To help you make a conscious effort to regulate your stress levels, we’ve created a list of stress relief activities fit for any scenario. With actionable items (including more than just meditation and breathing techniques), there’s a stress management activity for anyone, anywhere.

In addition to indulging in a few chocolate covered treats, use the collection of activities below to help you lower your blood pressure and send stress packing. Try out a few, make your favorite ones part of your routine and keep the others up your sleeve for the tensest situations.

Here’s to keeping your cool!

Stress Relief Activities You Can Do at Home

You may not be able to zen out at your desk or practice yoga on your commute, but you can in the comfort of your own living room. We’ve included stress relief activities you can do with your partner or kids that may help cheer them up too!

Browse through some of the best relaxation techniques to try out at home. Don’t be afraid to let it all out (and even look a little silly). It’s worth it if it makes you smile!

  • Laugh, even if it’s forced. It’s true what they say: laughter is the best medicine. A good chuckle stimulates circulation and soothes tension in your body. Laughter is also known to reduce levels of stress hormones including cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine. So, it’s scientific! Tell a joke, make a funny face or fake laugh until it turns into uncontrollable laughter. We dare you to try it!
  • Meditate for 10 minutes. Simple meditation doesn’t take long at all and can help you control stress, improve relaxation and decrease anxiety. You’ve definitely heard this stress relief tip before, but following these simple instructions will make it seem less intimidating. Whether sitting or standing, close your eyes and simply focus on your breath. Think about the act of filling and depleting your lungs with air and try not to let your attention stray. After 10 minutes of deep focus, you might be surprised at the benefits you’ll feel from setting an intention and creating a place to quiet your mind.
  • Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has been found to decrease the stress-related hormone, glucocorticoid. So stock up on cookies, cake truffles and all your favorite sweets.
  • Dance like nobody’s watching. You might not be home alone, but convince your family to join in on the fun too! Challenge your kids or significant other to a dance off and create routines that can be performed right in your living room. If you’d like to do something a little less formal, put on your favorite song and just start moving and grooving. Once those endorphins kick in, you’ll be feeling better in no time, when the body feels good the mind does too.
  • Give someone a big bear hug. Human contact is an automatic stress relief, so give your loved ones a big bear hug. A warm embrace has been related to the release of oxytocin, often called “the bonding hormone,” so not only will you feel better, but the ones you’re hugging will too. It’s time for hugs all around.
  • Look through happy photos. Looking at images of loved ones and happier times is proven to help reduce stress and decrease anxiety. The snapshots serve as a simple reminder that we’re loved and cared for, which in turn makes us feel safe. The next time you’re feeling stressed, whip out the old photo albums. You can also set up an at-home photo booth with your family to capture moments that’ll keep you smiling even when life gets rough.
  • Pucker up. Kissing causes your brain to release stress-relieving endorphins, which in turn create a quick and natural mood boosting elixir just for the two of you. Share a kiss (or two) with your partner because it’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy.
  • Create a “gratitude sandwich.” This isn’t a typical sandwich you’d have for lunch, but it’s definitely a great one to start serving up. Sandwich one thing that is going wrong between two things that you are grateful for. Write them down or say them allowed to really focus in on the good things in your life. In a world where most of us spend too much time in our own minds with negative thoughts, it’s important to challenge these and get on the road to feeling better. Who’s ready for a sub?
  • Smell your partner’s shirt. It might sound weird or even creepy at first, but research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, proves that the scent of a romantic partner has been found to help lower stress levels. Try wearing your partner’s shirt to bed. Or if you’re in a long distance relationship, swap shirts the next time you see one another.
  • Get 8-10 hours of sleep. Only 20 percent of adults say the quality of their sleep is very good or excellent. On top of that, being stressed out makes it more difficult to get the proper amount of rest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important! Being well rested improves your stress levels as well as your mental and physical health. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, try taking a warm bath before bed, meditating or doing some deep breathing exercises.

Outdoor Stress Relief Activities

There’s something rejuvenating about the great outdoors, so if you’re feeling stressed, you might as well get out there. It’s not only calming to be outside in nature, but it’s scientifically proven to help you reduce stress! With vitamin D, fresh air and nature’s beauty for you to take in, you’ll be waving goodbye to your worries in no time at all.

The stress relief activities below will entice you to get out into nature and boost your mental and physical well-being. Whether you’re looking for something active or for entertainment, the ideas below will help you get started!

  • Go for a 10 minute walk. Make it a point to take a ten minute break and walk around the block. Set a timer on your phone sometime during the day as a friendly reminder. Sunshine and nature will naturally boost vitamin D and increase levels of serotonin in the body.
  • Take a trip to the dog park. Pets have healing powers, literally! Petting animals is proven to increase the release of feel-good endorphins and reduce your heart rate. A study also found that conducting difficult tasks becomes less stressful when a pet is present.
  • Participate in a beach or park clean-up day. Feeling the sunshine on your skin is already boosting your vitamin D intake and reducing stress, but that on top of doing something nice for your community will fill your day with good feelings and less anxiety.
  • Have a picnic and pack a slice of watermelon. Gather your friends and family together for a picnic! Consider hosting one outside in your backyard or at a local park or beach. Wherever you do decide to lay out a blanket, be sure to pack a slice of watermelon. This sweet fruit contains lycopene, which is linked to stress relief.
  • Try out a new hiking trail nearby. Switch up your normal outdoor routine or walk and try out a few hiking trails near your home. New experiences are linked to feelings of excitement, so don’t be afraid to try out a new trail. When you start to replace negative or worrying thoughts with positive ones, you’ll notice a difference in yourself.
  • Try your hand at gardening. Gardening serves as a calming activity that will give you a break from everyday stress. Plus, it helps you to get your daily dose of sunshine. Nurturing something outside of yourself will help distract you from your own negative thoughts and pressing matters that might be causing anxiety. Pick a few flowers to plant, then tend to and watch them bloom before your eyes.
  • Attend an outdoor concert. So maybe a hike or walk just isn’t in the cards for you this week; that’s okay. Get your girlfriends together and head to an outdoor concert. Don’t forget to dance a little bit too! The combination of being outdoors and getting your blood flowing all help to make you a happier you!
  • Check out a farmer’s market and pick up some avocados and bananas. These two market items are loaded with potassium, a vital mineral for keeping blood pressure low and reducing stress.

Stress Relief Activities You Can Do at Your Desk

Those of us who have held a job know the pressure of work-related stress. In fact, 65% of Americans cited work as a top source of stress (according to the American Psychological Association). With the majority of our days spent at the office, it’s important to know how to cope with everyday stressors. It’s not realistic to think you can lay out a mat and start your flow in the hallway of the office or dance like nobody’s watching, because all of your coworkers are. Instead, try the following relaxation techniques that you can do right at your desk!

Browse through our office-approved stress relief activities!

  • Go to your happy place. Sometimes it’s all about visualization and tapping into all of your senses. And by all, we mean all. Start by thinking of a relaxing moment in your life, when everything seemed to be at ease. Where were you? What did you see, smell or feel? Tapping into these specific details is a great way to refocus your attention and overwhelm your body with feelings of ease.
  • Try deep breathing. You might be wondering how to relax your mind. It’s all about deep breathing. Concentrate on relaxing your body from your head to your toes as you inhale and exhale. This will increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and lead you into a state of calm.
  • Goof off a little. Keep a stash of funny stuff somewhere near your desk or crack a joke in the kitchen. Don’t forget that laughing at yourself is a good way to stay humble and a nice reminder not to take life too seriously.
  • Watch a funny video. If goofing off on your own isn’t working out for you, try watching a funny video. Laughter has been shown to reduce the physical effects of stress while boosting creativity and productivity too!
  • Diversify your snacks. Having something to look forward to throughout the work day can help to get your mind off of all the things that may be worrying you. The right snack can also give your blood sugar a boost and improve your overall energy. Think dark chocolate, blueberries and yogurt.
  • Listen to music. Create a soothing playlist for yourself and put it on whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed. Music has a unique link to our emotions and the power to relax the mind. Pick a slow and soothing soundtrack or try out a white noise playlist. (source)
  • Take a moment to gaze out of the window. If there’s absolutely no way you’ll be able to make a trip outside during your day, at least take a moment to gaze out of the window. Getting your mind away from the screen can actually make you more productive. (source)
  • Write yourself a positive message. Your desk is bound to be filled with notepads and a container of pens, so grab one and jot down a positive message about yourself. Try “I am the best .” Our brains are constantly running and there’s a high percentage of our thoughts that are negative. Cancel out that negative self talk with something positive.
  • Get a desk diffuser. Did you know that scents can have an impact on your stress levels? Grab a desk diffuser and try out lavender essential oils for stress relief.
  • Take one thing at a time. This one is easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. Instead of thinking about all the things on your plate, grab your notepad and make a list of the tasks you’d like to accomplish today. Then, focus on one thing at a time, physically cross items off your list as you accomplish them.

Simple Ways to Beat Stress

As you can see, there are many ways to beat stress. What’s most effective for you may be different than someone else, but to give you a quick reminder of simple and fun stress-busting activities, we’ve created this visual. Add it to your Pinterest board or print it out for a reminder of ways you can decompress when you’re feeling overwhelmed!

If you’re still looking for a few more ideas on how to relieve stress, check out our collection of positive quotes. Don’t forget to cheer up those near and dear to you as you work on yourself too, these simple ways to help someone having a bad day should inspire some ideas.

Sources:

EurekAlert! | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology | APA | Calvin | NCBI | Psych Central

Stress: 10 Ways to Ease Stress

  1. Eat and drink sensibly. Alcohol and food abuse may seem to reduce stress, but it actually adds to it.
  2. Assert yourself. You do not have to meet others’ expectations or demands. It’s okay to say “No.” Remember, being assertive allows you to stand up for your rights and beliefs while respecting those of others.
  3. Stop smoking or other bad habits. Aside from the obvious health risks of cigarettes, nicotine acts as a stimulant and brings on more stress symptoms. Give yourself the gift of dropping unhealthy habits.
  4. Exercise regularly. Choose non-competitive exercise and set reasonable goals. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins (natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude).
  5. Study and practice relaxation techniques. Relax every day. Choose from a variety of different techniques. Combine opposites; a time for deep relaxation and a time for aerobic exercise is a sure way to protect your body from the effects of stress.
  6. Take responsibility. Control what you can and leave behind what you cannot control.
  7. Reduce stressors (cause of stress). Many people find that life is filled with too many demands and too little time. For the most part, these demands are ones we have chosen. Effective time-management skills involve asking for help when appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and taking time out for yourself.
  8. Examine your values and live by them. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is. Use your values when choosing your activities.
  9. Set realistic goals and expectations. It’s okay, and healthy, to realize you cannot be 100% successful at everything at once.
  10. Sell yourself to yourself. When you are feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. Have a healthy sense of self-esteem.

There are several other methods you can use to relax or reduce stress, including:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mental imagery relaxation
  • Relaxation to music
  • Biofeedback (explained below)
  • Counseling, to help you recognize and release stress

Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these techniques.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback helps a person learn stress-reduction skills by providing information about muscle tension, heart rate, and other vital signs as a person attempts to relax. It is used to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain.

Biofeedback can be used to help you learn how your body responds in stressful situations, and how to better cope. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full- blown.

What to do if you have trouble sleeping

You may experience insomnia (an inability to sleep) because of discomfort, stress from personal concerns, or side effects from your medications. If you cannot sleep, try these tips:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Make sure your bed and surroundings are comfortable. Arrange the pillows so you can maintain a comfortable position.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping only; don’t work or watch TV in your bedroom.
  • Avoid napping too much during the day. At the same time, remember to balance activity with rest during recovery.
  • If you feel nervous or anxious, talk to your spouse, partner, or a trusted friend. Get your troubles off your mind.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Do NOT take sleeping pills – they are very harmful when taken with your other medications.
  • Take diuretics, or “water pills” earlier, if possible, so you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Don’t stay in bed worrying about when you’re going to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Maintain a regular exercise routine; don’t exercise within 2-3 hours before bed time.

Share Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email Get useful, helpful and relevant health + wellness information enews

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

10 Great Stress Relief Activities to Try

1. Stretch Out Stress with Yoga

See yoga deals near you.

Yoga’s focus on breathing helps practitioners become aware of the present moment, which can ease anxiety, instill a sense of calm, and even ward off panic attacks. The breathing can also have a soothing effect on the nervous system, promoting a peaceful state of relaxation. Additionally, your yoga teacher may have a series of poses designed to relieve stress and stretch out any tense muscles.

Read more: Then Ten Types of Yoga, Explained

2. Stimulate Senses with Acupuncture

See acupuncture deals near you.

You probably didn’t think one of our stress relief tips would be “insert thin needles into your body.” But the ancient Chinese believed in acupuncture’s benefits, and modern-day studies are starting to confirm it. While acupuncture works by stimulating nerves and releasing natural pain killers, recent research suggests it might also regulate stress-causing hormones.

Read more: Does Acupuncture Hurt? (And How Does It Work?)

3. Sweat Out Stress with Zumba

See zumba deals near you.

Any aerobic exercise should be a stress relief activity, since it’ll promote feelings of well-being and help you get a good night of sleep, which is essential for reducing stress. But we recommend zumba in particular, because if you’re going to exercise, why not have a little fun while you’re doing it?

Read more: What is Zumba? A Guide to the Latin-Dance Workout

4. Warm Up in an Infrared Sauna

See sauna deals near you.

Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body, inducing a warm, relaxing feeling while purportedly reducing blood pressure. If arthritis causes you unwanted stress, there’s some evidence that these saunas help relieve joint pain, among other benefits. For an especially stress-relieving experience, we recommend meditating while in the sauna.

Read more: Is Sweating in an Infrared Sauna Good for You?

5. Breathe Better with Kickboxing Lessons

See kickboxing deals near you.

Kickboxing isn’t just about channelling stress into a furious combination of uppercuts, jabs, and kicks. A fundamental kickboxing lesson is learning proper breathing techniques, and deep breathing has been linked to increased relaxation and regulated blood pressure. It’s also been shown to elevate moods and lower anxiety.

Read more: What I Learned in My First Kickboxing Workout

6. Use Meditation to Relax Your Mind

See meditation deals near you.

A study in Health Psychology found that those who practiced mindfulness meditation had lower levels of cortisol. Why is that important? Because scientists consider cortisol “the stress hormone,” and too much of it can cause anxiety, memory issues, and even heart disease. By lowering your body’s stress hormone, meditation can lower your risk of these health issues. It might be the one of the best stress relief activities for long-term peace of mind.

Read more: Learning How to Meditate Made Me Want to Try Harder at Life

7. Relax Your Muscles with a Massage

See massage deals near you.

You might think, “Of course a massage is relaxing, but after the massage is overwith, won’t I go back to being stressed?” Not necessarily! A recent study found that the relaxing effects of a massage can last as long as 16 to 18 hours. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, and a pretty good investment for a one-hour activity. It can also help brighten your mood and reduce any muscle pain.

Read more: The Ultimate Massage Guide

8. Find Serenity in a Floatation Tank

See flotation tank deals near you.

It seems strange…floating in salt-rich water, inside a tube that keeps everything pitch dark. But some people swear that these floatation tanks are the ultimate stress relief technique, and the science is starting to back it. An Australian study showed that spending 45 minutes in a float tank could reduce stress and anxiety, and it might even improve your sleep quality.

Read more: What is a Float Tank? Learn How It Works & Why You Should Try It

9. Play a Round of Golf

See golf deals near you.

This one is a little tricky. Since it’s a gentle cardiovascular workout, improves your flexibiliy, and often surrounds you with nature, golf can be a friendly competition that’s both fun and stress reducing. Just make sure it doesn’t get too competitive, and have a sense of humor if your tee shot veers off into the pond.

Read more: Three Steps to Planning a Perfect Family Golf Outing

10. Explore Nature & Go Kayaking

See kayaking deals near you.

Several stress relief activities on the list are essentially exercise, which can help brighten your mood and help you feel healthier long-term. Kayaking is no different (it’s an especially effective upper-body workout), but it adds another element: being on the water. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the water, and it will bring a peaceful, meditative element to a great exercise session.

Read more: A Kayak Guide for Beginner Paddlers

27 Science-Backed Ways to Reduce Stress Right Now

1. Try progressive relaxation

All the way from fingers to toes, tense and then release each muscle group in the body: lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc.

Once the body is relaxed, the mind will follow. Research shows this technique helps ease anxiety and calm depression.Li Y, et al. (2015). Progressive muscle relaxation improves anxiety and depression of pulmonary arterial hypertension patients. DOI: 10.1155/2015/792895

2. Strike a pose

The combination of deep breathing techniques and poses makes yoga a potent stress relief tool. One study showed it worked in college students, a particularly tense group.Tripathi MN, et al. (2018). Psychophysiological effects of yoga on stress in college students. DOI: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_74_17

Yoga comes in different styles, from slow-paced to hardcore. Hatha yoga, with its gentle movements, may be especially good for inducing a state of calm.

3. Get a massage

Getting a good ol’ rub down may do more than alleviate physical pain. A massage may also be beneficial for fighting stress.

Don’t have the time or money for a full hour session? Head to the mall or nail salon for an abbreviated 20-minute version or use a foam roller to give yourself a rub.

Research shows a quick massage can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.Hand ME, et al. (2019). Massage chair sessions: Favorable effects on ambulatory cancer center nurses’ perceived level of stress, blood pressure, and heart rate. DOI: 10.1188/19.CJON.375-381

4. Take a nap

After a night spent tossing and turning, a quick power nap could be just the thing to give your dragging brain a boost. Napping has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol and other stress hormones.

Just keep it to 20 minutes, or it could lead to lost sleep the following night.Faraut B, et al. (2015). Napping reverses the salivary interleukin-6 and urinary norepinephrine changes induced by sleep restriction. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2014-2566

5. Meditate

The “mental silence” that goes along with meditation can produce a state of calm, even during the stormiest of days. But first it requires some mental focus, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Find a quiet spot, sit or lie down comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply for a few minutes. To still a turbulent mind, focus on an object or repeat a word or mantra like “ohm” or “chocolate bar” (hey, whatever works). Then, feel the stress melt away with each breath.

6. Breathe deeply

Not into the whole meditation thing? Just do the breathing part. Taking a few deep breaths from the diaphragm has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.Ma X, et al. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

7. Visualize calm

Close your eyes and picture yourself on a beach. Hear the waves lapping on the shore and watch the palm trees swaying in the breeze. Feel calmer?

Guided imagery or visualization is a sensory experience that involves envisioning a calm or peaceful scene. It may be a good way to reduce stress and ease anxiety, especially when you see yourself out in nature (picture yourself on a mountaintop or by an ocean).Nguyen J, et al. (2018). Nature-based guided imagery as an intervention for state anxiety. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01858

If you can’t get into the scene on your own, use a guided recording, or an app like Headspace. You’ll get your very own guide to talk you through this mental mini vacation.

8. Try self-hypnosis

You’re getting very sleepy…

Self-hypnosis isn’t about a swinging pocket watch or quacking like a duck. It’s an actual stress relief technique that research suggests can help reduce anxiety. Research on self-hypnosis is limited, but promising.

In one study, the technique helped a group of university students calm down before an exam.Dogan MD, et al. (2018). The effect of self-hypnosis on exam anxiety and stress among university students. DOI: 10.20431/2455-4324.0401004 A combo of self-hypnosis and mindfulness (think meditation) can also be a good stress-relieving tool.Elkins GR, et al. (2018). Mindful self-hypnosis for self-care: An integrative model and illustrative case example. DOI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29771220

9. Go float

Anyone who has floated in the ocean knows how calming it feels to bob along on the current (except for those who are terrified of the water — then, not so good).

Flotation-REST (reduced environmental stimulation therapy) takes this buoyantly calm feeling even further by adding in a dose of sensory deprivation.

In this treatment you’re suspended in a pool, kept afloat by thousands of pounds of Epsom salt. The room is dark and silent, leaving you to immerse yourself in your own thoughts.

We don’t recommend this technique for anyone with claustrophobia or aquaphobia. But those who are OK with floating will benefit from reduced anxiety and stress, less tense muscles, and a state of profound relaxation.Stein MB, et al. (2018). Examining the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of flotation-REST. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190292

Don’t have access to a sensory deprivation pool? Fill up the tub with warm water and float your cares away.

We all have stress — at work, at home, and on the road. Sometimes we can feel especially stressed because of a bad interaction with someone, too much work, or everyday hassles like getting stuck in traffic.

Negative stress can keep you from feeling and performing your best — mentally, physically and emotionally. But no one’s life is completely stress-free. It’s important to know how to manage the stress in your life. Try these three simple techniques for dealing with it.

Positive Self-Talk

Let’s be honest, we all talk to ourselves! Sometimes we talk out loud but usually we do it in our heads. Self-talk can be positive (“I can do this” or “everything will be OK”) or negative (“I’ll never get better” or “I’m so stupid”). Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk can help you calm down and control stress. With practice, you can learn to shift negative thoughts to positive ones. For example:

Negative to Positive

“I can’t do this.”> “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this.”
“Everything is going wrong.” > “I can handle this if I take one step at a time.”
“I hate it when this happens.” > “I know how to deal with this; I’ve done it before.”
“I feel helpless and alone.”> “I can reach out and get help if I need it.”
“I can’t believe I screwed up. > “I’m human, and we all make mistakes. I can fix it.”

To really make it work, practice positive self-talk every day — in the car, at your desk, before you go to bed or whenever you notice negative thoughts. It’s a great practice to teach kids, too!

Top 10 Emergency Stress-Stoppers

Emergency stress stoppers are actions to help you defuse stress in the moment. You may need different stress stoppers for different situations, and sometimes it helps to combine them. Here are some ideas:

  1. Count to 10 before you speak or react.
  2. Take a few slow, deep breaths until you feel your body un-clench a bit.
  3. Go for a walk, even if it’s just to the restroom and back. It can help break the tension and give you a chance to think things through.
  4. Try a quick meditation or prayer to get some perspective.
  5. If it’s not urgent, sleep on it and respond tomorrow. This works especially well for stressful emails and social media trolls.
  6. Walk away from the situation for a while, and handle it later once things have calmed down.
  7. Break down big problems into smaller parts. Take one step at a time, instead of trying to tackle everything at once.
  8. Turn on some chill music or an inspirational podcast to help you deal with road rage.
  9. Take a break to pet the dog, hug a loved one or do something to help someone else.
  10. Work out or do something active. Exercise is a great antidote for stress.

Stress-Busting Activities

Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to relieve stress and find your happy place. Even when you’re down, you may find pleasure in simple things like going for a walk, catching up with a friend, or reading a good book.

When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes. Some of these activities may work for you:

  • Make art — draw, color, paint, or play a musical instrument.
  • Work on a scrapbook or photo album to focus on good memories.
  • Read a book, short story or magazine.
  • Meet a friend for coffee or a meal.
  • Play a favorite sport like golf, tennis, or basketball.
  • Do a hobby like sewing, knitting, or making jewelry.
  • Play with your kids or pets – outdoors if possible.
  • Listen to music or watch an inspiring performance.
  • Take a walk in nature.
  • Take a relaxing bath and feel the stress wash away.
  • Meditate or practice yoga.
  • Work in the garden or do a home improvement project.
  • Go for a run or bike ride to clear your head.

The key is to find your groove and make it a practice. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you may start to feel better once you disrupt the cycle of stress.

Last reviewed June 2014

Best ways to manage stress

Image: Thinkstock
Meditation can trigger the antidote to stress, called the relaxation response.

Published: January, 2015

Goal setting and relaxation techniques reduce stress and ease the physical and emotional burden
it can take.

Stressful experiences come in many forms, such as a demanding job, a chronic disease, or an argument with a loved one. But all types of stressors—even stress from positive experiences,
such as planning a party—can result in the same physical and emotional burden on health, especially when you’re an older adult. “As we age, our immune systems are less efficient, and adding stress to that can lead to disease progression or the onset of disease,” says Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

The stress response

Stressful situations trigger a physical reaction known as the stress response. The brain relays warnings to the muscles, which tighten, and to the adrenal glands, which release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help your body prepare to fight or flee to safety: your heart pounds, blood pressure rises, and more of your blood is sent to your brain and muscles; your breath quickens to get more oxygen into your blood; and your body releases sugars and fats into the blood for energy.

In the short term, the stress response can help you navigate a difficult situation. But chronic stress can lead to physical damage. “Stress increases blood sugar and can make diabetes worse. It can create high blood pressure and cause insomnia. It can also make people become anxious, worried, depressed, or frustrated,” says Dr. Webster. Chronic stress also increases the risk of heart disease, heartburn, and many other health problems.

Recognizing stress

Symptoms of stress can take many forms. Stress may cause physical complaints, such as tension headaches, back pain, indigestion, or heart palpitations. It may appear as cognitive problems, such as poor concentration and indecisiveness. Emotional symptoms of stress include crying, irritability, and edginess. And stress can also show up as negative behaviors. “Driving a car too fast, overeating, or smoking can all be behavioral symptoms of stress,” says Dr. Webster.

Managing stress

The first step toward reducing stress is learning what your triggers are. “If you know what pushes your buttons, then avoid it. But there are stresses we have to accept, so we must change our reactions to them,” explains Dr. Webster. She offers the following ways to reduce or manage stress:

  • Relaxation techniques. These are activities that trigger the relaxation response, a physiological change that can help lower your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. You can achieve this with activities such as meditation, guided imagery, yoga, and deep breathing exercises.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the idea that changing unhealthy thinking can change your emotions. A CBT therapist will help you identify negative thinking and learn to automatically replace it with healthy or positive thoughts.

  • Goal setting. “When people set goals for themselves, they have a positive sense of commitment, feel they’re in control, and are optimistic,” says Dr. Webster. She recommends setting goals in your career, relationships, creativity, play, and health. 

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Parents: 11 things to do when you’re stressed

Whether you’re the parent of a tantrum-loving toddler or an eye-rolling, rule-pushing teen, having kids can be stressful. And, obviously, stress can lead to a host of nasty byproducts.

“There have been countless studies about the medical conditions caused by stress,” says Snowden McFall, a corporate trainer, stress expert and author of “Stress Express: 15 Instant Stress Relievers.” “In fact, some research has found that between 60% and 80% of doctor’s visits have an origin of stress. That’s a lot!”

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can evolve into a number of mental and physical conditions, including anxiety, depression, headaches and chest pain. And adding insult to injury is the fact that, for parents, stress often trickles down to the kids, while, ironically, you are trying to teach your children how to deal with their own stress. (In other words, if you lash out every time you feel stressed, there’s a good chance your child will eventually model that behavior.) No pressure there!

But stress doesn’t have to have a starring role in your life, even if it does make a cameo every now and then. Parents can take advantage of various practical, stress-reducing tools.

“Stress can be manageable,” says McFall. “You just have to be conscious and deliberate about it.”

Wondering what to do when you are stressed? Consider these 11 expert tips.

Practice physical self-care

1. Sleep

According to McFall and a number of studies, the single-most important thing you can do to deal with stress is to get enough sleep.

“If you get less than six hours of sleep, you’re at a cognitive disadvantage, plain and simple,” she says. “Additionally, over four times more likely to catch a cold or virus. Not something a parent wants to hear!”

Of course, the million-dollar question for parents everywhere is: How can I get more sleep? While you may not be able to stop your child from wandering into your room in the middle of the night because of a bad dream, there are a few things you can do that will contribute to a solid night’s rest.

“Remove all devices from your bedroom, and make sure your alarm clock has red numbers not blue, since blue light interferes with sleep,” says McFall. “Avoid checking email, texts or social media at least two hours before bed, and make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet. If you have time, a hot bath before bed can also help you sleep better.”

2. Do yoga

It’s been proven countless times that exercise, in general, helps with stress reduction, but yoga in particular comes with a few bonuses.

“As with other forms of exercise, the physical practice of yoga — the asanas — helps to manage stress,” says Baxter Bell, M.D., a yoga therapist and author of “Yoga for Healthy Aging.” “But additionally, yoga often uses breathing techniques and a short, guided meditation. Together, these three things help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for revving us up or calming us down.”

In other words, it helps us control how we physiologically and emotionally react to things that may cause stress off the mat.

If you can, aim to practice a few times a week. If that’s not possible, Bell recommends busy parents engage in a short, restorative practice at home for 10 to 15 minutes after the kids are in bed.

“When you’ve been putting yourself on the back burner all day, the best thing you can do emotionally is take time for yourself,” Bell says.

3. Try the ‘thymus tap’

Feeling anxious or flat-out spent? Try the biofeedback-derived thymus tap.

“This technique can be very powerful when you’re feeling stressed out about the future,” says Lauren E. Miller, a corporate coach and author of “5 Minutes to Stress Relief.” “It helps to realign your energy system with an inner confidence.”

Here’s how to do it:

  • Using your fingertips lightly tap on your thymus, which is located approximately two inches down from the lowest point in the U-shaped dip at the base of your throat.

  • Lightly tap as you say, “I have faith and confidence in my future, my future is secure, I am secure.”

  • Repeat for one to three minutes.

Change up your normal routine

4. Take a vacation

When was the last time you took a vacation? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably been a while.

“If you can, take a week’s vacation at least twice a year,” says McFall.

In 2014, one survey found that 42% of Americans skipped vacation altogether throughout the year, and another study, conducted in 2018, found that two out of three Americans work while on vacation.

“Don’t do that!” says McFall. “Spend time connecting with your family, let your brain relax, and you’ll feel refreshed and creative afterwards.”

Feel like you never enough money for such a luxury? There are a few things you can do, including starting a “vacation fund” and cutting back on everyday conveniences. (Looking at you, coffee!) If a far-off holiday still isn’t in the books for you, consider a staycation, aka time off from work to rest and relax in your own town. The important thing is getting time away from the office to rejuvenate and decrease the chance of burnout.

5. Volunteer

Try volunteering. It can reduce stress, and if you bring your little ones along, it will help them acquire good values.

“When you do something for someone less fortunate, you forget about your issues and cultivate gratitude,” McFall says. “Additionally, you develop greater human connections, which decrease isolation and loneliness, both of which can contribute to stress.”

Don’t know where to begin? Volunteer Match can connect you with local volunteer opportunities.

6. Make time for friends

Let’s be honest here: Parenting can be exhausting. Sometimes a good old-fashioned girls’ or boys’ night is the perfect antidote for feeling stressed out by kids, work and household duties.

“My girlfriends and I have a monthly standing Friday night date, where we leave the kids with our partners or sitters and head out for a night of fun,” says mom of two Nicole Schultz of Scarsdale, New York. “I swear, I can be super stressed out or in the worst mood, but as soon as I get out of my house and we get together, we’re laughing for three hours straight. I always come home revitalized and feeling recharged, even if it’s a late night!”

7. Spend time in nature

The next time you get the urge to do the dishes or scroll through Instagram when your little one is taking a nap, consider weeding (or reading!) in the back yard instead. The reason? Spending time in nature is a proven stress-reducer.

“I used to always rush home after dropping my daughter off at preschool so I could take care of household chores, check email and generally get organized,” says Abby Garrison, of Highland Park, New Jersey. “While I was getting stuff done, none of it was making me feel good. Now I take a 30-minute walk — sometimes with friends — after I drop her off, and it makes me feel so happy and refreshed.”

8. Laugh

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can help with a number of things, including improving your immune system, improving your mood and, yep, relieving stress.

“When you’re present, you laugh more in life, which has proven physiological benefits, even if it’s fake,” says Miller, who practiced this tactic when she was contending with a cancer diagnosis. “When I drove to radiation every day for six weeks, I would fake laugh until I evoked authentic laughter to help my body heal. I definitely think it helped.”

Check in with yourself mentally

9. Change your narrative

If you find yourself listening to a never-ending stream of thoughts about all the things that “have” to get done each day (and subsequently feel overwhelmed), try flipping the script.

“In yoga, we practice something called pratipaksha-bhavana — the art of cultivating the opposite,” says Bell. “When you’re plagued with negative thoughts — such as ‘I have to meet with this person’ or ‘I have to do this with the kids’ — try cultivating the opposite. Think about the positives and how you get to meet with this person and how you get to do these things with the kids.”

10. Prioritize your values

Being a parent means juggling a number of things at any given moment. Are you going to be able to do each and every one of them at 100% all the time? Of course not. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, check in with your mental priority list. (For example, is it essential that you organize your pantry when your child needs help with her homework or just wants your undivided attention? Probably not. In moments like these, when you’re trying to get a million things done, start with the most important and go from there.

“Know what you value most in life,” says Miller. “When your priorities are clear, decisions come easy. Stress often creeps in when you forget what you value most in life. When you spend most of your energy on ‘nonessentials,’ you begin to feel depleted very quickly and stress kicks in. When you pay attention to and create moments every day that nurture what you value most, your thinking becomes clear, and you feel a sense of inner peace.”

11. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness, a proven stress-fighter, can help you to be in the present moment, while giving you the opportunity to observe your emotions as a spectator, as opposed to being controlled by them. While you don’t need to be seated in lotus pose to practice mindfulness, the Mayo Clinic describes it as a “type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling … without interpretation or judgment.”

There are a number of ways to practice mindfulness, including focusing on your breath at any given moment throughout the day, or meditating in a more structured and traditional way, either on your own or with guided help from an app like Headspace.

“Whether you just received unexpected information about a family member or discovered you won $1,000, stress is a reality that happens all the time in everyone’s life,” says Bell. “It’s important to be conscious of your thoughts and how they make you feel. With these momentary check-ins, you can better prioritize what happens in that moment and the next more effectively.”

April kicks off the start of National Stress Awareness Month. In today’s workforce, more than a third of Americans experience chronic work stress, while only 36% report that they are provided the resources to help them manage their stress at work.

Employee stress isn’t just a personal issue. How your team feels at work can have a big impact on productivity, engagement, and even your bottom line—to the tune of over $300 billion a year in absenteeism and lost productivity for U.S. business owners. In contrast, taking steps to reduce employee stress can bring business up: happy employees are 20% more productive, and employee happiness has been shown to improve sales by 37%.

You don’t have to spend a lot of extra cash to show your employees you care. Here are 18 low-cost ways to bring your team closer together and reduce their workplace stress this month.

1. Scale back on the “tough love”

Everyone has their own management style, and as a small business owner, the pressure’s on to lead and succeed. However, if you generally take a hardline approach to your manager/employee relationships, you may be doing more harm than good: putting negative pressure on employees or showing “tough love” has been found to lead to higher levels of work-related stress, resulting in higher rates of employee turnover and poorer performance. Instead, focus on leading with empathy—and you may find your employees (and your customers) better for it.

2. Host a mindfulness workshop

“Mindfulness meditation” has been shown to reduce anxiety and even change your brain. Turns out the more you meditate, the less a stress hormone called ACTH may exist in your blood and the more gray matter you’ll add to your mind. You’ll be getting more piece of mind, literally.

You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a meditation guru or practitioner. Look in your local community or yoga center to see if any practitioners are currently in training and would like to earn additional hours through a community project. And if you can’t afford a teacher, you can also use a virtual one. Have your team download a meditation app like Headspace and set aside some time during the workday to walk through the exercises together. Your team can start to experience meditation’s effects in as little as 10 minutes.

3. Try some healthy (or healthy-ish) snacks

Snacks are a common perk in many workplaces and an easy way to show employees your appreciation. However, go-to work snacks like chips and candy can kill productivity and lead to sugar crashes. Switch things up and start rotating in nutritionist-approved options like almonds, jerky, and fruit. Or, treat your team to a snack box subscription for the month from health-conscious companies like Snacknation.

4. But don’t forget the chocolate

Chocolate makes people happier—it’s just hard science. But before you cancel your team’s snack box order and buy up candy in bulk, know that it’s only dark chocolate and only in moderate quantities. Eating 1.4 ounces of chocolate a day—a little less than one chocolate bar—has been found to reduce stress and anxiety compared to other foods. So while you’re introducing healthier work snack options, it’s still okay to treat your team to something sweet.

5. Take a plank break

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking breaks can actually help your employees work faster. Allowing them to step away from their work isn’t just a legal requirement—being able to focus on a different activity (even just for a few minutes) is a quick and easy way for anyone to recharge before diving back in. Even just five minutes will do. Use the break for a one-two punch and get your employees moving at the same time. Challenge everyone to a 30-second plank to start, then slowly work your way up each week. Why planks? They require no equipment and can be done almost anywhere. By the end of the month, see if your entire team can hold their plank for a full 5 minutes.

6. Get organized

When was the last time your team cleaned up their work station? Or the last time you really spruced up the office? Getting organized can increase energy, reduce stress, and reduce your risk of a heart attack. Now’s the time to tackle any deep cleaning or DIY projects on the to-do list. Set aside a few hours or an afternoon for everyone to help organize the stockroom or clean things up for spring. Let your employees be part of the process and find ways for everyone to contribute. If you have any artists in residence, think of a few DIY projects and let them get creative.

In addition to physical organization, you and your team may benefit from virtual organization. Implementing an online time clock software eliminates the stress of punch cards and allows employees the ease of clocking in and clocking out right from their phone.

7. Host a team fitness challenge

We’ve all heard it—healthy diet, enough sleep, and exercise. Try asking any small business owner how they’re getting all three. But exercise can actually give your team an extra edge, helping them stay calm in stressful customer situations and better problem solve on their feet. Challenge your team to a month-long group fitness faceoff. Employees can compete based on time spent working out, miles run, or how many minutes spent exercising per week. Use a free workout app like Endomondo to check in on each other’s progress on a group leaderboard, and don’t forget to get in on the action and get moving yourself.

8. Invite over some furry friends

Like chocolate, it’s no coincidence that “happy” things have been scientifically proven to also reduce stress. Puppies and other pets fall in the same category. Just petting a dog can help lower blood pressure and feelings of depression. Reach out to your local shelter or animal rescue and see if they’d be willing to bring in a few friendly dogs for an hour or two. They’ll get a chance to socialize, and your team will experience all of the stress-relief benefits that come from man’s best friend.

9. Find 20 minutes to joke around

Laughter is the best medicine, even in small doses. Spending 20 minutes watching a funny video or laughing together decreases stress and increases memory recall. So set aside some time for your team to kick back and share their favorite jokes over happy hour, or if your business has the space, host a formal comedy night. Invite everyone to dress up for a team “tacky day” and vote on who can come up with the most ridiculous costume. Whichever way you decide to add some fun into the day, keep the 20 minutes going. Continue searching for different activities that your employees enjoy doing together and give them the chance to relax and bond over something fun outside of work.

10. Practice the “6 for every 1” rule

Think back to the last time you gave an employee critical feedback. Now think back to the last time you gave them some praise. Most likely, the negatives stand out more than the positives—and they do for your employees too. A little negative feedback can go a long way and have a more lasting effect than a casual “job well done.” In fact, researchers have found that the biggest indicator of a team’s success isn’t necessarily their expertise or skillset. It’s their ratio of negative to positive comments to each other. On average, the most successful teams provide 6 positive comments for every single negative one.

That may seem like a lot, but like in the exercise above, negative comments tend to be the ones we internalize and recall the most. Instead, challenge your team to bring some positivity into all their interactions with coworkers and put the “6 for every 1” rule into action. They may find that it’s easy to come up with criticism, but compliments take more intention. They’ll strengthen their bonds with each other, kicking off a positivity trend that may continue long past April.

11. Volunteer together

Giving back doesn’t just affect others. It can impact your team’s own lives as well. Volunteering in your community has been shown to reduce stress and promote better mental health by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression. It can also lead to a longer life and promote stronger team building, at very little cost. Get in touch with your local food pantry or soup kitchen and schedule a day to bring your team in to help serve. If the weather’s nice, pick a neighborhood park to sponsor and get in on the spring cleaning. Your team will have a chance to problem solve and get to know each other outside of work while contributing to a greater cause.

12. Play it forward

Take volunteering to the next level by sending your team on a “play it forward” scavenger hunt. Here’s how it works: come up with a list of surprise ways to pay it forward (that don’t take a lot of extra cash) and divide employees into groups. It could be paying for person’s coffee behind you in the Starbucks line, leaving an encouraging note for a stranger, or calling a friend to tell them how much they mean to you. Whichever group can complete as many good deeds or random acts of kindness within a certain time period wins.

13. Do Theme Day Fridays

Is there something your employees are incredibly passionate about? A deep-seated sports rivalry or a favorite band? If your employees wear a uniform, give them a day to show off some more personality. Invite everyone to rep their favorite team or dress up as their favorite superhero, and hold a vote for different costume categories, like “Most Realistic” or “Best Group Costume.” And it doesn’t have to be just one day of the month—you could do a different theme each day for one week or institute “Theme Day Fridays” every week.

14. Hold a hackathon

Hackathons aren’t just for software developers or large companies. More and more businesses are leveraging this team-building activity to spark creativity and promote cross-team collaboration. All you need is an idea, a workspace, and some fuel to keep you going. Think about a current challenge your business is facing or a business goal. You may be looking for creative ways to get more foot traffic during Small Business Month in May, recruiting more seasonal hires, or looking to add some new items to the menu.

Decide what problem or goal you want your team to solve for during the hackathon, divide them into smaller groups, then watch them go. At the end of the day, each group will pitch their business idea, and the group with the best idea wins the hackathon. But ultimately, everyone wins—there aren’t any right or wrong solves when it comes to a hackathon, and your team will have had the chance to collaborate and plug into the business in a real and tangible way. Plus, you’ll likely find yourself with a backlog of awesome ideas for months to come.

15. Switch things up

Everyone can start to feel run down by the day-to-day. Bring back some spontaneity by giving your employees a chance to mix things up in their work routines. Assign them to a different role or incorporate a new skill into their daily tasks. If they’ve been working behind the scenes in the kitchen and want more time on the floor, have them shadow another employee already doing the role for their shift, and vice versa. Choose a quiet time of day for this role swap so that they’re able to practice in a low-stress environment. It’ll help them have a better understanding and appreciation for their coworkers, as well as a look into how everyone keeps business running smoothly.

16. Give them time for passion projects

Similar to a role swap, give your employees a set bucket of hours this month to devote to passion or side-of-desk projects. Ideally, these should be business-related but may not fall under their everyday job description. At the end of the month, bring your team together for a group share out with the outcomes or updates from their work.

17. Have a Drink Talk Learn party

As recently popularized on Twitter, sometimes all a good party needs is a good PowerPoint. Instead of showcasing what they’ve done at work, a Drink Talk Learn party lets employees share a more about who they are and what interests them outside of operating hours. There are a few formal rules, like keeping your presentation under three minutes, but employees can put together presentations on just about anything (as long as it’s work appropriate). Expect laughter, an unexpected lecture, or simply the chance to get to learn more about each other.

18. Ask for their honest feedback

One of the hardest things about tackling employee stress is that you may not even realize its existence. Different people handle stress in different ways, so it’s important to know how your employees are feeling before they burn out or hit a breaking point. Set aside some time this month to talk to each employee one on one, and not just a five minute check-in. Ask how they’re doing and dig for a real answer. Ask them what could be better for them at work. And in the end, make sure they truly feel heard and understood, but give your honest feedback. After all, employees don’t leave companies—they leave managers. If they raise issues, put together a plan for next steps and discuss how they’d like to see them addressed.

18 Ways to De-stress & Re-energize Your Team Grace Madlinger

How to un stress?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *