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Stress - tips and self-help

Everyone feels stress sometimes, especially when dealing with a difficult situation. Difficult situations can include relationship difficulties, work issues or money worries.

Feeling stress can sometimes motivate you to get things done or find solutions to your problems. But a lot of stress over a long period of time can cause you physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This is known as burnout.

Our tips to help with stress can help you manage feelings of stress.

Signs of stress

Stress affects everyone in different ways. But it’s not always easy to know that stress is the cause.

Stress can affect how you think, feel and behave, including:

  • feeling overwhelmed (feeling that everything is too much)
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • being irritable
  • feelings of anxiety or feeling worried or scared all the time
  • being forgetful
  • lacking self-confidence
  • sleep problems or feeling tired all the time
  • avoiding certain places or people
  • eating less or more than usual
  • drinking alcohol or smoking more than usual

Physical signs of stress can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • increased breathing rate
  • high blood pressure
  • high metabolism

Causes of stress

Stress is usually a reaction to mental, physical or emotional pressure. The causes of stress can vary from person-to-person.

Stress can be triggered by, or be part of, anxiety or low mood.

Possible causes of stress are:

  • relationships difficulties
  • big or unexpected life changes, like moving house or starting to care for someone
  • problems at work
  • looking for a job
  • money difficulties
  • health issues, either for you or someone close to you
  • pregnancy and children
  • problems with housing
  • feeling lonely and unsupported

Tips to help with stress

There are many things that can help you cope with stressful events and deal with feelings of stress or burnout.

Plan ahead

If you have a stressful day or week coming up, plan ahead. This can make you feel prepared and better able to cope.

To be prepared:

  • make a to-do list with important and urgent tasks
  • gather any things you will need
  • if you need to travel, work out the journey
  • make time for the things you enjoy at the end of the day or during the week
  • think about who you can ask for help, if you need it
Break down tasks

If a task seems overwhelming and difficult to start, try breaking it down into smaller parts. Complete each part and then move on to the next part.

Setting realistic goals can help you manage stress.

Give yourself credit when you complete a task.

Focus on things you can control

Feeling you have lost control is one of the main causes of stress. But it's not always possible to change or control a difficult situation.

Focus on things you can control, rather than things you cannot control. This is an important part of finding a solution. For example, you might lose your job. This could be out of your control.

Instead, focus on something you can control. For example, looking for a new job or a course to help you get new skills that will help you find another job.

Think about the good things

Take time to think about the good things in your life.

Each day, think about what went well and write down 3 things you're grateful for.

Talk about your feelings

If you feel stressed, it can help to talk to a friend or family member about how you feel.

Telling someone about how you are feeling can help to make things clearer for you. It can help you understand why you are feeling stressed and to get help with how to manage it.

How to talk to someone about what's troubling you

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can help your mind and body get control of a difficult situation. They only take a few minutes to do and can help you manage strong emotions and reduce stress.

Relaxation tips and breathing exercises


Mindfulness teaches you to become aware of the present moment. This helps you enjoy things more.

You can learn to not react or become overwhelmed by what’s going on around you by doing mindfulness. Instead, you notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Mindfulness can be an easy activity you can fit into your day.

How to practice mindfulness

Sleep well

Stress can make you feel more tired than usual. It can also make it more difficult to get or stay asleep.

Sleep is important for mental health. It helps you to think clearly and gives you the energy to deal with problems.

Most people need 5 to 9 hours sleep a night. More than 7 hours is recommended for adults. The ideal amount is 8 hours, but everyone's different.

Tips for better sleep

Healthy eating

What you eat can make a difference to your mental health. A diet rich in foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds can boost your energy and mental health.

Healthier food choices can improve your mental and physical health.

8 healthy eating tips to improve mental health

Physical activity

Physical activity will help you sleep, relax and feel better. It helps reduce stress, burn off anxious energy and feel calm. It can also be a good way to meet people and get more involved in your community.

Any activity is useful, as long as it is suited to your ability and you do enough of it. Find something that you enjoy doing. This will help keep you motivated to do it every day.

Physical activity and your mental health

Alcohol and smoking

If you feel stressed, you may drink more alcohol or smoke more than you usually do.

It might be tempting to use smoking and alcohol to manage stress. But try not to do this as a way of coping.

Self-help resources for stress

Stress Control course

For many people, stress can include or be linked to feelings of anxiety or low mood.

Our 'Stress Control' course can help you learn stress management skills.

Minding your Wellbeing Programme videos

5 videos that help you learn more about mindfulness, gratitude, self-care and resilience.

Watch the Minding Your Wellbeing Programme videos

Mindshift CBT app

A free app that helps you reduce worry, stress and panic. It is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Get Mindshift from the App Store

Get Mindshift from Google Play

Headspace app

An app that teaches meditation and mindfulness skills.

Get Headspace from the App Store

Get Headspace from Google Play

When to talk to someone else

If you have tried our tips and the self help resources but you think you need extra support, it may help to talk to someone.

Organisations that provide mental health supports and services

Text About It

Text About It is a free, 24/7 service, providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support for your mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Free-text HELLO to 50808 for an anonymous chat with a trained volunteer, any time.


Samaritans services are available anytime, for confidential and non-judgemental support.

Freephone Samaritans on 116 123

Worried about someone else

If you notice someone is struggling with their mental health, this can be worrying. You may not know what to do.

How to help someone experiencing mental health issues

Non-urgent advice: Talk to a GP or mental health professional if:

  • you are finding it hard to cope
  • stress is having a negative affect on your day-to-day life
  • your stress has been going on for a while or getting worse

Ask for an urgent appointment if you are in crisis.

Urgent advice: If you feel you are going to harm yourself or someone else, get help as soon as possible from:

If you go to an ED, it can help to bring someone with you.

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025