Finding support and identifying coping strategies are essential steps in combating the effects of stress.

Stress gets a bad rap, but anxiety in general doesn’t always have to be negative. In some cases, stress serves as motivation to get things done. It can help us act when were in dangerous situations, as our bodies are wired with a fight-or-flight response that gives us the ability to run faster and think more quickly in the face of an emergency.

Problems can occur when a situation is too stressful or the stress is chronic, wearing us down and bringing on negative effects. Think of cars going over a bridge. Over time, the bridge starts to show some cracks in it. Your body reacts the same way with repeated stress. If you’re tense, you’re more likely to have problems like muscle strains. You’ll also have a lowered immune system and be more susceptible to getting sick.

You might also notice that you’re increasingly irritable and more apt to snap at others. In addition, you may have trouble sleeping, which just results in more stress creating a cyclical pattern in which you’re less adept at dealing with things and increasingly unable to get a good nights sleep. Stress can also elevate your blood pressure, which in the long run could put you at greater risk for heart problems.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to mitigate the effects of stress. The most important step is to find support wherever you can. Maybe its meeting with a regular group of friends twice a month, finding a message board online where you can vent or chatting one-on-one with friends or family on the phone. There’s comfort in knowing other people understand you and your situation.

Don’t overlook something as simple as the laughter of a good friend. It’s quite beneficial.

A number of other techniques are useful to reduce stress. What works best for you depends on your talents and tastes. Here are some ideas:

  • Keep a journal
  • Go for a walk
  • Listen to music
  • Do yoga
  • Practice belly breathing
  • Get a massage
  • Paint
  • Knit
  • Dance
  • Complete a fun home improvement project

Find something that calms you and gets you in the right mindset to face the challenges in your life. It could be something you used to do that brought you joy. Oftentimes the things we drop when we get stressed are the things we need most in order to better take care of ourselves.

If managing your stress seems impossible or you’re feeling really burnt out or depressed, you might consider seeing a professional for more individualized methods of coping with the stress you’re experiencing.

Whatever you do, pay attention to how you’re feeling the goal is to keep stress at minimal levels so that its motivating, not debilitating.

Andrea Bonior, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who serves on the adjunct faculty of Georgetown University and maintains a private practice. Shes the author of the book The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends.