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Dealing with stress

woman looking sad and depressed

What is stress?

Alisha M. Hardman, Extension Graduate Student — Family Resiliency

Reviewed by Rose Allen, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Stress may be caused by major life events and transitions but is also caused by daily hassles, worries and demands. Stress is highly individualized and as such, what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. It is important that you are able to identify your sources of stress. Most stressors fall into one of the types of stress listed below.

Types of Stress

  • General time/no time stress
  • Anxiety-for-others stress
  • Work stress
  • Environmental stress
  • Family/relationship stress
  • Social stress
  • Financial stress
  • Emptiness stress
  • Health stress
  • Too-much-to-do stress
  • Housing stress
  • Too-little-to-do stress

Symptoms of Stress

Just as a flashing red light in your dashboard warns that something is wrong with the car's engine, we all display warning signs when we experience stress. These signs and symptoms allow you to recognize when you or others are stressed and may include symptoms such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Restlessness
  • Irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea/stomach problems
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep problems
  • Impatience
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Managing Stress

You may not be able to get rid of all sources of stress in your life but there are strategies you can use to help cope with and manage stress.

  1. Take care of your physical health by exercising, eating well, and getting an adequate amount of sleep.
  2. Manage and restrict the amount of stress in life by utilizing time management skills and setting limits.
  3. Attend to your mental health by making time to relax, engaging in positive thinking, and including pleasant distractions into your day.
  4. Surround yourself with sources of support. Enjoy time with a friend whether venting frustrations, listening to words of encouragement, or spending time laughing together.

It is important to remember that not all stress is bad and that moderate levels of stress, when managed effectively, is actually healthy. Tolerable levels of stress may provide a challenge that increases productivity. Studies have shown that short-lived bouts of stress may boost your immune system.


Bal, V., Campbell, M., & McDowell-Larsen, S. (2008). In Focus/Managing Stress: Surviving the pressure cooker. Leadership in Action, 28, 18-20.

Brattberg, G. (2006). Short Communication: User friendly and ‘useworthy’ stress barometer. Stress and Health: Journal of the international society for the investigation of stress, 22, 105-114.

Related resources

All About StressIowa State University Extension — Cope better with stress by recognizing impacts, choosing responses, and building resources. Part of the Stress: Taking Charge series.

Common Stresses for Parents of Teens — Iowa State University Extension — Find ways to manage new conflicts and stressors that develop as the parent-child relationship changes during the teen years. Part of the Stress: Taking Charge series.

Disaster recovery — Even if resources were "stable" before, families often need new or additional resources following a disaster.

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