Walking into an average office, it’s easy to pinpoint a handful of people who are unwell. When so many are juggling a hectic job, family life and bills, it’s easy for people to struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Many of us wonder how to relieve stress but feel too overwhelmed to start.
Up to a certain point, stress is something that challenges us and helps us grow. However, stress levels build over time to the point when stress makes us chronically unhappy and physically sick. Too much stress leaves no room for your body and mind to rejuvenate, leading to wear and tear.
High stress levels are a major problem: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that stress accounts for 75 percent of all doctor visits. Steps need to be taken in order to safeguard your mental health and release the pressure on your emotional and physical resources.
How to Relieve Stress
Here at Spire, we want to help you learn how to relieve stress. We’ve put together this list of effective and accessible stress relievers to turn to whenever you’re in need.
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, increase self-esteem, maintain overall bone and heart health.
Most importantly, exercise has been proven to combat anxiety and stress. According to Arizona State University researchers, 21 minutes of exercise will help most people achieve their stress-reduction goal. Regular exercise is the first thing you should try for stress management: it provides most of the same benefits as drug therapy or psychotherapy when it comes to reducing anxiety. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, go for a brisk 20-minute walk, hike, bike ride or jog. You’ll feel better right away. To maintain these positive effects, create and follow a consistent exercise routine.
Meditation is an excellent way to unplug and work through the negative thoughts at the root of your stress. Oftentimes, stress stems from over-worrying: that one nagging concern that repeats itself over and over in your brain. Through deep breathing and focus, meditation can you overcome this vicious cycle. Whether you do it for five minutes or 55 minutes, meditation helps put a healthy distance between you and all of the problems swirling inside your head. Mounting evidence shows that meditation is an effective tool for anxiety, stress and panic disorder.
Stress is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and muscle tension. Massage is the perfect antidote to these physical symptoms, which will in turn relieve your mental stress.
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. A meta-analysis of massage research conducted in 2004 found that single massage therapy sessions reduced pain, 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 and found that it significantly reduced blood pressure. The bottom line is that massage is an effective stress reliever, and it doesn’t have to be too expensive. 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. Spending time with someone you trust and talking through your issues can be an effective stress reducer. Your friend may even 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 during stressful situations.
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. These simple exercises involve consciously and progressively tensing up each muscle group, from your chest to your feet. Then, after contracting for 10 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 nervous system. You can read a detailed description of how to perform progressive muscle relaxation here.
Nothing like a good romp in bed to elevate the mood — this stress reliever is free and fun. Play soothing music and start relieving stress with your partner. Levity aside, sex truly is a great stress reliever. Much like other forms of exercise, sex releases endorphins, lowers cortisol and delivers similar positive effects. Try incorporating sex into your bedtime routine for optimal results.
Simplify your schedule
If you are feeling stressed, take a moment, close your eyes and pause to take a measure of your life. It may be that your problems are not as severe as you feel – it’s just that you have no time to deal with them.
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 for keeping a journal, meditate or engage in a creative activity.
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 stress and makes that stress harder to deal with. Like all vicious cycles, you might be so stressed that you are having difficulty falling asleep in the first place. We have incredible resources 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 exercise used to generate relaxation. This breath has a calming effect on people, and is effective for inducing sleep and general stress reduction.
It’s simple to learn. It involves adopting 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 through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for seven counts. Repeat this cycle four times. It takes a bit of practice to get a hang of, and you can read all of the details in our post on the 4-7-8 breathing method here.
Yoga is a great way to stretch out tense muscles and ease anxiety. Yoga also doubles as light exercise and meditation. In a study done with cancer patients, regular yoga practice had significantly higher positive effects on their psychological health, anxiety, depression and stress compared to patients who did nothing or went to support groups.
You don’t need any special equipment or training. A bit of space and a helpful YouTube yoga video is all you need to get started. If you want more detail, check out our 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 these signs to your attention. You can use any of the above stress relievers right away to stop stress before it becomes a bigger problem. For gentle reminders, try Spire.