How to manage stress and live a calmer life

Everyone experiences stress to some degree — it's your body's way of protecting you. A little bit of stress is good and can help us perform daily activities, but too much of it can cause physical and mental health problems.1

What is stress?

Stress is your body's natural response to a demand or threat. It affects both the mind and the body and can be caused by "stressors" such as your environment, social situations, or an illness. 

When you sense danger — real or imagined — a small region in the base of the brain reacts by making the body produce a hormone called epinephrine, or adrenaline, into your bloodstream. This starts a domino effect that can cause your heart to beat faster and your pulse and breath to quicken as your body gets ready to respond. This automatic process is known as a "stress" or "fight-or-flight response."

Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.2

Types of stress

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are three different types of stress:

Acute stress

This is the most common form of stress. It is caused by demands and pressures of the recent past or the near future. It is the stress you feel when you're behind on a deadline or the thrill that creeps up when you're about to ride a rollercoaster. 

Episodic acute stress 

People who experience acute stress often and live in a state of tension suffer from episodic acute stress. This may be caused by taking on too many responsibilities, having a poor work-life balance, or worrying too much. This is the stress that keeps us up at night.

Chronic stress 

This is ongoing stress. It may be caused by things we have little control over or the lifestyle we choose to live. Chronic stress is constant and persists over an extended period, can be debilitating and overwhelming, and can cause anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.3

What are the symptoms of stress?

While each person can experience stress differently, some of the physical and mental symptoms of stress include:

  • A change in eating habits. 
  • Being more emotional. 
  • Chronic back pain. 
  • Difficulty making decisions. 
  • Feeling on edge. 
  • Forgetfulness or difficulty keeping track of things. 
  • Heart palpitations. 
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs to relieve stress. 
  • Intestinal problems, stomach pains, and diarrhea. 
  • Lack of energy. 
  • Neck pain. 
  • Tension headaches. 
  • Sleeping more than usual or difficulty falling or staying asleep.

How to manage stress?

When you are feeling stressed or dealing with a stressful situation, you should act to relieve your stress levels. Here are some examples of things to try:

  • Breathe. 
  • Calm your mind by practicing mindfulness
  • Change your perspective about the situation. 
  • Focus on the moment and try to relax. 
  • Go for a walk or a relaxing drive. 
  • Meet up with supportive friends and family members. 
  • Take care of your body — eat healthfully, exercise, and get enough sleep. 
  • Stay away from using alcohol or drugs as a stress reliever.

When should you seek professional help for stress?

If you notice a decline in performance, an inability to cope with the demands of your daily life, have irrational fears, or see significant changes in sleeping or eating habits, you could be experiencing chronic stress. You should seek assistance from your primary care doctor. They can determine if your stress is due to an anxiety disorder or a medical condition and help you find the right treatment option.

Carelon Health offers Advanced Primary Care that can help you manage your stress and become a healthier version of yourself. Visit the Advanced Primary Care page to learn more.

1 World Health Organization: Stress (accessed September 2023):
2 Harvard Health Publishing: Understanding the stress response (accessed September 2023):
3 American Psychological Association: Stress won't go away? Maybe you are suffering from chronic stress (accessed September 2023):