It's National Stress Awareness Month: How to Relieve Stress in 7 Ways

Stress happens to all of us – it’s the body’s natural way of reacting to a challenge. From minor irritations like being stuck in traffic, to more serious concerns like losing your job, stress is inevitable.

We can’t control some of the stressful situations we are presented with, but we can control how we react to them. In the spirit of achieving stress relief before your body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response kicks in, it’s essential to take time to breathe, and relax. Developing healthy responses is key for both short and long-term well-being, so consider these seven suggestions on how to relieve stress, and instill feelings of calm and relaxation.

Breathing exercises to try at home or work

1. Breath focus. This is a basic, but powerful technique. Simply take long, slow, deep breaths in through the nose until you feel your lungs fill with air; and exhale leisurely out through the mouth. This method is also known as abdominal or belly breathing. As you breathe, gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations, and turn all your attention to simply “minding your breath.”

2. Equal breathing. To start, inhale for a count of three through the nose, then exhale for a count of three through the nose. This particular breathing exercise can be especially effective before bed to calm racing thoughts and to relieve stress. When you’re comfortable with three-second intervals, gradually increase the length of your breaths.

3. Alternate nostril breathing. Balance can do a body good, beginning with the breath. The alternate nostril breathing technique is believed to unite the right and left sides of the brain, while restoring calm and balance. Begin by holding your right thumb over your right nostril, and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. This breathing exercise is great for when you need to combat stress in order to focus or energize.

Other Relaxation Techniques

4. Progressive relaxation. Have you ever been so stressed you don’t even realize how tense your muscles are? Practicing the progressive relaxation technique can help you learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a relaxed muscle. The goal is to be able to “cue” this relaxed state at the first sign of the muscle tension that accompanies a stressor. Begin by closing your eyes and taking deep, slow breaths. While maintaining this even breathing, focus on tensing and relaxing a muscle group for two to three seconds each, starting with the feet and toes. After a few repetitions, work your way up to the thighs and glutes, and gradually all the way up to the jaw and eyes. Breathe in through the nose, hold for a count of five while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release.

5. Have a laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine” is completely accurate, because having a good belly laugh actually activates your body’s natural relaxation response. The best part is, it’s contagious (in a good way)! If it isn’t already, make laughter a regular part of your life – read a funny book, watch a favorite movie or sitcom, or call a friend who always makes you smile.

6. Hum a happy tune. Music is the universal language of happiness, and brings joy to people of all ages. Certain songs have the ability to transport us back to specific moments in time, which can immediately induce feelings of fond nostalgia, and banish stressful thoughts. Music, by its very nature, evokes a light-hearted and merry state of mind, and is one of the best-known ways to relieve stress.

Mindfulness meditation. This relaxation technique is gaining popularity for its simplicity. Just sit comfortably, concentrate on your breathing, and allow your attention to focus only on the present moment. As concerns about the past or the future drift into your consciousness, gently push them aside, minding the breath all the while. Do not allow anything but the sound of your inhalations and exhalations to enter your realm of relaxation. The more you practice this technique, the more you will enjoy its soothing nature, and the stress relief that accompanies it.