A stressed woman holding her phone and eyeglasses

Knowing how to deal with stress and anxiety is a useful life skill for anyone. However, it can be especially important people living with a mental health condition or in recovery from a substance use disorder. Anxiety and stress have the potential to trigger other unwanted behaviors. This is why having tools to manage these feelings is crucial for people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or PTSD.

Identifying Signs of Stress and Anxiety

Everyone knows when they are stressed or anxious, don’t they? Not necessarily. People aren’t always consciously aware of the effects anxiety or stress may be having upon them. It’s not unusual to be so caught up in a stressful or worrying predicament that you don’t take notice of your reaction to it. Learning to recognize signs in yourself or others is the first step to dealing with stress and anxiety effectively. 

6 Signs of Stress and/or Anxiety

1. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Sleep affects mental health. Sleep problems sometimes act as an indicator of a deeper issue. If someone is dealing with stress and/or anxiety, they may experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. You may also sleep more than usual. Stress and worry can lead to fatigue and many people use sleep as an escape.

2. Physical Symptoms: Stress and anxiety can manifest physically, resulting in stomach cramps, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, fatigue and even chest pain. While stress or worry aren’t always to blame for symptoms like this, you should never ignore these symptoms. Talk to your doctor or a medical professional. 

3. Increased Reliance on Substances: Whether it’s over-the-counter sleep aids, like antihistamines, controlled prescription drugs or illicit drugs and alcohol. It’s not unusual for people under stress to try to change how they feel with a substance. This is a possible sign of stress or anxiety to watch for in yourself or someone you care about. If this proves to be the case, we can help

4. Changes in Eating Habits: Anxiety and stress can cause someone to either overeat or eat too little due to a lack of appetite, nervous stomach or preoccupation with other things. However it shows up, it’s one more sign to watch for.

5. Mood or Personality Changes: Most people who have to deal with stress and anxiety show outward signs in their behavior. We mentioned a few possibilities above. But anxiety and stress can also cause someone to become more irritable or withdrawn and quiet. Some people may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. 

6. Difficulty Concentrating: Stressful and anxiety-producing situations have a way of muddling the mind for many of us. Being preoccupied with worry or fixated on a seemingly impossible problem can easily take up much of your attention. This can make it hard to focus, think clearly, and remember things.

What to Remember About Dealing with Anxiety and Stress

The way each of us responds to anxiety or stress is different. Knowing how to deal with stress and anxiety with healthy coping mechanisms makes challenging situations a bit easier to handle. Coping tools can help you moderate your reactions and make better decisions under pressure.

One more important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. Managing stress and anxiety is a form of self-care. Try not to judge yourself or anyone else for reactions to stress. There are better ways to manage it, so we learn what those ways are and adopt them as best we can. But we do it with love and without judgment, as much as possible. 


  • Different people react differently to stress and/or anxiety.
  • There are healthy ways to cope with difficult situations and pressures.
  • Learning to deal with stress and worry is a form of self-care and self-love. 
  • Be kind to yourself and others when learning to deal with stress. 

Ways to Deal with Stress and Anxiety

Here are several proven methods to help you deal with stress and anxiety. We don’t always have the luxury of removing the source of our stress or leaving it behind. Adopting healthy coping tools is the best way to manage stress or worry. 

Take a Deep Breath

It may seem cliche, but deep breathing is proven to induce relaxation. Per a Yale University study. “Changing the rhythm of your breath can signal relaxation, slowing your heart rate and stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem to the abdomen, and is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities (in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our “fight or flight” responses). Triggering your parasympathetic nervous system helps you start to calm down. You feel better. And your ability to think rationally returns.”. Next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, pause if you can. Close your eyes. Take 4 deep, full breaths through your nose, fully expanding your belly. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Continue this for several minutes, if needed, until you feel calm. 

Make Time for Self-Care

Self-care isn’t indulgent or selfish, it is necessary for your wellbeing. It is important to make time to recharge your depleted stores of energy. Self-care is a key way to deal with stress and anxiety because it puts back what these emotions take from us. You get to decide what self-care looks like for you. It may be a long walk in the woods with your dog or a soak in a hot tub. It could be cutting out coupons while getting a pedicure. Whatever replenishes your soul, make sure you’re doing it often enough.


Another essential form of self-care is exercise. Vigorous exercise also has proven benefits for anxiety and stress. If you’re stressed out, the worst thing you can do is remain sedentary. Stressful situations should not be the only thing raising your heart rate. Physical exercise is not only good for your health and wellbeing. It also improves sleep quality and raises the levels of ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Making regular exercise a part of your routine is a good part of any plan to manage the effects of stress. 

Ask for Help

If anxiety and worry are negatively affecting your quality of life and you have been unable to find a way forward, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Mental health therapy can help you gain valuable insight and perspective. Mental health treatment for anxiety or stress often helps people make progress where before they were stuck in place. Psychotherapy can help you see your situation more clearly and make problems appear much more manageable. It can help you better understand yourself and identify simple changes you can make to your own behavior that will help make your anxiety and stress much easier to cope with effectively. 

Getting Help for a Mental Health Disorder

If stress, anxiety, depression or another feeling is keeping you from living the life you want to lead, you may benefit from mental health treatment. Even if you have been in long-term therapy, it isn’t unusual for people to plateau in their progress or get “stuck” after a time. For many people in that situation, a higher level of care for mental health is the best solution. In a partial hospitalization program for mental health, you may receive more treatment in 2 weeks than you would in an entire year of weekly visits to a therapist. If you’d like to know more about what our programs at Harmony Health Group can do for you, give us a call anytime at (866) 461-4474.