How To Destress Yourself: Quick Tricks, Exercises, and More

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

Do you feel like you have to work harder to be stress-free these days? Consistent negativity on social media, 24/7 exposure to unpleasant global news, work pressure, and being unable to spend enough time with loved ones all contribute to ending your day feeling tense.

Consistent stress can lead to mental health issues, poor relationships, weight gain, poor sleep, and other lifestyle problems. But you don’t have to suffer. This article will shed light on how stress impacts your entire life and the daily things you can do to destress yourself.

How to know if you’re stressed: Symptoms of stress

Because of the fast pace of modern life, you might not even know that you are stressed. If you’ve adapted and become used to 21st-century online, on-the-go living, then you might be unfamiliar with how stress manifests for you.

As mentioned earlier, stress affects every part of your life, here are some symptoms you can look for to determine whether you need to destress.

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Anxiety and depression

Chronic and long-term stress may manifest in symptoms of anxiety or depression. Stress causes inflammation to be induced in the system – affecting the body and mind – Studies show that constant tension and pressure from negative life events will make you feel stressed (1).

Illness

When you’re suffering from chronic stress, your body takes a hit and becomes strained. This pressure can negatively impact your immune system and cause inflammation to spike in the body, resulting in frequent illness. These symptoms can also lead to the development of autoimmune conditions that are harder for your body to fight because of your compromised immune system (2).

Weight gain

Comfort food is what happens when chronic stress affects your hormone levels. This change can cause you to overeat (craving foods high in fats and sugar) and cause your body to store fat. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, the hormone responsible for helping you navigate stressful situations. But when your body stays in a state of stress with increased cortisol, your appetite increases, leading to weight gain (3, 4).

Relationships 

Has coming home grumpy after a long day of work ever led to a fight between you and your loved ones? While this is bound to happen once in a while, when your life is constantly stressful, it can wear down your relationships. You can find yourself pushing loved ones away, arguing with them, or being impatient because of your stress levels (5).

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How to destress yourself fast

Now that you have a roadmap to understand how stress might affect your life, here are some proven methods to help you destress daily. These methods will help you live healthier and happier.

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  1. Exercise 

You’ve heard this often, but exercise is a great way to reduce tension. By lowering levels of cortisone and adrenaline in the body, physical activity makes way for the release of endorphins.  Endorphins, working as the body’s natural painkillers, are also mood boosters and responsible for the “runner’s high (6).

Studies also show that frequent workouts are great for cardiovascular health and emotional resilience. The studies indicated that working out gives you greater capability for navigating stressful situations while being able to maintain your happiness and not be easily defeated (7).

  1. Eat a healthy diet

You’ve heard of the gut-brain connection, the idea that the food you eat affects your mental health.

The popular Mediterranean diet has been shown to have great benefits for physical and mental health. It is low in red meat and consists mostly of whole foods like veggies and grains. The diet has also been shown to have a positive impact on the gut microbiota, leading to better mental well-being (8).

It has also been shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on depression in patients. Embracing a healthy, balanced diet packed with fresh fruits, vegetables, and foods with low sugar content while steering clear of heavily processed options can significantly benefit your mental health (9).

  1. Mindfulness practice

Having become popular in the mainstream, mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels and ease depression in study participants. Mindfulness practices like meditation can help you feel calmer while easily navigating difficult situations (10).

  1. Less screen time

Social media has allowed us to connect with friends and families across continents and has opened many professional doors for people across the world. But it has also been proven that spending too much time on your digital devices can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

When you’re online, constantly seeing negative news or comparing your life to someone else’s, you end up feeling insecure. This can also prevent you from spending real time with your loved ones, leading to depression. Excessive screen time also leads to poor sleep, as the blue light emitted by screens interferes with your circadian rhythm (11). Getting less screen time before bed will help you sleep better and feel content with your life. 

  1. Engage in hobbies

Whether you like arts and crafts or sports, having a hobby that connects you with others is a great way to relieve stress. Hobbies allow creative expression and have been shown to lower stress, blood pressure, and cortisol and curb weight gain through a sense of community, leading to overall happiness (12). Getting outside and connecting with nature is also significant for reducing stress! 

  1. Aromatherapy

Whether it’s through burning incense, getting a massage, or running yourself a bath, aromatherapy has been shown to relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Scents like lavender and rose are popular choices to relieve tension by regulating the autonomic nervous system to bring a sense of calm (13, 14).

  1. Journaling 

Also popular, journaling has proven beneficial stress management. Sitting down at the end of the day and writing down your experiences, feelings, and thoughts will help you feel calmer (as it has a soothing effect on the amygdala), see situations clearly, and understand yourself. This will contribute to lowered feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression by helping you understand the things or events that trigger your stress (15).

  1. Reduce or cut out caffeine 

You may not want to hear this, but caffeine can worsen your stress. Studies show that high doses of caffeine contribute to increased levels of anxiety and depression. If you feel more anxious after your next cup of coffee, it might be a good idea to cut coffee out for a short period or simply reduce your intake (16).

  1. Spend time with your loved ones

Loneliness has been at an all-time high since covid, with many studies showing how a lack of human connection can lead to mental health issues. The studies show that loneliness can lead to depression, personality disorders, and compromised immune systems (17, 18).

Support from your loved ones makes a huge difference when you’re stressed. Knowing you have someone to talk to and receive comfort or advice from can improve a bad day.

Receiving comfort and support from loved ones has been shown to calm your nervous system while also releasing oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone. This leads to greater emotional resilience, allowing one to handle pressured situations better (19).

  1. Spend time with your pets

They’re called a man’s best friend for a reason. If you own any pets, spending quality time together at the end of the day or during work breaks can greatly contribute to reduced stress.

A study done on disabled children showed lower levels of stress and anxiety during treatment. Another study done on students showed a significant increase in happiness and a reduction in anxiety when spending time with a pet (20, 21). Interestingly, spending time with your dog may also improve the health of the microbiome, as evidenced in this study (22). 

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Things not to do to destress

If you’re feeling stressed, some of the points above are great ways to understand what you should avoid when trying to lower your stress levels. When you’re trying to relieve tension and pressure, be sure to avoid:

  • Isolating yourself
  • Eating sugary, processed, and fatty foods
  • Avoiding physical movement
  • Avoiding seeking professional help
  • Resisting rest

How to destress yourself and not gain weight

A lifestyle that leads to chronic stress can have damaging impacts on your body. While a compromised immune system and chronic inflammation can make you sick, it can also affect your hormones, causing you to overeat, store fat, and gain weight. 

Below, you’ll find some of the best exercises to help you destress, as well as healthy foods for living a relaxed, calmer life.

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Best exercises to destress

  1. Walking

Regular physical movement will help you feel less stressed and healthier overall. You don’t have to do high-intensity exercise to reap the benefits, as low-impact exercise like walking can help reduce stress levels.

A study conducted on the effects of walk and talk therapy showed that 60% of the participants showed more self compassion and acceptance toward themselves. The study showed that walking in nature while talking about daily stressors led to a reduction of burnout, an increase in confidence and more life satisfaction (23).

Studies show that even taking a 10-minute walk can help reduce stress levels; this is especially helpful when combining longer walks with periods of rest (24).

  1. Muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation combined with deep breathing is a good way to help the body release stress. By tensing and relaxing each muscle group and using slow breathing patterns, you can help ground yourself physically while allowing your mind to destress (25, 26).

  1. Hiking

Many studies show that being in nature leads to greater mental and physical health. Hiking, just like walking, is a cost-effective way to get the tension-relieving benefits of physical activity while connecting with loved ones or making new friends. Over time, hiking will help decrease your blood pressure, enhance your immune system, help protect you from illness, and improve your feelings of stress and depression (27).

  1. Swimming

A gentle form of exercise, a swimming study done on rats, showed that swimming for at least sixty minutes a day for five days a week led to lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone (cortisol in humans).

However, more studies need to be done in humans to prove these effects (28).

A study focusing on open water swimming in lakes or oceans has also found that swimming in these natural surroundings creates beneficial outcomes for mental, physical, and planetary health. The study showed that war veterans and physically impaired people found a sense of support from the community they encountered while swimming while also fostering a sense of care for the wellbeing of the environment.

Swimming together, the participants found themselves feeling uplifted with a boost in their self-confidence (29).

  1. Falun Gong

An ancient Chinese practice, Falun gong is a meditative practice similar to Qi Gong. The practice combines slow body movements with meditation to achieve a state of calm. 

Incorporating the Falun Gong practice into your daily routine is an excellent way to relieve stress and connect with yourself. It will also help you feel emotionally resilient and manage your anxiety better (30, 31).

Healthy foods that destress

When it comes to managing your stress levels, exercise is not the only thing you can do to unwind at the end or beginning of your day. One of the best ways to manage pressure is to have a proactive approach that includes daily practices like meditation, exercise, and eating a healthy diet. These foods have been shown to contribute to lowering stress levels.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Thanks to the fatty acids found in fish and plant-based sources like chia seeds, flax seeds, and algae, omega-3 has been found to contribute to lower levels of inflammation during times of stress, which can also help lessen depressive symptoms (32, 33).

Fermented foods 

As mentioned in our article on gut health, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi boast multiple health benefits. Among these benefits are lower inflammation, antibacterial properties, and lower anxiety.

The connection between gut and mental health has been a popular topic, and it’s thanks to the live bacteria in fermented foods that a healthy gut leads to lowered anxiety (34). This is because a number of neurotransmitters conducive to a healthy mood are synthesized by microbiota. 

Chamomile tea

Drinking chamomile tea before bed is common advice when it comes to relaxation methods, but how does the drink work to calm stress? The flavonoids present in chamomile are thought to be responsible for its anxiety reduction.

A study done on sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder found that Apigenin, a kind of flavone present in the plant, is known to have a muscle relaxing, sedative effect at specific doses. This flavone has also been shown to have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that enhance cognitive abilities (35). 

When consumed these flavonoids adjust your HPA axis which is your body’s stress response system. The flavonoids affect the release of GABA, serotonin, and dopamine release in your brain, regulating this system (36). 

Avocado

Not just great in your favorite salad or on toast, avocado has been found to have anxiolytic benefits. A study conducted on rats found that regular consumption of avocado led to less anxiety because of its bioactive flavonoids. As mentioned in the previous section, these flavonoids can positively affect gut microbiota composition, supporting the synthesis of neurotransmitters important for mood and stress reduction (37).

However, more human studies need to be done to confirm this information. 

When to seek professional help

It’s important to care for yourself in times of stress. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, it’s a good idea to seek professional help or reach out to a loved one so that they can offer you support. Additionally, if you find yourself feeling suicidal or having adverse physical reactions like heart palpitations or loss of vision, please reach out to a helpline or professional for immediate support.

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Can a person avoid all stress?

No, stress is a normal part of life. As a human being, you’re designed to handle moderate amounts of stress. If you’re experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress, please contact a professional to help manage your mental and physical well-being.

How do I know if my stress is severe?

Symptoms like severe anxiety resulting in heart palpitations or depression that causes you to isolate yourself and recurrent thoughts of hopelessness are all signs that you’re under a lot of stress and pressure. 

How do I relax my mind from overthinking?

Activities like journaling and meditation are great ways to stop overthinking. Getting your thoughts onto paper can help you see through the fog that overthinking creates in the mind. To become grounded, practicing meditation will help calm your body, help you to become clearer in your thinking, and help you find solutions to your problems.

What is the difference between anxiety and extreme stress?

Both stress and anxiety are emotional responses, but the difference is that external factors like work cause stress. Stress will also alleviate or become reduced once the stressor disappears, but the excessive, long-term worry of anxiety usually doesn’t disappear once the trigger is gone. Anxiety disrupts functioning in one’s daily life and is clinical in nature. 

Can stress make you gain weight even if you don’t eat?

Yes, because stress changes how your hormones and cravings function. When you eat more processed, unhealthy foods, stress causes your body to store fats, resulting in weight gain. However, the opposite is also true; being too stressed can make someone feel less inclined to eat and disrupt their appetite. This further underscores how stress can affect us all differently. 

Summary

Stress may be a part of the everyday human experience, but it doesn’t have to steal joy from your life. Whether you’re living with a stress disorder like anxiety or battling depression, eating a healthy diet, communicating with loved ones, and moving your body can make a huge difference in your daily life.

Learning to care for yourself through meeting your needs can seem daunting at first but eventually the depth of relationship you’ll create with yourself will create a fulfilling, lifelong experience.

If you feel uncertain of where to begin on this journey and how to understand what your needs are please reach out to a professional for help. This is also important to note if you feel like you aren’t able to care for yourself. Hopefully, this article helped you to feel more informed and empowered to transform your life.

How Do You Feel About This Article?

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

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