5 Strategies for Reducing Toxic Stress


Reducing toxic stress is essential to living a healthy life. It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad stress. You can learn more about the different types of stress in our other blog post What is Toxic Stress?


All people experience stress from time to time. Usually, stress is temporary and we are able to return to our normal states in our minds and bodies after the stressor has passed. Stress only becomes toxic is when it is lasting, severe, and begins to affect your ability to function, your mental health, and/or your physical health.


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Here are a few strategies you can try


1. Strengthen your support network and personal relationships

  1. A huge factor in healthily overcoming stress and developing resilience is having a network of support. People who care about you can buoy you up when you’ve experienced a tragedy or traumatic event. They can provide words of support, help you feel loved, included, like you belong, and that you’re not alone. When we feel stressed, it's a common response to want to withdraw and push people away, but isolation only worsens symptoms of toxic stress. Even if you don’t feel like it, reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, and support groups. Make intentional efforts to bring people into your lives and make plans with them.


2. Focus on daily, varied activities for improved mental health

  1. Just like you need to eat a variety of foods each day from many different categories to nourish your body and give it the energy you need to accomplish tasks, so too, should you provide your mind with a variety of activities and exercises to keep it healthy on a daily basis. We need time to focus, play, connect with others, learn, sleep, recharge and refuel, laugh, exercise, and let our minds wander. When we experience stress, we’re much more likely to fall into unhealthy habits or focus too much on one area of the list I just mentioned.

  2. We may binge watch a show on netflix, overeat or drink too much, spend too much money on some retail therapy, withdraw, or neglect our responsibilities and relationships. These habits that may initially provide some relief can worsen over time and lead to long-term mental, physical, and relationship problems.



3. Find healthy coping skills and practice relaxation techniques to destress

  1. Making relaxation a part of your normal routine is one of the most effective ways to address stress. A consistent, daily practice of relaxation will have a more significant impact on your stress than the occasional, long session of relaxation exercises. Some things you could try include:

  2. Mindfulness practices (there are so many great exercises on youtube! And so many fantastic apps now to help us)

  3. Do a guided meditation

  4. Begin a yoga practice or take Tai Chi classes

  5. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises

  6. Body scans and breath awareness exercises

  7. Visualization exercises

  8. Practice gratitude

  9. Immerse yourself in a creative outlet

  10. Call a support person

  11. Listen to relaxing music


4. Spend your energy and attention on the things you CAN control

  1. So many stressors that have chronic and lasting effects are often out of our hands. They are things we may not be able to control—such as a chronic illness or someone experiencing abuse and/or neglect. When an we focus on the things we cannot control, we will feel more stressed and overwhelmed. When it is possible to take action or control of your situation, you can and should certainly do so in safe ways to address root issues. While you are in a situation where you cannot control or change your stressors, try to focus on your response to the situation or stressor. Find time to relax. Invest time and energy into something healthy that makes you feel better or fills you with positive energy.


5. Set goals and make plans

  1. Focusing on the future may not intuitively feel like the way to address your toxic stress, but guess what? Tunnel vision and a lack of control over our stressors only set us up to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. When we take the baby steps and embrace the courage to look toward the future, even when we’re not sure we can see what lies in store for us, we can set goals and find an increased sense of purpose and direction. Goals and plans will help you to feel a greater sense of meaning and purpose, as well as optimism about your circumstances and that they’ll improve.


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Risk Factors & Protective Factors


You can learn more about toxic stress by taking inventory of your life and stressors, and learning about the risk factors that can lead to toxic stress.


Risk Factors

Emotional and physical neglect as a child

Physical, sexual or emotional trauma

Socially or economically disadvantaged

Few social supports

Separation or loss of a relationship

Unemployment or underemployment

Unhealthy lifestyle choices

Pessimism, self-blame, poor coping skills

Living in a high crime neighborhood

Poor or limited access to healthcare

Single parent household

Existing physical or mental health condition

Protective Factors




Resources and tools

A few more ideas

There are a TON of resources out there and there’s no way we can cover all of them, but here’s just a few more suggestions of things to try to address and mitigate stress in your life.


  • Meditate with Jellyfish - The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California gives virtual visitors a look inside their jellyfish tanks, and other exhibits, for a series of breathing exercises designed to send stress away.

  • Reduce your time spent online. If you feel overwhelmed by push notifications, use these iPhone and Android guides to turn them off. If you find yourself getting stressed while using particular apps, use these iPhone and Android guides to set limits on your usage.

  • Track your sleep with a fitness watch, tracker, or app.

  • Listen to a mindfulness podcast.The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has a weekly podcast covering a variety of topics related to mental health, including self-compassion, coping with anxiety and cultivating joy.

  • Remember to stretch your body. Take 90-second breaks at least every hour to stretch and move. Indiana University has a photographic guide to workstation exercises you can use anywhere.

  • Make sure to get in that physical exercise! Research shows that all kinds of exercise can help you manage stress.





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