Top 10 ways to relieve stress

“It is not stress that kills us; it’s our reaction to it,”
Hans Selye.

Selye is absolutely right.

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Work can cause stress. Relationships can cause stress. Life events such as getting married or having children can cause stress. Absolutely no one is exempt from feeling stress at certain times in life.  

However, there are those who feel stressed more often than not. They drag into work with dark circles under their eyes. They move slowly (or too quickly) through their day. They have a hard time focusing on conversations. You know these people. Maybe you are one of them.

The first step in dealing with stress is identifying the cause.

What is stressing you out? Your family? Your coworkers? The lengthy report you needed to write by yesterday? After you identify what exactly is causing you stress, you can tackle it in healthy ways.

Here are the top ten researched ways to relieve stress.

1. Exercise

Exercise for stress relief - Camino recovery

Exercise is a natural way to ease stress because you when you exercise, your body releases endorphins (the “feel good” chemical) which helps clear your thinking, eases anxiety, and well, makes you feel good.

You don’t necessarily have to go join a gym (unless, of course, you want to). There are plenty of workouts you can do from your own home. One of the best exercises, however, is walking. There are many benefits to simply walking 30 minutes a day.  

Yoga is also a great stress relieving exercise that can provide emotional well-being. In fact, in a national survey, over 85% of people who did yoga reported that it helped them relieve stress.

To start practicing yoga, you might take a class, enroll in an online program, or use a smartphone app.

2. Make a Plan

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Part of the reason why people feel stressed is because they feel as though they cannot do anything to change the stressful situation.

Ask yourself, “What tangible steps can I take to make this situation better?” Come up with as many solutions as you can. Then make a plan. Write it down.

There’s a solution to any problem. Taking control and making a plan is in itself empowering and helps relieve the stress you feel about the situation.

3. Meditate

Camino recovery Spain meditation

Meditation is another great way to ease stress.

There are many different forms of meditation you can try. You may find that one works better for you than another. That’s OK. Stick to what works.

You can develop a mantra that you repeat in your mind throughout the day. It could be something like, “I have control over how I feel, and I choose to feel at peace.”

Or, you could practice mindfulness, which means you are focusing on the moment you are in. Simply pay attention to what you hear, see, taste, smell, and feel.

When you are telling yourself positive things and practicing mindfulness, you are not thinking about the stress of the past or the future.

Meditation and mindfulness take practice, but they can both make a big difference in lowering your stress levels.

4. Connect with people

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A good support network of people can help you manage stress. Having a group of people who you can trust—family members, friends, coworkers, etc, can make a huge difference in your stress levels.

It may sound cliché, but simply talking to someone about how you feel can be helpful. Talking can help release some of the stress that has built up, or it can distract you from the stress altogether.

Sometimes stepping away from the situation and seeing it through another’s eyes is all it takes to help.

Talking about your stress can also help you find solutions. Talking things through with a family member or friend can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.

5. Avoid unhealthy habits

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Many people use alcohol, drugs, and caffeine as common ways of coping with stress.

Alcohol is a depressant, which many people do not realize. It depresses your nervous system and can cause more regular depression if alcohol intake is not controlled.

In the long term, these habits won’t solve your problems. They’ll just create new ones.

Avoid turning to these substances in hopes that they will provide stress relief. They won’t in the long run. They will just bring more stress.

6. Help other people

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Research evidence shows that people who help others, through activities such as volunteering or community work, have lower amounts of stress.

Sometimes all it takes is to put yourself in another’s shoes. You realize that your life is OK and you can accept it as is.  

Try to get outside of yourself, as they say, by thinking of others and what you can do for them.

Perhaps you have a friend who is moving and needs help. Maybe you could simply pick up a coffee for a coworker to brighten his or her day. Maybe your neighbor needs some help with yard work.

Helping others will improve your mood and lower your stress levels.

7. Go outdoors

Being outdoors - camino recovery_spain

Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and peace. Our brains and bodies both benefit from being outside.

Here are some simple ways you can relieve stress by getting outside:

  • Add a daily walk to your day.
  • Go on a bike ride in the park.
  • Go camping with your friends and/or family.
  • Go hiking on your local trails.

It is easy to find ways to get outside each day.

Even five to ten minutes a day has been shown to be enough to relieve stress.

8. Learn to say, “no” (and mean it).

Stress relief Spain

A common cause of stress is having too much to do and not enough time to do it. Yet, sometimes it is hard to say no, and you end up adding even more to your plate.

Learning to say “No” to requests that increase your workload will help significantly reduce your level of stress.

If you are like me, you might feel reluctant to respond to a request with a “no.” You may feel like it is too harsh or that you won’t be accepted.  Instead, think of some ways you can say no, but gently. Here are some examples:

“I am sorry, but I cannot commit at this time. I have prior commitments.”
“Now is not a good time, but why don’t you ask me again in….?”
“I’d love to do this, but …”

9. Taking Time Off to Reflect

Holiday beach view

Whether you need a vacation or just a few days to disconnect, taking time off from work and responsibilities may be just what you need to relieve stress.

You are not putting off responsibility by taking a break. You are recharging yourself so that you can do your very best when you return from your break.

Taking time off interrupts the cycle of stress. Everyone needs a break from time to time—don’t feel guilty about it. After all, you must take care of yourself before you can take care of anything else.

10. Get More Sleep

Sleeping - Stress relief

A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. However, stress also interrupts our sleep as racing thoughts are what sometimes keeps us awake.

Here are some practical actions you can take to help you sleep well:

  • Remove your bedroom with reminders of the things that cause you stress. 
  • Avoid caffeine during the evening.
  • Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed.
  • Take a warm bath or shower before bed.
  • Read a book that is an easy read.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.

The bottom line is that stress is a very real and serious disease. It can lead to depression, anxiety and other unhealthy ‘coping’ mechanisms if left untreated.

Knowing that everyone experiences stress at different points in their lives and that there are helpful ways to reduce stress can help.

Remember Hans Selye’s quote, “It is not stress that kills us; it’s our reaction to it.” Let your reaction to stress be a positive one.

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David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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