If you’ve ever been in a stressful situation, you know how frustrating it can be to hear people tell you to “get over it” or “just calm down.”
If you know someone who is stressed, it’s crucial to help in a supportive manner. Even small acknowledgments go a long way.
To help you get started, here are comforting words to say to someone when they’re stressed.
Cynthia Ackrill, MD, PCC, FAIS
Leadership Coach | Certified Stress Mastery Expert, The American Institute of Stress
When our brains are stressed, they get more negative, black and white, and have a harder time putting things in perspective or getting creative with solutions. Your questions can help shift blood flow back to the frontal lobe to get perspective and brilliance.
“I’m listening and I care”
Do not diminish what they are feeling. It’s real whether you think it is justified or not. You never know what their “lens” is, their past traumas, their other issues—this may just be the focus or the “straw”.
Just a simple, “I’m listening and I care” goes a long way. “Here’s a virtual, fully antiseptic, but heartfelt hug!”
“What would be most helpful to you right now?”
Empower them with appreciative inquiry. Here are some examples:
- “Have you ever been in a similar situation?”
- “What have you done in the past when you have been overwhelmed/stressed that helped you move forward?”
- “I’m curious what do you think makes you strong? ex. I so appreciate when you bring your sense of humor to my worries!”
- “Who’s on your “team” that is really helpful?—I know it’s often hard to ask for help, but we all love to help!”
- “What would be most helpful to you right now?—brainstorming, calming, distracting, helping you just clarify what’s the challenge, what you can control, what you can’t?”
- “Let me know whenever you want to talk this out!”
“What would help you feel less stuck?
Don’t allow a friend to really wallow.
- “Wow, this sounds like it really has you down… is anything else going on that makes you feel stuck?”
- “What would help you feel less stuck?
- “Ok… I’m going to set the time for 15 min and you tell me everything awful about this. I’ll check in at the end of this, you still want to rant…I’m here to listen, but maybe a good dump of all your troubles would clear the air?”
“What do you most need right now to feel a little stronger?
Check in on how they are refueling their strength.
- “I know everything feels more overwhelming right now, what are you doing to take care of you so you feel strong enough to cope?”
- “What do you most need right now to feel a little stronger?—some rest? a good meal? etc.?”
“I’m here, I care, I wish I could help you carry the load.”
Don’t be afraid to show some love. Friends can definitely make things worse with the best of intentions… and they can make all the difference in the world!
Licensed Psychologist | Founder and Director, The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management | Author, “Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry, and Stress Using Mindfulness and Acceptance“
“Of course you’re stressed. This is hard. Anyone experiencing X would be stressed.”
Validate their emotions. The most important answer to your question starts with what not to say. Do not say things like “Don’t be stressed! Don’t worry about it! Everything will be fine!”
This is problematic because the person is already stressed/worrying, so this is not only invalidating but runs the risk of causing the person to now feel stressed and bad about feeling stressed.
Instead, always start with validation, “Of course you’re stressed. This is hard. Anyone experiencing X would be stressed.”
“Is there anything I can do to help? I’m happy to just listen if that’s what you need.”
Don’t jump in to fix it; ask what the person needs instead. “Is there anything I can do to help? I’m happy to just listen, or if there’s a way I can take something off your plate, or if you’re open to suggestions for how to manage your stress I can do that too. I can also buzz off if that’s what you need.”
Ask for solutions that they have already tried
If they request solutions for managing stress, start by asking what they’ve already tried. They may have done it all already and you suggesting better sleep will again fall flat. If you have an idea that they haven’t tried, only then should you suggest it to them.
Lisa Hutchison, LMHC
When someone is stressed, they are feeling overwhelmed by their own thoughts or outside pressures. Stress is subjective, meaning what one person feels stressed about, another may not. Don’t assume a person is stressed, they may not be.
“What feels stressful to you and why?”
When it comes to stress, the less advice you give, the better. In fact ask questions such as, “What feels stressful to you and why?” Sometimes people need to vent and are not looking for our solutions to their problems. The act of talking it out relieves their stress.
“I understand why this is so difficult for you.”
There is great power in empathy. It allows others to feel safe and explore their feelings and thoughts. After you ask about their stress, listen empathetically to the answers you receive. You can rephrase what the other has said or put yourself in their shoes. “That is stressful.” Or “I understand why this is so difficult for you.”
Offer to help
After they have fully talked about their problem, you can ask them, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” Don’t be offended if a person says no. Some people like to work out their problems in their own minds.
“You are not alone in this stressful time, I am here for you.”
Offer words of encouragement. When a person is stressed, he or she may feel hopeless or pessimistic. Tell this person, “You are smart and capable. I know you will find the best solution.”
You can also reassure them, “You are not alone in this stressful time, I am here for you.” In addition, you can show empathy in nonverbal ways, for example, being attentive, leaning forward, and maintaining eye contact.
Sitting with someone, listening, and being supportive helps lessen stress. This reminds us we are not alone.
Janika Joyner, LCSW, CCTP
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Psychotherapist | Owner, Higher Elevation Psychosocial Services, LLC
Here are some things to say to a person who is stressed:
“You are not crazy”
Sometimes a person believes that their responses to stress are not “normal” and may feel that something is wrong with them.
Assuring a person that they are not crazy shows that you are not judging them and that you are willing to acknowledge ad validate their thoughts and feelings (even if you do not agree with them).
“I am here if you want to talk about it or not”
This response is not dismissive and shows the person that you care about and want to help. Whether or not they say yes and are open to talking is their choice. Having the option available will be appreciated.
Sometimes when a person verbalizes that they want to be left alone, they may not actually mean it. In my experiences with clients, they report wanting their negative thinking and feelings to leave/stop. Sitting quietly with a person may benefit some individuals.
“That sounds really hard”
This statement shows that you are attentive, empathetic and are genuine in your attempt to help the person experiencing stress.
“You are doing the best that you can”
I tell my clients that at any given moment we are all doing the best that we can and emphasize the importance of being patient with themselves and others during the process.
Oftentimes clients express being able to give others ‘the benefit of the doubt’ but not themselves.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Please ask this question if you are truly capable of following through. You do not want to offer empty promises. Sometimes a person just needs a shoulder to cry on and for someone to listen.
If all else fails just sit in silence with the person until he/she is ready to speak. If you are close with the person use humor if you feel it will distract them and it is done tastefully.
Charlene Walters, MBA, Ph.D.
Motivational Speaker, Own Your Other
Determine the source
When someone is stressed, it’s because they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. The best thing that you can do is to ask them questions and try to find out what is stressing them out- determine the source.
Remind them that setbacks are temporary
Then, try to get them to look on the bright side of the situation, and remind them that their setback or worry is only temporary. They have control over how they address it and move on from the stress. Sometimes they just want to be heard and supported.
Brainstorm about possible solutions to deal with the stress and relax
How can they turn the situation around? What’s their Plan B, C, D, or E? You can also suggest that they find a way to release the stress by participating in an activity they love, getting some sleep, going for a run or other fitness activity, or finding another distraction.
Releasing stress enables people to reframe the situation and move on in a healthy way.
We all experience stress, so we just need to help them find a way to identify the stressor, reduce its impact, reframe, and adjust in a positive direction.
Certified Stress Management Coach
While stress can be related to a number of mental and physical health issues, it’s not something that is bad for you in and of itself.
In the words of psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, the body’s stress response is simply your physiological reaction when “something you care about is at stake.” In other words, being stressed means you care, which is a good thing.
The problem is, many of us don’t know how to respond to stress. We can ignore it, power through it, or even obsessively worry about it (making us even more stressed) without taking any practical steps to understand or manage it.
Try to think differently about it
The first thing I tell people who are stressed to do is to try to think differently about it. This is a practice that you get better at over time, but you can start now by asking “What is within my control and what is not?”
There are so many circumstances outside of our control that we can release through prayer or other spiritual practices. This helps to free us from this tendency to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Give yourself permission to stop
Rest. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. There are many benefits to intentional self-care, including reducing excess stress hormones, improving your health, and being in a better emotional state to be able to respond to stressful circumstances.
If you’re helping someone who is stressed, you can tell them these things, but also just be there for them.
Listen without judgment. Give them space to process. Validate their feelings. A supportive relationship is one of the best remedies for excess stress.
Geny Zapata, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Family Care Specialists Medical Group
Being human means feeling and for this reason, most human beings will experience some level of stress and anxiety in their lifetime. The difference between stress and anxiety is that each is brought on by different things.
Stress is understood to be caused by things that occur in our environments/experiences that are external. Some examples of stressors are when we are dealing with high level of responsibilities, experience conflict or have arguments with a partner, spouse, friend, co-worker, and/or if we are dealing with a strict timeline to finish projects for work or school.
When one is stressed you will usually notice that if the thing that is causing you to be stressed is addressed and resolved, that your level of stress improves and you began to feel more at ease.
Strategies that have been found to assist in reducing stressors to improve quality of mental and physical functioning are:
- Making lists and checking off responsibilities.
- Draft out a plan for how you will address taking care of timelines.
- Give yourself mental breaks where you do something that is fun for you.
- Engage in activities that allow you to feel relaxed and more focused (exercise, meditation, talking with friends, have tea, go to a movie, sleep, nutrition).
Connecting with others that you trust may allow you to feel heard, understood, supported, and help you find solutions to address your stressors.
Anxiety is understood as an experience that is described by the American Psychological Association as having worried/intrusive thoughts, concern, physical changes (headaches, backaches, rapid heart rate, dizziness, high blood pressure), feelings of tension.
Anxiety is also understood to be a reaction that is internal. When anxiety is present individuals would notice that their symptoms/reactions are still there when the stressor, situation, or issue is not present.
When the severity of the anxiety symptoms increases it has the potential to interfere with how a person functions in life, at school, work, in their home. It can impact mood and behavior and can escalate to become an anxiety disorder.
Seek medical and professional help
When changes as such are noticed, it is advisable to seek support and help from a professional such as your medical doctor or a psychotherapist/licensed mental health professional.
Obtaining help from a professional will help to provide an understanding of the experience that you are having and provide you with options such as psychotherapy treatment or medication if needed to address the symptoms of anxiety that focus on enhancing your quality of life.
Psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy is a treatment approach that is used to help people improve their well-being by addressing symptoms related to mental health/illness that is causing impairment in their lives.
When anxiety is more severe and preventing a person from being able to function in different aspects or environments a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be needed.
Medication options that would best fit the needs of each person should be explored by your medical doctor and/or psychiatrist.
Being that as human beings we will have different life experiences that can lead to stress and/or anxiety it is important to understand the difference between stress and anxiety.
If one begins to notice that they have stress or have a lot of stressors in their life please begin to address them and practice to reduce them to prevent them from becoming an experience that leads or becomes anxiety.
If you notice that the symptoms have increased to a level that does not feel manageable, has caused a change in the way you feel, and/or behave please do not hesitate to contact your medical and/or mental health provider.
Dr. Zlatin Ivanov
Board-Certified Addiction Psychiatrist, Psychiatry NYC
Every person becomes stressed at some point in his life. We also know how annoying it may become hearing people tell you to “calm down” or “get over it”. It can be even more difficult to know exactly what will help a friend, and how to be a strong person for them to lean on.
Show your understanding and support for them
If you are in the presence of someone who is stressed, the best you could do is to show you’re understanding of the way they feel and that you’re supportive of them. But do it sincerely.
So, what do you say? It all depends.
There are no two people that process feelings and events in the same way. We all have had our own, unique journeys and we all are gifted with our unique way to experience love, happiness, tragedy, stress.
There are different things that can cause us to stress out in the first place. On top of that, we let other people on a different level of closeness to us. So, it all depends also on how close we are to the person we would like to help.
If it’s for my brother, a highly successful professional with his own opinion on everything and everybody, I would just call him, talk about everything but the problem he has, and after some time I will let him approach the subject himself and tell me what he thinks, what he feels – and just listen to him organize his thoughts and sort out his feelings, and make his own plan to deal with the situation.
If it’s my best friend, a very compassionate and kind-hearted person, I would just crack a joke first, one of those things that we have experienced together and is our own joke…. That will remind her of better times, and will also reassure her of my sincere friendship and best intentions. Then, I would tell her exactly what I think as harsh as that may be for her to hear the truth from my perspective. And then, I will support her in whatever she decides to do, even if it’s exactly the opposite of what I might’ve just said.
And if it is a person I work with…. I would find a task we can do together. I will be encouraging and will suggest that if they want to talk, I do offer my time and any means I could be supportive of them.
Be willing to listen
The only thing common in all scenarios is the willingness to listen, to be understanding and supportive of what the person wants or doesn’t want to discuss. Of course, sometimes, a person would need professional help – and as a real friend, I would do my best to make sure they seek it.
But always, absolutely always, knowing you have a real person in your life, someone who truly cares for you – this always makes the trouble seems more manageable and gives faith in your own capabilities to deal with it.
If I have to summarize in one sentence what do you tell someone who is stressed, it will be:
“In any way possible, let them feel you truly care for them and truly want to support them in this difficult time, that you are there for them”.
Do the opposite of what your fear is telling you to do
Stress is really a form of anxiety (usually a low grade, fairly constant anxiety in the background that builds up over time). And the secret to relieving any form of anxiety is to “do the opposite” of what the fear says to do. If someone is stressed, their fear is telling them to scurry about trying to fend off everything they imagine could go wrong.
Doing the opposite might take the form, then, of “freezing”, physically, and refusing to move until you’ve taken back control of what you will do in the next moment–no longer dictated to by the fear.
Of course, the fear will try to seduce you to rush back into the same old action, threatening you with all sorts of imaginary disasters if you don’t, but we want to stand still and resolute, refusing to move off our mark, like a warrior (the exercise is called “The Warrior’s Stance”).
After a couple of minutes, the anxiety and stress evaporate, and if you refuse to move until you no longer have to continue with your previous action, it will evaporate completely. At that point, we make a marvelous discovery: the fear wasn’t real!
At most there is a manageable problem to deal with; most of the time we find there was no real problem at all. As Michele de Montaigne said, “My life was filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened!”.
When we achieve this realization, we are free to choose our actions in the next moment, without fear, without stress…simply from the awareness of what serves our higher purposes best.
And usually, we will choose to continue doing exactly what we were doing before, only this time with freedom and a renewed sense of purpose!
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
“Do you want advice or someone to listen?”
Some people really just need a listening ear to vent their problems. Getting validation and a sounding board helps them to work through their own feelings and come to their own conclusions.
Other people may really be asking for help in figuring out how to solve a problem. If you give the wrong approach to the wrong person, you risk annoying them. The only way to know is to ask!
Don’t rush into fixing the problem
When in doubt, a simple, honest reply like “this is awful, I’m so sorry is a safe bet. You don’t have to rush in to fix a problem, you don’t need to try to explain it away. Just acknowledge that the person’s given situation does, indeed, suck.
What you shouldn’t say is anything starting with “at least…”. Trying to get someone to look on the bright side immediately minimizes their problem and comes off as insensitive.
Ask your friend to join you for specific activities to help get them out of their rut
Rather than suggesting that maybe yoga will help them relax, invite them to join you for your next Zoom yoga session.
Ask your friend if they’d like to virtually join a family game night, or join you for a socially distanced picnic. Many stressed-out people really appreciate having the burden taken off of them to organize something.
Jared M. Grant, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | President, Mental Shifts
Start by listening
If someone in your life is stressed out, I would encourage you to start by just listening. Most of the time, people feel better when they are able to share their feelings of stress along.
Assess if they can handle some suggestions
After they share, if you feel you may have some solutions, I would advise you to first ask if this person is in a place where they could handle hearing some suggestions. If they are not, it would be helpful to remind yourself that it is not personal. A simple response of, “Glad I could be here for you.”
Often, when a person is stressed there is SO much already going on in their minds. It is possible that they may not feel able to add any more in the mix.
I would also encourage you to send nice follow up, encouraging texts, or maybe funny memes just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
Lauren Lottino, MA, MFTC
Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, In Bloom Therapy
Here are some helpful ways you can respond when someone you care about is feeling stressed:
Respond with kindness and presence through body language
You may not fully understand why your loved one is feeling stressed though you can show them you are there for them in non-verbal ways.
Physically turning towards them and looking in their eyes reassures them you are present and ready to listen.
Respond with respectful curiosity
It can be challenging to support someone we care about when they are stressed out. When we respond from a place of not knowing we are able to take the pressure out of ‘fixing’ the problem for them.
You can show curiosity by saying things like, “You seem stressed, what’s on your mind?” or “I can tell you are feeling overwhelmed, do you want to talk? I’m here to listen.”
Be sure to validate their emotional experience
Even if you may not fully understand or directly relate, reassuring them that their emotions make sense can help them feel less alone and even help reduce the impact of the stressful experience.
Here’s a few examples of some language you can use to help validate others emotions:
- “Sounds like you are pretty worried about that, huh? I would feel the same way.”
- “I can tell you are feeling some pressure right now. I can tell how much you care about this.”
Remember the context of the global struggle we are experiencing right now
Feelings of stress, overwhelm, fear, and worry are prominent in our current circumstances. Having compassion for ourselves and each other is key, while also never underestimating the power of feeling connected and supported by our loved ones.
Jennifer Tomko, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Owner, Clarity Health Solutions
Compassion goes a long way
When speaking to someone who is stressed, express compassion. Do not attempt to tell them not to be stressed, this only makes them feel more alone. The empathy you offer may not eliminate the stressor but may help them feel empowered to manage the stress.
Suggest to help them with a list of the stressors
This can often create a sense of control and also helps organize thoughts. Then, prioritize the list based on the level of concern and how much control we have over that item.
This often reminds us that our minds are racing and it feels overwhelming, but we are really only stressed about a few things that may not even be our responsibility to fix.
Offer to help them with something
By taking a task off their to-do list, however minor a chore it may be, it could help them feel some relief. Before doing this, be sure that you are able to help without adding to your own stress. Self-care is first, then we can help others.
Tell them that you’re willing to listen
Let it be known that you are available to listen when they’d like to open up on their own terms and you can provide a shoulder to cry on. The person who is feeling stressed may take a while to confide in you, so be patient and do not push.
Trust their process. If you feel they need help from a professional or family member, offer to make phone calls for them.
See if some of the items on their stress List are actually things they are taking on that belong to other people
For example, clients often feel the stress of friends and family. Remind them to take an inventory of what they actually have control over.
If they do not have control over a situation, reality check this. Ask them to give themselves permission to put some of those stressful items back on the other person if appropriate.
Remind them of ways they can protect themselves
Many people are stressed about the political climate and COVID. Remind them of ways they can protect themselves and remind them to accept that they can only control themselves.
Remind them that they are not alone and that while we may not have control over the decisions of our government, we do have control over how we choose to handle it. We have control over what message we want to send to others about the events going on.
Remember to spread positivity and kindness, so that the stress isn’t replaced by anger.
Take a pause
The first thing I would convey to someone who is noticeably stressed or has expressed that they are stressed is to pause, breathe, and come back to you by centering your energy.
To center your energy, visualize a white ball of light at your core (stomach area/Solar Plexus chakra). Then, take a few deep breaths and bring awareness inward to the central essence, that place that is peaceful and serene no matter what the external circumstance.
When your energy is centered, you have the ability to affect the energy that is around you rather than allowing the energy around you to affect you.
Take a moment to identify your stressor
Is it someone or something you have control of? To put it simply, you typically only have control of your thoughts, words, actions, emotions, and how you wish to respond. Everything else is essentially beyond your control.
If the stressor or situation is beyond your control, which is often the case, then you do have the power to choose how you wish to respond to it.
Recognize your stressors
Stress tends to build over time, so you may be guided to delve a bit deeper by allowing yourself the opportunity to acknowledge those individuals and situations that are triggers for you.
In addition, spend some time in reflection and recognize those people, places, and things that push your buttons, so that you can clear those triggers from affecting you anymore.
When you notice a tightness in your jawline and realize that you may grind your teeth or clench your jaws, this can be an indication of holding in the frustrations.
It may also mean that there are words you are not expressing. It could also just mean that you are stressed, or perhaps, it is all of the above.
If you realize that you are not expressing yourself fully, you may be guided to at least say what you need to telepathically/energetically if you feel that you are unable to verbalize the words.
In those instances that you feel annoyed, bothered, or triggered, in that moment state aloud or in your mind, “This bothers me. This is affecting me. I feel annoyed. This is causing me stress.”
Express whatever wordage that would apply. In doing so, you are choosing to clear the energy at that moment rather than allowing it to build.
Melissa Wesner, LCPC, LCMHC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Owner, LifeSpring Counseling Services
When someone is telling us about their stress, anxiety, or pain, we sometimes feel pressured to alleviate it. Seeing someone we care about experience distress makes us uncomfortable, which is likely the reason we try to fix the situation…so they can feel better.
One important thing to remember is that it’s not our job to fix it, and our friend or family member is likely not telling us about their stress, so we can problem-solve for them.
Some responses that we can offer when someone is stressed are:
Simple acknowledgment that they have a lot on their plate
Validate their experience. Don’t make the conversation about you by starting to talk about your stress and how you have so much going on as well. This isn’t a competition, and the person you’re talking to likely needs you to hear them out.
Be curious and ask open-ended questions about the person’s situation
Open-ended questions promote dialogue. They show that you are interested in and are actively listening. Many times, we simply need someone to talk to.
Ask what you can do to help
Asking, “What can I do to help?” or “What can I do to be helpful to you at this time?”
Important note: Asking the question in this way forces the person to consider what they need. Asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” yields a yes or no answer only.
Additionally, many people just say, “no” as they have difficulty accepting help and/or knowing what exactly it is that they need.
Ask what they are doing to take care of themselves during this time
This serves as a reminder that it’s OK to take care of ourselves. During times of stress, our self-care goes on the back burner. This serves as an outside reminder that taking care of ourselves, especially during times of stress, is important (and not selfish).
Encourage the person to take care of themselves
When we’re busy and stressed, it’s not uncommon to tell ourselves that we don’t have time for self-care. Not listening to our bodies can cause bigger problems later. We prioritize the things that are most important to us.
Lauren Weinand, M.D.
Resident Physician, North Country HealthCare
Our undivided attention is more powerful than any word we could speak. Show the person who is stressed that you care by physically attending to them.
You can naturally embody these behaviors by channeling someone—a family member, friend, mentor, hero—who most made you feel heard and understood.
Your body will immediately begin to relax, opening up and leaning toward the person before you, and your eyes will hold a comfortable gaze with theirs.
Listen generously and nonjudgmentally
There’s nothing quite like being heard by someone who holds us in constant, positive regard. By listening generously and nonjudgmentally, we provide a sense of safety and comfort to the person who is opening up to us.
Encourage with nonverbal cues
It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Maintaining good eye contact (when the other person allows) is an intimate way to show you care.
A genuine smile paired with a knowing nod or head tilt can help reassure the person that everything will be alright.
Match your tone and gestures with theirs
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. There is no better way to show you understand than to let it show in your voice and actions.
Say their name
A person’s name is said to be the sweetest sound they can hear. So when you respond to them, say their name.
Summarize their sentiments and focus on the present
When we’re stressed, things feel messy and overwhelming. By summarizing the thoughts and feelings that the other person shared with us and focusing on what can be done in the here and now, we can help make things feel a bit more manageable.
Tell them that you care and encourage self-help or professional help, if need be
With the right kind of support from the right person, there is nothing we can’t do. It could be all the other person needed was for someone to show they cared.
Sometimes, all we need is a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on. Other times, we need to nurture ourselves with self-care and/or seek professional help.
Encourage the other person to feel it out, or, if you think the other person might be in crisis, stay with them until they are connected with appropriate professional help.
Master Practitioner of Hypnosis, Mind Free App
Encourage them to have some “me” time
“Me” time is so important. Without “me” time, we become like a pressure cooker with no release valve. During COVID-19 there is more pressure than usual. Everyday events continue to build up throughout the day increasing stress and leading to a feeling of overwhelm.
Encouraging people to take a few minutes throughout the day to meditate, breathe and be mindful greatly reduces stress, and suggesting simple, yet effective, techniques can be very helpful.
Using a mantra or affirmation while taking a few deep breaths can help reduce cortisol and adrenalin levels while releasing the body’s natural feel good chemicals. It only takes 60 seconds.
Five affirmations to help people reduce the feeling of overwhelm or stress:
Give it no energy
If a friend, family member or work colleague is feeling overwhelmed and stressed, tell them to “give it no energy”. When we think stressful negative thoughts repetitively, such as; “it’s all too much”, “I can’t do it”, “it’s too hard”, we unconsciously feel the specific feelings connected to the thought again and again.
By simply repeating, “give it no energy”, you are cutting off the energy supply to whatever is stressing you out or overwhelming you. It’s like flipping the switch on a PowerPoint.
The next thing is to redirect your attention onto something positive.
Make a list of the dozens of things you can do instead of feeding the stress and feelings of overwhelm. The key is your attention. Remember, where your mind goes your energy flows.
If negativity slips in, allow yourself to let it go
Try this exercise now. Pick up a pen or pencil and form a tight fist around the pen. Hold it tight for a moment. Now open your hand with the palm facing up. Let the pen roll around in your hand. Notice how the pen is not attached to you.
The pen could represent a person, negative thought, or nasty comment. These comments, thoughts or people, like the pen, are also not attached to you.
Take a moment as you imagine the problem more negative feeling shrinking in size. Then take a deep breath and as you do imagine that feeling is flowing up into your shoulder. As you exhale breathe that feeling down into your hand and make a fist.
Take another slow deep breath in and as you exhale open your hand as you blow away and throw away the stress. As you exhale you could also repeat either out loud or in your mind “let it go”.
Take a deep breath
During times of stress sometimes we forget to breathe or our breathing may be short and shallow. To activate your body’s own relaxation response, and counter stress at any time of day or night, you can simply take a deep breath in, hold it from the moment, and slowly exhale thinking the thought relax.
When taking slow deep breaths do your best to relax your chest and shoulders while allowing your abdomen to rise and fall with each and every breath. As you breathe let your body flop like a rag doll.
Consider feeling good for no reason
“I feel at peace I am at peace.”
Too often people choose to feel bad for no reason. Imagine feeling happy or peaceful for no reason at all. The fact is if you are thinking stressful thoughts you will feel stressed.
When you take a slow deep breath while thinking the thought “I feel at peace” and then as you exhale you think the thought “I am at peace”, you’ll be surprised at how calm you feel.
No worry, no hurry
Over-commitment is one sure-fire way to create more stress in your life. When we take on too many responsibilities and make promises that are hard to keep, we really put the pressure on ourselves. Frantic energy creates stress.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed the best thing you can do is slow down and refocus. It is so easy to neglect ourselves as we go through life doing everything for everyone else.
Between work, family, and friends there is often no time left for us. When you say you don’t have time for yourself you are actually saying that everything and everybody else is more important than you.
You deserve a little time for yourself and the tools to help you achieve a calmer life.
Related: What to Do When You Worry Too Much
Jeffrey M. Butch, MS, MSN, APRN
Certified Hypnotherapist | Founder, Mindhealth Clinical Hypnotherapy
As an experienced primary care clinician and hypnotherapist, I seepeople with general anxiety disorder (GAD) on a daily basis.
Anxiety and stress are interchangeable words, most people will think of stress as something from the outside world and anxiety as an internal feeling, but both have the same outcome in our minds and bodies.
It takes our focus away from the best part of our lives, causes this uneasy feeling and sometimes real physiological maladies.
There are many self-help techniques that work for stress, such as exercise, diet changes, more sleep, laughter, decreased alcohol use, and yoga to name a few.
These are all excellent techniques but often the stress itself keeps the person from being able to initiate these in the first place. Stress blocks the ability for you to rescue yourself. So outside help is needed.
I introduce my patients to three categories to find relief for their stress:
Talk to someone
This is the absolute best technique, the easiest to do, the cheapest and it works for almost everyone. It’s simple, just talk to a friendly listener who will not be judgmental, or give exact advice or tell you to just forget it.
We know this sort of talk therapy works – in the worst of situations a complete stranger (aka crisis counselor) can talk a stranger off a building ledge over a cell phone, or an AA sponsor can help someone from taking a drink.
With stress, it’s a relief valve for the sufferer to verbalize their problems to a kind ear. Just talking about their problems eases the stress levels and can help the person move on and maybe use other techniques if needed.
Hypnotherapy is a form of talking to someone as above but the therapist helps you use your subconscious to find relief from stress. It is more subtle than outright talk therapy but the relief can be more dramatic.
After a thorough interview, the hypnotherapist can give your subconscious suggestions to relieve your own precise sources of stress and anxiety. This will help you realize your triggers and build coping mechanisms for real mitigation.
This is the choice of last resort but the one most people look for first. Our society wants quick fixes with no consequences and thinks this is the answer every time.
Medications can absolutely be the first, the best, and the right choice for some people in some situations – the key being for a limited time. For example,anti-anxiety/stress medications for a short duration during a divorce, or a difficult medical process or the loss of a loved one.
The problem is the addiction factor, hopefully, your provider will not let a physical addiction occur, but a mental addiction.
The drugs do not let you build resilience and coping skills. The sources of stress are masked, not resolved, and you continue to want the meds long after the original problem is over.
Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, “Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food“
What’s more important than what you say is your ability to listen
Ask them to tell you about it and let them know you understand. Responding with “I hear you.”, “That must be hard” and “I can relate” if the latter is true, can be comforting.
Letting them know they’re not alone – universalizing – as we say in the field, is often encouraging. If you have faced a similar issue and successfully handled it, saying “I know everyone’s different but I found XYZ to be helpful.” may be an option.
Remind them of their strengths and that they’ve come through previous challenges successfully. Reaffirm that you have faith that they’ll succeed again.
Let them know that care about them and are there for them. Tell them they can call you if they need to chat again – and if it’s a close relationship, that they can do so at any time.
Many of us feel stressed right now. Just be the friend you’d like someone else to be for you.
Mental Trainer, Elite Mindset
Focus on a good recovery plan
Stress is actually good for us. It pushes us to fix whatever is wrong or solve a problem.
Like a muscle, unless it is stressed, it won’t grow. In fact, the opposite will happen. Too much rest will cause atrophy or the slow deterioration of the muscle. Conversely, when a muscle is stressed, it sets into motion the stress-recovery cycle or what’s known as the Oscillation Cycle.
Stress needs recovery. Recovery needs stress. They are both necessary for healthy stress management.
To seek to remove stress isn’t the answer, nor realistic. Many people are dealing with stressful jobs or situations. Unnecessary stress should work to be reduced. We often have more control than we think we do.
The question is, how much stress is too much, and how much inflow recovery is needed to replenish the stress outflow? Just like a muscle that is stressed, it depends on the volume, intensity, and duration of the stress.
A replenishment strategy that matches the stress level is the key to proper oscillation. Working a muscle with high intensity every day of the week without proportionate recovery doesn’t adequately repair or give the muscle time to grow. Proportionate oscillation is crucial.
Therefore, stress isn’t the villain. Our lack of proportionate recovery (replenishment) is. Our recovery from stress needs to be proportionate to the volume, duration, and intensity of our stress. Therefore, instead of working more in stressful times, we will need to wisely recovery more.
You might ask someone who feels stressed, “How often, how long, and how intense are you recovering (replenishing) from your stress?” That’s the key question.
Recovery is not entertaining ourselves for 3 hours of Netflix in the evening, but doing things that replenish us physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
It’s replenishing what’s been depleted. We all replenish and recharge differently. I suggest a good start is finding one thing in each area (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) that we find replenishes us.
Dr. Laura Ellick, Ph.D.
Author | Licensed Psychologist
Be supportive by being a good listener
One of the things we often see when a loved one is struggling is the spouse or partner’s desire to “fix” the problem in order to alleviate their own anxiety the situation. However, sometimes, the best way to be supportive is just to listen.
Assess what type of support the person needs
There’s a difference between emotional support and functional support and it’s so important to understand which one your loved one needs in a particular situation.
Sometimes, a partner just needs to vent and be heard (emotional support). There are other times, however, when a partner may feel overwhelmed and needs you to walk the dog, cook dinner, or just take the kids out for a bit (functional support).
Good communication is key to being able to provide your partner with what is helpful in any particular moment.
Clinical Psychotherapist | Executive Director, The Willow Center
As a therapist, I often coach clients on how they can more effectively communicate with the people they care about most. If someone in your life is stressed or overwhelmed, and you are struggling with how best to respond, I’d suggest getting curious about the situation.
Get curious about the situation
That’s what we do as therapists. We don’t get overly involved or have an emotional response, rather we get curious. Asking someone for more information about what’s distressing them is a smart place to start.
Rather than giving advice or suggesting solutions, asking questions will show the person that you are invested in them and their experience. It feels much less dismissive to say “Tell me more about that” than it does to tell someone what you think they should do to lower their stress level.
Talking about the situation, and the emotions that are underneath the stress will help someone process through it.
It helps to be a good listener and to approach the situation as one you want to learn more about, not one you want to fix with your suggestions.
Let your natural instinct for curiosity lead you to seek a better understanding of the stressors. People really do appreciate feeling validated and truly heard.
Never underestimate the power of listening
Millions of people face massive amounts of stress daily. Lately, our modern-day life is just a big ball of chaos and stress. Stress can suck the life and energy right out of us and if we allow it to, it can feel like it is eating us alive.
As a Life Coach and Pastoral Counselor, I have encountered many clients who live in a perpetual state of stress. Unlike other times, right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is just too much to handle and to cope with.
Many are living in survival mode and the stressors are endless. We are stressed about our health; family; spouse; elderly parents; job; or possible job loss, finances; death of a family member or friend because of COVID-19—the demands are beyond excessive.
Unfortunately, stress is very much a part of our everyday life and impacts us in many ways, emotionally, mentally, and physically—and if not handled properly, it can lead to more severe health issues. Stress has been called the “silent killer.” Additionally, it has been known to impact our sleep, create fatigue, burn out, anger, depression, and increase our blood pressure.
Stress is inevitable—it’s not good or bad—but it’s the way that we react to it. My job is to be a good listener and to recognize what the problem is.
I listen to my client’s worries, fears, and what the specific stressors are. Once I know the issue, I validate their feelings and help them visualize and talk about worst-case scenarios.
Dr. Kate Ayoub, PT, DPT MPH
Physical Therapist | Health Coach, Own Your Movement
Validate their feelings and experience
When somebody is stressed, their inner critic is often chastising themselves for struggling. We are often quick to offer advice or remind them why they shouldn’t be stressed. But by doing that, we are dismissing, rejecting, or judging their feelings.
Instead, try summarizing and repeating what they said back to them. Like this:
- “You are stressed because you lost your job and are unsure about how you will pay rent this month.”
- “You are anxious about leaving your house because you are afraid of getting sick.”
Then offer non-judgemental empathy through phrases like this:
- “It makes complete sense you are stressed right now.”
- “I’d be stressed if I were in your situation.”
- “It must be really hard to be under all this stress.”
Board-Certified Family Physician | Author | Speaker
I loveusing what I call the “BREATHE” checklist with patients, family, and friends.
It’s the most immediate, relaxing, thing you can do—and it doesn’t cost anything! To do this, sit quietly with your eyes closed. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out your mouth seven times.
Use days of the week, colors of the rainbow (ROY G BIV), or even the word breathe. Seven is the perfect number to clear your head and reset your intentions at the moment.
The question isn’t just if an individual is getting the recommended eight hours of sleep, but if he/she is getting quality sleep. We often fall asleep in front of our TVs, laptops which emit blue light.
Blue light decreases melatonin release, changing our bodies’ circadian rhythms (internal clocks). We wake up more fatigued, which leads to less capacity to handle stress.
Is your diet loaded with carbs and sugar? Have you skipped meals or eaten more due to stress? Let’s substitute healthy snacks with more whole grains and protein? Let’s also increase water intake.
Ask for help
Is there someone else who can help carry the load? Can the current task be delegated? In the words, of President Barack Obama, “asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”
Trust the process
I find myself in this position personally and professionally often. Many times, no matter what we do, or how we do it, we must have faith that things will work out for the best.
Hum or sing
Hum. Think of a song or tune that gives you comfort or simply one that makes you laugh. Music can be soothing for the soul.
Exercise and get moving
Whether it’s brisk walking, running, or simply dancing, exercise decreases stress hormones, like adrenaline, and releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. Think of it as a fair hormone exchange.
Relationship Expert | Trauma Expert
Our response to someone who is stressed depends on our relationship with them.
In some relationships, it may be appropriate to say, “what can I take off your plate?” In other relationships, it may be more helpful to say, “Would it help to talk about it with me? It’s OK if you’d rather not, but I’m here to listen if you want” and then say nothing at all.
Make time and space for them to express their stress without judgement
One of the most helpful gifts we can give others, especially during a peak time of stress for all of us, is to make space for another person to share anything and everything they need to express about their stress, without comparisons, judgment or advice.
Because I am a trauma therapist, people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that I believe the best way to help people through trauma is to share my trauma-related expertise with those I support.
Often, it’s less important for me to give those I serve insights, and more important to create a radically safe space where they can feel and express whatever helps them reconnect to the people and values that make life meaningful for them.
When we connect, we survive.
Beth Epley, Psy.D.
Counselor of Student Services, Kansas City University
To someone dealing with stress, I would say it’s important we remember that stress is not the enemy. We want and need some degree of stress in our lives to keep us stimulated and engaged.
The key is to manage our stress in a way that we can stay in, or regularly return to, that ‘sweet spot,’ of not too much or too little stress.
Consider our relationship to stress
Do we try to avoid situations and thoughts that cause us stress? Do we think it is a terrible thing to sometimes experience significant stress? If so, our tendency will be to ignore it or work at banishing it, which can take a lot of psychic energy.
What would happen if we try to relate differently to our stress? What if we befriend it? By that, I am suggesting we take a moment to notice our stress, name it, and honor it as a natural part of our human experience.
This may allow us to create a little distance from the stress, rather than completely fusing with it. Then, we can go about practicing our regular stress management strategies like exercising, deep breathing, yoga, etc., but with less frustration and more self-compassion.
Connection Expert, Rover| Executive Director, Institute for Human-Animal Connection, University of Denver
Get a dog
Lucky for me, as someone who studies the health-promoting benefits of animals, I am reminded every day how successful dogs are at being affiliative and getting along with their human and non-human roommates and family members.
The science emerging in the health-promoting impact of relationships with dogs has become a convincing reason to have a dog in our lives.
Dogs in particular have been shown to help with reducing stress, improving physical wellness, promoting calmness, and presence in our daily lives.
What kind of relationships do you want to have? The way I answer that question sometimes depends on my mood but most of the time, especially these days, revolves on constancy, reliability, equity, and being real.
Dogs teach us a lot about keeping our connections healthy, playful, and mutually beneficial. For 10’s of thousands of years, humans and dogs have co-evolved with each other.
When a known dog is present, and projecting non-verbal, nurturing signals, part of the human brain knows ‘the camp is safe.’ Dogs, with their superior sensory capabilities in hearing and smell, expanded the sensory alarm radius for their human families dramatically.
Deep in our brain, we know that if the dog is relaxed and playfully engaged, we are safe. It stands to reason then, the mere presence of a calm dog will calm us down.
One explanation for these profound transformations in interpersonal connection lies in understanding the neurobiology of security. For example, Oxytocin may be released in humans when in the presence of a safe relationship, including animal relationships.
Researchers have found the release of Oxytocin to be responsible for social affiliation and support, attachment security, capacity for trust, sharing emotions, reduction of the fear response, and management of stress and anxiety permitting positive social behaviors, making friends and coping.
We are also easier to like, to talk to, and to spend time with when in the gaze of a safe dog, with the outcome being the ability to form connection…..to be more affiliative.
I’m a psychotherapist and professional social worker by training and whenever I am trying to offer guidance to someone who might be experiencing stress and the mental health impacts from difficult circumstances, I always start with learning about that person’s social support systems.
Social support theory proposes that animals provide both direct and indirect support to humans.
In a direct way, animals act as sources of non-judgmental support and perceived unconditional positive regard. Indirectly, animals act as social lubricants or facilitators of interaction between humans.
Not only is a lack of social support one of the strongest predictors of developing numerous health concerns, but perceived social support also plays a critical role in the recovery from any number of physical and mental health-related challenges.
Social support is a key benefit of animal companionship. A positive relationship with an animal may provide a unique form of companionship, as well as beneficial social support that may be unavailable or unsolicited from human social interaction.
Increasingly, research suggests that connections to animals has a positive impact on human emotional health, providing overall emotional support, and correlates with reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress.
Some of our most reliable and trustworthy relationships are not always with people and that animals can teach us a lot about keeping a connection to each other, staying positive, and recognizing that “being together and feeling good” sometimes is good enough!
Productivity, Time Management and Leadership Coach
Acknowledge the stress and the feelings they are in right now
When people don’t feel heard, it can be very difficult for them to move into action to address the stress. So, when someone comes to you with a lot of stress, start with empathy. What’s stressing them out might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to them.
Take stock of what the root causes of the stress are
First, I ask them to think about either their stress right now, at the moment, or to think back over the past day or week to the moments in which they were most stressed. What was happening then? Where is the stress coming from now?
There are usually external stressors (like kids interrupting an important work meeting) that also relate to more deep-seated stressors (I’m afraid I won’t look professional, or that I’m not keeping up).
Once we’ve identified the stressors, then we can break it down to what’s within the person’s control and what’s outside of it.
Once we’ve defined what is not within control, I ask them if it’s possible to simply accept those circumstances and shift our attention to those things that they can control. We come up with strategies for taking action in the areas they can control to reduce their stress.
In the example described above, this might be a number of things: having a conversation with your kid and agreeing that you’ll create a sign that lets them know when it’s not ok to interrupt, or perhaps it’s having a conversation with coworkers to preemptively let them know that kids are home and you might expect an interruption.
When someone is stressed, they’re in the middle of a complex, usually pretty uncomfortable, chemical reaction in the body. And when this process is happening, it’s much more difficult for that person to access the logic and reasoning part of the brain.
So, don’t say “Everything’s going to be fine” because someone who’s stressed can’t really hear that.
Listen first, rather than solve the problem right away
At first, it’s most helpful to mirror back to someone what they’re feeling:
“Hey, I can see you’re stressed”. “I hear that you’re having a difficult time, sounds really challenging”.
These types of statements help someone feel understood and safe. A stress-response is ultimately someone’s nervous system communicating that they don’t feel totally safe either emotionally, mentally, or physically. So helping someone feel safe enough to access the reasoning part of their brain is crucial.
Once they calm down, then they’re more available to problem solve. Problem solving can start with this question: “What do you think the best way through this is?”.
Usually, someone will say they don’t know, and you can follow with: “If you did know, what would you say?”. This helps someone access their higher mental faculties, specifically imagination.
Imagination is the seat of everything we create in our lives, consciously, or unconsciously. We’re always thinking about the future, and the thoughts/feelings we entertain about the future determine what we end up creating.
This second question will help someone consciously access their imagination to find a solution they can get behind.
Founder and CEO, Lamourie Public Relations
In the public and media relations company I founded, I work very closely with personalities as varied as there are professions.
I always say half of my work is people management. This involves managing emotions, stress, and self-esteem issues of some performers, finding ways to calm angry people, and specifically finding different ways to say things so that your audience or any person you are speaking to can understand.
Whether in personal or my professional life, if you are speaking to someone who is stressed or distressed, remember that the way you say something can be just as important as what you say.
Your tone of voice matters
Tone matters, being present in the moment and showing that you are hearing them. Listening to what the stressed or distressed person has to say , processing and understanding it before you say something to them is job one.
Make them feel that they are heard
Everyone wants to be heard, and letting someone know that someone is listening to them, hearing them, and caring about them you begins to bring the stress to a more manageable place. You do not want to say “Oh, don’t worry about it.”
Remind them of their past achievements
You may want to remind them of all the challenges they’ve already dealth with, all the stressful days they’ve already got through to get to this point.
Recently, I heard a quote that I’ve been repeating since I heard it: “You didn’t come this far, to only come this far.”
I suggest you say, “Think of everything you have already beat, to get to this day. You may feel overwhelmed, but you know what? You got this. You will get through it, just like you have before. There will be a day when this moment is just a memory. You didn’t come this far to only come this far.”
Sometimes we just need to change what we are telling ourselves. You can help someone change their negative internal messaging.
Brittany Ferri, OTR/L, CPRP
Occupational Therapist | Founder, Simplicity of Health, LLC
Just as you shouldn’t tell someone who is anxious, depressed, or struggling with any other mental health concern “to just think positive” or “it’ll all be okay,” you shouldn’t be patronizing to someone who is stressed.
Ask how you can help
While each person has a very different tolerance for and reaction to stress, friends and family can help by asking what they can do. If you see that a loved one is stressed, ask them how they can help.
Sometimes, people reject offers for help but make sure your loved one knows you are there and willing to do whatever you can to ease their burden. It is also important not to assume they want help with certain things, like childcare or grocery shopping, because unwanted help can easily increase feelings of stress.
Never tell them not to worry
Don’t tell a loved one to “not worry so much,” since this is difficult for someone to do, especially if they are right in the middle of a very stressful time. People who are stressed also don’t want to hear what you do to calm down since different things work for different people.
If you really believe that you have an idea that may help them, save it for a time when they are calm, collected, and can listen to what you say to determine if it will work for them.
People who are under intense stress also do not want to be burdened by other problems, so try to avoid talking about yourself or things that may worsen their ability to think clearly.
Stress can come into your life like a passing cloud or a major storm. It can be as small as running late to pick up your kid from school or as crushing as suddenly losing your job or facing a serious illness. Luckily, there are ways you can manage stress without letting it overwhelm you.
Take a few deep breaths
Perhaps the easiest thing you can do, anywhere or anytime, is to stop and take a few deep breaths. This automatically cues the body’s relaxation response. Inhale deeply through your nose for three counts; hold your breath for two counts, then exhale for four counts. Continue, focusing on feeling how your chest rises and falls with each breath.
Next, try going for a walk
Ideally in a park or other natural environment—which helps reduce levels of stress hormones in the body.
Finally, write down what you’re grateful for, whether it’s a warm cup of coffee in the morning or the loving greeting you get from your dog when you come home. Journaling can help you maintain a positive attitude that can get you through any stressful situation.
Mindfulness Trainer | Author, “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind”
If you want to be supportive of a friend who is stressed, consider saying, “I understand”
When someone is stressed, the situation they’re experiencing may feel too much for them to bear. Showing them you understand can help them hold the weight of their feeling, so it doesn’t seem as overwhelming.
Here’s an example:
- Your friend: “I wish I knew when this pandemic would end! I’m so stressed not knowing what’s going to happen.”
- You: “I understand. It sounds like the uncertainty is a big stressor for you, as it is for so many people.”
Your friend will likely appreciate a response such as this. You’re not trying to talk them out of the way they feel or trying to fix things for them.
You can be a pillar of support simply by listening with compassion and showing your understanding.
Personal Development Coach | Speaker
It’s never an easy task figuring out what to say to someone who is stressed whether it be a family member, friend, coworker or even stranger. Often times, people who are stressed just want someone to vent with.
At first, they may not be looking for any advice, these people need support and your active listen skills. Your first instinct might be to offer a solution to their problem, but it may not be what they are looking for.
Everyone stresses over something at some point. After all, stress is a natural part of life we all have to deal with.
Understand what they are stressing over
If you are going to offer your support, it’s important to understand what they are specifically stressing over. Maybe, they feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, they may be stressed about a health issue or financial problems.
There could be a million different reasons as to why they are feeling this way. You can’t guess what it is if you want to really help them.
Let them know that t will pass but make sure you are validating their feelings
Stress usually accompanies feelings of sadness and anxiety, and it’s important to remind them that they are strong and what they are feeling is normal. Don’t ever tell them they have nothing to stress about. You would be disregarding what they feel if you say this.
Offer to help them
Coping with stress isn’t easy, but by offering your support, you can ensure that your loved one they are not alone through the process.
Lawyer | Founder, Inner Current Coaching
Two simple things you can recommend for people that are stressed at work are:
- Suggest they make some changes to the sequence of their daily tasks.
- Inform their boss about their workload and stress, so some of that work can be shifted to another member of their team.
There’s a lot of uncertainty now and so people are worried (which in and of itself affects work performance), but when people are at home all day, they don’t experience the same transitions that normally break up our days – including our commutes, lunch breaks, the gym, etc. – and which can interrupt unhealthy trains of thought and reset our moods.
Especially if you live alone and are working from home, there aren’t any external events to snap you out of the worrying thoughts that contribute to mental distress.
Other recommendations you can make to them include:
- Stick to a daily routine, including when you wake up and go to bed.
- Get dressed for the day (don’t stay in PJs.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Limit your news intake to once or twice a day (preferably don’t check until the afternoon).
- Set up recurring check-ins with close friends/family.
You can also help alleviate their worry and anxiety by suggesting they shift their attention from worrying about the future to what is happening today.
A great way they can do that, which also serves as a helpful marker and transition from work mode to home mode at the end of the day, is to suggest they do an end of day reflection.
There are lots of different questions they can ask themselves, but here are ones I’ve used and recommend:
- What went well for me today?
- What can I improve tomorrow?
- What’s the first thing I want to do tomorrow morning?
- What was my favorite part of today?
Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker | Cerebral Care Counselor, Cerebral
Never forget to care for yourself
If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, build a ton of flexibility into your daily schedule, along with copious amounts of self-compassion. Our mental health and wellbeing will thank us for it.
Sometimes our self-care routine will be put to the test. We might not have the energy to see everything through and sometimes drop the ball on one thing or another. Instead of getting upset at ourselves about it, we can practice self-compassion through positive reframing and letting go of perfection!
Sometimes, all we can do is recalibrate the way we think about, and prioritize, our self-care. For me, it was my schedule that was overwhelming.
Work, movement class, hiking with friends, going out for a meal with my husband on the weekend, and seeing my extended family as much as possible…These are great things! But I found that I didn’t always have the energy to see them all through and certainly not every week.
To reiterate my first point, if there’s one piece of advice I can give, from one life-long learner to another, it’s this: build a ton of flexibility, along with copious amounts of self-compassion, into your daily routine! Our mental health and wellbeing will thank us for it!
Life Coach, Living Wanderfull
“Do you want to talk at me about this without me giving my opinion or feedback?”
It is an offer of holding space for someone else. This expression is used commonly but understanding what it means and how to do it for another person is just as commonly misunderstood.
When we’re stressed we often are resistant to others trying to impose their will or how-to for the problem. When we offer them an opportunity just to express their fear, which is what stress is, openly and into a safe space.
What I’ve observed, is that when someone is provided a safe space to express themselves they also are able to navigate their stress independently without the input of another party. They talk themselves through it or, they find themselves wanting some input and will ask for help after.
We launched in Jan 2020, but then I became stressed with all the dramatic transitions and feelings due to COVID. I kept thinking – When will this crisis be over? How will this impact the economy and my business? What should I be doing during these times? How can I stay productive?
After reflection and reorganization, I’ve accepted the new normal, made time for self-care, and refocused my energy on those around me. Instead of giving up, I’ve found ways to stay productive and also support my loved ones, my co-founders, and our customers.
Below are a few things I’m dedicating my time to and would recommend to others who are stressed:
For Our Mind
Create a sense of structure to keep yourself productive and positive
Even though my business may be impacted right now, it’s been important for me to keep a daily work schedule that I’ve always maintained.
7 AM: Wake up and work out
8 AM: Get ready, have breakfast and listen to news podcasts
9 AM: Work time, check-in with my co-founders
12:00 PM: Lunch, take a 30-minute break to cook
1:00 PM: Work time, check-in with my co-founders
5:30 PM: Go on a run outside with my husband, no phones!
6:00 PM: Cook and have dinner with my husband – screen break!
7:00 PM: Self-care time
8:30 PM: Facetime friends or family
10:30 PM: Go to bed
Set boundaries on your work schedule
Initially in quarantine, I would catch myself working from 9 am to 8 pm and sometimes even interrupting my co-founders day-to-day.
It’s easy to work more while you’re at home, but it’s also taxing on your well-being and the others around you, so create boundaries. My daily scheduled routine has really helped me stay motivated and focused because of my time boxes.
Since we’re in lockdowns at home, it’s more important than ever that we make the time to practice social solidarity.
Check-in on your parents, FaceTime your brother or sister, or do an activity virtually with friends. My personal favorite app to stay connected has been HouseParty – it’s a conference call, but with games and perfect for happy hours!
Limit media consumption
Experts have been saying to avoid continuous exposure to news and social media that could trigger panic. As a result, I’ve been trying to time box myself as I review news from my favorite sources – including listening to podcasts (like NPR Up First and NYT’s The Daily) every morning.
I’m also trying my best to not open every article shared with me via text because the information overload and potential for misinformation are overwhelming.
For Our Body
Eat healthy foods
It’s easy to pop a frozen pizza in the oven every day while we’re at home. I don’t know if I’m the only person this happens to – but, since my Mom calls every day to ask me what I’m eating for dinner, the guilt of eating poorly has set in.
I’ve now been taking regular FaceTime cooking lessons with my Mom on how to make homemade Indian food. It’s a lot, but it makes her happy too!
Medical experts say that staying hydrated helps regulate your body temperature, produces more cognitive clarity, and stabilizes energy levels. My husband is awful at staying hydrated normally, but he’s become especially worse in quarantine because the couch has become his best friend.
To solve this, I’ve gamified our daily water intake, and I highly recommend everyone do this at home! I’ve put a tracker on the fridge that gets checked off every time he or I drink at least an 8 oz glass of water.
Whoever gets to get 8 checkmarks in a day wins. It makes for a fun and healthy activity while we’re WFH together.
Be physically active
As a result of the pandemic, fitness classes have moved their classes online for free. My personal favorite free class to do each morning is 30 minute Orange Theory via YouTube.
On the weekends, I love taking live-virtual 50 min Bollywood dance classes like Doonya or BollyX. It’s incredibly fun to do with friends or family while we’re all on Zoom, and it feels like we’re all actually together.
For Our Self
Learn something new
Why not use this time to take an online class or find a new hobby? Chrissy Tiegen has been my teacher and savior during these times. Not only do I love her as a person, but I learned that her recipes are so easy to follow. I’ve never liked cooking, but with this spare time, I’m learning to love it.
Shop and send care packages
With everyone at home, retailers are offering big sales, as they try to keep their businesses afloat. Visit and support your favorite stores online.
I’ve been buying gift cards to use later or making care packages for friends as a little pick me up.
Related: Best Thank You Gifts
Now is the time to put on a face-mask or to experiment with a new hair color with an at-home dye kit. Try out those makeup tutorial videos or skin treatments you’ve saved over the years. My personal favorite – bake your favorite dessert, light a candle and open a bottle of wine.
Read a book
Try setting aside some reading time during your day – before bed is my favorite time. If you’re looking for something new to read, check out Amazon’s Best Books of the Month, or get a copy of “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, since everyone’s been talking about the show on Hulu.
Write down what you’re grateful for
Focusing on the positives in your life can help bring things into perspective during these uncertain times. It could be your partner, parents, friends, or Facetime.
Related: 18 Things to Be Thankful for
When someone is stressed, they simply want to be heard.
Feeling sorry for someone doesn’t usually help and at times can make the situation worse, because when the victim goes into that mood, they want sympathy and want to be right about the upset, therefore they will give you justification to prove their upset.
Listen, do not agree, or disagree with what they are saying
Get their word, then ask questions. The key again is to not validate or invalidate what they are saying. More you listen, the sooner the upset will ease down.
Founder, Voice Body Connection
Here are five suggestions to effectively communicating with someone who is stressed:
- Do not judge or shame the person for their stress.
- Acknowledge their experience. You can say, “I hear you”, or mirror what they are saying: “I understand that you are feeling [blank]”.
- Keep them the center of attention (instead of yourself). You may be tempted to say something like, “Once when I was really overwhelmed at work, I got really stressed and couldn’t function either.” While it may feel like the right response to respond in a relational way that shows the other person you can empathize with their stress, it isn’t particularly helpful to someone whose nervous system is in fight or flight mode.
- Try to give them yes or no questions. You may be tempted to ask “What do you need?” However, a dysregulated nervous system has trouble processing much beyond simple binary questions. Asking questions, such as: “Would you like a hug?” “Do you need a jacket?” “Can I make you some soup?” are far less overwhelming to answer.
- Give them time. It takes someone’s nervous system several minutes to recover from the adrenaline of “fight or flight” mode, so give them the security they are craving with care, attention, and active listening to help them begin to calm down.
Dr. Enchanta Jenkins, MD, MHA
Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialist, Ellehcal OB/GYN, Inc.
Allow them to express themselves in words
Guide them away from stressful actions, and after they finish talking, share some helpful tips like:
“Please know you are not alone. There is a bright side and ending to this story. Are you aware that these resources (and give them some helpful phone numbers, organizations, websites, professional providers that can help the person) are available?”
Remember when someone is stressed, what they need most is understanding and someone who will listen to them without passing judgments. They need to not be left alone, to be given hope and real help through real solutions for whatever the problem or situation is.
Certified Mind-Body Wellness Coach, Amanda Webster Health
Offer practical support
The biggest piece of advice that I can offer when approaching someone who is stressed out or feeling anxious is to offer practical support.
It is so easy to simply say “I’m thinking of you” or to leave a “hope you feel better” comment on their social media. While these are certainly kind things to say, they might get crushed and lost under the weight of the stress.
If possible, it is always much better to offer something practical, no matter how small.
Perhaps they are having to do a lot of research and you can offer to look up some things. Maybe they have a lot going on and you can bring them lunch with no strings attached. If they’re having financial issues, help them brainstorm options.
Tamar Lucien Blue
Founder and CEO, Mental Happy
- First, recognize that all pain is temporary.
- Secondly, it is essential to note that the individual is in full control of what they are experiencing.
- Third, consider practicing gratitude daily, more explicitly, writing what she or he is grateful for each day. The daily practice of gratitude is a natural stress reliever.
Starting a gratitude practice is easy, but remaining consistent can be a challenge.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Write or type a gratitude list.
- Not a fan of writing? Then use the phone voice recorder.
Seeing what you are grateful for has a powerful influence on shifting your mood on the problem or stressor. The pain of life or work-related stress can be lowered or eliminated by changing our perspective on the situation.
Gratitude practice is an effective and low-cost way to self-heal from home because of the high cost of a private therapist and the shortage of mental health professionals. Practicing gratitude not only relieves stress, but it also helps create a more positive self-talk narrative internally.
There are several other actionable steps one can take to reduce a stressful situation, but starting with an optimistic mindset makes an individual more reception to solutions.
LaTosha Flowers, M.D.
Physician | Author | Entrepreneur | Owner, Med Concierge
The most important thing to say to someone who is stressed is, “I’m listening. Tell me more about what is stressing you out.”
Once you have a grasp on what his/her stressors are, sincerely say, “I understand. What do you think will help?”
If the person doesn’t know any viable solutions, then you say, “May I share a few options that come to mind?”
In this fashion, you always give respect to the person in front of you and you don’t disregard their level of intelligence. If possible, it is also important to touch their hand or give them a hug if that’s appropriate.
Human touch communicates more than words will ever do
As humans, we all want to feel heard, and that we matter to someone. Understanding this in all our conversations is vital to good communication.
As a family medicine physician, I must be able to relate to people of all ages ranging from the babies who can’t speak at all to the elderly person who has lived a lifetime of hardships and joys. So the most vital tool to use in any conversation to help someone is empathy.
Truly putting yourself in their shoes and attempting to see the situation from their perspective will let him/her know I can relate. And this effort can lead us to find the solutions needed for the situations that he/she are stressed about.
Also, by being a listening ear, it can be revealed most people know how to solve their problems but what they really need is the support to do what needs to be done.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can words really make a difference when someone is stressed?
Yes, words can make a big difference when someone is stressed. Stress can significantly impact a person’s mental and physical health. The feelings of anxiety and helplessness that come with stress can make it difficult for a person to cope with their situation.
The right words can offer comfort, reassurance, and support, which can help lower stress levels and improve well-being. By reassuring them that they aren’t alone and that you’re there for them, you can help reduce their stress levels.
What if the person doesn’t want to talk about their stress?
If the person you’re trying to support doesn’t want to talk about their stress, it’s important to respect their boundaries. Forcing someone to talk about their feelings can be counterproductive and make the person feel even more stressed or anxious.
Instead, here are other ways you can offer your support:
Let the person know you’re available to listen: You can let the person know that you’re there for them if they want to talk. This can be reassuring and comforting, even if the person doesn’t want to talk.
Offer practical help: Offer to run errands for them, help around the house, or take care of their pets. This can help alleviate some of the stressors in their life and show them that you care.
Send a thoughtful message: A simple message of encouragement or a thoughtful gesture can go a long way toward making someone feel cared for.
Spend time together: Doing things together that are fun or relaxing can also help lower stress levels and improve overall well-being.
Everyone handles stress differently, and it’s important to respect each person’s unique needs and limits. By offering your support in a way that feels comfortable and respectful, you can help someone feel cared for and supported during a difficult time.
Can humor be helpful when someone is stressed?
Yes, humor can be helpful when someone is stressed, but it’s important to use it sensitively and appropriately. When used correctly, humor can be a great way to relieve tension, connect with others, and help someone feel more comfortable.
Be sure to avoid making jokes at the expense of others or dismissing their feelings with humor. This can make the person feel devalued and unsupported.
Instead, try to lighten the mood with humor and create a sense of camaraderie. You can make a funny joke or tell a funny story to distract the person from their stress.
It’s also important to consider the person’s sense of humor and use humor that is appropriate for them. What one person finds funny may not be the same for another. If you’re unsure whether a joke will be well received, it’s better to be cautious and stick to a more direct form of support.
How do I recognize signs that someone is stressed?
Changes in mood or behavior: Watch for changes in a person’s usual behavior or mood. The person may seem more anxious, irritable, or withdrawn than usual.
Difficulty sleeping: Stress can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. A stressed person may complain of insomnia or have difficulty sleeping through the night.
Increased irritability or frustration: Stress can cause someone to be more easily irritable or frustrated than usual. They may seem short-tempered or easily irritable.
Trouble concentrating: Stress can also affect the ability to concentrate. They may seem easily distracted or have difficulty completing tasks.
Physical symptoms: stress can manifest itself in symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, or fatigue.
Changes in appetite: A stressed person may experience changes in appetite. They may eat more or less than usual or crave certain foods.
It’s important to remember that everyone experiences stress differently, so it’s vital to watch for changes in their behavior or habits.
If you notice these signs in a person, it’s essential to approach them with empathy and support. Let them know you’re there for them and encourage them to seek professional help if necessary.
Is it okay to share my own experiences with stress?
Yes, it’s okay to share your own experiences with stress, and it may even be helpful to someone who is going through a difficult time. Sharing your own experiences can help them feel less alone and better understood.
However, it’s crucial to have the conversation with sensitivity and mindfulness. When sharing your own experience, focus on the other person’s needs and feelings. Avoid making the conversation about yourself or turning it into a competition.
Instead, actively listen to the other person and validate their feelings. Acknowledge that their experience is unique and that you understand what they’re going through.
It’s also important to consider the context and timing of the conversation. If someone is in the midst of a crisis or feeling particularly overwhelmed, it may not be the best time to talk about your own experience.
In these situations, it’s best to focus on being there for the other person and supporting them in a way that is comfortable for them.
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