11 Tips for Relaxing To Manage Your Stress Levels

Try these simple tips for relaxing and managing your stress levels.

During stressful times, your body responds by quickening your heart rate and tensing your muscles, among other symptoms. A lot of stress comes from just being alive and surviving.

Stress can come at you from every angle at every second of your waking day if you let it. People can handle small doses of stress. In contrast, stress can cause health problems if left untreated. You may notice some of those problems daily or weekly, such as trouble sleeping, frequent headaches, and stomach problems. 

Then, there is the potential to develop severe, chronic health conditions such as depression and high blood pressure. In contrast, relaxing can help control stress levels and reduce the risk of those health conditions. Of course, relaxing is easier said than done.

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Benefits of Relaxing

Relaxing counteracts your body's stress response by slowing your breathing and calming your heart rate. As a result, relaxing has several benefits, such as:

  • Lowers blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and kidney failure
  • Manages anxiety: Relaxing alleviates symptoms like quickened heart rate, difficulty breathing, and tense muscles.
  • Reduces pain: Some evidence suggests relaxing relieves headaches and lower back pain. Relaxing can help manage chronic pain conditions like arthritis.
  • Supports cancer treatment: The Society for Integrative Oncology added relaxing to its breast cancer treatment guidelines in 2017. According to the guidelines, relaxing may help reduce depression symptoms and ease the side effects of chemotherapy, like nausea and vomiting.
  • Treats insomnia: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which a therapist advises relaxing techniques, may help with insomnia.
  • Helps manage health conditions: Relaxing might ease painful symptoms of certain illnesses, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), menopause, and temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

Set Aside Time To Relax

Commit to regular enjoyable activities with your partner or friends, like a monthly racquetball game or cooking class. 

"You're more likely to follow through on a commitment to someone else than to yourself," noted Schulte. "It leaves you no choice but to relax."

For example, set aside time for a bimonthly game night with your friends. That way, you have scheduled time to play board games, snack extensively, and laugh instead of ruminating on anxious thoughts.

Find Creative Hobbies

Doing something creative can help you become so immersed in what you're doing that all else, such as stress, recedes into the background. Try knitting or check out one of those ubiquitous adult coloring books. Research has found that coloring books can help alleviate anxiety.

Practice Yoga

Yoga, rooted in Indian philosophy, is an ancient practice that combines physical moves with breathing and meditation techniques. Many people find yoga an easy way to chill out. 

Research has found that yoga can reduce stress. For example, in a study published in 2021, researchers found that about 100 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) improved their symptoms after a three-month stint practicing a type of yoga called Kundalini.

Try the following tips to get started practicing yoga:

  • Try an in-person class.
  • Pick one or two (or more, depending on how much time you have) yoga poses you like and practice at home.
  • Follow along with a video that features gentle beginner movements.

Go for a Walk

Walking while engaging your senses can help get you in the moment and out of your head, said Morgenstern. While walking, take note of the following:

  • What you see, like buildings with interesting shapes
  • What you hear, such as the rustling of leaves
  • What you feel, like a breeze on your face

Discover New Places

You might have lost yourself for hours poking around outside as a child. As an adult, it's easy to get stuck in routines and miss out on how fascinating discovery can be. 

"Exploring is the opposite of making to-do lists, where you know exactly where things are headed," said Hall. For example, hit a fresh hiking trail or visit a new town.

Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation

When you're stressed, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to help prepare you to take on the challenge. Your muscles may tighten, leading to chronic pain if you're in this state for prolonged periods.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help relax those muscles. To try PMR, take note of the following steps:

  1. Make a tight fist with your hand. Then, hold it for a count of three seconds.
  2. While you exhale, think of the word "relax."
  3. Repeat the process for your forehead, eyes, jaw, shoulders, chest, abdomen, arms, and legs.

Refocus Your Thoughts

"When people assume that if they don't get to their to-dos, their world will fall apart, that needs to be questioned," Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Catastrophizing happens when you think a situation is worse than it is. Instead of stressing about organizing the coat closet or running errands, try being more present or mindful of the case. Mindfulness helps prevent spiraling down anxious thoughts.

Try some of the following steps to avoid catastrophizing: 

  • Recognizing your feelings
  • Asking yourself if the worst-case-scenario is so bad
  • Saying something kind to yourself

By talking yourself through it, you might realize the situation is less dire than you thought.

Use Your Commute Wisely

It can be tempting to use the time to catch up on emails and other things you have to do if you take public transportation home from work.

"If you walk in the door decompressed, it gives you a jump-start for the rest of the evening," Julie Morgenstern, author of "Time Management from the Inside Out," told Health.

According to Morgenstern, instead of doing more work on your commute, try relaxing activities, like:

  • Meditating
  • Calling a friend or loved one
  • Listening to music
  • Setting your intentions for how you want to relax at home, such as cooking with your partner

"Any activity that breaks you out of your normal train of thought should help," said Morgenstern.

Make a List

Even when free time falls into your lap, you may not know what to do with it. 

"We often get stuck during leisure time because we try to choose the exact perfect thing to do," Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab and author of "Overwhelmed," told Health.

One way to reduce stress is by doing things you want rather than things you must do. So, try not to squander those precious free moments when you have them. To avoid doing so, prepare by thinking about what mellows you out and creating a list of fun activities, said Schulte.

"If one thing on your list doesn't appeal, pick something else," added Schulte.

Organize Your Thoughts

Having your tasks scattered among your calendar, notepads, emails, sticky notes, and memory with no order or organization can induce stress. Some evidence suggests that people who want to achieve multiple goals at the same time feel time-constrained and stressed.

Instead, decide on a single, reliable system for organizing your to-dos, advised Morgenstern. That way, you will not constantly have a mental to-do list ramping up your anxiety.

Log Off Social Media

Regularly checking your social media accounts, texts, and emails increases stress levels. Research has found a link between reading about stressful events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, on social media and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms.

To help yourself know when to log off of social media, consider the following:

  • Focusing on how you feel while you are on social media
  • Using a mood-tracking app or writing in a journal to see what might be triggering your social-media-induced stress
  • Practicing noticing your feelings throughout the day by regularly asking yourself how you're doing

A Quick Review

Chronic stress raises the risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety, among other severe health conditions. Taking steps to manage your stress levels, including yoga, spending time with friends, or listening to calming music, can help you relax.

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16 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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