No one is immune to stress, no matter how well you take care of yourself or how much you plan ahead. Stress can be related to work, school, relationships, and the world around you. It’s bound to happen. So, what do you do when things go wrong and the stress is building? What relaxation techniques do you use that actually work? Here are some trusted methods you can use to relieve stress and calm the mind.
- Take a break
Stop what you’re doing. Step away and shift your focus. Look out the window. Drink a cup of tea. Do something that’s creative or that requires focus—like doodling, knitting, or Sudoku—to take your mind off what’s worrying you.
- Breathe deep
Breathe in slowly through nose. Feel your lungs expand and notice as your belly rises. Pause at the end of your inhale. Then slowly release your breath, trying to make your exhale slower than your inhale. Repeat this deep breathing three or four times. As you do so, your heart rate will slow, your parasympathetic nervous system will help you to relax, and your mind will begin to calm.
Consider trying guided meditations that focus on your breathe with apps like Calm or Headspace. In addition to 10-minute and longer meditations, you’ll also find short 30-seconds, 1-minute, or 3-minute meditation options that fit even your busiest days.
- Listen to calming music or nature sounds
Play slow quiet music to help you relax. Choose songs with little to no vocals and no loud instruments. Alternatively, you can try nature sounds—like that of an ocean, a creek, or birds in a field. Whether you’re working around the house or the office, these soothing sounds can slow your mind and boost your mood.
- Create a gratitude journal
Write down 10 things you’re grateful for. Reread your list and think about each item. In doing so, you move your attention away from your stressors to the objects of your gratitude. Keep this list handy and add to it weekly. When you need to relieve your stress, revisit your list to remind yourself of all the good things in your life.
Need to reduce stress and anxiety? Like exercising, minus all that sweat, singing your favorite song has the power to produce endorphins that improve your mood and reduce cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with stress, to release tension. So, in your car, in the shower, or in your home, turn it up and belt it out. Maybe don’t try this one in a crowded office though.
- Go screen-free
The constant influx of email. Your love-hate relationship with social media. The never-ending news cycle. Sometimes, it gets to be too much. Give yourself permission to disconnect. Turn off your phone. Read a book, go for a stroll, spend time with your family. Whatever it is, do something that makes you happy.
That clutter at your desk or your kitchen table or even in your car could be contributing to your stress levels. Stop putting off the work of decluttering. Cleaning up and throwing things away can feel good in the moment and seeing a clear space in the future will help you continue to feel relaxed. Be sure to set up an organization system that helps you keep your space clutter-free. This may include reminders or scheduling time each week to sort and organize.
- Start small
If you’re feeling stressed about your to-do list, pick one thing to focus on. Break that item down into small, manageable tasks. Set a realistic goal for which of those small tasks you plan to accomplish in the next hour, two hours, or day. Recognize and acknowledge your small wins as you complete each task.
- Be with friends and family
Talking about how you feel with close friends or family can help you to process your emotions and find the clarity to deal with what’s going on. Your loved ones can also join you in brainstorming how to solve a problem and help you to see something from a new perspective. Spending time with loved ones can also help to distract you from your stressors and give you renewed energy to tackle any complex issues in your life.
Find videos of your favorite comedian or maybe some adorable animals doing funny things. How about an episode of your favorite comedy show? Laughing is another great way to get your feel-good endorphins flowing and to lower your stress hormones.
Stretch. Dance around the room even if it feels silly. Work out. Dig in your garden. Take your dog for a walk. Do what works for you; just get your energy flowing and your mind off the things that stress you out. (Get bonus points for going outside or spending time with a pet, as both have been shown to help relieve stress.)
- Ask for help
Sometimes we feel stress because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. If you need help, ask for it. Ask your boss, your instructor, or your family. Most people are willing to help if only they know how and when you need support.
One important thing to remember is to never stress about being stressed. Stress happens and worrying about your stress levels never helps. The best course of action is to find a way to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress. Over time, you’ll learn what relaxation techniques work for you.
If you’re interested in helping other people cope with stress and other complex issues in their lives, you may want to consider a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program or Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at South University.