5 Proven Ways to Relieve Stress

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5 Proven Ways to Relieve Stress

Stress is a universal part of life. No matter your age, gender identity, job title, or salary, you’re bound to get stressed.

The symptoms of stress—tight muscles, clenched fists, shallow breathing, pounding heartbeat, racing thoughts, anxiety, irritability, and chest pain, to name a few—can be unpleasant.

When you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s natural to wish that they would all just go away. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to remedy them.

The following tips are each informed by scientific research. Continue reading to discover 5 effective stress-relieving tips.

1. Exercise regularly

Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day on most days of the week. But surveys show that just 1 in 5 adults exercise daily.

If exercise isn’t currently a regular part of your life, it’s time to reconsider that—if not for the physical benefits, than for the stress-relieving ones.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago demonstrated that adults who exercised at least once a week were more resistant to stress than adults who didn’t exercise at all. In the study, the exercising group felt less stressed after performing a series of stressful tasks than the non-exercising group.

Countless other studies have shown that a 20-30 minute session of exercise such as swimming, walking, or rowing can have a calming effect that lasts for hours.

If you can’t make space for 20-30 minutes of exercise in your workday, consider taking a 5-minute break to walk or jog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or stretching before you go to bed.

The takeaway? Even a small amount of exercise can protect you from the effects of stress.

2. Connect with nature

If you’re feeling “wound up,” consider spending some time in nature. Research shows that spending just 20-30 minutes in nature can uplift your mood and unravel your stress.

If you can’t get outside, bring plants inside. Japanese researchers found that adding just one plant to your office can reduce your stress.

3. Practice meditation

Meditation combined with controlled breathing doesn’t just counteract stress; it also counteracts the damage stress does to the body.

Herbert Benson, MD, professor of mind body medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, found that 20-30 minutes of meditation and breathing can decrease stress and increase relaxation.

Cardiologists warn that stress can increase blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the top two leading causes of death worldwide.

Benson’s research also demonstrated that meditation and breathing can decrease blood pressure. Together, these exercises have the potential to “prevent, and compensate for, the damage incurred by stress,” Benson says.

For a guided meditation we recommend, click here.

4. Expand your support network

Research shows that social support can insulate you from the effects of stress. When you’re going through a difficult time, friends can help by bringing joy to your life and expressing their care.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not feel they have adequate social support. Isolation was a serious issue before the pandemic, and it has only worsened in light of protocols such as mask-wearing mandates, social distancing, quarantining, and working from home. In recent surveys, 3 in 5 Americans reported feeling lonely and 1 in 4 reported that they didn’t have anyone to confide in. 

If you’re seeking more social support, consider joining a group based in an interest you have such as reading or running. Doing so will allow you to meet people with whom you have something in common. If it’s not possible to meet in person, meet online,  as often as you can. With time and care, you can cultivate meaningful mutually supportive relationships.

5. Laugh more

Laughing is highly beneficial for your health. It has been shown to relieve stress, uplift your mood, and promote relaxation and longevity.

In the moments you’re laughing, you can’t also be anxious, upset, worrisome, or angry. Laughing makes you feel happier by releasing feel-good endorphins.

While stress tenses the muscles, laughter relaxes them.

In a 15-year study of 53,556 men and women, researchers found a correlation between having a sense of humor and living longer.

Consider inviting humor into your life by joking with a colleague, streaming a comedy series, or following a funny personality on social media.