The Top 5 Most Stressful Life Events and How to Handle Them

Man relaxing with headset

Everyone experiences stress, but many don’t know how to manage it. When major life stressors come up, it’s important to handle them properly to avoid getting hurt. The top five most stressful life events include:


  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss


It might feel like stress is an emotional issue – something that lives strictly inside your head. But stress can become a physical issue as well, especially when dealing with the most stressful things in life.


Your body instinctively responds to changes and perceived threats, says Francoise Adan, MD, ABIHM, Medical Director, UH Connor Integrative Health Network. Your body reacts by releasing stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol to switch you into fight-or-flight mode.


After experiencing stressful life events, Dr. Adan says stored-up stress can contribute to symptoms and issues related to:


  • Digestive health
  • Inflammation
  • Immune system
  • Bone density
  • Sexual health
  • Sleep
  • Anxiety


“Day-to-day stress takes its toll on everyone,” she says. “We’re constantly bombarded by threats and changes, but because we don’t usually literally fight or run, we stay reactive. We’re bathed and flooded in stress hormones.”

How to Manage the Most Stressful Events in Life

When stress strikes, you can take steps to reduce the impact on your body. To alleviate symptoms and manage even the top stressors in life, Dr. Adan recommends these three steps:


1. Take Action

  • Your body is primed to act, so go ahead and get physically moving.
  • “Contract your muscles, release and shake it out. You can march in place or wring a towel – 30 to 60 seconds will reboot your body and return you to physical stability,” Dr. Adan says.

2. Breathe

  • Hit the pause button and tune into yourself. Consider using guided imagery and mindfulness to engage in the moment. Being present will realign the body.
  • “Think: ‘I am here; it is what it is.’ It’s about acceptance, not control,” she says.

3. Feel Good

  • Take at least 30 seconds to just feel good. It’ll release the same endorphins you get when you exercise.
  • “Think about what you’re grateful for,” Dr. Adan says. “Tap or sing along to a song. I tell my clients to keep Play-Doh at their desks and take a minute to play.”


Research shows that using this type of framework for roughly five to 10 minutes a day will improve your health, longevity and productivity. While this is particularly important following stressful life events, it’s better to make it an everyday habit.


"Not one of us can’t spare five minutes a day,” Dr. Adan says. “It’s a choice for health.”


Check out University Hospitals for More Tips

University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network’s S.M.A.R.T.™ (Stress Management and Resilience Training) Program can provide additional tips and practices for managing even the most stressful life events. It’s an eight-week series led by experts on stress resilience.