How to Relieve Stress
Sometimes life is just plain stressful. Maybe you’re on a tight deadline at work or you or someone in your family is having health problems — or maybe both are happening at the same time and it feels like you’re juggling 100 things at once. No matter the circumstances, you’re likely wondering how to relieve stress so you can lead a more peaceful and healthy life.
While it’s not always possible to control everything that is happening to us or around us, it is possible to change the way we relate to those things that are happening. Softening the way we perceive stress and relating to it in a more accepting way is the first trick for how to deal with stressful feelings.
Below, we’ve listed stress reduction techniques that will put you on a path towards acceptance and help you reframe overwhelming situations. But first, let’s go over what’s happening to your body and mind when you’re stressed out.
When you come across something you perceive as threatening — whether that’s an oncoming car or your boss’ tone of voice — your eyes and ears send signals to the amygdala, an area of the brain that’s involved in emotional processing. When the amygdala detects danger, it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which then signals to your nervous system to trigger the fight-or-flight response.
When this response is initiated, stress hormones (including adrenaline) flood your body, causing your heart to beat faster than normal and your pulse and blood pressure to go up. Simultaneously, you start to breathe more rapidly and your body sends extra oxygen to your brain, increasing alertness.
A variety of other hormonal changes and physiological responses occur when your body reacts to stress. When this fight-or-flight response is repeatedly activated, it can cause health problems over time including high blood pressure and brain changes that contribute to anxiety and depression.
Now that we understand just how important it is to manage our body’s stress response, what are techniques we can use to reduce stress? One helpful approach for how to reduce stress is practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and engaged in the moment. Mindfulness lets us step back from unpleasant thoughts and emotions (aka stress) that arise because of challenging situations. It lets us calm the mind, get in touch with our body, and gain perspective of the world around us.
People who incorporate mindfulness meditation into their lives often report a greater sense of positivity, patience, acceptance, and compassion, as well as lower levels of stress, sadness, and frustration. A study published in mindfulness journal PLOS ONE found that 10 days of practicing mindfulness meditation using the Headspace app reduced stress by 14%.
Not only does exercise reduce the body’s stress hormones, it also stimulates the production of endorphins, which elevate mood. Walking and jogging, or any type of exercise where you use large muscle groups in a repetitive fashion, will help you reduce stress. Even a short 10-minute stroll can relax the mind and clear your head of overwhelming thoughts. Try one of Headspace’s guided walks to ease your mind and de-stress.
Stretching, on the other hand, can relieve the muscle tension created by carrying stress in our body. This, in turn, can also help you sleep better. Stretching in addition to regular exercise is a recipe for living a less stressful, more peaceful life.
When you’re stressed out, it can feel like everyone is against you and you can’t connect to others easily. Research shows that music facilitates feelings of belonging, positive feelings of warmth towards others, empathy, trust, and social skills.
Music can also change our mood and our heartbeat. When we listen to music, our heart begins to sync with the beat. This means that a gentle melody can slow down a racing heartbeat. The next time your fight-or-flight response is about to kick in, try calming down and relieving some stress with your favorite chill tunes.
Venting about what’s stressing you out can feel really, really good. Research shows that complaining to your coworkers is good for your mental health and helps you process your feelings. It also helps you bond with coworkers and cope with stress.
Friends outside of work can also be a great resource when it comes to reducing your stress. Try calling a friend and talking to them about what’s on your mind and overwhelming you. Chances are you’ll feel like a load was lifted off your shoulders after you’re done.
A third available resource is talking to a therapist. When you process stressors in your life with a therapist, this can help you work through whatever is causing tension in your mind and body. Your therapist can also help you do guided breathing exercises — simply ask them to do one with you the next time you’re in a session. You can also try Headspace’s 1-minute deep breathing exercise meditation.
If you’re looking for more meditations on how to cope with stress, the Headspace app offers subscribers a 30-day course on the topic of Letting Go of Stress. And if you’re not yet a subscriber, you can give Headspace a try before committing — the first meditation for each course is free. Headspace also offers this mini-meditation for reducing stress, and a one-minute meditation that helps you unwind. And if your stress is interrupting your sleep, try Headspace’s 30-day course on creating the inner and outer conditions you need for a truly restful night’s sleep. Sign up for Headspace for free today, and start experiencing the benefits of meditation.
Body Scan Meditation - 3 minutes