National Stress Awareness Month was made to highlight the negative effects of stress. Effective stress management can improve day-to-day life mentally and physically, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Recently, WalletHub released a report about the most stressed states within the United States. Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada all came out on top due to violent crime rates, low job security, failing health and parenting problems.

Stress is part of life. Learning more about the common signs and how best to reduce symptoms will be valuable when you encounter stressful situations and periods.

What are the signs and symptoms of stress?

Stress can have physical and emotional symptoms. Often, unhealthy behaviors may also be a sign of chronic or increased stress, per Cleveland Clinic.

Emotional symptoms, per WebMD:

  • Easily agitated, frustrated and moody.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Having a hard time relaxing.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling lonely or worthless.
  • Depression.
  • Avoiding others.

Physical symptoms, per Mayo Clinic:

  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain or tension.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Change in sex drive.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Weak immune system resulting in getting sick easier.

Unhealthy behaviors, per Cleveland Clinic:

  • Drinking alcohol too often.
  • Gambling.
  • Overeating or undereating.
  • Developing any form of eating disorder.
  • Shopping too often.
  • Browsing the internet too much.
  • Smoking.
  • Using drugs.

Quick ways to reduce stress

According to The Washington Post, you can improve your emotional state and become more adept at preventing stress symptoms by accessing your body’s natural capacity to soothe itself. Here are the Post’s suggestions:

1. Relax your face

When stressed, different areas of our bodies can tighten, cause tension and make us feel stressed. Facial tension, specifically, is said to cause anxiety, headaches and overall negative emotions, per Healthline.

The Washington Post suggests trying to half-smile, which automatically releases some tension in your face. Studies have also reported that getting Botox injections will help ease areas of your body that are held tight and reduce negative emotions.

Massaging your face or other body parts can help relax muscles. Here are different stretches you could try, per Popsugar:

  • Neck stretch: Put your left hand over your head and place fingertips in front of right ear. Place right fingertips on your right shoulder. Gently tilt your head to the left with your left hand, stopping at a 45-degree angle. Tilt your head to look up and stretch your tongue to try to touch your nose. Switch sides.
  • Massage your forehead and eyebrows: Hold the left side of your forehead steady with your left hand, while using the knuckles and fingertips of your right hand to massage the right side in circular motions. Begin between the eyebrows, then work outward along the brow bone and forehead, applying firm pressure.
  • Relax forehead muscles: Rest your palms flat on your forehead, with pinkies near the eyebrows and fingers loosely interlocked. Close your eyes, then open them slowly without moving your forehead or eyebrows. Then, gradually squint without fully closing your eyes. Repeat this process for three repetitions.

2. Comfort yourself through touch

According to a study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology, receiving physical touch from yourself or others, through hugs, reduced cortisol levels.

How does high cortisol affect your body? Here are symptoms, treatments and supplements

Examples of things to touch for comfort:

  • Cold water or ice.
  • A stuffed animal.
  • A warm blanket.
  • A trinket with lots of grooves.
  • A pet.
  • Rough objects: Tree bark or a rock.
  • Smooth objects: Tiles or the surface of a mirror.

3. Notice things around you

During times of stress, the body’s fight-or-flight response causes pupils to dilate, reducing both literal and figurative perspective. However, intentionally noticing distant viewpoints and surroundings can help alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed by challenges, per The Washington Post.

4. Breathe through your nose

According to The Washington Post, stress increases blood pressure. Breathing through your nose, however, is associated with lowered blood pressure and improved heart rate variability.

Often, when I am doing yoga or meditation, the class is invited to breathe through their nose. Teachers have said it would help with focus and relaxation.

In general, meditation or yoga is said to have many emotional and physical benefits, per Mayo Clinic.

  • Providing fresh perspectives on stressors.
  • Developing stress management skills.
  • Enhancing self-awareness.
  • Practicing mindfulness.
  • Alleviating negative emotions.
  • Boosting creativity.
  • Fostering patience.
  • Decreasing resting heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Improving sleep quality.

5. Welcome panic

The Washington Post suggests creating stressful situations in advance, before an actual stressful situation, in a safe environment. In the safe environment, you might understand more about how you react to certain situations, how they make you feel, get used to them and ultimately build up courage to overcome them or relax.

Welcome panic in therapy is called interoceptive exposure. Proven benefits, according to Positive Psychology, include:

  • Reduction of anxiety for those with panic disorder.
  • Helping individuals not feel like fear and panic is dangerous.
  • Helping individuals become familiar with how they react during times of stress or panic.
The signs of chronic stress — and how to tell if you have it