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30 Ways to Relieve Your Stress
By Sarah Stevenson
Back in Paleolithic times, stress and its associated hormone release was an important survival tool. Things like adrenaline gave us the juice we needed to dodge a famished cheetah, while cortisol helped out should that cheetah decide to pursue us for a long, long time.
The problem is, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Prolonged exposure to stress and its merry band of hormones can lead to all kinds of problems, including inflammation, fatigue, and many modern ailments, such as fibromyalgia and IBS.
In our busy, always on, always online world, it’s like we’re all being chased by cheetahs every single day. So it’s time to take that cat by the whiskers and let stress know who’s boss. Here are 30 quick tips to help you release stress in a matter of moments:
- Smile. When you smile, feel-good chemicals are released into the bloodstream, taking the place of stressful chemicals.1 So smile and watch the world smile back at you.
- Take a deep breath. The act of deep breathing allows your mind to focus on the present moment and stop the worry train. Take a deep inhalation through your nose, allowing your lungs to fill up completely, and as you exhale through your nose, allow your lungs to empty entirely.
- Calm music. Relaxing music’s long, slow, spaced-out beats require less energy for the brain to process, and its predictive structure can be almost meditative.
- Call a friend. Research suggests that people who have close ties with friends and family are all around happier, healthier people. Hearing the comforting sound of a loved one can help make a stressful situation less so.2
- Visualize. Whether you take a few minutes to visualize a serene setting that you’d love to be in, or imagine what the life of your dreams looks like, visualization gives your mind a break from the stress you’re feeling.
- Scream. This is a quick, harmless way to relieve pressure that has built up. When you are all plugged up, sometimes all you need is to let your steam out. So be a little teapot short and stout; when you get all steamed up, give it a shout.
- Make to-do lists. Knowing what needs to be done can help you navigate what you need to do for the day, and it allows you to focus on the tasks at hand and not on remembering all of them. As you finish them, check them off. At the end of the day, you’ll see how much you have really accomplished. Making this list the night before can even lead to a less stressful morning.
- Focus on the positive. Some researchers believe that your thoughts can affect your physical body. Anxious, sad, and angry thoughts can make your entire body feel more stressed because they cause the brain to release the stress hormones, while pleasant, peaceful thoughts can make the body feel less stressed because they can cause the brain to release the pleasure hormones dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.
- Relax your muscles. Focus on one muscle at a time; tense it for a few seconds then relax it and notice that sensation of relaxing. Begin at the top of your body and work your way all the way down until your body is completely relaxed.
- Play a game. Getting together with a group of friends to play catch, engage in a board game, or jam out on Rock Band® will take your mind off what’s causing you stress, at least for a little while.
- Aromatherapy. Research has proven that lavender, chamomile, and sage all have stress relieving properties when taken in through the olfactory system. Burn a scented candle, use an oil diffuser, drink some tea, or bring those herbs into your space to lower your blood pressure.3
- Laugh. Laughing gets endorphins and dopamine coursing through the bloodstream. These feel-good chemicals will help you feel happy and relaxed.4
- Get a good night’s sleep. Staying up too late can cause one to wake tired and depleted, and even everyday tasks will take more time and energy. Having trouble getting a great night’s sleep? Click here to find out how to improve your sleep tonight.
- Imagine them in their undies. If people stress you out, why not try the age-old idea of imagining them in their underwear? How intimidating is a person walking around in their skivvies?
- Journal. Mental health professionals currently promote journaling as a proper behavioral technique to reducing stress. Get the anxiety and negative emotions going on inside your brain onto paper. That way it doesn’t weigh the mind down.5
- Have a cup of tea. Chamomile tea to be exact. Chamomile tea has calming agents that can relax the body both through breathing them in and drinking them.
- Take a hot bath. Soaking in a hot bath relaxes the muscles that tense up every time stress hits the body. Ease them by slipping into a warm tub for a half hour or more.
- Go for a walk. When it’s too much, step away from it and get some fresh air into your lungs. Even a short, five-minute walk can help give you a fresh perspective and relieve stress.
- Have a good cry. Being brave and keeping a tough exterior can create a pressure cooker effect. Seeing a sad movie, listening to a touching song, or just allowing emotions to flow when faced with something sad can help give your body the release it occasionally needs.
- Plan something fun for the future. When you’re under a lot of pressure, this can give you a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. Just don’t make planning this stressful too.
- Get sweaty. Exercise relieves stress. Research even says that if you have a hard workout right before bed, you’ll get longer, more restorative sleep.6
- Have a glass of wine. The ritual of a single glass of wine can help you relax and sink into the present moment a bit more. Less is more on this one.7
- Be affectionate. People who kiss, touch, and hug produce less stress hormone and more feel-good chemicals than those who do not. When we are touched, our pre-frontal lobe gets a signal that we have another “carrying the load.” Our body then gets the “OK” to relax.8,9
- Orgasm. This can be a solo or shared activity. Right before you orgasm, your entire body tenses up; when you reach the point of orgasm everything in your body relaxes, thus giving you a decrease in blood pressure and the euphoric feeling of completely letting go.10
- Tell a joke. Step away from the seriousness of the stress you’re under and share a joke with someone else. You’ll improve his or her day and you’ll get the satisfaction of bringing joy to someone else.
- Drink less caffeine. I know that’s just mean, right? But it’s true. If the body is all jacked up on caffeine, it has more energy but is also in a very reactive state, which can lead to mega stress.
- Create a mantra. Negative self-talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Create a positive mantra instead such as: “I live in a loving, peaceful world” or “It feels like a lot, but I can handle it. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”
- Have a dance party. Pump up the volume and break out any move that feels good. You might feel silly, but the combination of exercise and feel-good music will put you in a better frame of mind.
- Stretch. When you are faced with a stressful situation, your body tenses up immediately and quite often does not relax unless you consciously make an effort to relax it. Stretching is a great way to relax those tense muscles. Stretch several times a day. Your body will thank you.
- Play with your pet. Research suggests that people with animals live longer, happier lives. Dogs love to lavish you with bouncy attention and some cats are content to rest in your lap for hours. Either way, their unconditional love will ease your stress.11
- Scherer, K. R. (2003). Vocal communication of emotion: A review of research paradigms. Speech communication, 40(1), 227-256.
- Motomura N, Sakurai A, Yotsuya Y. Reduction of mental stress with lavender odorant. Percept Mot Skills. 2001 Dec;93(3):713-8.
- Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Rosenberg L, McCann J. The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, March-April 2003
- Richardson, K. M., & Rothstein, H. R. (2008). Effects of occupational stress management intervention programs: a meta-analysis. Journal of occupational health psychology, 13(1), 69.
- Eckardt, M. J., File, S. E., Gessa, G. L., Grant, K. A., Guerri, C., Hoffman, P. L., … & Tabakoff, B. (1998). Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on the Central Nervous System*. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 22(5), 998-1040.
- Carey, B. (2010). Evidence that little touches do mean so much. The New York Times.
- Harlow, H.F. The nature of love. American Psychologist, 1958, 13, 673-685.
- Brody, S. (2006). Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile–vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Biological Psychology, 71(2), 214-222.
- Siegel JM, Angulo FJ, Detels R, Wesch J, Mullen A. AIDS diagnosis and depression in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study: the ameliorating impact of pet ownership. AIDS Care. April 1999.