When it comes to our 8 dimensions of wellness, stress is one of the biggest threats.
Stress is a normal physiological response to prepare our bodies for action, and acute stress is beneficial for us. However, chronic stress leads to physical symptoms, emotional problems, and a weakened immune system¹.
Undoubtedly, stress can severely affect your overall health, including your emotional and physical wellness. While it is part of life, constant stress is overwhelming and negatively impacts our health.
Incorporating effective stress relief techniques is key to improving your body's stress response to triggers.
Stress is a complex physiological and psychological reaction when facing challenging situations. Prolonged exposure to managing stressful situations can have detrimental effects on our mental health, contributing to feelings of anxiety, and depression, and even affecting our overall well-being.
Recognizing the signs of mental stress in ourselves and our loved ones is essential. Common symptoms include persistent worry, feeling overwhelmed, changes in sleep quality, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
Hundreds of activities are available to reduce stress, and it is essential to have a diverse arsenal of stress relievers at your disposal to choose the ones that work best for your situation.
This article will share 20 of the best strategies for managing stress to improve your mood and ease your mind.
Managing your emotions and physical response is often hard when you face a stressor.
When faced with a stressful situation, you may experience common stress symptoms like feelings of being overwhelmed, aches and pains, racing thoughts, and more². To focus and effectively handle the task at hand, you should have the ability to reduce stress in the moment.
Stress relief strategies for distressing situations often rely on short-term strategies. The key to successful stress management is to have techniques that are easy to do everywhere and do not require rehearsal to master. Additionally, you can perform them for free and experience an immediate relaxation response.
Relaxation is the polar opposite of stress³. The key to short-term stress relief is to induce a relaxation response. Taking slow deep breaths in your belly promotes relaxation. For this stress relief technique, you should take in long, slow breaths and disengage your mind from distractions.
Take just a few minutes each day to engage in deep breathing exercises. Deep breaths help you activate the relaxation response in the body, calm the nervous system, and decrease stress hormones.
You can enhance this practice by incorporating essential oils known for their relaxation properties, such as lavender or chamomile (see Aromatherapy #6).
Feeling overwhelmed increases muscle tension⁴. Without realizing it, we may tighten our shoulders or clench our jaws. Performing a body scan and implementing progressive muscle relaxation can help you find that essential state of relaxation.
To achieve progressive muscle relaxation, you focus on one group of muscles at a time and intentionally release them. One study found that progressive muscle relaxation was an effective intervention for stress as part of a worksite health promotion program⁵.
Incorporating relaxing and sensory experiences like the body scan can calm the mind and body. You can also experiment with soothing music, certain scents, or even a hand massage to promote relaxation and reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or focusing on the present moment, can help cultivate awareness and reduce stress. Research has found that “meditation appears to provide an accessible, self-care resource that has potential value for mental health, behavioral self-regulation, and integrative medical care.⁶”
The key is to find the type of meditation practice that works best for you. Start small by dedicating a few minutes each day to meditate and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable.
Take a quick escape in your mind to your “happy place.” Guided imagery is a stress relief technique that involves imagining soothing, peaceful scenes or experiences.
You can follow along with a guided imagery recording or take the journey by yourself. Either way, you just need a few moments to close your eyes and head to your peaceful place.
Embrace your mental getaway and imagine being in that place. Once you have calmed down, then return to the present moment.
While exercise should be part of your long-term stress management activities, it is also vital for immediate stress relief. Exercise impacts our brain and reduces stress hormones⁷. At the same time, exercise helps produce endorphins that naturally reduce pain, improve mood, and lower blood pressure.
While you may not have the time or resources for a gym session during a stressful event, even taking a mindful walk offers exercise benefits.
The stress relief techniques discussed in the last section are ones you can do anywhere.
However, if you are in the comfort of your own home, there are even more stress-relief activities that you can try.
Here are some ways to immediately relieve stress from the comfort of your home:
Just like some colors are more soothing than others, some scents may help us feel more relaxed. Many studies “suggested a significant role for olfactory stimulation in the alteration of cognition, mood, and social behavior⁸.”
Some relaxation scents to consider include:
Writing can help us handle stress. Journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts, clear your mind, and problem-solve⁹. Penning down your thoughts can provide an emotional escape that allows you to get in touch with your emotions.
Through journaling, you can purge negative thoughts. A 2011 study found that writing down thoughts and then physically throwing the paper away helped people clear their minds¹⁰.
Music plays an influential role in stress relief, and listening to music is an excellent stress management technique. A 2013 study examined the effects of music on the human stress response and found that listening to music impacted the psychobiological stress system¹¹.
Music is incredibly personal, so choose the tunes that help you relax or revitalize your mood.
Don't underestimate the power of social connections in managing stress. Reach out to a family member, friend, or therapist to talk about your feelings and experiences. Sharing your thoughts and concerns with trusted individuals can provide a sense of relief and perspective.
Spend time with your loved ones and ask for a hug if you need one. The research found that social support was an effective coping mechanism for students with academic stress¹². Additionally, physical touch has its benefits. Physical touch releases oxytocin, which reduces our blood pressure and helps us feel relaxed¹³.
We can make many critical long-term changes to reduce our overall stress levels and boost our resilience in stressful situations. Adding these stress relief strategies to your lifestyle can help you reduce stress.
Whether through exercise, stretching, or a brisk walk, it effectively reduces stress. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood enhancers, and helps alleviate muscle tension and promote better sleep.
Your entire stress-response system benefits from regular exercise¹⁴. It offers your body a self-regulatory mechanism when faced with acute stress. Both acute and routine physical activities are essential for stress reactivity, so it is crucial to facilitate an active lifestyle.
Luckily, there are many different types of exercise, so you should choose the ones you enjoy. Some of the hundreds of ideas for physical activity include:
Sports (soccer, baseball, football, basketball, etc.)
Laughter is a powerful technique that will help improve your stress response. Find the humor in your life, and focus on the light-hearted aspects of frustrating situations.
Learning to laugh at yourself and the world around you will help you manage stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter offers short-term and long-term benefits, including stress relief and improved mood¹⁵.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is critical for your overall health. In fact, “with a healthy eating plan in your lifestyle accompanied by a good stress management program, you can improve your longevity and reduce the likelihood of stress-related illnesses damaging your body¹⁶.”
Stress often pushes people toward refined carbs and foods that are high in fats and sugars but low in nutritional value. These food spike your blood sugar, leading to more stress. Unfortunately, stress and poor eating habits often create a dangerous cycle.
Avoid too much caffeine, as it can exacerbate restlessness, plus feelings of stress and anxiety. Instead, opt for a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Consuming a balanced, healthy diet full of the nutrients that you need helps regulate your mood and increase your resistance to stress.
Amidst our jam-packed schedules, we often fail to leave time for the things that we enjoy. Leisure activities and hobbies help us relieve stress and manage our mood¹⁷. Still, too many people do not leave time for the things that they enjoy.
Make leisure activities part of your schedule. Schedule a particular day or time for these activities to relieve stress and boost your overall well-being.
Sleep is one of the most important behaviors for your health as a whole, but also for your stress management. Without enough sleep, our bodies cannot function optimally. Unfortunately, most people are not getting enough sleep, even though we need rest to manage stress adequately.
When it comes to staying up late to cram or finish a work assignment, realize that you need more sleep, which will help you perform better the next day. Set up a bedtime routine that lets you relax and wind down so that you can get a full night of sleep.
Yoga combines several elements beneficial for stress relief, including deep breathing, light exercise, and movement¹⁸. While yoga has clear, immediate benefits for stress, it also has long-lasting effects on your stress response.
Yoga helps teach you the tools you need to handle stress at the moment. Additionally, practicing yoga “has an effective role in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression¹⁹.” Sign up for a trial class at your local gym or yoga studio, or start from the comfort of your own home using an online program.
Look for the good in others and yourself. Negative self-talk induces stress and makes it difficult to manage. When you see the worst in the people and events around you, you are more likely to expect the worst to move forward, and this expectation of doom can lead to unhealthy habits and constant stress.
On the other hand, positive thinking has powerful health benefits, including better coping skills that allow you to deal with stress, lower levels of distress, and better psychological well-being²⁰.
Changing your emotions and mindset is fundamental, but some other essential stress management techniques involve changing your environment. While there are aspects of our environment that we cannot control, there are many adjustments that we can make to reduce the stressors we face.
Spending time in nature also reduces stress and improves mental well-being. Take advantage of the healing power of the outdoors by engaging in activities like walking or simply finding a quiet place to relax and unwind. Nature's sights, sounds, and energy can have a calming effect on the mind and body.
It is really easy to feel stressed when you are trying to cram 200 activities into each day. If your to-do list is a mile long and consistently impossible for you to complete, you must trim it down. Some ways to help you better manage your time include²¹:
Say no. Stop taking on new projects when you don’t have the time. Remember, you need time for your hobbies—factor in leisure time when deciding which projects to take on.
Delegate. Figure out which tasks you can delegate and ask the appropriate source for help. The delegation includes the workplace and your home life.
Stay organized. Avoid disorder and confusion by keeping track of everything you need to do and staying on top of your daily activities.
Avoid procrastination. Set yourself up for success by creating habits that help you work more efficiently.
Pay attention to where your stress comes from. If some aspect of your everyday life adds to your own stress level in an unhealthy way, remove them.
Some issues of anxiety cannot be removed. For example, if your children add to your stress, removing them from your life is not reasonable. Instead, you will need to dig deeper to determine what is stressful and how to work together to solve an issue.
If stress becomes overwhelming and begins to significantly impact your daily life, don't hesitate to seek the assistance of a therapist or mental health professional. They can provide valuable guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.
Additionally, there are numerous resources available, such as helplines, support groups, and online communities, where you can find helpful information and connect with others going through similar experiences.
Unfortunately, we cannot control everything in life. Take steps to facilitate a healthy environment and manage your stress, but understand that some things are beyond your control.
It is easy to feel out of control and incredibly worried about things you cannot control, but this causes unnecessary stress. Accept the uncontrollable and focus on your responses.
The process of reducing stress is different for each person, and it may take some time to find the best stress reduction techniques for you. Many of these activities also take some practice, so be patient.
What is most important is that you continue trying stress management and stress relief tools to keep stress manageable for you. Managing stress is essential for your emotional well-being.
Incorporating stress reduction strategies can profoundly impact your mental health and overall well-being. By recognizing stress warning signs, implementing healthy lifestyle practices, and seeking support when needed, you can take steps toward managing and reducing stress to enhance your quality of life.
Everyone's experience with stress is unique, so finding what works best for you is essential. Experiment with different stress relief techniques, stay consistent with your chosen strategies and adapt them as needed. Prioritize your mental health and make self-care a priority in your journey to stress reduction and improved well-being.
(1) WebMD Medical Reference (October 2018) How Stress Affects Your Health
(2) WebMD Medical Reference (October 2018) Stress Symptoms
(3) Harvard Health Publishing. Stress Management: Enhance your well-being by reducing stress and building resilience
(4) Lundberg, U (October 2008) Muscle Tension
(5) Sundram, BM; Dahlui, M; Chinna, K (May 2016) Effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation therapy as a worksite health promotion program in the automobile assembly line
(6) Burke, A; Lam, CN; Stussman, B; Yang, H (June 2017) Prevalence and patterns of use of mantra, mindfulness and spiritual meditation among adults in the United States
(7) Harvard Health Publishing (February 2011) Exercising to relax
(8)Sowndhararajan, K; Kim, S (November 2016) Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response
(9) Tams, L (May 2013) Journaling to reduce stress
(10) Briñol, P; Gascó, M; Petty, RE; Horcajo, J (November 2012) Treating Thoughts as Material Objects Can Increase or Decrease Their Impact on Evaluation
(11) Thoma, MV; La Marca, R; Brönnimann, R; Finkel, L; Ehlert, U; Nater, UM (August 2013) The effect of music on the human stress response
(12) Baqutayan, S (2011) Stress and social support
(13) Uvnäs-Moberg, K; Handlin, L; Petersson, M (January 2015) Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation
(14) Wunsch, K; Wurst, R; von Dawans, B; Strahler, J; Kasten, N; Fuchs, R (August 2019) Habitual and acute exercise effects on salivary biomarkers in response to psychosocial stress
(15) Mayo Clinic (April 2019) Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke
(16) Ritchie, J. Combating Stress with a Balanced Nutritional Diet
(17) Qian, XL; Yarnal, CM; Almeida, DM (2014) Does leisure time moderate or mediate the effect of daily stress on positive affect? An examination using eight-day diary data
(18) Francis, AL; Beemer, RC (2019) How does yoga reduce stress? Embodied cognition and emotion highlight the influence of the musculoskeletal system
(19) Shohani, M; Badfar, G; Nasirkandy, MP; Kaikhavani, S; Rahmati, S; Modmeli, Y; Soleymani, A; Azami, M (February 2018) The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women
(20) Mayo Clinic (January 2020) Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress
(21) Healthwise (December 2019) Stress Management: Managing Your Time
Written by BioNeurix Editorial Team
Originally published 8/27/2020
Last updated 7/17/2023