Reducing stress: Increasing moments of peace in your life

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated January 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress is a natural response in the body to certain stimuli that are dangerous or perceived as such. In short-term situations, stress may be beneficial. However, chronic or severe stress may adversely impact your mental and physical health. Common stress management techniques to improve mental health include getting extra sleep and increasing physical activity. If you're experiencing stress, there are many techniques you can try to relieve your symptoms and increase the moments of peace you experience daily.

Gain professional coping mechanisms to relieve stress

Five tips for relieving stress

Stress occurs in the body's nervous system, which controls many physical functions. When stress continues chronically over an extended period, it leaves the nervous system in a heightened state of awareness, which can cause inflammation, gastrointestinal problems, and mental illness. Although a stress response is needed to keep us safe, when stress hormones are overproducing we may benefit from developing stress relief strategies. Below are a few ways to relieve stress when it first occurs and potentially prevent future stress by controlling your nervous system. 

Use a stress ball

One way to relieve stress in the moment is by using a stress ball or fidget toy. You can take the ball in your hand and squeeze it to try to relieve the muscle tension in your body. As you manipulate the ball, you can try focusing the impact on the muscles of your hand and release tension into the ball.  Managing stress with a stress ball may yield immediate, but temporary health results.

You may be able to buy stress balls online or in stores, or you can try making a stress ball yourself. One way to do this is with flour, a balloon, and a funnel. You can use a funnel to pour flour into the balloon and then tie up the balloon to make your stress ball. Add two other balloons to reinforce the ball so it doesn't easily pop or cut open.

Try progressive muscle relaxation

You might also try applying muscle relaxation to your entire body with a technique called progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation may have longer lasting stress relief effects—as the muscles are trained to relax you may be able to cope with stress more effectively.

This approach involves slowly tensing and then relaxing different muscles throughout the body. You can start by lying on your back and getting into a comfortable position. 

Some people like to do this exercise with soft music or sounds of nature playing in the background. Starting with the tips of your toes and working up to the top of your head, tense or contract each muscle group for ten seconds before releasing the tension. You can also try modifying this exercise before you sleep if you struggle with stress at night. Follow these steps: 

  1. Lay down in a comfortable position and turn on a sound that helps you sleep, such as rain sounds or fire crackling. 

  2. Pay attention to each body part when you're ready, starting at your toes.

  3. Imagine your toes filling up with imaginary sand or progressively relaxing. Let go of any tension in your muscles you might be holding from your day.

  4. Move up to your ankles, legs, and knees, repeating the muscle relaxation and imagination exercise.

  5. Repeat the exercise for every body part until you reach the top of your head.

Try meditating

Another technique you can try using to relieve stress is meditation. There are many forms of meditation to try, including mantra, mindfulness, loving-kindness, visualization, and sleep meditations. 

If you are new to meditation, you might find it helpful to start with a guided meditation, where you can follow along with the guidance of a teacher through an audio or video recording. When you are ready, choose a time and place to be still and uninterrupted. Then, sit or lie in a comfortable position and proceed with the meditation of your choice. With visualization meditation, you might picture a stream and visualize yourself placing each thought on a leaf and watching it float out of sight.

Practice mindfulness

While you can practice mindfulness through meditation, there are other ways to practice mindfulness throughout the day to try to relieve stress. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and noticing the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations around you. 

One form of mindfulness is mindful eating. Slowly eat a small piece of food with your mind focused on the task. Notice how it feels in your hand, mouth, and teeth. Then, notice any smells, colors, or unique aspects of the food. Once you start chewing, you can focus on the texture, the taste, and how it feels on your tongue. 

Although it might initially feel "silly," focusing mindfully on daily activities might help you feel more appreciation for acts many people take for granted, such as eating. When you can slow your eating, you might also appreciate your food more, noticing tastes and textures you didn't notice before. This concept is often applied to wine tasting, where people focus on different wine tastes. 

Practice deep breathing

You can also try to relieve stress through deep breathing by taking long, slow breaths. Try breathing in and out to a specific count, holding your breath, then breathing out to another count. To start, breathe in more slowly than average. Concentrate on letting the air reach the deepest parts of your lungs. Focus on the air as it moves in and out of your lungs. Deep breathing may be effective if you have a busy schedule and want to practice stress reduction on the go.

Gain professional coping mechanisms to relieve stress

Talk to a therapist 

If you're feeling overwhelmed by stress, a licensed therapist may help you unpack the causes and develop and incorporate strategies to reduce stressful situations in your life. However, many people experiencing high stress levels are busy and stretched thin, so making time for a therapy appointment can be challenging. In these cases, you can try online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp.

With an online therapy platform, you can meet with a therapist from wherever is most convenient for you, eliminating the need for a commute, which may make it easier to attend an appointment during your day. In addition, many online therapists offer appointments outside of standard business hours, which in-person therapists might not be able to offer. 

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online programs in reducing stress. For instance, one study examined an internet-based stress management program based on mindfulness principles to reduce stress. It concluded that the internet-based program effectively and sustainably reduced measures of stress. These results are comparable with studies on in-person therapy options. 

Takeaway

While experiencing occasional stress can be normal, if it's continuous and left unresolved, it can have adverse health effects. If you are seeking ways to relieve stress, consider trying the abovementioned strategies. You can connect with a therapist for additional personalized support in navigating and relieving stress.

Ease stress and mental exhaustion

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