As South Africans – and, certainly, throughout the globe – there is great urgency to proactively manage the root cause of countless illnesses: stress.

Stress has become an inherent part of our modern lives, affecting our physical and mental wellbeing. While stress comes in many forms, implementing effective stress management techniques is often easier said than done. At ER24, it is our honour to serve you; in this case, that means giving you accessible and effective solutions to help manage stress, find balance in your life, and take steps to reclaim your overall wellness.

Before we go into the finer details, remember that we are all individuals. Stress management is a continuous journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. Our advice is to keep taking small steps towards stress relief. Over time, your efforts are sure to make a noticeable difference.

How stress affects the mind, body and mood

Mental Impact

Reduced concentration and focus

Stress can impair our ability to concentrate, make decisions, and stay focused on even the simplest of tasks.

Memory challenges

Chronic stress has been linked to memory difficulties and cognitive decline.

Difficulty in problem-solving
A build-up of stress can make it challenging to think clearly and find effective solutions to problems, whether at work or in our personal lives.

Anxiety and worry

Stress often leads to increased anxiety levels, causing persistent worrying, restlessness, and a sense of unease.


Prolonged stress can contribute to the development or exacerbation of depression, characterised by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities.

Physical Impact

Weakened immune system
Stress hormones suppress the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Cardiovascular issues
Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Muscle tension and pain
Stress often manifests as muscle tension, leading to headaches, backaches, and other muscular discomfort.

Digestive problems

Stress can disrupt digestion and lead to issues such as stomach aches, indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea.

Sleep disturbances

Stress can interfere with sleep, causing insomnia or restless nights, which further impact overall physical health.

Emotional Impact

Mood swings
Stress can trigger frequent and intense mood swings, making individuals more prone to irritability, anger, frustration and emotional outbursts.

Increased sensitivity
Stress can heighten emotional sensitivity, causing individuals to react strongly to ‘minor’ stressors or triggers.

Decreased self-esteem
Persistent stress can erode self-confidence and self-esteem, leading to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness.

Social withdrawal
Stress may contribute to social isolation as individuals may withdraw from social activities and relationships.

Emotional exhaustion
Chronic stress can drain emotional energy, leading to a constant feeling of fatigue and overwhelmingness.

It is important to note that the impact of stress can vary from person to person, and individuals may experience different symptoms or intensities of these effects. Recognising the signs of stress and implementing effective stress management techniques are key to helping you avoid these impacts and promoting overall wellbeing.

Can stress cause a medical emergency?

The short answer is yes. It is important to note that stress alone may not directly cause these medical emergencies but can contribute to their development or exacerbation.

Managing and reducing stress levels through effective stress management techniques is essential for promoting overall health and minimising the risk of these emergencies.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a medical emergency, it is crucial to seek immediate medical assistance by calling ER24 or going to the nearest emergency department.

Stress, particularly chronic stress, can significantly increase the risk of:

  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Hypertensive crises
  • Panic attacks and other mental health-related crises
  • Asthma attacks
  • Digestive emergencies like peptic ulcers, serious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) flare-ups, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) exacerbations

Top stress management techniques to try

Just as stress has a way of creeping in (and building up) without us noticing, effective stress management strategies can be simple and subtle too, eventually culminating in significant improvements to our overall wellness.

We know that making lifestyle changes can be challenging. With this in mind, we have taken care to provide examples of different starting points for each of these techniques, depending on what feels most manageable and accessible for you right now.

A strong foundation

Give yourself a strong start. By simply having the three main pillars of wellness firmly in place, you are setting yourself up for stress management success. These are:

  1. Enough quality sleep
  2. A healthy, balanced diet
  3. Regular physical activity

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: Meet your 2l water goal each day and eat one extra serving of fruit or vegetables
  2. Intermediate: Complete three movement sessions every week – your favourite workout or a simple 15-minute walk should suffice
  3. Advanced: Tick all three wellness pillars seven days per week

Focus on the moment

We are bombarded with loads of stimulation each day – at home, at work, and even at school. Mindfulness has gained popularity in recent years for its ability to cultivate present-moment awareness and reduce stress levels.

By focusing on the present moment, we can gain clarity and create space amid the chaos. Practising mindfulness for just a few minutes each day can help you disconnect from the external world and reconnect with your inner self.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: When you are making a cup of coffee or tea at work, utilise those few minutes to practise mindfulness
  2. Intermediate: Complete three movement sessions every week – your favourite workout or a simple 15-minute walk should suffice
  3. Advanced: Tick all three wellness pillars seven days per week

Breathing exercises

Breathing is the most accessible tool for all living humans. It can be done discreetly wherever you may be (even in a meeting!). Deep breathing exercises provide an instant sense of calm and relaxation.

When we are stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid. Taking a few minutes to engage in deep breathing can activate the body's relaxation response and help us regain control over our stress levels.

A good technique to try is diaphragmatic breathing. It involves inhaling deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise, and exhaling slowly through your mouth, paying attention to the incremental release of tension.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: Five deep breaths before taking on any stressful task
  2. Intermediate: One minute of deep breathing before getting out of bed every morning
  3. Advanced: Dedicated time for focusing on deep breathing exercises morning and night

Physical activity

Engaging in regular physical activity is not only beneficial for our physical health but also plays a crucial role in managing stress. Exercise releases endorphins – the brain's feel-good chemicals – which promote a sense of wellbeing and reduce stress levels.

Find an activity that you enjoy – whether it be jogging, yoga, dancing or swimming – and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. When you enjoy what you are doing, you are more likely to stay consistent.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: One 15-minute walk or swim every week
  2. Intermediate: Two 30-minute sessions every week
  3. Advanced: Four to six 30-minute movement sessions every week

Remember what is important to you

Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of daily life is a common trigger for stress. Learning effective time management techniques and prioritising tasks can help reduce stress and increase productivity.

Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable steps and allocate specific time slots for each task. Avoid overcommitting yourself and learn to say no when necessary, focusing on what truly matters.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: Audit your daily tasks to determine what is inefficient or negligible
  2. Intermediate: Plot out your necessary daily tasks, breaking them up into manageable chunks to help give you a sense of accomplishment
  3. Advanced: Stick to the plan  

Digital detox

In our digital age, constant connectivity can contribute greatly to heightened stress levels. Although it is not always easy, taking regular breaks from technology can provide much-needed respite for our minds.

Establish designated periods of time each day or week to disconnect from screens and engage in activities that promote relaxation and creativity, such as reading a book, spending time in nature, or practising a hobby.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: One hour of zero screen time, three days per week
  2. Intermediate: No screens one hour before bed every night
  3. Advanced: An entire screen-free weekend at least once per month

Social support and connection

Nurturing positive relationships and seeking social support is vital for stress management. Reach out to friends, family  or support groups to share your concerns and experiences.

Simply talking about our stressors – or connecting in general  – with a trusted confidant can alleviate the burden and provide fresh perspectives. Cultivate a support network of people who uplift and inspire you, offering a sense of belonging and comfort during challenging times.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: Send a text message to a trusted friend or family member
  2. Intermediate: Call a trusted friend or family member to chat about life
  3. Advanced: Arrange a 1-hour meetup to connect and de-stress

Self-care rituals

We have heard all about it during the COVID-19 pandemic – engaging in regular self-care rituals is a great way to reducing stress and promoting overall wellbeing.

Dedicate time each day to engage in activities that bring you joy, whether it be taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music or enjoying a hobby. Self-care rituals not only provide an opportunity for relaxation but also serve as a reminder to prioritise your own needs and recharge.

Below is an example of how this could look for you:

  1. Beginner: Reading one chapter of a book before bed
  2. Intermediate: Getting in your weekly walk while listening to an uplifting podcast
  3. Advanced: A monthly spa visit!

We would love to hear from you

Which of these stress management techniques is most appealing to you?

Have you tried any of these techniques? How did they work for you?

Share your thoughts