Stress Reduction And Management Research Articles And Resources

Danielle Smith
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Stress Reduction and Management?

Stress reduction is the desired outcome of using stress management techniques to achieve a more balanced life. Merriam-Webster defines stress as:

  1. a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation
  2. a state resulting from worry, especially one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium (1)

In short, stress is caused by external and/or internal factors resulting in tension that alters mental balance. To reduce stress, a person must address the causes and adjust how they deal with them.
Stress management employs proven techniques and strategies for dealing with challenges and adversities. It teaches skills such as time management, problem-solving, and prioritizing tasks. Participants learn how to cultivate optimism and gratitude, build more emotional awareness, and better control their reactions. (2)

Stress reduction techniques include identifying stress triggers and learning to temper reactions, such as focusing on the positive in a situation, letting go of anger, learning to negotiate, and using humor to reduce tension. It may also include integrative stress treatments such as mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, and massage. (3)


What Causes Stress?

The American Psychological Association (APA) polled more than 3,000 adults in the United States and identified the top five causes of stress as: (4)

  1. Money: Some 72% of participants reported being stressed over finances. The reasons varied by age and social status, such as students being worried about the costs of housing and tuition and workers being concerned over the fear of losing their job or retirement. Medical expenses were also a major cause of concern.
  2. Job pressure: Main job stressors include being overworked, interacting with authorities, and navigating coworker conflicts. Perfectionism and fear of failure were also noted.
  3. Health. Debilitating symptoms and side effects of chronic or terminal illness are extremely stressful. These can exacerbate job and money concerns.
  4. Relationships. Relationship conflicts such as arguments with friends, divorce, or death are common life events that can negatively affect physical and mental health. The social impact of stress can lead to a variety of negative factors.
  5. Poor nutrition. More studies are finding that poor diet and nutrition can affect the body and mind, causing physical and mental disorders such as diabetes, anxiety, and heart problems.

Even positive events, such as a job promotion, marriage, buying a home, or taking a vacation, can cause temporary stress.

How to Deal With Stress

While people can't avoid stress altogether, dealing with stress can be easier if they make healthy changes in such areas as: (5)

  • Diet and nutrition: Poor nutrition weakens the body and makes it more difficult to deal with stress. A well-balanced and healthy diet that includes more fresh fruits and vegetables nourishes the body and mind, while eating slowly helps prevent digestive issues. Cutting out junk food and cutting back on caffeine can also be helpful.
  • Exercise: Exercising for 30 minutes three times a week channels pent-up stress energy into a healthy activity. There are several physical exercises that can be used to reduce stress.
  • Relaxation: Practicing relaxation exercises such as listening to music, meditation, and guided imagery gives the mind a chance to slow down and clear out negative thoughts that cause stress.
  • Distraction and diversion: A time-out from stressful situations won't resolve problems, but it gives the mind and body a chance to de-stress. A short walk, a 5-minute meditation, sitting in a peaceful setting for a while, socializing with friends, or even taking a day off can reset a person's attitude.

How Does Stress Affect the Body?

Learning more about how stress affects the body, and its systems can make it easier to spot common symptoms and react accordingly: (6)

  • Cardiovascular system: During acute, short-term stress, the heart rate increases quickly, causing the heart to pound and blood vessels to dilate to accommodate greater blood flow. Long-term or chronic stress strain on the blood vessels can lead to hypertension or heart disease.
  • Respiratory system: During stress, airways constrict, causing rapid breathing and shortness of breath. For those with chronic respiratory illnesses such as emphysema, asthma, or COPD, this can be harmful or even life-threatening.
  • Endocrine system: When a body is stressed, insulin levels fall, triggering a series of hormonal events that cause blood sugar to rise. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can lead to adverse effects for those suffering from diabetes.
  • Nervous system: Stress causes the body to go into a fight-or-flight response. Pupils dilate, blood flow and heart rate increase, and the body releases stress hormones.
  • Immune system. Stress depresses the immune response, which increases vulnerability to illness and makes recovery more difficult.

Other common symptoms related to multiple systems include stress hives, stress-related rashes, and stress headaches.

How to Help a Loved One Who Is Stressed

It is normal to feel helpless when a loved one is suffering from stress and its associated fallouts. There are many ways in which caregivers, friends, and loved ones can show support:

  • Help with everyday chores: If a loved one's house and yard seem neglected, simply pitching in and helping clean up is a good way to help. Often, stress leaves a person feeling overwhelmed and unable to keep up with even the simplest tasks, like washing dishes or putting away the laundry.
  • Give them some time to themselves: Parents, especially single parents and caregivers, often have little time to be by themselves and just relax. Offering to take the kids out for the day or sitting with an ill or elderly relative could relieve their stress for a short time, allowing them to have some "me time."
  • Spoil them: Something as simple as taking someone who's overburdened out to eat or to a movie can help immensely. If they seem to have neglected self-care like haircuts or getting their nails done, treat them to a day of pampering. If their kitchen seems bare, take them grocery shopping and let them buy some special treats.
  • Talk to them: Many stressed individuals simply need someone to acknowledge their burdens and let them vent. It is always helpful to listen without judgment or advice.