How to Reduce Stress: Techniques to Manage Stress and More

Stress is a common occurrence, but thankfully there are strategies to help you cope with the overwhelming feelings that come with it. Read about how you can use these techniques to better manage your stress in order to experience mental and physical relief.

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What Is Stress?

Stress is a physical, mental, and emotional response to any challenging situation. Sometimes this stress is positive and helps motivate us, such as during a race or competition, or while finishing an important project on a deadline. It can give us strength and speed to get out of a dangerous situation. It could also be a response to a traumatic event or a significant life change.

Stress is a normal reaction to everyday living and pressures, such as meeting the demands of work, school, or home life.

When you experience stress, hormones in your body are released to prepare you to face the situation. Temporary changes occur in your body. Your breath and heartbeat quicken, your blood sugar rises, and your brain takes up additional oxygen to increase your alertness. When the situation passes, the hormones dissipate, and your body returns to normal.

While stress can be a powerful motivator and give us a burst of energy when we need it the most, stress that lasts a long time can interfere with your day-to-day functioning. You may become fatigued, unable to concentrate, or easily irritable. You may also experience physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, sleep difficulty, depression, and anxiety. Over time, feeling stressed may even contribute to developing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, and an overall weaker immune system.

Managing your stress and keeping it at a healthy level can help improve your health and feeling of well-being.

Techniques to Reduce Stress

There are ways to manage and combat stress that require little to no equipment, money, or special training. Many of these techniques can be practiced at home, in the office, in the car, or anywhere you can find a place to sit quietly.

Breathing

When you feel stress, hormones in your body cause your breath and heart rate to quicken. Taking slow, deep breaths can help slow your heartbeat and stabilize your blood pressure.

Practice This Breathing Technique to Help Manage Stress

Sit comfortably, closing your eyes if possible, and focus on your breath. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of four. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Repeat the process for a few cycles.

Exercise

Add physical activity to your day. Research shows that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise can help combat stress and improve sleep. Exercise can be as simple as taking a brisk walk around the block or dancing in your living room. 

Tips for Developing an Exercise Routine

An exercise routine doesn't develop overnight. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Get an activity tracker: Logging at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can help improve your mood.
  • Start slow: You don't have to do 30 minutes of exercise all at once; five to 10 minutes at a time makes a difference.
  • Go outside: Getting away from a screen and into the fresh air can help reduce stress.
  • Buddy up: Having a friend to exercise with can be motivating and hold both of you accountable—plus it's more fun.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce psychological stress and anxiety. Even five minutes of mindful meditation can help relieve stress. To practice mindfulness and meditation, sit quietly, breathe, and focus on the present moment. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, then let them go and go back to focusing on the present. 

Muscle Relaxation

Stress causes your muscles to tense, so people who feel stressed may feel tension in their head, neck, shoulders, or back. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that is proven to reduce tension and anxiety and improve mental health.

Practice by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. Then choose a muscle group, such as your lower legs, and inhale and contract those muscles for five to 10 seconds. Next, exhale to release and relax the muscles for 10 or more seconds. Continue this until you have relaxed all portions of your body.

Visualization

When you are in a stressful environment, visualization can be a powerful tool. To practice this technique, close your eyes and picture objects, scenes, or events that are associated with relaxation (such as the ocean, mountains, a favorite place, a pleasant smell). This powerful technique uses your mind to imagine a relaxing environment and in turn produce feelings of relaxation in the body.

Yoga

Yoga is a form of mind-body fitness that involves exercise and mindfulness, or focusing on the self and breath. Research suggests that yoga helps improve feelings of health, managing stress and negative emotions, and increase positive emotions. There are many types of yoga practices and styles that range from gentle breathing and meditation to demanding physical postures, called asanas.

Ways to Reduce Stress With Therapy

There are many types of therapy that can help provide relief from stress and tension in your body. Find out which type of therapy might work for you.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a stress-relief practice that involves diffusing essential oils, such as lavender and sandalwood, to improve mood, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. While the exact mechanisms by which aromatherapy helps relieve stress are unclear, studies suggest that it may be effective at reducing perceived stress.

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a process in which you work with crayons, watercolors, clay, or other materials to create artwork. Through this process, you can experience new expression of your thoughts, self-efficacy, and coping abilities, which can help prevent or manage stress.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is the use of water, ice, or steam with various temperatures, pressures, durations, and sites for health promotion. Hydrotherapy can be practiced at home, such as with a warm bath, steam room, or taking a cold shower. Swimming is another form of hydrotherapy that may help decrease tension and improve well-being.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy—a technique that involves manipulating soft tissues—offers pain relief. It can be effective for helping to relieve tension in the neck, back, and shoulders caused by stress. Many types of massage therapy exist, such as Swedish, classical, shiatsu, and tuina.

Music Therapy

Music therapy consists of listening, using instruments, or singing to promote physical and psychological health. Even just listening to music for 30 minutes a day is associated with a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Management and Prevention

The American Psychological Association recommends the following evidence-based ways to help manage and prevent stress:

  • Try to get rid of your stressors: Keep a journal to identify the situations that create stress for you. While it's not always possible, evaluate whether you can get rid of or avoid the situation. This may mean asking for help or giving up some responsibilities or lowering your expectations at work, home, or school.
  • Take care of your body: This includes eating a healthy and varied diet, getting quality sleep, exercising regularly, and avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, or other substances. Taking steps to care for your physical health can help improve your immune system to fight stressors and decrease inflammation caused by stress.
  • Create a routine: Having regularity and routine, such as waking up, eating meals, and going to bed at the same time each day, can help you feel more stability in your life, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. If that's not possible due to your work or family responsibilities, finding ways to add routine into your day, such as a bedtime routine, can also support your well-being.
  • Enjoy leisure activities: Many people feel like they have too many responsibilities to be able to take the time for leisure activities. However, cutting out leisure activities may actually be counterproductive when it comes to your well-being. Doing things you enjoy, such as going for a walk, reading a book, listening to music or a podcast, or watching your favorite TV show, can help to alleviate stress and anxiety and allow you to reset and recharge.
  • Get outside: Many studies have shown that green spaces, such as parks, can help boost mood and help you recover more quickly from stressors. Try to take a walk and observe nature around you to help reduce your stress.
  • Take breaks from media: Constantly consuming bad news through traditional or social media can be upsetting and traumatic. Consider reducing the amount of time you spend scrolling and looking at screens.
  • Stay connected: Talking to friends and family can help you feel supported when you are stressed. Offering support to friends and family can also be a way to boost your own well-being.
  • Reframe your thinking: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-researched treatment for stress and anxiety. It works by helping you understand that your thoughts influence your emotions, which influence your behaviors. Therefore, changing your thoughts can help manage emotions and reduce your stress. When you find yourself getting overwhelmed by negative thoughts, pause and evaluate whether those thoughts are realistic or if there are other scenarios to consider.
  • Recognize when you need help: If you've exhausted self-help and stress management techniques, speak with a psychologist or mental health professional. They may be able to help come up with a treatment plan to manage your stress.

When to Speak With Your Healthcare Provider

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by your stress and none of the self-help strategies are working, speak with your healthcare provider to refer you to a psychologist or mental health professional. They can help you recognize, prevent, and cope with stressful situations to better manage your response.

A Word From Verywell

While some stress is normal and even helpful, stress over long periods of time can negatively impact your health. Practicing stress reduction strategies can help you manage your stress so it doesn't take over your life. However, if you begin to feel overwhelmed by stress, it's important to seek professional help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you reduce stress at work?

    Understanding the source of stressors at work is essential to figuring out how to reduce workplace stress. For example, if your workload is excessive or not engaging, or you're unclear about what your responsibilities are, have a discussion with your supervisor to see if any changes can be made.

  • How can you reduce stress hormones?

    Developing healthy habits can help reduce stress hormones in your body. These include eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and practicing mindfulness or breathing techniques.

  • What methods can you use to reduce stress in college?

    Staying organized, taking care of your body, and creating healthy boundaries for yourself can help reduce college-related stress. Communicate with your professors and college counselors if you need more support. Often, campuses have many resources available to help you, whether you need mental health resources, access to a food pantry, or a support group.

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