How to React to Stress in a Healthy Way

react to stressLet’s face it … there is no way to remove external stress from your life. Sh*t happens, and it’s often outside of your control. However, there are countless ways to manage your reaction to stress, which is what causes the greater dose of stress in life anyway. How you react to stress will either send you on a downhill spiral of more stress – or help you make peace with it all.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by stress in your day-to-day life and having a difficult time managing your capacity, it’s time to investigate how to manage your stress. Remember, the inevitable fact is that you will encounter stress. The question remains: What will you do with it?

Here are nine ways to respond to stress that will leave you feeling centered and able to move through the rest of your day with ease.


Mindful breathing is a helpful way to react to stress. As soon as you notice clues that the fight-or-flight response is taking over, pause for just a few minutes of deep, conscious breathing. You can do this wherever you are, without anyone even knowing what you’re doing.

One practice is to simply take a few, deep cleansing breaths—inhaling through your nose slowly, and exhaling through your mouth. Try emphasizing your exhale to focus on stress release. (Follow the instructions here for more details.)

Another practice is alternate nostril breathing—which you can do over the span of just a few minutes or as long as you’d like. It helps reverse the effects of stress and focus the mind. Here are the steps to practice alternate nostril breathing.

Identify Your Stress Triggers

Understanding what is causing you stress is an important step to managing your reaction to stress. It can sometimes be tricky to pinpoint just one thing that is overwhelming you when all of life seems stressful. Try to narrow it down by playing close attention to your stress response.

How do you react to stress? There are a host of physical and psychological reactions to stress, and everyone reacts differently. Understanding how it manifests in your mind and body is the first step to finding balance.

  • What happens to your breathing pattern when stress arises?
  • What happens in your body when you notice stress?
  • Does tension usually accompany stress? Where do you feel it?
  • What happens to your temperature?
  • What is a word you can use to identify your mood when you feel stress surface?

If you can figure out how your body and mind process stress, you can begin to understand the precise moments and triggers that are stressing you out, and make changes accordingly. Gaining awareness around your stress triggers also helps you intercept stress at its onset, before it’s taken over your entire day.

Move Your Body

When you notice that stress response arising, stop what you are doing and step out for a walk or workout. If you have the time and space, take a bike ride, go for a run, take a yoga class, or hit the gym. Research has shown that physical activity produces endorphins – chemicals in your brain that give you that feeling of a runners’ high – and can reduce stress. Consistent exercise can decrease tension and improve mood, sleep, and self-esteem – all helpful to lowering stress levels.

So break a sweat! You’ll return to your problem or situation with a fresh perspective. If you only have five minutes, walk around the block or even take a spin around the office. The key here is moving your body.

Manage Your Calendar

Stress will often surface as a result of feeling overwhelmed or having too much to do. If your reaction to a busy calendar is more stress, it’s time to renovate your calendar. You can start by trimming the excess fat from your calendar and scheduling free time every day so you aren’t back-to-back. Here are six steps to designing a balanced calendar so you can keep stress at bay.

Say No More Often

How many requests do you get in a given week? Here, I propose that if the request or invitation will not impact your top priorities, it may cause you unnecessary stress.

When a request or invite comes in, assess whether or not it aligns with your priorities. If the answer is no, avoid adding stress to your life by responding with a “smart no.” While saying no is a difficult skill to learn, it’s important to remember that a No to one thing, allows for less stress and a Yes to something you really want to do.

Check out my posts on Saying No for ideas on how to maintain your kindness but also limit your obligations—so that you remain in charge of your stress levels and your schedule:

Look for the Lesson

You notice stress begin to surface and those signs that it is about to derail your mindset. Instead of letting stress run you, pause, and observe your situation. What might this stressful interaction or situation have to teach you?

Imagine you are 30,000 feet in the air looking down on this situation that is beginning to trigger your stress response. Objectively, what is there to learn here? And how might this new lesson alleviate the stress that is arriving at your doorstep?

Limit Your Time With Stressful People

Who in your life takes more than they give? Are there people that exhaust or deplete you? Who frustrates you more than others?

Take an inventory of everyone you interact with in your day-to-day life. Add a plus sign (+) beside those that energize you and a minus sign (-) beside those that deplete you or stress you out. See if you can consciously limit the amount of time you’re spending with those that leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. At the same time, make more plans with those that energize you and bring you joy. If you find yourself in the company of a toxic person, make a conscious decision not to make plans with them again to avoid future stress.

Customize Your Go-to Stress Release

For some people, alleviating stress looks like climbing a mountain or completing a tough workout at the gym; for others, releasing stress involves creativity and laughter. Explore the possibilities and discover what works for you. Next time you notice stress emerging, try an activity and see if it works to soften your response to stress. Experiment with different activities and when you find one that works, make it your go-to stress releaser. Here are some ideas to get you started with your experimentation:

  • Go outside
  • Spend time with a dog or cat
  • Listen to a comedy sketch
  • Take a walk
  • Do some mindful breathing
  • Put on some good tunes
  • Put on some good tunes and dance
  • Try a guided meditation
  • Draw or paint
  • Go to a yoga class
  • Cook a delicious meal
  • Remember a lighthearted memory
  • Connect with a positive friend

Hire a Coach

Are you consistently stressed out? Do you always take on too much? Are you taking on the wrong things? What is missing from your life that will help you feel more at ease and less stressed? If you can’t quite seem to get your reaction to stress under control on your own, you may need to seek support.

A coach can help you navigate these waters and find more balance in your life. Contact me if you are interested in connecting.

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Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler, MA, PCC, is an ICF certified executive coach. She partners with leaders to develop their systems thinking, resilience, strategic communication skills, and executive presence in order to reach individual, team, and organizational goals. She blends more than 15 years of experience in leadership positions in the corporate world, with her master’s degree in organizational leadership and extensive background in mindfulness to help her clients master their leadership skills and steer their teams through challenges and change. Learn more about Melissa here.

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Melissa is the founder and executive coach at Wide Lens Leadership and a Partner at Evolution. As an ICF Certified Executive Coach with a Master's degree in organizational leadership, Melissa has coached hundreds of leaders ranging from C-suite to entrepreneur, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and across diverse industries. Her work focuses on helping high-performing senior leaders and their teams magnify impact by building trust, collaboration, accountability, and healthy communication skills.