Walking into an average office, it’s easy to pinpoint at least a handful of people who are visibly overworked and overstressed. It’s simple to understand when so many are juggling a hectic job, family life, bills, and the unhealthy lifestyle that can come when these aren’t well-balanced.
Up to a certain point, stress is something that challenges us and helps us grow. Unfortunately, stress builds over time, sometimes to the point where it becomes unhealthy and makes us chronically unhappy. Too much stress leaves no room for your body and mind to rejuvenate, leading to wear and tear. It’s a major problem which affects many people – the the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that stress accounts for 75% of all doctor visits. Before getting to this point, or somewhere even more harmful, steps need to be taken in order to relieve the pressure and give you a mental, emotional, and physical break.
Here at Spire, we’ve put together this list of effective and accessible stress relievers to turn to whenever you’re in need of a release.
- Exercise: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to combat stress and comes with many benefits beyond stress relief. Regular exercise helps you lose weight and maintain overall bone and heart health, and has been shown to combat anxiety and stress. According to Arizona State University researchers, 21 minutes of exercise will help most people achieve a standard stress-reduction goal. Plain old regular exercise is the first thing you should try when you are trying to figure out how to relieve stress – it offers most of the benefits for reducing anxiety as drug therapy or psychotherapy without any side effects or costs. Next time you are feeling stressed, go for a brisk 20-minute walk, a hike, a bike ride, or a jog. You’ll feel better right away, and to maintain these feelings, create a consistent exercise routine.
- Meditation: Meditation is an excellent way to unplug, take a break, and relieve some serious built-up stress. It’s all about taking a break from everything: notifications, screens, talking, even your own thoughts. Oftentimes, stress stems from over-worrying. That one nagging worry that repeats itself over and over in your brain, which while not helping you solve the issue causes anxiety. Meditation is one possible cure to this condition. For the 5, 20, 60, or more minutes that you do it, meditation helps put a healthy distance between you and all of the problems swirling inside your head. Although it seems simple, meditation works. Mounting evidence shows that meditation is an effective tool against anxiety, stress, and panic disorder.
- Massage: Stress is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension. Massage is the perfect antidote to these physical symptoms, and so it makes sense that it would be a great stress reliever. Massage is one of the oldest forms of therapy, and it has surged in popularity as part of the complementary and alternative medical therapy movement. The American Massage Therapy Association estimates that between 19-25% of Americans received a massage between 2015-2016. A meta-analysis of massage research conducted in 2004 found that single massage therapy sessions reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate. It also found that a course of treatments provided benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy. One study looked at the effects of a short, 15-minute massage session at the workplace while employees were still seated and found that it was effective in significantly reducing blood pressure. The bottom line is that massage is an effective stress reliever, and it doesn’t have too take that much time or money, either. You can even consider having a friend or loved one give you a massage if you don’t want to shell out any cash to see a therapist.
- Spend time with a friend: A big part of feeling stressed is lacking perspective on your problems or feeling that you don’t have any support in the issues that you are facing. Spending time with someone you like and trust and talking through your issues can work wonders in calming your anxiety. Reaching out to a friend will at the very least help get a few thoughts and worries off your mind. In some situations, your friend may offer a solution to your issue or may know someone who can help. Studies looking at the effects of a companion on the physiological symptoms of stress found that the presence of a friendly person or animal reduced anxiety when stress activities were conducted.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense muscles are both a symptom and source of stress. Feeling that your back is tight, your chest compressed or that you can’t stop frowning triggers and reinforces psychological stress. Progressive muscle relaxation techniques were developed in the 1920s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in order to counteract muscle tension and stress. It’s a simple exercise which involves consciously and progressively tensing up each part of your body – from your chest to your feet. Then, after contracting for ten seconds, you let go and enjoy the feeling of release. This method is a powerful way to loosen up the stress built up in your muscles and mind. You can read a detailed description on how to perform Progressive muscle relaxation in Spire’s blog post about it here.
- Sex: Nothing like a good romp in bed to elevate the mood. This stress reliever is easy, free and fun. Find a willing partner, play your favorite romantic tune and start relieving some stress. Levity aside, sex truly is a great stress reliever. Much like other forms of exercise, sex releases endorphins and has similar positive effects.
- Simplify your schedule: If you are feeling stressed, take a moment and pause to take measure of your life. It may be that your problems are not as severe as you thought – it’s just that you have no time to deal with them. Maybe you’re simply stressed because you never have enough time to relax and rejuvenate. Regardless, take a few minutes to look at your schedule and calendar, and cut back on work and social engagements where possible. Try to create hours where you are completely free to do whatever you need or would like to do. You’ll find that having more leeway to complete errands, get some chores finished or just watch a TV show can go a long way in improving your mental health. With these extra hours, you can finally find time to meditate or engage in a creative activity which helps you relieve stress. Just the act of cleaning up your schedule can be hugely beneficial.
- Get some sleep: Sleep is an integral part of life, but it’s often the first thing that gets the cut when time is short and stress is high. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what should be happening – lack of sleep helps augment the physical and psychological effects of stress. Insufficient sleep makes people more susceptible to getting stressed and makes that stress harder to deal with. A good way to relieve stress is by getting a good’s night sleep or taking a long nap. But like all vicious cycles, you might be so stressed that you are having difficulty falling asleep. Spire has a few good articles on how to sleep better, including foods that help you sleep, how to fall asleep in one minute, and the best meditations for insomnia.
- 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. The 4-7-8 breath is a breathing technique often used for relaxation and meditation. This breath has a calming effect on people, and is effective for inducing sleep and general stress reduction. It’s simple to learn and easy to do. It involves getting into a seated or lying down position and placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Now, exhale through your mouth making a whooshing sound as your chest decompresses. Then, close your mouth and breathe exclusively through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for seven counts. Repeat this cycle 4 times. It’s takes a bit of practice to get a hang of, and you can read all of the details in Spire’s post on the 4-7-8 breathing method here. As you’ll read in the post, the breathing technique is fabled to have a variety of awesome effects, so it’s definitely worth a try.
- Yoga. In the same vein as massage, yoga is a great way to stretch out tense muscles and get some light exercise in. Yoga also doubles as an ancient meditative practice. By forcing practitioners to adopt challenges stretches and focusing on their body movement, yoga is an effective way to calm the mind. A study looking at the effects of regular yoga practice in cancer patients (people typically under a large amount of stress) found that yoga had a significantly higher effect on psychological health, anxiety, depression and stress as compared to patients who did nothing or went to support groups. You don’t need any special equipment or training to do yoga, and there are plenty of yoga studios and gyms available in most cities. A bit of space and a helpful YouTube yoga video is all you need to get started. If you want more detail, check out Spire’s post on Yoga for Stress Relief.
Of course, the best way to relieve stress is to prevent it in the first place, which is what Spire is all about. By tracking your breathing, Spire analyzes your body for signs of tension and stress and sends you notifications to bring the stress to your attention. In this way, you can use any of the above stress relievers right away to stop stress before it becomes a bigger problem. You might feel that stress is overtaken your life, but it’s all about mind over matter. For gentle reminders, try Spire.