Effectively managing stress is vital to living a happy and healthy life. However, many people are unaware of the best techniques for stress management. Even worse, some people choose ineffective strategies — like eating or surfing the internet — that actually make them more stressed in the long term.
Therefore, this article discusses 20 highly effective techniques for feeling relaxed and managing stress effectively. For those currently stressed, the first 3 techniques are designed for immediate stress alleviation. The remaining 17 strategies promote long-term relief by suggesting better daily habits, hobbies, and mental viewpoints.
1. Taking slow, deep breaths helps to promote relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. To practice deep breathing, inhale and exhale in a slow and steady manner. One breath every 10 seconds is a good target, but any slow and deep breathing is helpful.
2. Meditation and mindfulness help the brain achieve a more relaxed and calm mindset. To start meditating, close your eyes and sit quietly. Next, gently begin thinking about the sources of your stress. Try to observe the situation from an outsider’s perspective, and keep a relatively light-hearted viewpoint. When anxiety or frustration occur, try to diffuse them with curiosity rather than fight them.
3. Religious prayer involves mental processes similar to meditation and mindfulness. Therefore, it can also help reduce stress. In addition, religious services can bring beneficial social interactions and a sense of community.
1. Physical exercise has numerous emotional and physical benefits. Improved stress management, willpower, and memory are some of the emotional and mental benefits. Physically, it can also help with achieving restful sleep and avoiding heart disease. Together, this makes physical exercise a powerhouse of stress reduction. For the physical benefits, the American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
2. Getting enough sleep is vital to managing stress. Consequences of inadequate sleep include irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and losing patience. Research suggests that 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is optimal, but the average American adult only gets about 6.7 hours.
3. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule makes it easier to have a refreshing and adequate sleep. A person’s natural sleep pattern is primarily controlled by melatonin and cortisol. With an inconsistent sleep schedule, these hormones have trouble keeping in-sync with one another. Likewise, bright lights (and especially blue light) in the evenings can delay the body’s natural sleep time. Smartphones and computers now have “bedtime” settings, which makes the screens dimmer and more orange. By reducing blue light, these settings help people ease into sleep more naturally.
4. Since low blood sugar can trigger stress, eating regular and healthy meals is highly recommended. People with diabetes and those who skip meals might develop low blood sugar at times. Similarly, wide fluctuations in blood sugar can occur after consuming too many simple carbohydrates (sugars) from sweets, desserts, or fruit juices. Therefore, the daily intake of sugars should be minimized if sugar-related stress is apparent.
1. When stressed, spending quality social time with family and close friends can have a beneficial effect. Gaining their support can help reframe the stressor, making the situation more manageable.
2. Viewing nature and plants, whether outdoors or indoors, helps alleviate stress. Even a short walk in a park reduces blood pressure, stress hormones, and muscle tension. Since aerobic exercise by itself is also beneficial, playing a sport or hiking a trail can provide a double dose of stress relief.
3. Engaging in a creative hobby also helps to reduce stress. Cooking, baking, and gardening are relaxing and easy enough for everyone to enjoy. For the artistically inclined, painting and knitting can also be beneficial.
4. While stressed, people commonly tense the muscles in their shoulders and back. Unfortunately, this muscle stiffness leads to even more stress. Getting a quality massage can break this cycle by relieving tension – both physical and mental.
5. Reading a book helps to slow-down the hurried pace of life, thereby easing stress. Whereas television is sometimes geared towards immediate gratification, books offer a more relaxed and leisurely form of entertainment.
6. Similarly, listening to music in a relaxing environment also helps reduce stress. For added benefit, combine music listening with deep breathing or meditation. Together, these multiple strategies increase the stress alleviation.
1. Stressful emotions can be further intensified by other negative influences. For example, watching news reports about political disagreements, terrorism, or other undesirable circumstances can increase general stress and anxiety. In turn, this makes handling personal stressors more difficult. To avoid this consequence, reduce your exposure to negativity from television, the internet, friends, and coworkers.
2. When stressed, some people engage in moral licensing by figuratively “patting themselves on the back.” Self-confidence is good in moderation, but excessive confidence can actually be counterproductive. For example, being proud of a big accomplishment at work is healthy and justified. However, avoid using this accomplishment as a “license” to reduce performance in other areas. For example, do not skip your normal exercise routine because you finished a large project at work. As discussed in tip #4 above, exercise has many stress-relieving properties.
3. Some people believe that indulging their desires will help alleviate stress. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Activities like shopping, eating, drinking, gambling, and surfing the internet are generally ineffective in the long term. In fact, they sometimes worsen stress by causing addiction-like symptoms. If the reward involves instant gratification (i.e. shopping or gambling), the brain’s dopamine pathway can be overestimated. Therefore, avoid shopping, eating, drinking, gambling, and surfing the internet as they are ineffective at relieving stress long-term.
4. Finishing chores and accomplishing goals is very useful in alleviating stress. To achieve this, focus on creating SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, responsible, and time-bounded). Critically, these goals must include a timeline or deadline. For example, since purchasing a house is a very lengthy process, a SMART short-term goal could be “I will contact Loan Company #1 by Saturday.”
5. In contrast, avoid creating VAPID goals (vague, amorphous, pie-in-the-sky, irrelevant, and delayed). Since VAPID goals are difficult to act upon, meaningful progress is more difficult to achieve. Promising yourself that you will “become an amazing soccer player” is too vague and long-term to be directly actionable.
6. Developing effective time management is also essential for accomplishing your goals. In particular, tasks should be prioritized by importance and urgency. Likewise, dividing large problems into smaller tasks can be very useful. Although buying a new car is a daunting task for many people, the subgoal of “spend 1 hour researching Toyota” is more manageable.
7. In some ways, stress is the opposite of happiness. However, those who consciously seek happiness are often disappointed. Therefore, minimize your explicit thoughts about happiness and stress. Instead, follow the other suggestions on this list and your stress level will decrease.