Nobody enjoys being stressed. When we are stressed it can be incredibly difficult to relax, we tend to feel uncomfortable and fidgety and we’re more likely to struggle with negative thoughts. In short, being stressed means that we view everything through a slightly grey lens that can take the sheen off of life and hamper our enjoyment of it.
But stress isn’t just unpleasant, it’s also actually very bad for you. Stress increases blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and more, it makes you more likely to gain weight, it is bad for your skin and hair, it damages your sleep and it suppresses your immune system leaving you more susceptible to infection and disease.
In short then, stress is a serious problem and something you should aim to deal with as soon as possible if you are struggling with it. Read on and we’ll look at some of the best stress relief activities to help you relax after a hard day or when your nerves are getting the better of you. It will help you to enjoy life more and it will do a world of good for your general health!
Top Stress Relief Activities
Light Some Scented Candles
To start out with an easy one, aromatherapy has been shown to be an effective stress management in a number of studies (1). It’s passive too, so there’s no reason that you can’t use it at the same time as watching a comedy or stroking a pet – which we’ll get to…
Get a Massage
This might well seem obvious but getting a massage is one of the most effective ways to combat stress and also to help relax muscle (2). It can also increase your production of nitric oxide and even the expression of mitochondria leading to enhanced physical performance. In other words, everyone should be getting regular massages!
If you live with your partner, then try making a pact to exchange short, regular massages and both of you will enjoy impressive health benefits. If not, consider paying for one as it’s probably a worthwhile way to spend your money. You could also try using a massage chair which will relax your muscles, though you won’t benefit from the ‘human touch’ element which likely has a lot to do with the neurochemical response.
Go for a Walk
Going for a walk is a great way to help combat stress (3). The reason for this is that you will be engaging in an activity that is repetitive and doesn’t require a lot of focus, thereby allowing your brain to fall back into its more relaxed state. Essentially this means engaging the ‘default mode network’ which is our ‘daydreaming’ state.
The positive effects of going for a walk will be even more pronounced if you choose a scenic area, especially one with lots of natural greenery. The reason for this is that seeing natural environments has been shown to help induce a sense of calm and to even aid creativity as a result!
Meditation and Deep Breathing
Meditation is one of the most popular stress relief activities. It’s all about learning to clear your mind or reflect on your thoughts – in either case you will be exercise mental discipline in order to overcome the potential urge to worry yourself by thinking about negative things.
Those who are highly experienced in meditation will exhibit brainwaves similar to the early stages of sleep (low alpha/theta waves).
Even if you do not right away manage to illicit these kinds of changes however, any form of meditation that involves breathing exercises will have immediate benefits and help you to feel calmer and more at-ease. This is because deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ state. This is the polar opposite to fight or flight and is a highly restorative state for your body.
Yoga also incorporates deep breathing techniques as well as stretching. Stretching can help us to relax our muscles and this can in turn can combat some of the tension caused by stress.
Laughter triggers the release of many ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that work counter to cortisol and other stress hormones (4). It can also boost immune function which can combat one of the main negative impacts of stress. Put simply: laughing makes us feel good, so hang out with some friends who help you to cheer up, or watch a funny film. The best thing about most stress relief activities is that they’re actually things we enjoy!
Altruism – that is doing something to help others without expecting reward – can also trigger the release of a number of ‘natural antidepressants’ which together create what we know as ‘the helper’s high’. In fact, even the anticipation of doing some good can help to create this effect.
Next time you’re feeling very stressed then, try just sending a friend a nice message or buying something for your partner. You might just find it’s the tonic you were looking for!
Stroking a Pet
Stroking a pet has similarly been shown to trigger the release of feel good hormones and to help slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure (5). This is a very therapeutic activity and they like it too!
Most people know that exercise produces endorphins. This is what’s known as the ‘runner’s high’ and it’s yet again one of the best stress relief activities. It’s also just generally good for you and it’s a great opportunity to think and to take out some frustration.
Hugging can also reduce blood pressure and stress. As can kissing. If you’re feeling down, just getting a hug from your partner is not only comforting but will trigger the release of endorphins. Of course if you don’t have a partner around, then a hug from a friend or family member will also do the trick!
As you might have guessed, it also goes to follow that having sex would have even more impressive anti-stress benefits – as well as many other health benefits!
If you’ve ever spent a long time painting an art project, then you’ll know just how easy it is to get lost in what you’re doing. When you are really concentrating on art in this way, it can be highly therapeutic and even almost meditative. Research also backs up the idea that it can help to combat stress-related symptoms (6).
Any of these things can help with stress relief but so too can many others. Stress is a very personal thing, so try engaging in any of the things you enjoy and tackling it in multiple ways and see what works best for you!