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How to Relieve Stress

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Stress. We all deal with it. Whether it arises from our jobs, family life, drama with friends, a relationship problem, or finances, stress is there. While a little stress is good for you, allowing you to grow physically and mentally, excessive and chronic stress is harmful. Prolonged stress can even lead to tension headaches and other health problems that limit your functioning at work, at school and in your relationships. Rather than letting your stress take over your life, try some methods of stress-management that you can apply to prevent and deal with stress before it jeopardizes your health.


Reframing Stressful Thoughts


Be aware that stress begins with our perceptions. Your body has a very efficient reaction to dangerous events that pumps up your "fight-or-flight" response, allowing you to jump out of the way of an oncoming car and save your life. This reaction causes your heart to pound, your pulse to quicken, and your muscles to tense. But you may also unconsciously perceive that this reaction is necessary for non life-threatening situations, such as traffic jams, looming deadlines, or family issues. You must learn ways to counter your body's stress response so that you can "put the brakes" on and allow your body to relax.


Identify types of thinking that lead to stress. You may be experiencing unproductive, negative thoughts that lead to worrying, which can trigger the release of stress hormones. This is a response that is appropriate if, say, you run into a stressful situation like a bear in your path, but may not be appropriate when traffic is making you late to work. Identify common stressful thoughts by noticing if they fall into these categories:

o "Should" or "Must" statements: You have a strict list of things you "should," "must," or "should not" do, and feel stressed out or anxious when you do not follow these rules.

o Catastrophizing: You expect the worst-case scenario or blow things out of proportion. Even small problems are "horrible" or a "disaster."

o All-or-nothing thinking: You see things only in black or white, as good or bad. Instead of acknowledging the complexities (or "gray areas") of being human, things are either wrong or right and there is no in between.

o "What if"ing: You find yourself having an internal conversation about things you fear, such as "What if my child is hurt?" "What if I fail?" "What if I'm late?" and so on.


Reframe your thoughts. Sometimes, a stressful situation is just a matter of perspective. Pessimism, for example, is an excellent example of avoidable stress we put ourselves through. Instead of focusing on the negatives and the problems that are causing you anxiety, concentrate on the positives.

o Negative thoughts lead to a negative mood state and positive thoughts lead to a positive mood state. When you feel down, pay attention to your thoughts. What have you been telling yourself? Try to spin negative thoughts into positives.

o For example, you may think to yourself "I'll never finish all my work." Change this thought by spinning it: "If I work at a steady pace and take regular breaks, I can knock this work out in __ hours."

o When you change your viewpoint, you can change your level of stress altogether. Do your best to see things in a positive light, and avoid cynicism at all costs.


Challenge your negative thoughts. Another way to combat stressful thoughts is to ask yourself whether there's really any truth to them. Disputing and disproving your thoughts can help you view your thoughts objectively instead of immediately accepting them as truth.


Try writing down two categories of information about the problem impacting you. Make a column for evidence of/for the stressful thought and another for evidence against it. Or, if you don't have paper or time, try to do this exercise mentally.

o Write the evidence in the appropriate column. So if you're catastrophizing because you're been running late (and you are thinking "I'm going to be fired"), your "for" column might look like: "I was late twice last week and they're not going to tolerate me being late again;" while your "against" column might look like: "My boss said he understands that I have to drop my son off at preschool before I can drive to work," "We have a time and attendance policy that allows me to be late a certain number of times, and I'm nowhere near that point," and so on.


Keep a journal. Although keeping a journal may seem strange or tedious, writing down your thoughts on a regular basis can help keep you stress-free. When you feel bogged down with some emotional or mental stressor, write about it in your journal. Getting it out on paper will give you a sense of relief you might not otherwise find.

o Write honestly and without fear. Your journal is only for you: no one else needs to read it or see what is stressing you out. It is a safe, judgement-free place to get out all your worries, emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Once your thoughts are down on paper, they will no longer be taking up space in your brain.

o Journaling can help you experience clarity and see the source of your stress.

o Write out your problems to organize your thoughts. When your thoughts are not organized, you can't think clearly, which leads to confusion and stress. If you have a problem and can't decide between two solutions, make a two column pros and cons list (for and against), such as dividing a sheet of paper down the centre to compare two ways to handle that situation.


Avoiding Unnecessary Stress


Accept that stress is unavoidable. You can take steps to reduce your stress and learn how to cope with stress, but you will never be completely rid of stress. Stress serves a purpose as a healthy response to overwhelming stimuli or perceived threats, and it can be dealt with in an equally healthy fashion.

o Stressors that may be unavoidable include school work and exams, busy days at work, new babies, getting married, or moving. Some of these are actually good things, but can still be a source of stress in your life.

o Learning healthy stress management techniques can help you "turn off" your stress alarm system so that you are not in a constant state of stress as you move through life.


Avoid stress when you can. Seems obvious, right? Sometimes staying away from what is stressing you out is harder than it sounds. If you know particular person or activity is the origin of your stress, cut them or it out of your life, or limit your exposure as much as possible. There are at least seven culprits of unnecessary stress; beware of falling prey to these issues.

o Stressing about money you have spent (e.g. overspending at the mall, lending money to family or friends, etc.)

o Having clutter in your home or office space

o Being pessimistic

o Being late

o Spending too much time comparing your life to others' on social media

o Waiting until the last minute to complete a task

o Ruminating about past events


Be better organized. Oftentimes, stress arises from feeling overwhelmed. Use a planner to keep track of your "to-do lists". Clean your desk and visit Pinterest to find useful ways to manage your paperwork and household chores. Being organized and getting your priorities straight can help you break responsibilities down into manageable pieces and focus on the things that really matter to you.


Learn to say "no". You cannot do everything you are asked, so why keep pretending that you can? Indeed, the more you promise and don't deliver, the fewer people will perceive you as being reliable. Instead, be assertive and learn to say "no" politely, but firmly. Keep track of your schedule to clearly acknowledge when you do not have the time or resources to take on extra tasks.

o Assertive people maintain eye contact, speak in a clear and non-threatening tone while standing up for themselves. If you know that you are already overbooked, say so. It's okay to say "no" when you do it in a way that also respects others.

o Some people take on too much out of fear of missing out on new and exciting opportunities. Yet, they end up not performing as well as they would because they are dividing their energies between so many different tasks or activities. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of new obligations, and decide if the effort will be worth it considering your current workload.


Learn how to delegate. As with trying to do everything, never delegating is about you trying to have control and not trusting that others can do their job as well as you can. Learn to let go by giving more credence to the abilities of others. Giving up tasks may seem stressful in theory, but will free you up for more personal time. Find reliable people in your life that you can trust with tasks that you are too stressed or anxious to manage.


Making Environmental Changes


Clean up a bit. Even the most steadfast of souls will waver in an ever-messy environment. If your home, office, car, or work space is overly messy or dirty, it is certainly having an effect on your mental well-being. Take a few minutes to clean up your most unorganized areas, and your mind will breathe a sigh of relief. Tips for reducing clutter are as follows:

o Toss items that are rarely used and have no value rather than stockpiling them.

o Gather as a team (i.e. spouses, families, or roommates) and take on cleaning together. Group effort makes the process go by quicker and with more fun.

o Sort through papers and mail and toss or file as needed. Develop a regular schedule of doing this to prevent papers from piling up.

o Designate places to store frequently used items so they can be easily retrieved when you need them.

o Clean your work space after each work session to prevent clutter from getting out of hand.


Take a few minutes to get ready. It’s hard to feel prepared for the day when you haven’t taken time to get yourself ready. Spend a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare yourself for the day's events. Take an extra long shower, put on your favourite outfit, and go into the day ready to take on anything.


Listen to some music. Music has shown to have a very strong effect on mood and mental state. Calm yourself down by listening to your favourite soothing music. Although you may prefer heavy metal or rap, try listening to something a bit softer and slower for the best effects. Keeping music playing in the background while you work, study, or just go about your daily activities is a great way to subconsciously alter your stress levels.

o Researchers have found that music can change brain functioning in similar ways as medication. So, regular music really can help to "cure" stress and anxiety.


Try aromatherapy. That’s right, what you smell can actually alter your stress levels. Scientific studies have linked the scent of lavender and oranges to reduced stress and anxiety levels. Use a lavender scented air freshener in your home, office, or car, or spritz a bit of the essential oil onto your hair and skin before you head out the door in the morning. You can also dab a bit of the essential oil onto your temples to relieve a stress-induced headache.


Change your environment. If making little changes isn’t enough to cheer you up, try moving to a completely new place for a bit. If work or studying is too difficult in your office or at home, relocate to a cosy coffee shop or a park. Having a new environment will help you to move your thoughts away from your stressors, and give you a chance to breathe and recover from your anxiety.


Talk to new people. It's possible the people you talk to are stressors. Don't completely take them out of your life, but try meeting some different folks. They can offer a new perspective on things you never even thought about, or get you involved in new stress-reducing activities.


Relaxing Activities to Try Out


Take a bath. Some people are bath people while others are shower people. No matter which you are, it is hard to deny the comfort of a warm bubble bath with a cosy drink and a good book. If you’re stressed out, try curling up in your bathtub for a while. The warmth will relax your muscles, and help to soothe away your stress.


Maintain a favourite hobby. When we get stressed and anxious, it’s easy to push hobbies to the side and focus on ‘priorities.’ However, by leaving out any free time for yourself, you may be making yourself more stressed. Return to a lost hobby by playing your favourite sport, picking up your art journal, or heading out for a hike. You’ll feel refreshed and better able to deal with your stressors when you’ve given yourself time to do something you love.


Try out a new activity. If you don’t have any old hobbies that you want to continue, or you never had any in the first place, try out a new activity you’ve been interested in. It’s never too late to learn a new trade. Try auditing a class at a local community college, or find other classes in your area. Better yet, teach yourself something new, such as a language or crafting skill, and practice to get better. Learning a new activity forces your mind off of your stressors, making it easier for you to relax.


Head outside. Sunlight is a natural cure for depression, which is tied to stress and anxiety. Even if you aren’t able to get sunlight, mother nature provides excellent stress relief via the great outdoors. Walk through a park, hike up to a mountain, go for a fishing trip - whatever interests you. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re witnessing the beauty of the natural world, while putting your body to work at the same time.


Laugh it out. Laughter is the best medicine, so they say. Laughing may seem difficult if you’re stressed and anxious, but incorporating it into your life will make a marked difference. Turn on your favourite sitcom, look at funny YouTube videos, or get together with a funny friend. Smiling and laughing release stress-relieving hormones in your brain which will have you feeling better in no time.


Drink a cup of tea. Tea-drinkers have shown to be less stressed over time than non-tea drinkers, making this a great activity for reducing stress. Grab a cup of black tea for the best results, but any tea will do. Having the warm cup to hold onto will help you to relax, while the flavour will give you something sweet to focus on.


Get a massage. Massages aren’t just great for your body, they actually release feel-good hormones in your brain as well. The next time you’re feeling stressed, call up your favourite masseuse and schedule an appointment. Getting your tension worked out of your muscles will help to work the tension out of your mind as well. Better yet? Have a loved one give the massage for you. The combination of your partner or spouse giving you the massage will release extra hormones, practically demolishing whatever stress you had.


Practice yoga regularly. You can practice any of the different forms of Yoga for stress relief. Try Hatha yoga, which combines stretching, breathing techniques, and meditation. It soothes your distressed mind, refreshes your thoughts, tones body muscles and generates new awareness like never before.

o You can make the benefits of yoga last longer when you practice it regularly. Early morning is the perfect time, but you can practice it whenever you feel stressed out. If you are pressed on time, combine it with an exercise routine you are already following as your warm up or cool down practice.


Do guided meditation. Practicing meditation has proven to relieve stress remarkably. Various meditation patterns can help you get rid of stress and calm your mind for better focus and clear thinking. You can practice either of meditation such as Zen, Tibetan, Transcendental Meditation (TM) irrespective of your religious affiliation.

o If you are a beginner it’s best to take on a guided meditation program under an expert. You can get a hold of good books and videos on meditation for regular practice.


Adopting a Stress-Fighting Lifestyle


Eat healthy foods. Few would be surprised to hear that among the myriad benefits healthy eating provides, stress relief is one of them. Don’t let junk food and sugary sweets bog you down and increase your anxiety hormones. Instead, incorporate healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables into your daily diet, and your body will compensate by creating more stress-fighting hormones.


Get daily exercise. The infamous ‘runners high’ isn’t a phenomenon isolated solely to runners; exerting yourself physically releases endorphins that make you happy. That means that if you’re stressed, you can cheer yourself up and throw your anxiety out the window just by making your heart work a bit harder. Head for a bike ride or swim, pick up some weights, or play your favourite sport to gain both physical and mental health.


Focus on your sleep. When people get stressed and overwhelmed with a million and one things to do, often one of the first things to be sacrificed is sleep. However, this is one of the biggest health mistakes you can make. Getting adequate sleep allows your body to recharge and refresh, leaving you with a clean slate in the morning.

o If you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t get rid of the excess hormones and toxins that have built up and cause stress, making your stress a never-ending cycle. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep on a nightly basis.


Cuddle up more often. If you are in a healthy relationship, try going to your partner for a bit of physical touch. Studies have shown that regular cuddling, kissing, and sex all release oxytocin - a hormone that produces happiness and reduces stress. That’s right - some of your favourite activities actually improve your mental well-being. Do these on a regular basis to keep your hormone levels up in general, making it less likely that you’ll get stressed out in the first place.


Practice your spirituality. A top reason many people participate in religious practices -- to find relief of stress and anxiety. If you are already a part of a religious group, try turning towards it more during your times of stress for its peaceful benefits. It is likely you will find relief with the support of your faith community, while growing stronger spiritually simultaneously.

o If you suffer from chronic stress, consider joining a religious group, and see what inner guidance and comfort it has to offer.


Maintain healthy relationships. It’s easy to get stressed when the people you surround yourself with are unhealthy and co-dependent. Rather than maintaining negative relationships with people that annoy you or cause anxiety, begin to nurture relationships that support you and make you feel better. You’ll feel better in the long run, even if it’s difficult in the short run, to seek and keep happier, healthier friendships in your life.

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