Stress is a word we hear a lot but no one really stops to think what it really means to them. That’s because everyone is too busy being stressed! Whether it’s having too much stuff going on at the same time, relationship issues, deadlines to meet … stress in your life can take on many forms.

However, stress isn’t all bad. It can keep us on our toes and more focused, but only if we do not let it get the better of us. It only becomes a problem when we feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety and cannot manage it.

Know When You're Too Stressed

When we're caught up in stressful situations, like "chiong-ing" (rushing) for deadlines, preparing for a big presentation, or helping our kids with their impossible maths homework, we may not even realise that we're stressed.

At times like these, it's good to take a step back to check your stress levels.

Chronic stress can lead to poor mental health and other physical health problems.

Listen to your body for signs of stress like tense muscles and a fast heartbeat. If you are experiencing stress, your heart rate will increase. And pay attention to your thoughts: are you worried, or thinking negatively? (Here are some examples of negative thoughts: "Oh no! Boss is going to kill me if I don't finish!", or "I can't do this, it's too hard!")

Relieving excessive stress helps you gain clarity of mind so you can better manage the stressful situation or solve your problem, instead of worrying about how much there is to do, or how difficult the task is — this only makes you more stressed!

Related: Signs of Stress: Could Stress Be Good for You?

How to Cope with Stress

But there are ways you can manage your stress and improve your mood:

​Get Enough Sleep

Sleep does more than just rest your body. Sleep has been proven to help your mind align its thoughts better. For adults, aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night. With enough sleep, you will be able to concentrate better and be more productive in the day, allowing you to cope more effectively with stressful situations.

Occasionally, try and sneak in a power nap during the day. You’ll feel refreshed after a 20-minute snooze. A short 20-minute nap can help you "reset" so you feel more energised and alert. Taking naps also improves thinking skills[1], which means you focus and process information better — napping might give you the inspiration to finish that report you were stuck on!

Get Moving

On the flip side, you can dump stress by getting your heart pumping. Exercise does wonders for our physical and mental health. When your body starts moving, it starts to fill your system with endorphins. This allows you to feel less tensed and more relaxed, and deal with your stress better. So grab your phone and plug in to your favourite songs and go for a brisk walk around your neighbourhood, hit a few tennis balls, or indulge in your favourite sport.

You can also manage stress better in the long run by making exercise a daily habit: aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

Related: Types of Physical Activities

Get Relaxed

Getting a slight headache from the stress? Feeling stiffness in your shoulders? Why not learn some stress reduction techniques? Controlled deep breathing exercises that help you focus on your breathing, mental relaxation exercises like guided imagery and meditation, and muscle relaxation techniques are helpful in relieving stress. Try these simple progressive muscle relaxation exercises to diffuse the muscle tension.

Get Groovin’

Maybe what you need is a musical break! Whether it’s something loud and heavy, or soft and quiet, what really matters is that it allows you to take a short break. And once you’ve got it all out of your system, you’re more than ready to go back to tackling your issues armed with a cheery and determined attitude.

Set up your own positive playlist or start groovin’ with your favourite tunes.

Get talking

Sometimes we just need to vent, and friends and family are always willing to listen to you. Plus, they might have gone through the same thing and have some great advice. Sharing your troubles with people you trust not only relieves stress — you’ll also gain a different point of view on how to tackle your problems. Your loved ones can also give you strength, support, and that extra emotional boost to help you manage your stress. It’s easier than you think to reach out and chat with someone who’s got a healthy and positive view on life. ​

More Stress Management Tips

Spread Out the Changes in Your Life

Life-changing events can also be sources of stress. Give yourself time to adjust from one change to another. For example, try to space out major events such as getting married, changing jobs, and moving houses as much as possible to give yourself some time to manage and adjust to different changes in your life.

Plan Your Time Well

Being more organised and planning in advance can help reduce stress. It gives you an overview of the things you need to do and helps you identify the tasks you need to complete to achieve them. At work, you could plan your day and a make a to-do list and at home, you could have a calendar to mark out family weekends and activities.

Be Realistic About What You Can Do

Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself so that you do not become frustrated or discouraged. Goal-setting is also a good way to get yourself started on organising and planning your time!

Related: 5 Good Eating Habits to Achieve Your Health Goals

Think Positive

Think positively, even during stressful situations. Viewing a stressful situation positively helps you see it in a different way. Instead of an obstacle, see the situation as an opportunity to challenge yourself!

Related: Stay Well to Stay Strong

Stress Relief Comes in Many Ways

Make Some Time for Yourself

Set aside some time for yourself regularly. It could be a few hours during the weekend or at night. Spend the time doing activities that you really enjoy, be it indoor pastimes like reading or watching a movie, or outdoor activities like cycling or hiking.

Spend Time with Your Family and Friends

Take the initiative to organise a family outing or a gathering with friends every once in a while. Spending time with people you enjoy being with helps take your mind away from stress. More importantly, having a good relationship with your family and friends also means that you have support in times of distress! Learn more about building relationships with your family and friends.

Related: Where to go in Singapore: Adventure Time!

Have a Healthy Diet

Maintain a balanced diet based on the guidelines provided by My Healthy Plate. Eating healthy will provide your body with adequate vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system, keeping you strong and healthy. A healthy and balanced diet will also ensure that you have sufficient nourishment to sustain your energy throughout the day!

Nuts are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce the mood stabiliser, serotonin. Research has shown that people who eat more tryptophan become more calm and pleasant.

The next time you're feeling kan cheong and frazzled, try munching on a handful of nuts and seeds to calm yourself down, whether its old school kacang puteh from the pasar malam, or a bag of sunflower seeds from the supermarket.

Other foods that are high in tryptophan include turkey, oats, beans, tofu, fish, and egg. Why not order sliced fish and tofu soup for lunch the next time you're feeling anxious?

Note: Eat in moderation (e.g. limit yourself to one small handful of nuts per day to avoid loading up on calories). Remember not to turn food into a coping mechanism — be aware of what and how much you're eating, instead of munching mindlessly.

Related: Makan Matters: What‘s a Balanced Diet?

Listen to the Call of Nature

Focus and find your inner peace by listening to relaxing music or nature sounds. Calming music and soothing sounds like crashing waves, chirping birds, and the pitter-patter of raindrops can help you to relax and focus better.

You'll find plenty of calming soundtracks online for free!

Be Thankful

Break out of negative, stressful thoughts and focus on the positives by taking five minutes to write down the things you're thankful for today.

These could be anything: your co-worker for buying bananas for the pantry, the bus driver for getting you to work on time, your Pa for his advice and (loving) nagging...

Make positive-thinking and thankfulness a daily habit by keeping a gratitude journal[2].

Visit MindSG for more tools to take care of your mental well-being.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.

Read these next:

  1. Yamakawa, K., Matsunaga, M., Isowa, T., Kimura, K., Kasugai, K., Yoneda, M., Kaneko, H., & Ohira, H. (2009). Transient responses of inflammatory cytokines in acute stress. Biological psychology, 82(1), 25–32.
  2. Engert, V., Smallwood, J., & Singer, T. (2014). Mind your thoughts: associations between self-generated thoughts and stress-induced and baseline levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase. Biological psychology, 103, 283–291.
  3. Angelidis A, Solis E, Lautenbach F, van der Does W, Putman P (2019) I’m going to fail! Acute cognitive performance anxiety increases threat-interference and impairs WM performance. PLOS ONE 14(2): e0210824.
  4. Lim, J., & Dinges, D. F. (2010). A meta-analysis of the impact of short-term sleep deprivation on cognitive variables. Psychological bulletin, 136(3), 375–389.
  5. Milner, C. E., & Cote, K. A. (2009). Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of sleep research, 18(2), 272–281.
  7. Sonnentag, S., and Fritz, C. (2015) Recovery from job stress: The stressor-detachment model as an integrative framework, J. Organiz. Behav., 36, S72– S103, doi: 10.1002/job.1924.
  8. Boren, J. P. (2014). The Relationships between Co-Rumination, Social Support, Stress, and Burnout among Working Adults. Management Communication Quarterly, 28(1), 3–25.
  9. Roster, Catherine & Ferrari, Joseph & Jurkat, Martin. (2016). The dark side of home: Assessing possession ‘clutter’ on subjective well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 46. 10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.03.003. 
  10. Weintraub, J., Cassell, D. and DePatie, T.P. (2021), Nudging flow through ‘SMART’ goal setting to decrease stress, increase engagement, and increase performance at work. J Occup Organ Psychol, 94: 230-258.
  11. Wong, Shyh Shin. (2012). Negative thinking versus positive thinking in a Singaporean student sample: Relationships with psychological well-being and psychological maladjustment. Learning and Individual Differences. 22. 76–82. 10.1016/j.lindif.2011.11.013. 
  12. Davison, G., Kehaya, C., & Wyn Jones, A. (2014). Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(3), 152–169.
  13. Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.
  14. Koelsch, S., Fuermetz, J., Sack, U., Bauer, K., Hohenadel, M., Wiegel, M., Kaisers, U. X., & Heinke, W. (2011). Effects of Music Listening on Cortisol Levels and Propofol Consumption during Spinal Anesthesia. Frontiers in psychology, 2, 58.