Stress. We all seem to know what it is, though the feeling isn’t always easy to define (apart from the old physics definition referring to elasticity), and the causes of stress and anxiety can vary from person to person.
What Is Stress?
The American Institute of Stress says that “stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you can’t define stress, how can you possibly measure it?” In other words, people define stress differently and subjectively; your stress level might have to be relatively high in order for you to feel that it affects your sense of well-being compared to the stress level that affects the sense of well-being other people you know.
The term “stress,” as it is currently used, was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Selye was also the guy who first noticed that stressed out lab animals developed stomach problems and ulcers, kidney stones, heart attacks, strokes and rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes Stress?
Causes of stress and anxiety, according to WebMD, can include your health and mental health, emotional problems, relationships and family, life changes, conflicts with your values or beliefs, your surroundings, your social situation and your job.
Amazon says that more than 24,000 books that they sell fall into the category of “stress management” (and that doesn’t include the thousands of coloring books to help people chill out).
Since it seems impossible to live a totally stress-free life, Fairygodboss has put together this list of 30 ways to relieve stress.
30 Ways to Relieve Stress
1. Disengage from the stressor(s) that are causing you anxiety.
This is first and foremost and seems like a “well, duh?!” kind of comment. Walk away from the screaming baby or boss. Ask the customer if you can check into the complaint and call them back. Choose not to respond to the text or e-mail right now.
2. Breathe deeply.
Deep breathing has long been considered a great stress reliever and the key to relaxation; in addition, it’s good for your mental health and brain in general. Weil recommends the 4-7-8 breathing exercise for its calming properties. The gist is to breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 counts, and to repeat this three times. Dr. Weil says, “This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
3. Scents (like lavender or grapefruit or anything you find pleasing).
For a low-maintenance stress relief exercise, burn a candle, keep a diffuser in your office (if it is not a scent-free environment) or use essential oils on your pulse points.
It doesn’t have to be a formal meditation or any particular kind. Say “Om” or “I'm okay” or whatever word brings you peace. Envision yourself elsewhere, like in your happy, calm place. Close your eyes and repeat. The Mayo Clinic says that the purpose of meditation is “to focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress.”
5. Light yoga.
While your office may not be the appropriate place to crawl onto all fours and do cat-cow, Yoga Journal does provide instruction on how to release tension from your neck and shoulders while you’re in the office.
6. Progressive relaxation.
The Mayo Clinic explains, “You start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.”
7. Listen to music.
A study by researchers in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland found that listening to relaxing music helps the nervous, endocrine and psychological stress response systems recover quicker after a high-stress incident.
The old adage says, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Watch, listen to or read something funny to get yourself going.
9. Drink tea.
A study at the University College London found that black tea (not just green or herbal) can soothe away stress.
Endorphins kick stress’ butt (according to Harvard and others). Exercise also might help you sleep better!
11. Guided visualization.
WedMD says that one way to relieve stress is to imagine ourselves somewhere peaceful helps our bodies feel like we are there.
12. Join a spiritual community.
It can do wonders for your stress relief. The Mayo Clinic says feeling connected to something bigger than yourself releases cortisol.
13. Chew gum.
This stimulates the vagus nerve in the brain which lowers the heart rate and makes us feel more relaxed.
14. Get a massage.
Let a professional knead the tension from your body.
15. Let it soak.
Take a bath or a longer hot shower before you go to sleep.
16. Have sex.
Endorphin release is a key way to relieve stress.
17. Hug it out.
Hugs cause the blood pressure to lower due to oxytocin release (aka the trust hormone).
18. Animal love.
Hang with or pet a furry friend.
19. Journal, vent, scribble.
Get it down, get it out and maybe even destroy it afterward. It may be the release you need.
20. Talk a walk.
A change of scenery helps, plus walking gets blood pumping and releases endorphins again. And if you can breathe fresh air, even better.
21. Kiss someone you love.
WedMD says, “A serious, tongue-tangling kiss triggers a whole spectrum of physiological processes that can boost your immunity.”
22. Spend time outside.
The Japanese have been practicing “forest bathing” because it can relieve stress by lowering the heart rate and blood pressure and making one feel good.
Find a place to which to escape on a printed or electronic page.
24. Plan for a long weekend or a vacation.
Having something to look forward to elevates our mood.
25. Find something escapist.
For example, go to an art exhibit, movie, concert, comedy show, sporting event, or role-playing game. Whatever it is that that you love, do it.
26. Pursue your favorite hobby.
Doing something you enjoy is a great way to take your mind off of whatever's burdening you.
If you live in an urban environment, you can even do it in planters and pots. It’s a surprisingly effective way to combat your stress and anxiety.
28. Rip things up.
The act of destruction can be a great stress reliever and make you feel more in control.
29. Use your support system.
Spend time with family or friends, especially those that make you laugh or feel supported.
30. Use an app like Calm or Sinasprite by LiteSprite for stress management.
In Sinasprite, users help an adorable fox become a Zen master. Sinasprite CEO Swatee Surve says, “LiteSprite’s game is a fun way to learn proven techniques and mindfulness strategies to manage stress, anxiety and depression.” (Military hospitals have proven its effectiveness.)
The next time you feel stressed out, remember the words of the writer Nathalie Goldberg: “Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.” Do one of the above activities to remind yourself that things can wait.
Former professor Jill L. Ferguson is an award-winning author of seven books, including co-author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work, and thousands of published articles. She is also an artist, business and higher education consultant, entrepreneur and founder of Women's Wellness Weekends.