Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Dr. Justin Puder B.A, M.A, Ph.D
15 Effective Ways To Tackle Acute Stress & Reduce Chronic Stress
Published Jul 28th, 2020 & updated on Dec 14th, 2021
Well, it’s been a long and shitty day at work. Your entire team is behind schedule, off sync, completely burned out already and your manager is unleashing alll of their stress on you. You leave work knowing that you’ll still have to get log on after dinner and get more shit done. And you’ll probably have one of those anxiety-filled work nightmares. We’ve been there. This type of chronic stress (along with acute stress, which we’ll tackle below too) is not something you want as a lifestyle.
Unfortunately, stress isn’t easy to avoid, and while we wish we were all miraculously born knowing how to cope with stress, that just isn’t the case. So let’s DiveThru some techniques to help you destress so you can continue living your best life.
Can Stress Be “Good?”
Are you living a stress-free life? Most likely not. There are, however, some examples of “good stress”—also described by psychologists as “eustress,” which is a type of positive stress that keeps you happy and motivated in life, especially when you need a little extra push of encouragement!
Examples of good stress:
- Getting a promotion at work
- Watching a thrilling movie
- Meeting someone new for the first time
- The excitement of going on vacation
Oki great! We can handle that! Oh wait, there are more types.
Acute Stress and Chronic Stress
Acute stress and chronic stress are two different types of stress. While both types of stress can feel pretty similar at their onset, acute stress typically goes away once the stimulus has passed. Chronic stress is the extra fun kind of stress that doesn’t go away unless serious changes are made.
Acute stress is basically the stress response you feel when an unexpected event happens, like a car crash or forgetting your phone in a cab. Our bodies have had this stress reaction since the beginning of time and it used to save us from dying at the hands (paws?) of saber-toothed tigers. You have your amygdala to thank for this!
As we mentioned, acute stress usually doesn’t last too long and once you’ve problem-solved your way through the stimulus, the stress dissipates. Here are a few more examples of acute stress:
- An impromptu meeting with your boss
- Giving a speech in front of people you know
- Giving a speech in front of people you DON’T know
- Getting into an argument with your best friend
- Having to parallel park downtown
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is described as long-term stress that arises when you are continuously confronted with stress factors that take a severe toll and feel unmanageable. It may be pretty harmful to your physical and mental health if it continues for a lengthy time. Not to scare you but if chronic stress is not addressed, it can later on be accompanied by other health risks like cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, etc.
Here are a few examples of chronic stress:
- Losing your job (and/or a lengthy period of unemployment)
- Going through a divorce
- Dealing with a severe injury or sickness
- Being in an abusive relationship
- Overworking yourself in your career
Some of these are just a part of life, like losing your job, and some can’t be avoided at all, like injury or illness. The recovery period that comes after these may be quite lengthy and often there’s no way to avoid that stress. That’s okay. Just do your best to try to manage it during that period so that it doesn’t turn into chronic stress. Watch out for these symptoms of chronic stress:
- Lack of appetite
- Low energy
- Pounding headaches
- Inability to focus
Remember the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode where Rosa is involved in an active shooter situation? The rest of the squad can’t focus on anything else, and they’re all listening to the radio to make sure she’s all right. That was acute stress! It was a stressful situation, but one that was also resolved quickly.
The same example could also lead to chronic stress if Rosa developed PTSD from her experience and felt like she was thrown back into that situation every time she came to work.
How To Reduce Stress (Both Acute and Chronic)
Well we told you all the hard news first, now let’s talk about the good news! There are at least 15 ways that you can tackle your stress! Put down your stress ball and give some of these stress-relief tools a try.
1. Have a Good Cry
Stress management 101. It’s ok to cry. It’s good to cry. Crying is known to be a good release for pent-up emotions and stress. Friends, it literally detoxifies the body.
Did you know that feel-good hormones called oxytocin and endorphins are released everytime you cry?? And not only that, but if you dig further into research on the parasympathetic system (PNS) you’ll learn that crying activates it and becomes a great mechanism to self-soothe.
One more fact about crying and then we’re done: it doesn’t have to be a sad cry either! Crying is actually about restoring emotional balance, which is why we also cry our hearts out when we’re extremely happy.
Keeping everything bottled in isn’t healthy, and at some point, you’ve just gotta let it out. You’ll feel like a million bucks after. Well, we don’t know what a million bucks feels like, but we guarantee you’ll feel better than before.
2. Track Your Feelings
A feeling tracker is a super cool emotion-focused coping tool! In fact it’s so cool that we bet your therapist has already talked to you about it. There are many free apps you can use to do it and yes, you bet you’ll find a daily feeling tracker in the DiveThru app. There are just so many benefits to using one!
First, having the nuanced language to describe what you’re feeling every day has such a powerful effect on your mental health. Therapists call it emotional granularity! Second, when you track your feelings regularly, you can pick up on patterns. Feeling-tracking cna help you figure out what’s making you stressed and/or what’s helping you de-stress. It’s also an excellent tool when combined with a quick journaling prompt that helps you explore your thoughts and release tension that way.
We 13/10 would recommend it. Download the DiveThru app to begin documenting your feelsss.
3. Connect With Loved Ones
Simply having someone to talk to about what you’re going through can do wonders. Whether it’s your best friend, your favourite aunt, or just someone in your community that you’re close with — verbalizing the stress you’re feeling is a good step to addressing it. Even if they don’t have all the answers for you, just talking it out with someone and/or ranting for a hot minute can make you feel way better.
When you’re stressed out, your first instinct might be to isolate yourself and deal with everything on your own because you don’t want to be a burden to anybody. But the fact is, your family and friends genuinely care about you and want to help you. Let them!
4. Prioritize Self-Care
When you think about self-care, what pops up into your mind? Bath bombs, spa days, and expensive massages? Well, nothing wrong with any of those if that’s what relaxes you!
BUT — and this is a big but — self-care encompasses soo much more than that. It’s all of the ways that you take care of your body: physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. The purpose of self-care is to give your body and your mind what they need, when they need it. It’s a pretty customized journey because the only person who knows you as well as you is…well, you!
For some, self-care might look like adding mindful movement into their day, like a lunchtime walk or some stretching to relieve stress from sitting at your desk. For others, a lunchtime nap might be better because it’s actually their sleep schedule that has been thrown out of whack lately. Self-care can also look like making time to do the dishes, clean your apartment, or take a hot shower. Making time to see your friends and cutting back on overtime work could also be considered self-care. Same with setting boundaries around family events if you find them too draining!
Basically, anything that helps you take care of you is self-care. Do it and do it often. It will not only help you destress in the moment but also serve as a preventative measure against that chronic stress we talked about.
5. Tackle the Problems
Problem-based coping is a stress-management tool to discover what causes stress and figure out the best way to confront it through problem-solving.
The idea behind this is that if you can identify what triggers your stress, it will be simpler to plan for and deal with it when it occurs. It kinda depends on the situation though and if your stressors are actually under your control to change or not. But if it’s an option, problem-based coping can be really effective long-term!
To help you with some acute stress scenarios, here are some coping mechanisms for everyday stressful situations:
Phone calls: prepare notes for what you want to say and have them ready when you call.
Presentations: take the time to anticipate potential questions and draft your answers; wear an outfit that doesn’t show sweat and do a breathing exercise 5 minutes before you have to present.
Exams: get there early and work through a visualization exercise; bring water, snacks, and something that calms your nerves; 5 minutes before the exam, do a breathing exercise.
Job interviews: do your research and prepare questions ahead of time; wear an outfit that you feel confident in.
Going somewhere new: talk to other people going and ask if they can meet you outside the venue; ask your friends if anyone is familiar with the location and plan your route ahead of time.
Feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list: prioritize specific tasks and assign them an order to be completed in; focus on one task at a time and hide your list until that task is fully done.
6. Manage Your Time & Stay Organized
Staying organized means spending less time searching through piles and piles of missing documents, items, and emails. That means more time to focus on tasks that really matter. That means more productivity at work. And that means, you guessed it, less stress.
Even the people who have a very detailed system of organization can sometimes lose control of their system (and their day). This is a reminder for everyone reading the article to slow down, take a breath, and get organized before you start saving the world. Then you’re only dealing with the stress of being a hero.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
Negative self-talk makes stress even more difficult to manage. On top of the stressful situation, you have to deal with your inner critic making comments like, “Why can’t you handle this?” Not helping! Instead, try replacing what your inner critic is saying with something like, “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, but you’re doing your best.” Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself like a good friend. This positive self-talk will help you feel more supported in all aspects of your life, including during stressful times.
Now, we’re not saying you have to be upbeat all the time because that’s impossible — have you seen, umm, everything lately? But developing a mindset that acknowledges you are not powerless in the face of adversity improves your ability to deal with stress.
8. Hit Pause and Take a Break
You do need a break from time to time, regardless of what you and your coffee believe. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and irritated, it’s a sign that you need to hit that pause button before your stress escalates. Try to take a break from your work for even just a few minutes and do something completely different. Take a lap around the office. Go bug your work bestie for a few minutes. Then, when you’re ready to return, you’ll be much more productive. Trust us.
9. Move Your Body
Did you know that stretching and exercising can help enhance your mental health? Moving your body supports the release of those feel-good endorphins, which can improve your mood and, in some cases, help you sleep better!
Now, this doesn’t mean your goal has to be increasing muscle mass and breaking personal records. You can include exercise into your life at your own pace! And you don’t have to do the same type of movement every time — experiment to see what works best for you! Here are some examples:
- Following along to a YouTube yoga video
- Going for a walk around your neighbourhood
- Going for a hike
- Taking a friend to Zumba
- Attending a water aerobics class (don’t underestimate the strength of those grandmas, they know what’s up)
10. Breathe It Out
There’s a reason you’ve heard that deep breathing can help you feel calmer (hint: it actually works). During times of intense stress, your body goes on autopilot and starts quick shallow breathing as part of its stress response. Taking a few deep breaths helps you refocus and feel less tense!
60 seconds of breathing can calm the mind.
60 seconds of breathing can lower an accelerating pulse.
And 60 seconds of breathing can slow a panic attack.
Let’s get into a breathing exercise together. You can try this anytime you’re feeling hella stressed.
Count out the seconds in your head as they’re passing by or put on a timer and try to clear your head.
- Find a quiet space
- Get comfortable (sitting or lying down, whichever you prefer)
- Close your eyes, or pick a neutral point of focus
- Inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds and then exhale for 4 seconds
- Repeat until you begin to feel a bit more at ease
Try to keep your attention on your breath and bring your awareness to the way it moves through your lungs. You should notice your thoughts and your pulse slowing down a bit after a few rounds of deep breathing.
11. Listen to Your Fave Tunes
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, put on your headphones, and listen to a song or two. Music offers several mental health advantages, including releasing tension, reducing stress, and increasing optimism.
If you want to relax, listen to one of your chill playlists. If you need to feel inspired, classical music is usually a good choice! Especially if you’re wanting those dark academia vibes full of mystery and maybe even a good sword fight. If you’re needing to stimulate your brain, lo-fi music is perfect for that — it’s intentionally recorded with imperfections and your brain gets absolutely tickled by that. And if none of these ideas work for you, feel free to create your own playlist full of whatever stress relieving music you want! That’ll be a relaxing activity. Music has a lot of power; use it to your advantage.
12. Create Boundaries
Let’s talk healthy boundaries. They’re those limits that you set for your time, energy and effort so that you don’t burn yourself out. We have soo much on our plates on every given day and it’s always going to be a challenge balancing everything. If you learn how to set boundaries and communicate them, you’ll notice that you no longer say yes to everything — just the stuff that you actually care about and have time for.
You can set boundaries in every area of your life: friends, family, relationships, work, school, volunteering, etc. Say for example that your friend calls you four times in a row and leaves a voicemail that says you NEEED to hear about who she just ran into. If you’re focused on a different task or you just don’t have the energy to listen to a vent session right now, consider sending a message like this: “I’m swamped right now, and I wouldn’t be able to offer you my undivided attention, which you deserve. Can I call you tomorrow?”
Done. This helps them realize that you have reached a limit for how much you can take on right now and that’s perfectly understandable. Of course, we hope they understand but if they don’t, it doesn’t mean you should drop that boundary. It just means they need more time to adjust to it — here’s a more detailed article on how to set boundaries and enforce them.
13. Disconnect From Social Media
Throw your phone over the bridge. No, jk, that’s not good for the environment or your wallet. But there are ways you can disconnect from it!
Social media and the various platform algorithms are built so that you stay engaged and keep scrolling as long as possible. We spend a lot of time on social media because it’s so easy to immerse yourself in it. It also feels like it moves so fast and if you’re not engaging with something while it’s trending, you’re going to miss out.
Well sometimes it’s better to miss out so that you can give yourself a break. “But social media isn’t the thing that’s stressing me out??” That might be true but it could also be adding to the stress you’re already feeling, especially with the current state of the world. We’re not saying delete your accounts — just turn off notifications for a couple of hours each day and spend that time getting coffee with a friend, taking a rock climbing class, reading your book, or finger-painting a masterpiece! Maybe it’ll be the next Banksy, who knows. Social media will still be there for you when you get back.
14. Catch Some Zzzzzzz’s
A good night’s sleep can also help you deal with stress more effectively! The relationship between stress and sleep is actually a two-way street. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to stress; if you’re stressed, it can lead to a loss of sleep. A bit of a catch-22!
Studies show that people who are not getting enough sleep (less than 4 hours a night) are more likely to experience cognitive decline. That, in addition to all the ways stress affects your body, basically tells you how important it is to get enough sleep.
Create a nightly routine that helps you prepare for a good sleep and try to stick to it as much as possible. You can also try to integrate some deep breathing and stretching right before bed to help you ease the tension in your body. Then focus on addressing the root cause of your stress so you can work on the problem, not just the symptoms of stress.
15. Learn More About Stress
There’s no shame in the mental health game. We love seeing people open up about what they’re going through and then learning everything they can about the issue. Psychoeducation is important because it helps you figure out what you need. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health.
That’s why we love bringing you resources that can help you dive thru what you’re going through! And we created the perfect course with Dr. Justin Puder to learn all about stress. It’s called Stress 101 in the DiveThru app, look it up!
In this course, Dr. J talks about the neurological roots of stress as we make sense of what it is and what purpose it serves in our lives. You’ll also get to learn about different stress signals, dive into some cool research and learn all the ways you can create a more balanced relationship with stress.
Think of this course (and this article) as a toolbox you can go to anytime you find yourself facing stress!
Well, there you have it. The Ultimate Stress Management List.
With these suggestions in hand, you’ll be promoted to your new role as Manager of Stress in no time.