Nearly all of us experience stress at some point in our lives – whether it’s occasional moments of tension and worry, or something more consistent and chronic. When we’re knee-deep in stress, it can feel tricky to escape it, but there are things that can help.
Some methods of stress relief take a longer-term approach – for example, by adjusting our environment or incorporating daily habits like mindfulness. However, there are also things you can do when you’re in need of some quick relief.
With that said, here are nine simple stress-relieving activities – many of which you can practise at home, work, or wherever you need them.
9 simple stress-relieving activities
1. Take a walk in nature
If you’ve got the time, taking a walk in nature is a simple but effective way to relieve stress. Time and again, science has shown the restorative effects of spending quality time outdoors.
In this study, researchers measured mood and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in university students before and after walking in a natural environment. They found that walking in nature reduced cortisol levels more than simply exercising or viewing images of nature alone.
That being said, if you live in an urban area and don’t have quick access to natural areas, it’s still worth going for a walk, as research firmly supports the stress-relieving effects of exercise.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to walk, check out our article; 12 rewarding activities to do while walking.
2. Take a dedicated music break
You might already be used to putting on some calming music while you’re working or relaxing. And it’s true that music can be a powerful way to relieve stress.
However, there’s a difference between playing music in the background and really listening to it. So, taking a five or 10-minute break to listen to your favourite track and nothing else can be a positive way to switch your focus and reduce stress.
To make your music break even more relaxing, why not sit back in a reclining chair or lie down and close your eyes? You could even use noise-cancelling headphones if you have them.
3. Practise breathing exercises
Our breathing is intrinsically linked to our stress responses. As stress pushes our body into fight or flight mode, it’s natural for our breathing to quicken because the brain needs more oxygen in its alert state.
This means that making a conscious effort to slow our breathing can help to reduce stress by signalling to our brains that we don’t need to panic.
As a result, studies have found that slow breathing exercises are highly effective at reducing stress levels. These exercises involve inhaling and exhaling while counting the seconds so that your breaths are slow, measured, and regular.
For more information on how to use breathing for stress relief, check out our article; 3 breathing exercises for stress and anxiety relief.
4. Practise stretching and progressive muscle relaxation
We already know that stress is bad for our mental health – but it can also be problematic for the body. Regular and continuous stress can lead to aches and pains, most commonly in the back, neck, and shoulders.
One particularly effective method of relieving tension and physical stress over time is progressive muscle relaxation. This is a tension-relieving exercise that involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group of the body in a specific order. The method is practised lying down, but once you’ve memorised the order, it’s easy to do whenever you feel you need to.
Studies have found that having a cluttered living or work space can increase stress levels. So taking time to declutter and reorder your space can make a huge difference.
For help getting started, check out our articles; 9 ways to declutter your workspace and improve productivity, How to declutter and reorganise your home, and 8 ways to use feng shui for a happier home.
6. Eat dark chocolate
This one might sound a little too good to be true, but studies have found that dark chocolate can decrease cortisol levels and reduce adrenal gland activity – which are involved in the body’s stress response.
Other research has looked into the psychological effects of eating dark chocolate. For example, two studies found that dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao contains antioxidants which affect brain wave frequency, and cause our brains to emit more gamma waves.
These gamma waves are related to higher cognitive functions like memory, recall, and stress reduction. And luckily, the studies found that the effects can occur within just half an hour of eating 48g of dark chocolate. That being said, it’s important to eat chocolate in moderation.
7. Drink tea
Avid tea drinkers often speak of its calming and stress-relieving effects. But what does science say?
This study found that participants who drank black tea before engaging in a stressful activity had lower cortisol levels afterwards.
Other research has revealed that peppermint tea has powerful stress-relieving effects.
8. Have a laugh
We all love to laugh and science has consistently revealed a strong link between laughter and reduced stress.
So, if you’re feeling stressed at work, home, or anywhere, it’s worth taking a quick break to chat with a colleague or friend who always makes you laugh – or even just watch a quick comedy clip on your phone.
Why not take a look at our article, The benefits of humour and laughing – 9 tips to help you laugh more, to find out more?
9. Write down your thoughts
Journaling your thoughts, worries, desires, and anything else that’s on your mind can be really helpful in reducing stress – both in the moment and over time.
Journaling is well-established in psychology as a good habit to promote mental wellbeing. Plus, it’s easy to do and accessible to anyone with a pen and paper or note-taking app.
Rather than thinking them through internally, writing your thoughts down can help you to organise and process them, and to see them from a different perspective.
Journaling works best as a regular activity because frequently checking in with yourself and remaining mindful of your internal world can help you to stay on top of things in day-to-day life.
But even just taking a moment to lay out on paper the obligations, worries, and problems that are swirling around in your mind can offer some quick relief.
Our article, The power of journaling as a life habit, has plenty more tips and advice on putting pen to paper if you’re struggling to get started.
We hope you’ve found some of these simple stress-relieving activities useful. If you’d like some longer-term solutions and coping mechanisms for living with stress, our article, 7 tips for coping with stress and anxiety, is worth a read.
What do you find most effective for reducing stress? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.