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.
There’s no doubt that stress can take a severe toll on your overall health, including your emotional and physical wellness. While it is part of life, constant stress is overwhelming and negatively impacts our health. Stress management techniques are the key to having a healthy response to stress triggers.
There are hundreds of stress management activities available, 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. In today’s article, we will share 20 of the best stress management techniques to keep your stress at bay.
When you face a stressor, it is often hard to manage your emotions and your physical response. 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 must reduce stress at the moment.
Stress management for distressing situation relies on short-term strategies. The key to successful quick stress relievers is that they are easy to do everywhere and do not require rehearsal to master. Additionally, you can perform them for free and experience immediate stress relief. Some of the best short-term stress relief techniques include:
Relaxation is the polar opposite of stress³. The key to short-term stress relief is to induce the relaxation response. Taking deep breaths in your belly promotes relaxation. For this stress relief technique, you should take in slow, long breaths and disengage your mind from distractions.
Stress increases muscle tension⁴. Without even realizing it, we may tighten our shoulders or clench our jaws when experiencing stress. 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 you intentionally release them. One study found that progressive muscle relaxation was an effective intervention for stress as part of a worksite health promotion program⁵.
Thinking too far into the past or too ahead to the future contributes to stress. A significant part of relaxation is mindfulness and attention to the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to bring your attention back to the present moment 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.
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, it produces endorphins that naturally kill pain and raise or our mood. While you may not have the time or resources for a gym session during a stressful event, even talking a walk offer the benefits of exercise.
The stress relief techniques we discussed in the last section are ones that 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:
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 examines 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.
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. Even speaking with our friends and family can help us navigate through stress. Additionally, physical touch has its benefits. Physical touch releases oxytocin, which reduces our blood pressure and helps us feel relaxed¹³.
There are many critical long-term changes that we can make to reduce our overall stress levels and boost our resilience in stressful situations. You must create a lifestyle that provides stress management and helps you reduce your overall stress.
Physical exercise serves as an immediate stress reliever, but it also helps manage stress in the long term. 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 focus on the ones you enjoy. Some of the hundreds of ideas for physical activity include:
Sports (soccer, baseball, football, basketball, etc.)
Laughter is a powerful stress management technique that will help improve your stress response and offer stress relief. Find the humor in your daily 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 that include stress relief and improved mood¹⁵.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is critical for your overall health but also your stress reactivity. In fact, “with a healthy eating plan in your lifestyle accompanied by a good stress management program, you can prolong your life span 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.
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 so that you can feel relieve stress and boost your overall wellbeing.
Sleep is one of the most important behaviors for your health as a whole, but also 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 the sleep more, and it 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 breathing, light exercise, and movement¹⁸. While yoga has clear, immediate benefits for stress relief, it also has long-lasting effects on stress relief.
Yoga helps teach you the tools you need to manage stress at the moment. Additionally, practicing yoga “has an effective role in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression¹⁹.” Sign up for a 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 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 and helpful for stress management. Still, 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.
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 there is some aspect of your life that adds to your stress in an unhealthy way, remove it. Some issues of anxiety cannot be removed. For example, if your children add to your stress, it is not reasonable to remove them from your life. Instead, you will need to dig deeper to figure out what is stressful and how you can work together to solve an issue.
Mental health professionals are not only for the treatment of mental illnesses. Overwhelming stress can limit your productivity and overall happiness. If you struggle to manage your stress, it may be time to seek help from a professional in stress management.
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 just 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 management techniques for you. Many of the best stress management activities also take some practice.
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 wellbeing.
(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