We’re all feeling a lot of stress these days – over 60% of us report experiencing it on a daily basis. Stress is any event or thought that causes emotional or physical tension, like frustration, anger, or nervousness.

Stressful situations cause our body to release cortisol and adrenaline, two hormones that make us more alert and increase our heart rate.

Being in a state of fight or flight can be beneficial if you are in danger, but it is usually unsettling and unhelpful if you are trying to work and manage a family.

Over time, stress can have negative effects on your health, so it is important to know how to relieve stress.

Simple and Effective Ways to Relieve Stress

Reducing stress can be achieved in many different ways. Some methods of reducing stress are more effective than others. Here are some of the best ways to reduce stress:

Exercise Regularly 

Brain-derived hormones that function to reduce pain and stress are called endorphins. Exercise helps relieve stress by increasing endorphins, which leads to a “runner’s high,” says Ben Hagopian, MD, a primary care physician at Maine Integrative Family Care. Furthermore, exercise has the ability to lower stress-related hormone levels such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Dr. Hagopian recommends getting some kind of cardio or aerobic exercise into your routine, such as walking, cycling, or dancing. The specifics don’t matter as much as just enjoying the physical activity.

Working out even when you aren’t feeling stressed can also help you manage stress later on. A 2007 study found that elite athletes have a different stress response than healthy non-athletes. Researchers put participants through the Trier Social Stress Test, or TSST, a standard procedure for inducing stress in studies. The TSST involves being asked to prepare and then give a speech, along with completing mental arithmetic in front of an audience. During the TSST, athletes showed the same physiological response as the non-athletes, such as increased heart rate and cortisol. But while the non-athletes felt more stressed by the challenge, the athletes reported feeling more challenged and less stressed.

The cortisol levels and heart rates of both groups increased, but the increase was significantly less for the elite athletes than for the healthy non-athletes. The athletes also reported feeling calmer and being in a better mood.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

To manage stress, it can be helpful to practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.

Hagopian recommendeds a breathing technique called 4-7-8 breathing to help slow down your heart rate when you are stressed. When you are stressed, you usually breathe faster and take shallow breaths because your heart is racing. Slowing down your heart rate by focusing on your breath can help reduce stress.

Meditation has many benefits, including stress relief. In a small 2013 study, medical students who participated in a four-day mindfulness meditation program had significantly lower cortisol levels compared to before the program.

Hatha yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol levels during stressful events. A 2017 study found that a single Hatha yoga session before a stressful task lowered cortisol levels and blood pressure levels in participants when compared to a control group.

Get more sleep 

Not getting enough sleep makes it harder to deal with stress. 21% of adults report feeling more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep.

Stress is a common reason why people have difficulty falling asleep. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep, but many people only get six hours or less.

There are some basic ways to improve sleep, including:

  • Establish a sleep routine. It’s important to practice good sleep hygiene, which means going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day. This helps your internal clock, called your circadian rhythm, stay in sync so that your body is ready for sleep at your set bedtime.
  • Turn off devices. Scrolling through our phones or watching TV can be stimulating, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Hagopian suggests setting a specific time when you turn off your devices and switch to more calming activities.
  • Have a calming, pre-bedtime ritual. This can be a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music, drinking chamomile tea, or anything that will calm you, says Hagopian.

Eat a Healthy Diet 

Hagopian says that another key to managing stress is your diet and that “healthy nutrition is super important.” Eating lots of fast food or food with a lot of processed flour or sugar is going to make you feel worse, according to Hagopian.

Here are some stress-reducing nutrients to look for in foods:

  • Vitamin C helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. A medium orange has about 70 mg of Vitamin C, which is 100% of the daily recommended amount for adults. Other good sources include vegetables like broccoli (78 mg/cup chopped) and cauliflower (52 mg/cup). 
  • Complex carbohydrates increase the production of serotonin, a hormone involved in regulating your mood and happiness. Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. 
  • Magnesium helps fend off stress-related headaches and fatigue. It can also help older adults get better sleep. Foods like spinach, salmon, and soybeans are all good sources of magnesium. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce surges of stress hormones. They are found in fish like salmon and tuna, nuts, and seeds.

Connect With Loved Ones 

If you’re feeling stressed, talking to your friends and family can help. Research has found that people who have less social support are more reactive to stress, with increased heart rates, blood pressure, and hormone levels.

Having a friend close by can make it easier to manage stress, according to a 2011 study. The study, which tested cortisol levels in saliva, found that those who had a close friend experienced lower cortisol levels after unpleasant experiences.

Additionally, oxytocin levels and blood pressure were lower in women who spent time with their partner and received a hug from them before being asked to prepare and record a speech about a recent event that made them angry or stressed.

This feel-good hormone has a calming, bonding effect. Having sex, either solo or with a partner can help relieve stress. Like exercise, sex triggers the release of endorphins, which boost your mood. Your body also releases oxytocin during sex, especially during a woman’s orgasm. This feel-good hormone has a calming, bonding effect.

Try Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a short vacation for your mind. You can imagine yourself in your “happy place,” like sitting on a beach, listening to the waves, smelling the ocean, and feeling the warm sand underneath you.

Guided imagery is a practice where you imagine yourself in a peaceful scene. This can be done with the help of a recording, or once you know how to do it yourself, you can practice it without any assistance.

To engage in a mindful minute, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful scene. Pay attention to the details of the environment and what you would smell, hear, and feel. After a minute, open your eyes and return to the present.

Meditate

Although there are many different types of meditation, all of them bring both short-term and long-term relief from stress.

You could create a mantra to repeat in your mind as you take slow deep breaths. Alternatively, you could take a few minutes to practice mindfulness by focusing on your senses.

If you’re living in the present, you can’t worry about the past or the future. Meditation and mindfulness can help you focus on the here and now, which can reduce your overall stress level.

Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

As you exhale, let all the tension out of your body. Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique that involves relaxing all the muscles in your body, group by group. To practice, you can start with a few deep breaths. As you exhale, let all the tension out of your body.

After that, try to tense and relax each muscle group, beginning with your forehead and going down to your toes.

The more you practice, the more easily you’ll be able to identify tension and relax. Each time you practice, you should feel more relaxed.

Focus on Breathing

Focusing on your breath or changing your breathing pattern can help reduce stress. Breathing exercises can quickly calm your body and mind.

The best news is that you can do breathing exercises anywhere without anyone knowing, so whether you’re in a stressful meeting or sitting in a crowded cinema, they could be key to reducing your stress.

While there are many different breathing exercises, a few simple ones include:

  • Breathe in through your nose and watch your belly fill with air. Count slowly to three as you inhale. Hold for one second and then slowly breathe out through your nose as you count to three again.
  • Breathe in through your nose and imagine that you’re inhaling peaceful, calm air. Imagine that air spreading throughout your body. As you exhale, imagine that you’re breathing out stress and tension. 

Take a Walk

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Taking a walk can help you get into a different frame of mind.

To rejuvenate your mind and body, you can take a walk around the office or go for a long walk in the park.

Enjoy Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can help to relieve stress by making you feel energized, more relaxed, or more present in the moment.

New research suggests that certain smells can change brain activity and reduce stress hormones in the body.

Aromatherapy is the use of fragrant plant oils to improve mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Aromatherapy can be used in a variety of ways, including through candles, diffusers, or body products such as lotions and creams.

Create Artwork

If you enjoyed being creative as a child, it’s never too late to start again.

If you’re not into drawing or painting, you might want to consider coloring in a coloring book. Adult coloring books have become popular for a good reason—coloring can be a great way to reduce stress.

One study found that coloring can have a meditative effect, which can help to reduce anxiety levels.

Develop a Positive Self-Talk Habit

How you talk to yourself is important. Being harsh with yourself, having self-doubt, and making dire predictions will not help you. Constantly thinking things like “I don’t have time for this” and “I can’t stand this” will only make you more stressed out.

Address yourself kindly instead of using negative self-talk.

Positive self-talk can help you improve your outlook. Talking to yourself in a positive and compassionate way can help you manage your emotions and take positive action.

Express Gratitude

Being thankful for the good things in your life can help you recognize all the things you have to be grateful for. From the simplest things, like a sunny day, to more complicated things, like arriving at work safely, think about all of the things that you are grateful for in your life.

The feeling of gratitude can also help remind you of all the resources you have to deal with stress. This can help make you feel more empowered and in control.

Research indicates that people who are grateful have greater psychological well-being, less stress, and a more satisfying life.

It’s beneficial to make gratitude a habitual part of your life, whether that means taking a moment to appreciate what you’re grateful for during dinner or writing down a few things you’re thankful for each day.

Cut out Things That Add to Your Stress

Removing the sources of stress from your life can lead to a more peaceful existence.

There are a few things you can do every day to help reduce stress in your life. Watching the news, being constantly connected to your digital devices, drinking alcohol, and consuming too much caffeine are just a few of the things that may add more stress to your life.

Making some changes to your daily habits could be instrumental in helping you feel better. Try disconnecting from technology for a set amount of time each day, cutting back on caffeine, and consuming alcohol in moderation.

 

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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

She is the creator of the Elegant Eating Solution, an affordable program that helps women avoid weight regain and feel great about themselves, without restrictive eating.

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