With stressful elements of life like work, finances, school, taking care of a family, and so much more, it can be nearly impossible to find time to unwind and practice calming techniques for stress reduction.
But the truth is, reducing stress doesn’t need to be complicated. When you’re constantly being pulled in different directions by home life, responsibilities, and other stressors, you must find ways to relieve that stress, and many of these are easy to start doing.
All it takes is small tweaks in your everyday life to start feeling healthier, happier, and most importantly, less stressed.
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Unhealthy Ways People Reduce Stress
There are countless ways people escape from stress instead of facing the issue head-on. Oftentimes, people use things like drugs or alcohol to cope with stress from life, social situations, and so much more.
Addiction has been linked to stress disorders such as PTSD and acute stress disorder, known as co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis.
Other unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress include drinking more than usual, bingeing TV shows, scrolling on social media for hours, over or under eating, sleeping more frequently, and other responses.
Without realizing it, you may have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of coping with stress. This can lead to unwanted results, such as mental illness.
If you feel like you might be going down an unhealthy path, watch for early signs of mental health issues related to stress, such as not being able to cope with daily problems, avoiding social situations, and changes in eating habits.
We’ve all been there, and it’s never too late to make a change. Let’s go over a few key stress-relief techniques.
The Best Calming Techniques For Stress Reduction
There are many simple stress relief exercises that are easy to incorporate into everyday life.
Whether you have two minutes or two hours in a day that you can devote to exercising stress relief, these calming techniques for stress reduction can reach anyone looking to refocus and control stress.
1. Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress
The first step in reducing stress is to control your breathing. Breathing patterns have a major impact on both your mental and physical health.
This study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that breathing is closely intertwined with mental functions. Researchers concluded that slow breathing techniques increase comfort, relaxation, and pleasant feelings. It also reduces feelings of anxiety, confusion, anger, and depression.
The most important thing to do is to listen to your body. Does your chest feel tight? If so, practice taking deep breaths that expand the diaphragm, which is located just below the lungs. Or, does your stomach feel like it’s in knots? In that case, take long belly breaths that expand your stomach.
Here is a step-by-step guide on one of many breathing techniques you can use to reduce stress:
1. First, take a slow, deep breath in for four counts.
2. Hold your breath for two counts.
3. Then, exhale for four counts.
4. Repeat this process a few times until your body feels calm, refreshed, and at ease.
Feel free to practice this breathing exercise any time you need it. You can sit up and practice slow breathing while at work, school, or in the car, or you can practice it while lying flat on your back in bed before you go to sleep. Listen to your body’s cues and use this technique for stress relief whenever you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed.
2. Relax Your Muscles
Just as you should listen to your body when it comes to breathing exercises, similarly, you’ll want to pay attention to what your body is telling you when you’re tensed up. Doing a quick body scan to relax the muscles is one of the best calming techniques for stress reduction.
Muscle relaxation reduces stress by slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group.
Your muscles tighten under stress, it’s a natural instinct everyone’s body experiences under times of intense pressure or stress. With purposeful muscle tension and relaxation, you can regain control over this response in the body.
Here’s how it works: You can start with your head and work your way down to your toes, or start with your toes and work your way up to the head. Start with either the top or bottom location of the body and tighten the muscles for 5 seconds. After those 5 seconds, release the tension and relax for 30 seconds. Repeat this process all the way up or down your body.
This technique is best utilized when lying flat on your back. Each time you tense and release your muscles, focus on the feeling of the moment. Erase all distractions from your mind as best as you can, and simply focus on what your muscles are experiencing.
3. Go for a Walk
Take a few minutes to disconnect from life and get a breath of fresh air. Don’t think about work, what you need to get done today, or anything else that might be bringing you stress.
Researchers have found that walking (and other forms of exercise) releases endorphins, the hormones that are in charge of relieving pain and inducing feelings of pleasure. Endorphins promote relaxation, improve mood, and provide a multitude of other benefits to physical and mental health.
Increasing the level of endorphins in your body by moving and increasing your heart rate with mild to moderate exercise can be a revolutionary tool in stress relief. While you may not find an intense workout relaxing, a calm stroll through your neighborhood or a local park may be just right.
4. Keep a Journal
Another one of the best relaxation techniques for stress is keeping a journal. The mind can feel like one big jumble when there are so many outside forces cluttering your head.
A helpful tool to sort through and untangle that jumble of thoughts and emotions is to get it all out on paper. What’s been stressing you out today, in the past week, or the past month? Write about your situation, any questions or unknowns you’re facing, and your thoughts on the situation.
Stressors you may find helpful to journal about include:
- Past trauma
- Everyday tasks and responsibilities
- Life goals and plans for the future
- Recurring dreams, nightmares, or night terrors
- Unexplained feelings of anxiety, sadness, or confusion
- Fears or worries
- A stressful financial situation
- Changes in social patterns
- The death of a loved one
- Sleeping troubles, such as insomnia or an inability to get up in the morning
- Problems with friends or family members
- Stress from your career path or work situation
- A major life change, such as a move
Each of these facets of life is important and deserves the time and energy it takes to process them. Take a few minutes once a day or once a week to think through the areas of life that may be causing you stress.
5. Do Something Creative
One group of researchers explored the impact of creative arts therapies (CATs) on stress reduction, prevention, and management. These therapies include four major components: art, music, dance or movement, and drama.
The study found that when these creative therapies were used, over 80% of the participants saw a significant improvement in stress. The number increased to 90% when the therapies were conducted by licensed therapists.
If you’re feeling stressed, try engaging in something creative that you enjoy.
You might try:
- Painting with watercolors
- Using a coloring book
- Color with crayons, pens, or colored pencils
- Take up pottery
- Playing an instrument
- Performing in a local play
- Listening to relaxing music
- Writing poetry, a short story, or a biographical tale
There’s no need to be an expert at any of these activities. The point is to spend time doing something you enjoy, whether or not you’ve perfected the craft.
The arts serve as a way for you to experience and better understand yourself and others, using art to symbolize and relate to yourself and the world around you.
6. Build Free Time Into Your Day
You may be thinking, “There’s not enough time in the day to spend time on myself!” Especially for those with a demanding home or work life, it can be a major challenge to find just 5 minutes to spend on yourself.
It’s often easy to spend intentional time with others and never on yourself. But building free time into your day is crucial for stress relief. It’s a chance to treat yourself to something you enjoy and spend a few precious moments of quality time focused just on yourself.
If you struggle to find free time in your day to give yourself rest, you’re not alone. You might try waking up a few minutes earlier in the day or calling it a night earlier than you usually would so you can spend some extra time doing something for yourself.
You may also choose to spend your free moments intentionally instead of scrolling through social media or watching TV (you’re really not alone in that!). Use those few minutes to practice a few of the techniques mentioned above or find something else you enjoy.
Buy yourself a cup of coffee, read a book, pray or meditate, cuddle with your pet—anything that you can do to relieve stress.
7. Connect With Your Spiritual Side
Whether you belong to a faith or just want to get to know your inner self better, connecting with your spiritual side is one of the best calming techniques for stress reduction.
Mayo Clinic suggests that spirituality and stress relief are interconnected. The health resource notes that connecting with your spirituality can provide a sense of purpose in life, allow you to feel more connected to the world and yourself, help you to release control, connect you to a larger community, and more.
A few ways you can explore and deepen your spirituality include:
- Reading a sacred text
- Connecting with a spiritual community, such as visiting a church or mosque, finding like-minded people, or experiencing nature with a loved one
8. Ask yourself Re-Focusing Questions
Many times, you may feel stressed, anxious, or worried when you’ve lost touch with what you value. If you’re going through a period of stress, refocus with a few key questions.
- What are my goals?
- What might be holding me back from achieving my goals right now?
- What or who do I value most?
- What needs to change?
- What inspires me?
- What challenges me, in both good and bad ways?
- What is my biggest source of stress?
- What is my biggest source of joy?
- What have I placed major emphasis on in my life? Does the emphasis deserve to be on that thing?
Try asking yourself a few of these questions, or use them as inspiration to come up with your own set of individualized questions.
Take time to process, reevaluate what you believe is important, and reposition your energy on the aspects of your life that you feel are worthy of your time and energy.
9. Reassess Your To-Do List
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to revise that to-do list. Our society is fast-paced and never seems to slow down. The busier you are, the more accomplished you feel. But this can lead people down an unhealthy path of productivity-based self-worth and stress.
What things absolutely must be done today or this week, and what can get crossed off the list? If there’s anything that can wait, take it off the list.
You might consider switching out one chore or minor responsibility with a life-giving activity to practice calming techniques for stress reduction. Instead of doing the dishes, take a walk around the neighborhood. If you’ve said yes to too many lunches or coffee meet-ups, reschedule and take yourself out for a relaxing meal.
It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to reprioritize a few responsibilities now and then if it means preserving the integrity of your mental and physical health.
Use these Calming Techniques For Stress Reduction Today
Hopefully, you’ve gathered a few techniques for relieving stress so you can begin to regain control over the stress in your life.
How will you refocus from now on? What are some relaxation tools you might begin to work into the routines of everyday life to reduce your stress? This is an uphill battle for most of us, but it starts with one small step. Soon, you’ll begin to see patterns of stress reduction that change the way you live your life.
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