The Power Of Stretches To Help Reduce Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When exploring the connection between physical activity and mental well-being, we often overlook a simple yet potent tool in our wellness toolbox: stretching. Stretching can be considered a fundamental fitness component that may mitigate anxiety, creating a bridge between our physical and mental health. Purposeful stretching can significantly enhance our body's ability to relax, renew, and recharge, particularly when we focus on breathing deeply and remaining mindful. Therapy can be another helpful tool for managing anxiety, and it can be reached in person or online.

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The connection between body and mind

The connection between our physical and mental health has been the subject of considerable scientific attention in recent years. When we think of anxiety, our minds may gravitate toward psychological treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, or pharmacological interventions, for instance. 

However, understanding the significant interplay between our bodies and our minds can present us with an expanded set of tools to combat anxiety. Physical exercises like stretching can become an integral part of this comprehensive approach to well-being.

The mind-body connection is generally believed to have roots in ancient philosophies and medicine. It’s long been suspected that our thoughts and feelings can impact our biological functioning. Likewise, how we care for our physical body—what we eat, how much we exercise, and even our posture—can impact our mental state.

When we are physically active, our bodies typically release chemicals called endorphins, which can be seen as natural painkillers and mood elevators. They can reduce stress, improve sleep, and lessen symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. 

How stretching can relieve stress

When we engage in exercises like stretching, we usually stimulate endorphin production, which can alleviate stress.

Stretching may also involve mindfulness and focused breathing, which can further enhance mental well-being. When we stretch, we tend to focus on our body's movements and our breath, which can quiet the mind and promote a state of calm. This can prove invaluable in reducing symptoms of anxiety and facilitating a deeper connection between the mind and body.

Moreover, the physical benefits of stretching, such as improved flexibility, increased blood circulation, and enhanced muscular function, can indirectly benefit our mental health. A healthy body can provide a supportive platform for a healthy mind. Conversely, physical discomfort or illness can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress. Thus, maintaining physical well-being through activities like stretching can contribute to overall mental health.

Unveiling the benefits of child’s pose

Let's examine a specific stretch: child's pose. Often performed in yoga practices, this pose can be an effective tool to calm the mind, release tension, and promote relaxation. You can practice child’s pose by kneeling and bringing your hips toward your heels, then leaning forward to rest your forehead on the floor. You can place your arms palms-up next to your legs or stretch them out in front of you, relaxing through your shoulders.

By practicing this pose, you can also aid in reducing blood pressure, a common physiological symptom of anxiety. According to Harvard Medical School, yoga, which involves poses like child’s pose, can effectively lower blood pressure.

Breathing deeply while stretching

Perhaps an integral part of any stretch or yoga practice is learning to breathe deeply. As you inhale and exhale during each stretch, your nervous system may transition from a stress response to a relaxation response. Deep breathing can stimulate the body's relaxation response, potentially leading to reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure, and an overall sense of calm.

Releasing tension and relieving stress

Anxiety can lead to a buildup of physical tension. Specific stretches, like the forward bend with straight legs, for instance, can release this tension, providing much-needed stress relief. The forward bend stretch can be more than just a lower body stretch. 

As you lower your upper body toward your legs, keeping them as straight as feels comfortable, you can release tension in the lower back, hips, and hamstrings. You may find that your left leg and left knee can remain straighter than your right; this can be normal, as many individuals have asymmetries when it comes to flexibility.

How to perform the forward fold

The forward fold may be another effective stretch for anxiety relief. To practice this stretch, stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart. Inhale deeply and bend at your hips as you exhale, lowering your torso toward your legs and bending your knees as much as is necessary to maintain a straight back. Let your head hang loose, relieving tension in your neck and shoulders. Take several deep breaths in this position, then slowly rise back to stand. 

Inviting calm with legs-up-the-wall pose

The legs-up-the-wall pose is generally considered a restorative yoga pose that may help with relaxation and improve circulation. For this pose, you typically need a flat wall space. Sit next to the wall with your left side touching it. Carefully swing your legs up the wall while pivoting your body to lie flat on your back. Ensure your buttocks are as close to the wall as possible and your legs are fully stretched. Close your eyes and take deep breaths while in this pose.

Bridge pose: An energizing pose

Bridge pose can be an energizing pose that may relieve anxiety by reducing fatigue, alleviating stress, and calming the mind. To practice bridge pose:

  1. Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart, and your hands nearly touching your heels.
  2. Ensure your ankles and knees are in a straight line.
  3. Squeeze your glutes to lift your lower body off the ground while keeping your upper body and shoulders flat on the floor.

This pose can stimulate the endocrine and nervous systems, potentially balancing hormones that may contribute to feelings of anxiety.

When to seek guidance

While these stretches can be performed on your own, having a yoga instructor guide you can ensure correct form and execution. A professional instructor can also personalize your routine to better suit your needs. This could make the practice more beneficial for your anxiety.

The science behind stretching and anxiety relief

In the complex realm of mental health management, it can be fascinating to understand how something as fundamental as stretching can alleviate anxiety. Although updated evidence may be needed, scientific research generally supports the claim that stretching and yoga can considerably reduce anxiety levels

In general, stretching has long been recognized for its physical benefits, including improved flexibility, increased blood flow, and enhanced athletic performance. However, its potential impact may extend beyond the physical to include psychological benefits. 

Regular stretching activities, particularly alongside mindful breathing, can stimulate the body's parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the "rest and digest" system). Activation of this system may decrease the body's stress responses, leading to calm and relaxation.

Stretching may also encourage mindfulness, which can involve focusing on the body's movements and feelings. This mindfulness aspect can act as a meditation, redirecting attention away from anxiety-inducing thoughts. It can be akin to hitting the “reset button” on your mind, giving it a break from stressors and worries.

Another fascinating aspect of stretching may be its impact on the body’s cortisol levels. Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” tends to be higher in individuals experiencing chronic anxiety. A consistent stretching routine may control cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress and anxiety.

Therapy for anxiety

In a comprehensive treatment plan for anxiety, therapy is usually one cornerstone. Psychological therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is often an effective intervention for anxiety disorders.

Therapy can offer a safe, trusted environment for individuals to discuss their worries, fears, and symptoms with a licensed professional. This type of treatment often extends beyond mere talking. It can include learning practical skills, strategies, and new ways of thinking to manage or reduce anxiety. 

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Don’t let anxiety hold you back

Benefits of online therapy

Not everyone may be able to attend therapy sessions in person. This may be the case for busy individuals experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety due to their hectic schedules. In these cases, finding time to commute to a therapist’s office may be challenging. Online therapy could offer a better alternative. With this type of remote therapy, sessions can be reached from the comfort of home, so there’s no need for a time-consuming commute. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy, particularly online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety. A recent study noted the capacity of internet-based CBT to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and psychological distress.  


In today's fast-paced world, anxiety can be seen as a widespread concern. Incorporating stretches into your daily self-care routine can provide a holistic approach to anxiety management. As you begin to implement stretches, it may be important to remember that consistency is key. Breathing deeply during these exercises can also enhance their benefits. It can be helpful to seek guidance from a professional yoga instructor or consult a therapist in person or online for additional support.

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