if you have too much.

Choose caffeine-free varieties or simply opt for water. Try to drink six to eight glasses (1.2 litres) of fluids a day, such as water or fruit juice. Avoid sugary soft drinks.

Be aware that being under stress can sometimes make you feel tempted to drink more alcohol to relax you. Alcohol, just like smoking and comfort eating, is an unhealthy coping mechanism which will not solve your problems; it will simply give you new ones.

The NHS recommends that:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day.

  • Women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day.

"Regularly" means drinking these amounts every day or most days of the week.


Exercise will not make your stress disappear, but it will help to take the sting out of your anxiety and help you to take a step back from a stressful situation.

Exercise is known to:

  • release a chemical called serotonin, which makes you feel happier and less stressed

  • improve circulation and prevent conditions such as a stroke and heart attack

  • allow you to take out your frustration and anger in a constructive way

Furthermore, exercising regularly can make you better able to cope with stress by lifting your mood, building self-confidence and clearing your mind of any anxious thoughts.

Adults (19 to 64 years) should aim to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. cycling or fast walking) every week. Examples of activities include walking, swimming and cycling. For it to be beneficial, the exercise should increase your heart rate and leave you feeling warm and slightly out of breath.


Bad sleep habits leading to lack of sleep can leave you feeling tired, low in energy and irritable, which can all reduce your ability to manage stress.

Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep each night. In practice, how much sleep you need will vary from person to person but you should try to adopt a regular sleeping pattern.

While a lack of sleep can make stress worse, stress can also disrupt sleep. If you are stressed, you may find it difficult to get to sleep or you may wake up a few times during the night. 

Contact your GP if you are having difficulty sleeping. They may discuss your bedtime routine to see if there are any bad habits contributing your insomnia.

Your GP may recommend:

  • counselling to change any unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that are contributing to your sleep problems

  • medication to help you sleep.

Taking prescribed drugs is only recommended for the short-term treatment of insomnia.

Quit smoking:

Contrary to popular belief, smoking does not help combat stress. In fact, it can make stress worse as well as damage your health.

Giving up smoking is not easy and, in the short term, may cause you to feel more stressed or annoyed. However, irritability and craving are signs that your body is trying to repair itself.

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