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8 stress relief activities

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Meditation Physical activityMindfulness exercisesYogaBreathing exercisesSpending time in natureListening to musicConnecting with loved onesMedication optionsSummary
You can lower your stress levels in various ways. Some people may find meditation and breathing exercises very effective. Doing yoga or physical activity regularly can also help.
Medically reviewed by Bethany Juby, PsyD
Updated on

We can experience stress in many areas of our lives, such as work, school, and family. While it is common to experience stress from time to time, there are ways you can relieve your symptoms and increase your overall well-being.

Several activities can help lower your blood pressure and reduce the levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress and anxiety.

Common examples include:


Person sat in lotus pose outside on grass to depict stress relief activities.
Marija Kovac/Stocksy United

Practicing meditation can help reduce stress. It also helps reduce blood pressure and the inflammation that certain chemicals, called cytokines, can cause. Cytokines are released in your body when you experience stress.

A 2023 study confirmed the effectiveness of meditation in reducing inflammation in the body and improving blood pressure, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

You can practice meditation anywhere, such as while you lie down on your sofa or bed, sitting on a chair, or even while standing up. This can make it easy to include it in your day-to-day life and reduce your stress levels.

Doing more physical activity

Practicing physical activity regularly may help reduce your stress levels and improve your mood. This is because when you exercise, your brain releases endorphins in your body. These hormones can boost your mood and help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.

A 2020 study found that practicing aerobic exercises 2 days a week for 6 weeks significantly reduced stress and improved depression in people participating in the study.

Examples of aerobic exercises include:

  • walking
  • running
  • hiking
  • cycling
  • swimming

A 2020 review that focused on people practicing physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic showed the benefits that exercising had on mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, which are often linked to stress.

If you are not currently following an exercise routine, consider starting with gentle activities, such as walking. If you have any underlying condition that may cause you difficulties exercising, speak to a doctor or a physiotherapist to find out what the most appropriate activities for your health conditions are.

Practicing mindfulness exercises

Mindfulness is a practice that can help bring you back and focus on the present moment. This may include:

  • focusing on your breath
  • performing a body scan
  • mindful eating
  • visualizing an image
  • focusing on a sound
  • repeating positive words or phrases

Keeping your focus on the present moment can help you detach from the worries and stress that you may experience at work, home, or school. Taking time to switch off, even for a moment, may help you feel in control of your emotions and reduce your stress levels.

Doing yoga

Yoga typically includes a combination of stretching and strength exercises with meditation and breathing exercises. While there are several different types of yoga, all of them are focused on reducing stress and anxiety while promoting psychological well-being.

Yoga is generally safe for all age groups. It can benefit your resilience to stress as it lowers your cortisol levels, makes your heart rate slower, reduces your blood pressure, and boosts your gamma-aminobutyric acid levels, a neurotransmitter that is usually low in individuals with mood disorders.

Practicing breathing exercises

Stress can send you into fight-or-flight mode and activate your sympathetic nervous system. This causes the release of various hormones in your body, raising your blood pressure by constricting your blood vessels, making your heart beat faster, and increasing your breathing rate.

Performing deep breathing exercises may help trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and cause relaxation. There are several types of breathing exercises you can perform, including:

Focusing on your breath and trying to slow it down while taking deep breaths can help slow your heart rate and make you feel more relaxed.

Spending time in nature

Spending time outdoors may help improve your stress levels. A 2020 review found that spending time in nature, such as a park or a forest, may help improve your mental well-being in as little as 10 minutes.

Activities such as hiking can be beneficial as it combines two stress-relief activities: walking and spending time in nature. However, if you do not have much time in your day or you live in an urban area, consider spending time in a local park or a botanical garden.

Listening to music

Listening to calm, relaxing music can help lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. You can try listening to classical music or nature sounds. Relaxing music can not only help lower your stress levels, but it may also help calm you down if you are experiencing anxiety.

Connecting with your loved ones

If you feel stressed, it can be helpful to connect with friends and family. Spending time with your loved ones can help prevent the development of depressive symptoms and reduce your feelings of stress and loneliness.

If you do not have friends or family nearby, consider joining a club or volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about. This may help you meet and connect with other people and it may result in a better management of stress.

Alternative treatment options for stress

If you find that lifestyle measures, such as those listed above, are not helping improve your stress levels, then consider speaking with a doctor. They can advise whether an alternative treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may be helpful.

CBT can help you manage chronic stress by modifying your behavior and how you deal with feelings and thoughts that may come up during your day. CBT can also provide you with the tools and coping mechanisms needed to manage your stress levels and other situations that may trigger anxiety.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend a combination of CBT and medication. Several antidepressant medications can help with stress and anxiety or improve sleep disturbances, including:

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Several activities may help you reduce your stress levels, including physical exercise, mindfulness, and spending time outdoors. However, if you find that lifestyle measures are not helping improve your stress levels, consider speaking with a doctor.

They can advise you about the most suitable treatment option for your stress. This may include therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and taking antidepressant medications.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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