Everybody feels stressed sometimes. Life is full of work demands, overwhelming to-do lists, family issues and other stressful situations that can drain you and send your anxiety soaring. While a little stress can motivate you to complete those pesky tasks on your seemingly neverending to-do list, chronic stress can take a toll on your mental health, as well as impact your physical health.
Here are 15 stress-relieving activities that can ease the tension and help you relax.
15 ways to relieve stress
Exercise is an important tool in helping you manage and reduce stress. It reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins, which improve your mood and reduce pain. And running isn’t the only form of exercise that can give you a runner’s high; many other forms of exercise can release those feel-good chemicals as well. Even just taking a short walk can help you combat stress and anxiety.
Find an activity that you enjoy doing. If you don’t like running, try something else, like rock climbing, dancing, or a sport. You might consider joining an intramural league, which will not only give you more opportunities to exercise, but also allow you to meet and interact with other people.
Exercise has many other benefits in addition to offering stress relief. It can also improve your physical well-being and improve your sleep quality—another means of relieving stress.
2. Write it out.
Take a few minutes to write about what you’re feeling every day. Writing about your feelings of stress can help you figure out what might be causing your response, as well as help you let go of whatever is bothering you.
Writing down expressions of gratitude can also help you have positive thoughts, positively impacting your mood overall.
3. Take up a hobby.
Doing something you enjoy doing is a no brainer. Find a hobby that offers you a reprieve from your hectic life and the stressors around you. Perhaps it's reading. Maybe it's knitting. Or it could be cooking.
The point is, doing what you enjoy will take your mind off of the stress in your life. Plus, you'll also be spending your time on activities you actually appreciate, rather than worrying about what's not going well in your life. Even if your schedule is extremely hectic, you can always slot in an hour a week for your hobby. In fact, you should actually schedule it in — as in write it down — so you know you'll make time for it.
4. Spend time with friends and family.
Being around people with whom you enjoy spending time can give you a supportive network and increase your sense of belonging. There’s actually science to back this up; a study published by The New York Academy of Sciences found that spending time with friends and family may release oxytocin, a chemical that naturally relieves stress.
People with fewer social connections tend to suffer from depression and anxiety more frequently with those who have more, according to some studies.
5. Reduce your caffeine intake.
Caffeine is a stimulant. That means that in high doses, it can increase your anxiety. How much you can handle depends on the individual person and her sensitivity.
Cutting back on the coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate can help you reduce your stress and anxiety. You may love your coffee in the morning — quite possibly, you even depend on it — but in the long run, cutting back may improve your mood.
6. Don't procrastinate.
Your stress will only increase if you procrastinate. In fact, that may be where it started in the first place (though we're not saying that everyone who is stressed is a procrastinator).
If you have trouble staying on top of your tasks, try making to-do lists, using the SMART method to map out how you'll accomplish everything and setting long-term as well as incremental goals — breaking up your tasks will help them feel more manageable. (Check out these tips, too.) Ultimately, getting out of the procrastination mindset will help you feel better and less stressed overall.
7. Hug it out.
Who doesn't love a good hug? (Well, I suppose there are some people...) As it turns out, it can actually make you feel less stressed — and science backs this claim up.
Among other physiological changes, hugging reduces cortisol, increases oxytocin and lowers systolic blood pressure when you're stressed, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
So, the next time you're feeling overwhelmed, hug someone!
8. Eat the right foods.
To combat stress, eating right is key. Aim for foods packed with complex carbs, magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids, potassium and calcium (to name a few). Some good choices are:
• Fatty fish, such as salmon
• Whole-grain breads, pastas and crackers
• Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
Although it may be tempting to indulge in comfort foods and snacks like cookies, potato chips, soda and candy, it's best to avoid simple carbs, which are found in sugar and white flour, among other ingredients, and foods that are high in salt. They may give you an initial rush but will inversely affect your mood later on.
9. Meditate or engage in mindfulness.
Daily meditation can go a long way in reducing your anxiety, reducing negative thought patterns and obsessive thinking and altering the ways your brain responds to stress. You only need to meditate for a few minutes a day to feel the benefits. Many people, including Oprah Winfrey, start their day with a few minutes of meditation because it helps them begin the day on the right foot.
Findings from Johns Hopkins University suggest that mindfulness meditation may be an effective way to treat anxiety. That’s because it teaches them to let go of nagging thoughts and be more present. Mindfulness falls under the category of meditation but specifically focuses on gaining a heightened awareness. Mindfulness requires to sit in a comfortable position while focusing on your breathing.
If you’re having trouble getting started with meditation — or find that you can’t stop your mind from repeatedly wandering — consider using a guided meditation or practice in a group or class.
10. Try relaxation techniques.
Other relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and muscle tensing, can also help relieve stress.
Stress causes your sympathetic nervous system to engage and trigger a fight or flight response from your body, releasing stress hormones. This causes you to breathe more quickly and your heart to beat faster. When you engage in deep breathing exercises, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, causing you to relax physically.
There are many different forms of deep breathing, but essentially, you want to become more aware of your breath, slowing it. You’ll breathe deeply from your belly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Do this several times, until you feel your heart rate slowing down and you feel calmer overall. Many people engage in routine, daily deep-breathing exercises, not just when they feel stress or anxiety or are experiencing panic attacks.
Another relaxation technique is progressive muscle relaxation. In this technique, you systematically tense individual groups of muscles and then relax them. Practicing when you’re not feeling particularly anxious or stressed can help combat stress and improve your health and well-being in the long run. Like many other stress relievers, muscle relaxation techniques can also help you sleep better.
11. Try yoga.
Yoga not only helps reduce overall stress, but it also has a number of physical health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure and improving your fitness. Many people who practice it find that it relaxes them and diminishes their anxiety, too.
While this form of physical and psychological exercise is ultimately meant to help you relax, you may want to start by taking a class to help you learn the poses and understand the basic structure of it. You may find some of the movements difficult at first, but many people find it rewarding if they stick with it. Most achieve a peaceful feeling and go on to incorporate it in their day-to-day schedule.
12. Listen to music.
Soothing music, particularly slow-past instrumental music, can lower your blood pressure and heart rate and reduce stress hormones. This can help you wind down and become calmer.
While some music has been found to have more of a stress-reducing effect than other types, any kind of music you enjoy can have provide stress relief and have a positive impact on your mood.
13. Challenge or reframe negative thoughts.
How much validity is there to the worries and negative thoughts you have? Try to reframe your persistent, nagging, negative self-talk. Look for the positive, or think about what you can do to combat your stressful thoughts.
There are some common types of persistent, stress-inducing thoughts, including:
• Catastrophizing: always assuming the worst will happen in any situation
• All-or-nothing thinking: seeing all situations as good or bad and black and white, while refusing to acknowledge the nuances and areas of gray
• Focusing on the negative: assuming that everything that ever happens to you is bad refusing to acknowledge the positive in any situation
• Negative self-labeling: assuming you’re a failure and can’t change
If you recognize that you have some of these destructive thought patterns, you can start to identify them and try to challenge your own ways of thinking.
14. Repeat words.
This is a good one for people who obsess on certain events, fears or worries, as well as those who have trouble falling asleep. Repeating a word or phrase in your head over and over can help you focus on something else.
If you're religious or spiritual, it might be a prayer or something meaningful. But it can also be a nonsense syllable or phrase. The point is to distract you from the negative thoughts interfering with your life or ability to go to sleep and focus your energy on something else instead.
For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.
There’s some truth to the adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
Laughter allows more oxygen to enter your body and organs. It also relieves your stress and tension by relaxing your muscles. Over the long term, it can improve your mood.
If you’re feeling stressed, read a funny book or watch a comedy. Even telling jokes and laughing with your friends can help relieve your stress.
If you feel overwhelmed by chronic stress and are unable to find relief using these stress management techniques, you may want to consider seeking the help of a therapist. She can help you with new stress management ideas and help you navigate the stressful situations in your life.