Stress basics (10)
- Stress assessment: Rate your stress level
- Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior
- How to be happy: Tips for cultivating contentment
- see all in Stress basics
Stress relief (23)
- Stress relief from laughter? Yes, no joke
- Spirituality and stress relief: Make the connection
- Need stress relief? Try the four A's
- see all in Stress relief
Relaxation techniques (9)
- Massage: Get in touch with its many benefits
- Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity
- Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress
- see all in Relaxation techniques
Stress relievers: Top 10 picks to tame stress
Top 10 stress relievers
1. Get active
Virtually any form of exercise and physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you're not an athlete or you're out of shape, exercise is still a good stress reliever. Physical activity pumps up your feel-good endorphins and refocuses your mind on your body's movements, improving your mood and helping the day's irritations fade away. Consider walking, jogging, gardening, house cleaning, biking, swimming, weightlifting or anything else that gets you active.
During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. Meditation instills a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. Guided meditation, guided imagery, visualization and other forms of meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time, whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus to work or waiting at the doctor's office.
A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but it can help you feel better, even if you have to force a fake laugh through your grumpiness. When you start to laugh, it lightens your mental load and actually causes positive physical changes in your body. Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure, producing a good, relaxed feeling. So read some jokes, tell some jokes, watch a comedy or hang out with your funny friends.
When you're stressed and irritable, your instinct may be to wrap yourself in a cocoon. Instead, reach out to family and friends and make social connections. Social contact is a good stress reliever because it can distract you, provide support, help you weather life's up and downs, and make you feel good by doing good. So take a coffee break with a friend, email a relative, volunteer for a charitable group, or visit your place of worship.
5. Assert yourself
You might want to do it all, but you probably can't, at least not without paying a price. Learn to say no to some tasks or to delegate them. Saying yes may seem like an easy way to keep the peace, prevent conflicts and get the job done right. But it may actually cause you internal conflict because your needs and those of your family come second, which can lead to stress, anger, resentment and even the desire to exact revenge. And that's not very calm and peaceful.
6. Do yoga
With its series of postures and controlled-breathing exercises, yoga is a popular stress reliever. Yoga brings together physical and mental disciplines to achieve peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety. Try yoga on your own or find a class — you can find classes in most communities. Hatha yoga, in particular, is a good stress reliever because of its slower pace and easier movements.
Stress often gives sleep the heave-ho. You have too much to do — and too much to think about — and your sleep suffers. But sleep is the time when your brain and body recharge. And the quality and amount of sleep you get affects your mood, energy level, concentration and overall functioning. If you have sleep troubles, make sure that you have a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine, listen to soothing music, put clocks away, and stick to a consistent schedule.
Writing out thoughts and feelings can be a good release for otherwise pent-up emotions. Don't think about what to write — just let it happen. Write whatever comes to mind. No one else needs to read it, so don't strive for perfection in grammar or spelling. Just let your thoughts flow on paper — or computer screen. Once you're done, you can toss out what your wrote or save it to reflect on later.
9. Get musical
Listening to or playing music is a good stress reliever because it provides a mental distraction, reduces muscle tension and decreases stress hormones. Crank up the volume and let your mind be absorbed by the music. If music isn't your thing, though, turn your attention to another hobby you enjoy, such as gardening, sewing, sketching — anything that requires you to focus on what you're doing rather than what you think you should be doing.
10. Seek counsel
If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if self-care stress relievers just aren't relieving your stress, you may need to look for reinforcements in the form of professional therapy or counseling. Therapy may be a good idea if stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed or trapped, if you worry excessively, or if you have trouble carrying out daily routines or meeting responsibilities at work, home or school. Professional counselors or therapists can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping tools.
(2 of 2)
- Sime WE. Exercise therapy for stress management. In: Lehrer PM, et al. Principles and practice of stress management. 3rd ed. Spring Street, N.Y.: Guilford Press. 2007;333.
- Strohle A. Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission. 2009;116:777.
- Lane JD, et al. Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2007;13:38.
- Ospina MB, et al. Meditation practices for health: State of the research. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://www.ahrq.gov/downloads/pub/evidence/pdf/meditation/medit.pdf. Accessed Aug. 31, 2010.
- Karren KJ, et al. Mind/Body Health: The Effect of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships. New York, N.Y.: Benjamin Cummings; 2010.
- Bennett MP, et al. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2003;9:38.
- Sood A. Log On: Two Steps to Mindful Awareness. Rochester, Minn.: Morning Dew Publications; 2009:354.
- Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-being. 6th ed. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Publishers; 2009.
- Yoga for health: An introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm. Accessed Aug. 31, 2010.
- Javnbakht M, et al. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2009;15:102.
- Music therapy. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/MindBodyandSpirit/music-therapy. Accessed Aug. 31, 2010.
- Stress: When and how to get help. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-help.aspx. Accessed Aug. 31, 2010.
- Stress: Coping with everyday problems. National Mental Health Association. http://www.nmha.org/go/information/get-info/stress/stress-coping-with-everyday-problems. Accessed Aug. 31, 2010.
- Anderson CA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 7, 2010.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 11, 2010.