Stress is a perfectly normal response to many of the things we experience every day. We need stress to survive. But how do we cope with unhealthy stress when it becomes overwhelming?

There are two types of stress that are dangerous, not only to your mental health, but your physical health as well.

And when these types of stress are unmanaged, they pose a serious threat to your physical and mental health.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can find ways to cope, to heal and to live out a healthy lifestyle, even in the midst of these stressful events.

Chronic Stress vs. Toxic Stress_ How to Cope with Unhealthy Stress

**Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this content is not intended to replace professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. I encourage you to always seek out the advice of a mental health or medical professional with any questions or concerns you have.

The Two Types of Unhealthy Stress

Chronic stress is the unhealthy manifestation of prolonged stress. It occurs when we sense we have no control over a situation and the stressor is not coped with in a healthy way or is ignored.

Toxic stress occurs in childhood and is the result of experiencing high amounts or prolonged amounts of adversity with inadequate resources or support from caregivers to cope with the stress. When toxic stress occurs repeatedly, it can have severe effects on the physical and mental development and the long-term well-being of that child.

Here is a great resource that discusses the effects and causes of toxic stress:

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime

Many of us have dealt with either one or both of these types of stress in our lives. And many of these things have gone unnoticed or uncared for.

Let’s talk about how to recognize if the stress has reached an unhealthy level in your life.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you experiencing physical symptoms that are or that may be related to stress? (i.e. headaches, nausea, stomachaches, fatigue, irritability/mood changes, insomnia)
  • Do you find yourself avoiding conversations or thought about the stressor?
  • Have you experienced trauma, tragedy or death of loved ones and never talked about it before?
  • Do you have an ACE score of 2, 3, 4 or more? Take the ACE score quiz here.

If any of these questions were answered with a yes or even a maybe, it might be time to consider if there is an unhealthy level of stress in your life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with the effects of chronic stress or toxic stress, here are some ways to help you cope with unhealthy stress.

How to Cope with Unhealthy Stress

Therapy or Counseling

One of the most helpful ways to begin dealing with unhealthy stress is to seek therapy. I recommend this highly!

I’ve been in both counseling and therapy and there is a major difference! Counseling is “talk therapy” where you talk about your day-to-day or current struggles and how to cope with these. Therapy, on the other hand, looks at patterns and parts of your past that have had a role in the current struggles and stress in your life.

Because of this, if you are walking through chronic stress due to a current stressor, counseling may be a good first step. You will be able to dig into how to cope with the current struggle in a more healthy way.

But if you are dealing with toxic stress, it may be more beneficial to look into therapy. In therapy, you can dig into the parts of your childhood that have led to the unhealthy patterns and coping mechanisms you may have now.

Either way, both therapy and counseling are monumentally helpful in dealing with unhealthy stress. And finding which is best for you will take time and experimenting.

I went to 5+ counselors for varying amounts of time before I finally found a therapist and realized that therapy was monumentally more beneficial for dealing with the parts of my past that had lead to toxic stress in my life.

It may take time to find a good fit, but it can literally change the course of your life and help you learn to cope with stress.

Social Support

Social support is a powerful protector against physical and mental illness. It may be tempting to isolate yourself during times of intense stress. But if you are struggling with toxic or chronic stress, I want to encourage you not to give up getting together with friends and family that can encourage you.

Self Care

Taking time to care for your everyday needs is important. Are you having trouble sleeping? Set up a nighttime routine to even out your sleep cycle. Are you getting enough water? Eating regularly? Be sure to take time to care for yourself. Don’t let these things slip no matter how busy or overwhelmed you are. They will really help you to cope with stress.

Eating Well

It’s important to get the nutrients you need and to have a healthy diet even when you are stressed. If you’re anything like me, healthy foods are one of the first things to go when I’m overwhelmed. I move to premade easy meals and junky snacks. But it’s important to make time to eat healthy. This will help your body and your mind to cope with the stress.


God is the only one who has brought me through some of the most traumatic and stressful times in my life. It was His strength that carried me through. It’s so easy to give up on God and give up on praying when stress piles on and life becomes overwhelming, but don’t give in. Stay disciplined in prayer and hang on. God will bring you through.


Taking time to journal through your experiences, your stress, your thoughts and your feelings are monumentally helpful in processing the stress and learning what you need in order to cope. I struggle to make time to journal. This is partly because I’m avoiding it and partly because I just don’t make time. One thing that has helped me is setting a timer for just ten or fifteen minutes and committing to that twice a week. It will help you work through your thoughts and it really is cathartic.


Exercise is a powerful way to help you cope with stress. In fact, exercise actually releases hormones in your brain and body that make you feel happier and more relaxed. Even if you can only get out for a short walk a few times a week, it will help you in major ways to cope with stressors in your life.

If you are struggling with unhealthy stress, it may be time to take a proactive approach towards it. Whether it is toxic stress from your childhood that has led to the unhealthy stress today or chronic stress that isn’t being well coped with, you can learn how to cope with unhealthy stress.

What has helped you to cope? Is there anything that you tend to avoid?


References and Resources:

Stress Tracker _ Real Living Made Simple _ Stress Management Tools