15 Practical Ways to Relieve Stress
If you’ve landed on this page, it’s likely that you’re stressed out. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Stress has been named the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organisation and according to a recent survey by Forth, 85% of UK adults are experiencing stress regularly. There are endless stats showing the harmful and growing effects of stress on modern society, with the main causes consistently being money, work and health.
But shared experience and justification doesn’t hold much value. The true value lies in the solution to this problem, which is actually far more attainable than one may first think. You see, if we can identify the causes of stress and learn to recognise the warning signals our body sends us, we can really begin to address the issue head-on.
So ask yourself, are you ready to start addressing your stress today?
We’re guessing that is a resounding “YES!”. Even if you’re not quite ready yet, know you can always return to this page. What we are offering in this article is not a quick-fix (because honestly, we are strong believers that there is no such thing), it is a set of relaxation tools and stress-relieving tips that you can integrate into your everyday life to create a better, healthier and more balanced lifestyle. Incorporate the ones that ‘speak’ to you and you should see a gradual, if not dramatic, change in your general mood and physical health.
What is stress?
The first step is to understand what stress actually is and learn how it manifests in you. Though there are common telltale signs and symptoms related to stress, such as tension in the jaw and shoulders or frowning (more listed below), everyone is different – so the means of relaxation will be different for each individual too. What one person may find de-stressing, another may find distressing. Just like any health issue, stress needs to be treated with the whole person in mind. So, as you read this article, note what makes sense to you and discern what doesn’t apply.
Stress is an adverse reaction all humans (as well as animals and even plants) experience. In small doses, stress may be desired, beneficial and even considered healthy – when under control it can motivate us to perform well, such as in the case of an athletic race or job interview. This kind of stress is called positive stress, and can’t be avoided as it is natural. Our stress system is an evolutionary design to keep us safe from danger such as predators in the wild, so it actually deserves A LOT of credit for us being here today!
The thing is, most of us have no need to worry about being eaten alive anymore. Our responses don’t need to be as strong as they used to be, but they are. None of us are immune to stress, it’s hardwired, part of our blueprint. The simple fact of the matter is that we have to work hard to manage it, and some find that easier than others for a number of reasons – often related to childhood experiences and/or the central nervous system. The overuse of technology and disconnection to nature is said to be a contributing factor too.
Unmanaged, regular stress doesn’t serve us well. When the body is stressed, the physical response is the activation of our ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. This releases a complex mix of hormones and chemicals including adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare us to take action. Physiologically, stress is described as a painful feeling of strain and pressure. The mind is racing and full of negative thoughts. It is overwhelming and can be all-consuming when at its worst. Some people even experience anxiety as a response to stress, which can be crippling, especially when it interferes with the runnings of day to day life.
The common causes of stress
As we’ve touched on above, all sorts of things can contribute to the stress we experience. With so much of the modern world being about ‘saving time’ and ‘making things easier’, at first it doesn’t appear to make much sense that we are more stressed out than we were 50 years ago. But when you consider the amount of information we are exposed to and are expected to process each day, the big picture becomes a little clearer.
Oliver James wrote a book all about this and named it Affluenza. He believes we are all suffering from an addiction to affluence – the need to consume and acquire more and more possessions/data/positions/experiences. He says this intense desire to “keep-up-with-the-Joneses” is resulting in a worldwide depression and anxiety epidemic, and more and more statistics have evidence to support this.
When many of us think of stress, we think of the cases in which it is recognised in its immediate form. We find it easy to pinpoint an extremely stressful, standout situation – like a big argument we’ve had with someone, a death we’ve experienced or a personal injury or illness we’ve suffered. What we typically find more difficult to identify are the environmental stressors that can create low-grade, continual stress in our lives – which can build up. To help you recognise these, we’ve listed a few examples of common social, environmental, cultural and economical stressors many of us experience today:
Threat of terrorism
Social media pressure
Lack of connection and time spent with people
Fear of job loss
Traffic and commuting
Rushing all the time
Periods of economic downturn
Change in society or personal/professional life
Transitioning from school to college/university
Leaving college/university for the outside world
Not finding like minded people near you
Uncertainty about the future
If reading this has opened your eyes to some of the stressors that impact you, it could be that you’ve been struggling, possibly without even knowing, for some time. Ignoring the things that play a part in your mood and physiology on a daily basis may seem like the only way to cope, but it will eventually catch up with you. Ongoing stress of any kind can wreak havoc on your health and disturb your mental wellbeing. So, though we can’t always control the factors around us, it is best to be aware of our reactions to it. Once we have awareness of when and why we get stressed, we can begin exploring some real coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques to help us.
For now though, let these words ‘work’ on you:
Saying this out loud or even in your head regularly will remind you to assess the situation (can I change this?), tune into your body (how does ‘this’ make me feel) and let go of whatever it is you cannot control (can I release this?). We find it provides comfort and direction when it is most needed. It’s also a great interruption to counteract all the unnecessary negative talk the brain can think up when it is under stress and strain.
How to know if you’re stressed
So, what does being stressed look like? The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Some people mask their stress incredibly well in fear of being judged for being wholly authentic with the outside world, others are so caught up in ‘doing’ that they don’t even realise how tense their body is, while the rest of us are somewhat aware (and massively concerned) but ultimately continue on as ‘normal’ anyway because they simply don’t know what to do about it. There are, of course, a small but growing percentage of people that have taken the time to understand what stress looks like in their own mind and body and have gone on to successfully manage it using a range of techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, reading, colouring-in or yoga.
But before we get to the treatment, we must first take a look at the symptoms. Below are the most common ways stress manifests in both men and women:
Physical symptoms of stress
Holding tension in the shoulders, neck, back and hands
Clenched jaw and teeth
Biting the insides of the mouth/cheeks
Biting nails or hang nails
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Frowning, squinting and general contraction in the face
Cold or sweaty hands and feet
Nervousness and shaking
Aches and pains in the muscles
Frequent colds and infections
Upset stomach – diarrhoea, constipation and nausea
Feeling lethargic and being low on energy
Not being able to sleep – insomnia
Headaches and/or ringing in the ear(s)
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Chest pains and/or a rapid heart rate
Skin conditions – acne, stress hives, eczema etc.
Loss of appetite or desire to overeat
Inability to sit still or focus
Regular outbursts of crying (or aggression).
Emotional symptoms of stress
Low self esteem – feeling lonely, worthless and depressed
Becoming easily agitated – feeling frustrated and being moody
Feeling overwhelmed – like you’re out of/losing control
Self-absorbed – difficulty relaxing, listening or focusing due to an overactive mind
Avoiding others – often due to feeling shame, irritability or a lack of interest.
Cognitive symptoms of stress
Being pessimistic – only being able to see the glass half empty
Constant worrying – mind racing, falling into negative thought patterns
Forgetfulness and disorganisation – getting flustered and disorientated easily
Poor judgment – not being able to make effective decisions
Inability to focus – distracted by the ‘monkey mind’ and/or physical symptoms, like fidgeting or aching.
Behavioural symptoms of stress
Substance abuse – smoking, drinking, taking drugs
Procrastinating – avoiding decision making and responsibilities
Jumping from one job to another without finishing
Exhibiting nervous behaviours – like pacing the room, twitching or tapping
Change in sleeping patterns – too much or too little, constantly tired either way.
If you’ve read that and it has resonated, you’re on your way to a better, more fulfilled life… The first step to any journey like this is to acknowledge the problem(s) for what it is/they are. Now you know how stress manifests in you as an individual, you can look into particular tools that will help you to improve your mental and physical health.
You should also know that there are such things as Personal Stress Monitors, which work with heat to give you instant feedback so you are aware of your stress levels. Our De-Stress Box contains Stressdots because they can help you become aware of when you are entering the stress arena. The sooner you realise your stress levels are rising, the sooner you will be able to take measures to reduce them.
How to relieve everyday stress
It’s not easy taking steps to manage your stress. At first, we can view self-care as another chore we have to carry out in order to be ‘successful’. But when you realise the quality of life that can be lived due to a reduction in your everyday stress, the initial resistance can turn into lifelong momentum!
To help you make a start, we’ve picked out 15 of our own favourite ways to unwind:
1. Light a Scented Candle
If lots of small, negative things throughout the day equate to stress, then lots of small positive things must equate to some level of contentment/happiness. It may seem like a tiny gesture but taking the time to choose a candle, light a candle, smell a candle, sit with a candle and gaze at a candle can be a really peaceful, ritualistic thing to do. When things are bad, you have to counteract them with some good. You could set an intention each time you light a candle, or use it as a focal point for a meditation. But if nothing else, it helps to take some time to truly be with yourself in a relaxing environment – after all, we all know how much our surroundings rub off on us!
2. Hold a pamper session
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so although many of you reading this will argue that you “simply don’t have the time for this” and may even feel guilty for taking a moment or two for yourself, there’s really nothing consuming or selfish about it. If you don’t take the time to love and honour yourself, there’s absolutely no way that you can truly exhibit this towards others. It is crucial that you find a way to replenish your energy regularly and for many people, a relaxing bath with some essential oils does just the trick (we recommend lavender for calming and lavandin for uplifting). Maybe for you it’s a pampering face mask or coffee scrub, or simply just putting your feet up with a glass of your favourite wine. Whatever you need, allow yourself this today.
3. Drink a relaxing herbal tea
Staying hydrated is really important, especially when you’re stressed. A lack of liquid can alter your mood, making you grouchy and weaker than usual. Water is great for you but can get a bit boring, so a herbal tea is a good choice if you want to throw in some flavour and add some relaxation benefits. Herbal teas often contain plenty of vitamins. Pukka’s Relax or Three Tulsi Tea are two favourites that help us to step back, breathe and bathe in the tranquility of healthful herbs. Making your tea and drinking it can be another really ritualistic, peaceful thing to do – concentrate the different senses, the smell, the taste, the temperature… a little rest bite like this acts as a good intervention for everyday stress.
4. Unwind with some affirmations
Self affirmations are a fairly controversial topic. Some people call them a lifeline, while others remain extremely skeptical about how effective they really are. The science evidence behind this is also divided, with some studies finding genuine benefits whilst others tell a more neutral or negative story. In our personal experience, affirmations are no quick-fix (though they can work faster than other ‘stress management tools’ if you are receptive), they require patience and repetition for you to see any real shift. But if you have these two things backed by pure intent, we firmly believe that it can make the world of difference, in that they can counteract your negative thoughts by adding some positive ones into the mix. Here’s a few affirmations we use when feeling overwhelmed or powerless (with thanks to Jen from Aim Happy):
‘My true purpose has no time limit and no deadline’
‘Beautiful things emerge from the most unlikely places’
‘Feeling stuck is a feeling, not a fact’
‘When everything falls apart, I have the opportunity to rebuild’
‘I can be in it, but I don’t have to be of it’
‘I believe in my freedom’
5. Spend some time with your breath
Breathing is something most of us take for granted – it’s something that is with us from the moment we are born right through to the end, and seemingly just ‘happens’ without any effort. But many meditators and scientists around the globe know that how we breathe has a big part to play in how we feel and operate within our internal and external worlds. They believe that simply becoming more conscious of our respiratory system and patterns can help to reduce stress. Call it a portable calm-down tool, if you like, lots do!
Here’s how it works: When we take a breath in, we activate the sympathetic nervous system (often referred to as fight-and-flight). Conversely, when we breathe out we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as breed-and-feed). If you can increase the amount of time you spend in breed-and-feed, you’ll start feeling less stressed, as the brain is receiving signals that everything is well. Try it for yourself and see how you get on. As with any practice of this kind, persistence can be key. If you want more information/guidance, Robert Mitchell from Bromley Mindfulness provides a great amount of insight on this. You can hear him explaining how to use the Heartrate Coherence+ App to reduce stress here on YouTube.
Keep in mind: If you have a medical problem that affects your breathing, you should speak to your GP for safe, individual advice before trying any breathing or relaxation exercises on your own. An open and upright posture is best but as Robert says, comfort comes first! Listen to your body during this time and always stop if you feel physical discomfort, but know everyone experiences the uneasy feeling of a busy mind… just keep returning to the breath and know that this is normal, all the benefits still apply.
6. Learn some relaxation techniques
Another stress management technique we’ve learned from Robert is Relaxation. Relaxation is an exercise sometimes taught in yoga and meditation, but has nothing to do with religion and isn’t associated to a particular set of beliefs – it is just another valuable tool you can learn and incorporate into your day-to-day life. You can find plenty of guided relaxations online, via YouTube, Soundcloud, Headspace, Calm or Insight Timer etc. Alternatively, you can read the steps here and learn to guide yourself. This practice can be done as often as you like, for any duration, but thirty minutes two to three times a day will help you get the very most out of the exercise.
Here’s how it works: Relaxation is designed to help you recognise muscle tension so that you can work on reducing it. An introduction to how this works is as follows:
Step 1) Sitting or lying comfortably in a open position, neck straight, shoulders back, close your eyes and begin to turn your attention to the breath. Slowly breathe in through the nose and then out through the mouth.
Step 2) Make a tight, clenched fist with your hands and squeeze.
Step 3) Hold for a few seconds, stopping to notice the tension in your hands and noting what that feels like.
Step 4) Slowly let go of the fist, opening your fingers and relaxing all of the muscles. Be aware of the tension dissipating – your hand is now lighter, free from stress. Enjoy this feeling and know you can use it on any area of the body, simply by tensing and then slowly releasing.
Keep in mind: For an entire body relaxation, take turns to go through this same process with each and every muscle. Continue using this technique even if you don’t start to feel better right away. The benefits will show themselves over time. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – just like most things on this list practice and persistence is key! If you’re suffering with any physical injuries or a condition that can cause muscle pain, be careful not to tense the muscle in that area too tightly before seeking the advice of your GP or usual healthcare provider.
7. Blow off some steam with a good friend
They say a problem shared is a problem halved. It certainly feels that way when you spend some time with a close friend and have a good, honest rant or heart-to-heart conversation. Part of the reason talking with a trusted one helps to reduce stress is because it assists us in processing the information that overwhelms us. Verbally ‘getting it off your chest’ will give you that feeling of ‘a weight being lifted’. These sayings are popular for a reason, because ultimately we all experience stress and relief in similar ways.
So it may seem like mundane advice to talk it out with a family member or mate, but it will serve you well to remember this as it is undeniably wise. What are you waiting for? Reach out to your bestie and let them know where you are at. Arrange something fun to do together!
8. Workout to some upbeat music
Music has a massive effect on the human stress response. Ever watched a movie that foreshadows using music? Just listening to something can make you tense up and become more alert. Upbeat, happy music holds the same magic ability to make you feel more powerful, relaxed and content. Combine positive music with some positive movement, like exercise or nature walks and you’ll find your stress levels can be rapidly reduced.
For ideas on the most effective and sustainable weekly workout, we suggest checking out Fast Exercise. YouTube is a great place to find suitable music for free, whatever your preference. We like these Beta wave beats for a jog in the forest. Find what works for you and incorporate it into your daily routine!
9. Take a peaceful stroll in nature
A 2010 study published by Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that participants who walked in the forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) afterwards, compared to those who took the same length stroll in a city. But we don’t really need research to know that being in nature has this unique way of making us feel good, do we? Being amongst the trees, grounded to the Earth, in awe of a magnificent sea view – it fills your soul, somehow… no matter who you are or what is going on for you. Even if it is just for a microsecond. Chase this feeling, it is well worth getting out into the open air for!
10. Do some mindful colouring in
Adult colouring books are popular right now, and that’s for two reasons: #1 being that a lot of people are stressed, so there’s a huge market, as well as emphasis on de-stressing activities at the moment and #2 being that they actually work for a large portion of the population. Despite there being a difference between colouring and art therapy, colouring does offer an array of benefits and costs a lot less in comparison.
Setting aside time to colour in will encourage you to escape the everyday grind you experience and inject some mindfulness into your day. The combination of being focused and free at the same time has incredible therapeutic potential for many, if not most, people experiencing stress or anxiety. Of course, imagery is important as what you see will seep into how you feel. Find a colouring book that has what you consider to be an uplifting or calming theme.
11. Take up a fun group hobby
As social beings, connection is crucial to our survival. Without a ‘tribe’ we can feel lonely, lost and powerless. If you tap into your true nature you will soon realise that relationships of all kinds are the source of much of our happiness. When you are stressed, depressed or anxious, it can be incredibly hard to motivate yourself to meet new people or partake in a group activity, but if you can push past this barrier with faith that it will be beneficial, you are highly unlikely to regret it.
Have a think about what really interests you, do some research, read some reviews and head along to a class. Even if it is a solo activity, participating amongst like minded people is sure to inspire you. If you need to build up confidence by exploring the activity in the comfort of your own home first, do! Go at your own pace, but take responsibility for all of the factors that contribute to your mental health – no one else can; humanity in the form of love and support are really the only valuable things available externally!
12. Get your head into a good book
In 2009 a study by the University of Sussex found that reading is effective in reducing stress, with the ability to lower your heart rate and ease the tension in your muscles even faster than listening to music, going for a walk or having a nice cup of tea. Just six minutes of reading can bring your stress levels down by more than two thirds, which is pretty impressive if you ask us.
If that fact doesn’t make you want to read more then nothing will! Invest in your well-being by indulging in books that really speak to your heart, get you excited or have been on your reading list for some time. There’s no ‘right’ genre – even thrillers can be effective in calming you down if that’s what you’re into, as it is a form of escapism that requires your entire engagement.
13. Start a gratitude journal
A positive attitude to life isn’t always a go-to response – many of us are programmed to think negatively, and many of us have had negative experiences that are easy to dwell on. Negative thinking is partly down to the human condition as it keeps us safe, but what if you had a choice to be more of an optimist than a pessimist... it would be cool, right? Well, the truth is, you do. A positive, gracious attitude is something that can actually be cultivated in time, with conscious effort and regular practice. One of the best and most practical ways to begin this shift is to start and maintain a gratitude journal.
Each day, write at least three things that you are grateful for. This will help you to balance your thoughts, counteracting any negative ruminations that go on throughout the course of a day. The brain is a muscle that can be trained towards optimism, so it may help to view this activity as one that builds your ‘gratitude muscle’ – the more you use it the stronger it will get, just like working on your biceps in the gym. Individuals that make gratitude journaling a habit can expect to develop ‘emotional resilience’, which ultimately means they are better equipped to deal with anything that life throws at them.
14. Treat yourself to a professional massage
When you think of massage therapy, one of the first things that comes to mind is relaxation. This may be because you’ve had the pleasure of receiving a massage before but even if you’ve never had one, you can imagine how effective it is for melting away stress. By directly manipulating and stimulating the body’s muscles and soft tissues, massage relieves tension and releases dopamine (a ‘happy’ chemical naturally produced by the body to keep the nervous system functioning smoothly).
The same thing happens when you use a personal head massager or back scratcher, just on a slightly smaller scale. It’s quite simple really – good bodily sensations usually equate to a better mood. So now you know, what are you waiting for? Ask around the community for a recommendation and get an appointment booked, or at the very least take 5 minutes out each day to show yourself some love with one of the million hand-held massaging tools out there on the market.
15. Listen to the birds, ocean or wind
Have you ever experienced a sharp moment of clarity, serenity even, when you catch the sound of leaves rustling in the wind? How about when you hear water rushing down a river, or when you’re alone with nothing but the song of a bird to listen to? There’s something about nature that has a calming, empowering effect on both the mind and body, and researchers think they’ve pinpointed exactly what it is. According to a 2017 study, ‘natural sounds’ can physically alter the connections in our brains that control the autonomic nervous systems (fight-or-flight and breed-and-feed instincts).
This link between nature and wellbeing has been wisely drawn upon since the start of mankind, but recent years are the first time modern technologies like brain scans and heart-rate monitors have been incorporated to provide solid evidence. With this in mind, try steering your attention away from artificial sounds that stress you and start leaning towards those that truly support you. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you feel well in the world.
That’s just about all of the advice we could squeeze out of ourselves today! There should be more than enough information here for you to make a massive or if not, minor, difference to your life, depending on how much of it you take on board! Of course we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions. Leave a comment in the section below, share this article with a friend and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more blogs like this in the future.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Sending you all of the very best wishes in the world,
Samuel & Marie x
Research, Resources & Further Reading:
Psssst! Don’t leave before checking out some of these awesome articles...
NHS Stress Busting Tips
NHS Inform Relaxation Techniques
The Power of Music to Reduce Stress
The Benefits of Gratitude for Stress Relief
How to Start and Maintain a Gratitude Journal
Top 10 Stressful Life Events
15 Positive Affirmations for Stress
Great Britain and Stress – How Bad Is It & Why Is It Happening?
Goodreads: Affluenza by Oliver James
The advice in this article is not specialised to pregnant women, babies or children. This article is aimed at adults suffering from stress. We are not responsible for the decisions you make, and this website should NOT be used as a diagnostic or treatment tool. We are simply sharing our recommendations/experiences with you, in friend-to-friend form. The self-help information found here is not a substitute for professional assistance. Always consult your conventional doctor or healthcare provider for specific concerns. Please seek professional help immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, are abusing substances or are unable to care for yourself. In cases of medical emergencies, visit your nearest hospital or call 999. Click here for complete disclaimer.