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Ways to Deal With Stress and Relax

Most people in our fast-paced world experience stress. Knowing and using ways to deal with stress is an essential part of healthy living.

The definition of stress is the perceived pressures you face on a day to day basis. Notice the word "perceived." Stress is individual: what bothers you may not bother someone else. In that fact lies the first key in how to manage stress: adjust your attitude about the circumstances you find stressful.

Before looking at specific stress relief tips, let's look at stress's effect on the body.

Relaxing items, including plant, flower, massage t-shirt, and Buddha statue with the words Stress Relief Tips

How Stress Affects Your Body

Stress is not necessarily bad—it can stimulate positive change and growth—but too much can be detrimental. Research shows too much stress makes you more susceptible to illness, mental and emotional problems, and accidental injuries. Seventy to 90 percent, depending on the source you consult, of visits to general physicians are for stress-related problems.

Stress affects your body through the nervous system, which is the body's control center. Every thought, action, and emotion affects and reflects the activity of the nervous system though the mind-body connection. The nervous system is also responsible for the stress-related fight or flight response.

Here’s how the fight or flight response works. Imagine an angry wild animal confronts you. You can choose to run or fight. Either way, your body prepares for action by tensing your muscles; increasing your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure; releasing sugar into your blood stream for energy; and pumping adrenaline into your system. Your body also shuts down systems not needed for immediate survival, including digestion,  kidneys, and reproductive system.

After the intense physical exertion of your successful fight or flight, your body mostly returns to normal. 

Most of what you face in life is more subtle than a wild animal. But when someone yells at you or cuts you off in traffic, your body responds in ways similar to its response to the animal. Because fighting or running isn't usually acceptable, your body doesn't as easily return to its normal state. Over time, the effects build up and your body spends more time in the hyped-up fight or flight state.

Without a physical outlet to dampen the effects of the stress response, it has serious health consequences. Look again at the description of the fight or flight reaction, and you can see that continually being in this state could lead to chronic tense muscles and to blood pressure, blood sugar, digestive, heart, kidney, or reproductive problems.

Ways to Deal With Stress

To prevent health problems, it’s important to reverse the symptoms of stress. Here are some ways to deal with stress.


One of the best ways to relieve stress is exercise. It increases the flow of endorphins, natural pain relievers responsible for "runner’s high." In addition, exercise improves circulation and helps relieve chronic tension and anxiety. Walk, jog, swim, bike, lift weights, or do a full body stretching routine. Take a yoga, tai chi, or dance class. Do whatever movement captures your fancy, because exercise must be enjoyable if you expect to stick to it.


Meditation can help calm your mind and reduce stress.

Here's a simple meditation technique: Choose a word, such as "one," that has no emotional meaning for you. Silently focus on and repeat the word. When other thoughts or images come up, gently ignore them and refocus on your chosen word.

To deepen meditation, you might want to use brainwave entrainment music.

Focus and Relax

An alternative to meditation is a body-focusing exercise:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, or lie down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Scan your body and notice areas of tension or discomfort.
  3. Breathe slowly into these areas while imagining relaxation flowing into them.

Use this technique ten minutes a day or as desired.

Practice Deep Breathing

Inhale slowly through your nose, expanding your abdomen and entire torso. Exhale completely. Start with five minutes of deep breathing and work up to 10 to 15 minutes. This technique can be especially helpful when you feel anxious or need insomnia relief.

Use Other Focusing Techniques

Other ways focus and relax include:

  • Hypnosis: See a hypnotherapist or use self-hypnosis.

  • Relaxing music: Listen to what you enjoy.

  • Autosuggestion: Frequently repeat a suggestion to yourself without trying to do anything except say the phrase. You could say things such as "neck relaxed" or "shoulders relaxed." The suggestion installs an idea into your brain that can  support muscle relaxation.

Go Outdoors

Regular exposure to outdoor light and fresh air lifts your spirits and is healthy in many ways.

Soak In a Hot Bath

Add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, for relaxation. Another way to relax is to soak your feet in warm water containing Epsom salts (and maybe essential oil). Or enjoy a hot shower or other hydrotherapy treatments. Also see essential oils for stress relief.

Get Massage

Massage therapy is one of the best ways to deal with stress. Massage relieves tense muscles and evokes the opposite of the fight or flight response: the relaxation response, which decrease heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure and increases blood circulation to your entire, helping all the body's system function at an optimal level.

The benefits of massage include releasing muscle tension, worry, and mental fog. If you slow down and relax, you can more easily tune into your feelings and encourage your body and mind to let go of stress and tension. Reflexology is also great for releasing tension.

Make At-Home Spa Treatments

Pamper yourself at home with the help of these books:

Take Charge of Your Life

  • Establish boundaries at home and work. Choose to let go of some less important activities and focus on what's really important to you. Learn how to say "no" in a way that respects the other person's request. 

  • If possible, act to change situations that trouble you. Ask for support if you need it. Also, remember you can never control another person's behavior, only your own.

  • Talk to your family and friends about your concerns. Use "I" statements and avoid blame. For example, "I feel stressed. With my deadlines at work, I feel I can’t keep up at home." Ask for the help you want.

  • Try new things in your life. 

  • Laugh. Watch comedies and read humorous books. Get together with people who know how to look at the lighter side of life. Try laughter yoga.

  • Express your creativity. Write down your memories, grow flowers and herbs, or knit a sweater. Take a painting, writing, or photography class.

  • Make time and space for your own relaxation and stress reduction, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a few times a week. Take your breaks at work and use them to refresh yourself. Occasionally, take a weekend, or just a morning, away from your obligations and worries. On your getaways, leave work and worries behind. If you need a technique to help you let go, write down your worries or concerns, and then tuck the list away, knowing you can get back to it after your time away.

Perhaps the ultimate way to cope with stress is to take the advice from the title of a book by Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... and It's All Small Stuff. Your attitude can be your best friend or your worst enemy—it's your choice.

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