How To Relieve Stress: 15 Ways You'll Want To Try

Methods so simple, you can do them right now.

Stress is a normal part of the human experience. It's actually programmed into us: an incredible hold-over from our primal days meant to keep us safe from danger. But now that we're no longer in direct harm from hunting for our next meal, stress is more likely to be triggered by non-life-threatening experiences, like issues at work or family annoyances.

While triggers of stress can sometimes seem trivial, the effects stress has on our bodies are not. Stress can leave us feeling uncomfortable, sick, or even in pain—and finding ways to manage it are crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Health spoke with several experts on how to relieve stress nearly instantly or over time using a variety of methods. Here are 15 things you can do right now to help you start feeling calmer.

Make a List of Things You're Grateful For

It can be difficult to show gratitude for anything when it feels like the world is falling down around you. But showing gratitude for the smallest things, like a warm cup of tea or a sunny day can lift your spirits and reduce anxiety, Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast, told Health. If possible, start a daily gratitude journal where you list what you're grateful for that day, turning the stress-relieving habit into a routine.

Get Some Rest

Neuroscientist Matthew P. Walker, PhD, author of Why We Sleep, has firmly believed in sleep as your "superpower." According to one of his sleep studies published in 2017 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, those who are sleep-deprived were more reactive to emotionally negative stimuli than those with a proper night's rest. If you're feeling more stressed than usual, assess your previous night's rest and try to hit the hay a little earlier or slip in a midday nap to refresh your brain.

Play With a Pet

A 2021 survey of adult pet owners with at least one pet, conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) revealed 87% of them experienced mental health improvements from owning a pet. Alongside providing a form of therapy, owning a pet can add a level of structure, routine, as well as additional exercise to your lifestyle, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. According to Sandra Barker, PhD, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, hanging out with a dog after a stressful event greatly reduces your cortisol levels and possibly buffers the impact of the event.

Try To Meditate

Meditation is easily one of the most science-backed and proven methods of relieving stress and anxiety. There are several types focusing on music, breathing, postures, and more: You can easily find a method that works for you to relieve stress. "Specifically the practice of mindful meditation has been shown to reduce stress," Dr. Saltz told Health. "There are numerous apps that can get you started. It's not hard to learn, but it takes practice."

Spend Some Time in Nature

Spending time in nature has a profound effect on our stress levels. According to research psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of The Joy of Movement, incorporating a little nature every day is beneficial to managing your stress levels. Getting to a park every day may not be easy, but even a short daily walk outside will suffice and help you clear your head.

Trigger a Pressure Point

There's a spot between the tendons—about two or three finger-widths above the center of your inner wrist—called the pericardium 6 (PC6) that is essentially like a stress-release button. According to Nada Milosavljevic, MD, medical director of BodyLogicMD, applying pressure to this point has been used to prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting and has a therapeutic effect on those dealing with chronic stress and anxiety.

Tense and Relax Your Muscles

One of Dr. Saltz's favorite de-stressing techniques actually involves tensing your muscles, holding them in that tense position for 5 to 10 seconds, and then releasing, creating an almost-instant feeling of relaxation. This is known as progressive muscle relaxation, and you can work different groups of muscles all over your body, per MedlinePlus. "This practice reduces stress through the mind-body connection—when we're feeling very stressed, we tense up our bodies," Dr. Saltz said. "And when we tense up our bodies, it reinforces the message to your mind to be stressed. It's a signal of physiological arousal. Doing what you can to relax your body helps relax your mind."

Clean Up Your Space

Check your desk: If the mess is adding to your stress, give it a quick clean. Cleaning up can help create a feeling of control when your environment feels chaotic, while your newly organized space can bring a new sense of clarity and calm. Chaotic environments create more stress, according to Susan Biali Haas, MD, wellness expert and author of Live a Life You Love. "When you engage your senses, like touch, it takes you out of your stressed-out mind and has a meditative effect," Dr. Haas said. Set a timer for 10 minutes and organize what you can for an instant space and mind refresh.

Get in Some Light Exercise

Dr. Saltz recommended doing any form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, three or four times a week, which is great for stress, anxiety, and improving your mood. Some examples of heart rate-boosting activities include a light jog, dance cardio, or sex. Dr. Saltz encouraged you to find an activity that you find the most fun and stick with it. If possible, squeeze it in before work, during your lunch break, or even make exercise a family activity after work by taking a walk.

Embrace Your Inner Child and Play

When was the last time you colored, played hide and seek, or watched cartoons? Dr. Saltz believed that embracing playtime as an adult—especially if you have your kids around to play with—can be amazing for decreasing stress. However, determining what that is is entirely up to you and your childhood. Don't be afraid to get silly and embrace whatever uniqueness comes to mind.

Get a Little Help From Your Friends

Social support is a huge component of a healthy life. According to a Journal of Affective Disorders Reports study published in April 2021, loneliness has been associated with a significant level of psychological stress. Therefore, if loneliness is adding to your stress, call a friend or family member to chat, Dr. Saltz recommended. "Social support is definitely a stress-reliever," Dr. Saltz told Health. "Talking with people that you feel connected to, trust, and can share your feelings with is important." This includes a therapist as well if your stress is feeling prolonged.

Set Work-Life Boundaries

Setting boundaries for how far you decide to stretch yourself can be great for managing your stress levels in the present, but especially in the future. "Setting boundaries and having discrete relaxation time or playtime is key," Dr. Saltz said.

Write in a Journal

Journaling is a great cognitive-behavioral method of releasing negative emotions and reducing stress and anxiety. "Journaling is another method of expressing your feelings, reviewing them, reprocessing them," Dr. Saltz told Health. However, Dr. Saltz understood that journaling isn't always a substitute for talking about your emotions with a trusted person in your life. The method works best in conjunction with social support.

Try Hatha Yoga

Yoga has been practiced for centuries for its physical and mental benefits, using muscle strengthening and breathing exercises to establish calm and reduce anxiety in those practicing it. A February 2018 study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that women who practiced hatha yoga three times a week for four weeks—or 12 sessions overall—reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, compared to those levels before starting their yoga practice. Hatha yoga is one of the most beginner-friendly forms of yoga, focusing on deep breathing and gentle movements to relax and calm the body.

Do Some Deep Breathing

Dr. Saltz is a fan of the sweet spot between meditation and full-blown physical exercise, which are deep-breathing exercises, and the psycho-physiological effects deep breathing has on relieving stress. Simply breathing in, holding, and releasing to counts of five can do wonders in slowing your heart rate and hitting a virtual reset button on whatever activity was causing you stress, Dr. Saltz said. The best part about this tactic is that it can be done pretty much anywhere.

If you're looking for other ways to decrease your level of stress, the American Heart Association and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) both offer stress management strategies you could potentially use as well.

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