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Carla S. - December 7, 2020

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Everyone experiences stress at some point, at work, at home or at school. You might be under lots of pressure, facing a big life change or worried about something you have no control over.

When you’re stressed, your body has a “fight or flight” response, shifting your energy to fight off or flee from an enemy. Your sympathetic nervous system tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. This, in turn, increases everything from your heart beat to your respiration rate.

Both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) stress can take their toll on your body, as well as your relationships. Luckily, there’s no shortage of strategies to effectively reduce stress. Keep reading for our epic list of 24 stress relief strategies and start relaxing right now. 

1. Practice deep breathing

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Carve out some time every day to manage your stress through deep breathing. Even simple breathing exercises, of which there are many, can help if you practice them regularly. Here’s an example: Close your eyes and breathe in, and pretend the air is filled with calm and peace. As you breathe out, imagine you can feel the tension leaving your body.

2. Try progressive muscle relaxation 

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

This is a great way to relieve tension and reduce anxiety. Essentially you need to contract one muscle group as you breathe in for 5 to 10 seconds and then relax it while you exhale. Move around your body’s muscle groups in a certain order starting, for example, with your abdomen and chest, then your neck, shoulders and arms, etc. until you’ve done every group.

3. Use guided imagery

This is a focused relaxation technique where you intentionally visualize positive and peaceful settings, such as a beach with gentle waves or an open field so that you remain calm and relaxed. The idea is that if you can center your attention on pleasant places and scenarios, you will feel less tension and more relaxed.

4. Meditate

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Meditation is one of the best techniques for stress relief, and it’s an age-old practice with countless advantages, one of which is to trigger your body’s relaxation response. It helps you calm your mind and body by reducing thoughts induced by stress and restoring your body to a relaxed state. Research suggests that people who meditate regularly eventually see changes in how they respond to stress. As a result, they recover more quickly from situations that are stressful and in general experience less stress in their everyday lives.

5. Practice mindfulness

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Mindfulness involves training your mind to pay attention to the present moment and accept experiences in a non-judgmental way. It has been proven to lower your stress response, ultimately impacting different stress pathways in the brain by changing brain structure as well as activity in those parts of the brain associated with emotional regulation and attention. 

6. Exercise

Science shows that engaging regularly in aerobic exercise can improve your sleep, your self-esteem, and your mood while also reducing tension. While any kind of physical activity can help you lower stress, an activity that gets your heart rate up also releases endorphins, which are the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain. This includes dancing, biking, HIIT, swimming, jogging, and running.

7. Practice Yoga

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According to a survey in the US, 85% of people who practiced yoga said that it helped them relieve stress. One of the goals with yoga is to help you balance the connection between your body and your mind, which are connected. Practicing yoga regularly will allow you to train your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body when it’s resting and relaxing, and reduce your chronic daytime stress hormone levels.

8. Try Tai Chi

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that involves slow, fluid movements and deep breaths that are believed to improve your mood, lower your blood pressure and reduce stress. This is an activity that helps you relax, seeks to train your internal energy, and help you develop internal power. Tai Chi is a low-impact type of exercise that’s also safe and inexpensive to do. 

9. Quit smoking

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Lots of people smoke cigarettes because it gives them a relaxed feeling, but according to research, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Smoking may give a temporary feeling of relaxation, but it has actually been shown to increase anxiety and tension. The nicotine in cigarettes triggers the release of dopamine, which is what makes you feel relaxed and happy; however, your body is actually experiencing an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, tense muscles and less oxygen for your brain and the rest of you. What’s more, smoking does nothing to address the main underlying causes of your anxiety. 

10. See a therapist

There are several different types of therapy that can help you manage your stress. One is cognitive behavioral therapy, through which you learn to change your negative thought patterns that cause your stress and find new ways of thinking about the stress in your life. Other popular forms of therapy involve mindfulness, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

11. Try aromatherapy

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that focuses on the use of natural plant extracts as a way of promoting health, both physical and emotional, and wellbeing. Burning a scented candle, or better yet, using essential oils can have a relaxing effect on your body. Some of the best soothing scents include rose, lavender, geranium, sandalwood, bergamot, neroli and orange blossom. Research suggests (here and also here) that this is a good technique to reduce stress.

12. Start journaling

Keeping track of your thoughts, experiences and feelings through journaling is a great way to manage how you’re feeling. It allows you to gain perspective, clear your mind, organize your thoughts and address your problems. It can also help you reduce stress by providing an outlet for the emotional release of your negative feelings and thoughts. 

13. Spend time with your loved ones

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Being around your friends, family and people who support you in general is a great way to reduce stress. Having a strong social network is important. In fact, research from the Annals of Behavioral Medicine suggests that people who talk about their problems with friends actually have lower blood pressure and a lower pulse rate when they’re with them. Additionally, research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that people who confide in family and friends are better equipped to cope with stress and end up talking about their problems rather than using unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking and alcohol. 

14. Get outside

Connecting with nature and spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to improve your health and reduce stress. Being outside can reduce feelings of mental stress and pressure and increase feelings of happiness and satisfaction, not to mention improve productivity and creativity.

15. Practice self-care

Sometimes we need to take some time to focus on ourselves, and this looks different for everyone. Whether that means taking a vacation, getting a massage, enjoying a relaxing bath or playing a sport, when we take the time to really listen to ourselves and get our needs met, we can effectively reduce our stress levels.

16. Laugh

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Another great way to relieve stress you might not have thought of is to laugh. Put on a funny movie or TV series or call your funniest friend on the phone. Laughing helps relax muscles and relieve tension, and it also relieves your stress response. Over time, laughing regularly can actually boost your immune system.

17. Get artistic

Did you know that coloring has proven to be effective at reducing tension and stress? It’s not just for little kids! In fact, sales of coloring books for adults has skyrocketed in recent years. Research shows that coloring has a meditative effect, and this study revealed that people who opted to color geometric shapes and patterns saw their anxiety levels decline.

18. Drink tea

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Did you know that coloring has proven to be effective at reducing tension and stress? It’s not just for little kids! In fact, sales of coloring books for adults has skyrocketed in recent years. Research shows that coloring has a meditative effect, and this study revealed that people who opted to color geometric shapes and patterns saw their anxiety levels decline.

19. Pick an app

Many people would probably argue that the best way to relax is to disconnect from your devices, but what if you could de-stress by connecting? There are lots of mobile apps out there that offer relaxation exercises and support for managing stress. Calm, for example, is a mindfulness app with guided meditations, while Colorfy is an adult digital coloring book. Dare features audio recordings that encourage you to sit with your anxiety while practicing deep breathing, and apps like Headspace, iSleep Easy and Insight Timer all have extensive libraries of meditations. 

20. Manage your time

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Oftentimes we feel stressed because we have too much on our plate and our to-do list is several miles long. If these situations cause you to feel stress, you need to work on your time management skills and learn how to say “no” more often. Reorganize your list so you can focus on your priorities first and break it down so you can tackle tasks that are smaller and more manageable.

21. Eat and drink right

Sometimes, when we’re stressed, we don’t follow the healthiest diet, but it’s so important to try to stay on track and to avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. It may seem like they ease stress in the short term, but when your blood sugar eventually dips, you could end up feeling even more stressed out. Healthy eating has many positive repercussions, including helping you balance your energy and support mood regulation. Skip the potato chips and cookies and choose avocado and walnuts instead.

22. Get enough sleep

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Getting the sleep you need helps you regulate your mood, sharpen your judgement, restore your body, boost your concentration and support your mental wellbeing in general. When you are well-rested you’re better at solving problems and, perhaps most importantly, remaining calm in the face of adversity. Sometimes, if we’re stressed, we have trouble sleeping; at the same time, the less we sleep, the most stress we may feel. Your best bet is to develop a sleep routine and try to stick to it and to ensure you have good sleep quality.

23. Use biofeedback

This is a technique for reducing your stress where you use feedback to understand and make subtle changes that allow you to control bodily functions that are involuntary, like blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and blood flow. For example, you might relax certain muscles as a way to slow your heart rate. Ultimately, this can allow you to improve your physical, emotional and mental health, not to mention lower your levels of stress.

24. Listen to music

How To Reduce Stress: 24 of the Most Effective Strategies and Techniques

Sometimes all it takes are the right tunes to reduce those cortisol levels. Research shows that listening to music can be an effective stress relief strategy, especially if you listen to that music because it relaxes you. Your best bets are slow jazz and classical, but this is really a matter of preference.

We hope this epic list of 24 strategies for reducing your stress is helpful to you. Not everyone will have the same response, so look for the strategy that you think will be most effective for you.