Managing stress is essential for both physical and mental health. Stress can take a serious toll on your well-being, so finding ways to keep stress levels low can have benefits that resonate throughout your whole life.
Stress creates both physical and psychological tension, and these tensions can feed off of one another. Feeling physically tense can increase your psychological and emotional tension and vice versa.
Conversely, relaxing your body physically can help relieve psychological stress, and relaxing your mind can help you physically relax and release tension in your body. When your stress response is no longer triggered, it becomes far easier to approach challenges in a proactive, peaceful way.
Learning to master techniques that enable both types of relaxation is a highly effective route to stress relief. Many people try to ignore stress and hope that stressors pass quickly. It's not uncommon to be caught off-guard by stress. It's important to know when you have too much stress and need to relax.
This article discusses some of the strategies that you can use to relax. This includes physical, mental, and emotional ways to relax.
Physically relaxing your body interrupts and reverses the stress responseand can stop a negative-feedback cycle where your mind responds to stress by signaling a physical stress response. The tension in your body that can result from this response increases the levels of stress you feel emotionally.
What Is Cortisol?
Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which is known as the body's stress hormone. It plays a role in important body functions, including immune function, glucose metabolism, insulin release, and blood pressure regulation. Too much cortisol, however, can be detrimental to your health.
There are several effective techniques to relieve tension in your body. Practicing these strategies regularly improves your ability to manage the effects of stress.
Breathing exercises can be an extremely effective way to reduce stress. When faced with feelings of stress and anxiety, people often engage in rapid, shallow breathing. Learning to take deeper, slower breaths can help ease the body's stress response.
In one study, participants who learned to control their breathing experienced improvements in sustained attention and significant reductions in cortisol levels.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a strategy where people learn to relax all of the muscles in their body. This is done one muscle group at a time until the entire body has reached a state of relaxation.
When practicing, people begin by relaxing the muscles in their face and head and then work their way down until they reach their feet. With continued practice, people can achieve this relaxation more quickly until it feels like a wave easing tension as it rushes down their body.
Exercise can be a powerful stress reliever. When faced with an acute stressor, physical activity can help ease feelings of tension and anxiety. Over the long term, regular physical activity helps people become more resilient in the face of stress.
There are many different ways to get regular exercise, whether taking an afternoon walk each day, participating in a sport, or signing up for an exercise class.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening training per week.
Finding ways to relax physically can help ease tension and reduce cortisol levels. Strategies that can help with physical relaxation include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and exercise.
Relax Mentally and Emotionally
Your experience of stress involves your thoughts and emotions. You may think that you can't adequately handle the stressors you're facing (thoughts), and experience fear (feelings). These can accompany and even perpetuate your stress response. Often, reexamining your thoughts can help you to relax emotionally.
You can better understand your thoughts and alter this cycle if you learn how to relax as you face your stressors. Techniques to achieve this include:
- Changing negativeself-talkto positive
- Creating a gratitude list to gain strength from the blessings in your life
- Determining yourcognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, jumping to conclusions, focusing on the negative, labeling, and "should" statements, as well as how to correct them
- Engaging in daily spiritual practice to support your mental well-being
- Finding forms of creative expression—whether it involves music, art, crafts, or even coloring—that will help you feel relaxed and happy
- Journaling to explore your experiences
- Learning how toreframethoughts so that the way you perceive potential stressors in your life is less stressful
- Working todevelop greater optimism
Incorporating stress relief strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga into your daily life can be helpful. Studies have found that practicing meditation is linked to decreased physical arousal, lower heart rate, reduced respiration, and lower overall stress levels.
If you find it challenging to relax emotionally and mentally, consider seeking professional help. Your healthcare provider or therapist can help you explore different ways to manage your stress. They can also work with you to develop new coping skills that can help keep your stress levels in check.
A Word From Verywell
It's important to learn how to manage your stress in a healthy way. If you're feeling stressed out or you're struggling to make stress management techniques work for you, consider professional help. A licensed mental health professional can assist you in learning relaxation strategies that can work for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I maintain a state of relaxation?
You can maintain a state of relaxation by amassing more resources for dealing with the stressors you face. Becoming less reactive to them can also be helpful. Make efforts to livea low-stress lifestyle, such as learning breathing exercises, doing regular exercise, meditating, writing in a journal, and cultivating relationships. Learn how to be more emotionallyresilient.
What supplements are good for relaxation?
There are a number of vitamins that can impact how the body responds to stress. Some of these important vitamins include vitamins A, B, C, and E. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E may be helpful for combatting the effects of oxidative stress. Supplements containing B vitamins can also be important for maintaining energy levels.
Learn More:Vitamins for Stress Reliefe(Video) Reduce Anxiety & Improve Sleep With Progressive Muscle Relaxation + Giveaway!
What are the positive effects of relaxation?
Relaxation can have a number of positive effects. It can help promote better memory, more positive thinking, and stronger concentration. It can also have physical effects, including lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle tension, and slowing heart rate. Practicing relaxation techniques can also help with pain, anxiety, depression, and headaches.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Relaxation techniques for health.
National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress.
Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults.Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874(Video) How to reduce stress with the 2:1 breathing technique
Wunsch K, Wurst R, Von dawans B, Strahler J, Kasten N, Fuchs R.Habitual and acute exercise effects on salivary biomarkers in response to psychosocial stress.Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019;106:216-225.doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.03.015
Larsson A, Hooper N, Osborne LA, Bennett P, McHugh L. Using brief cognitive restructuring and cognitive defusion techniques to cope with gegative thoughts. Behav Modif. 2016;40(3):452-82. doi:10.1177/0145445515621488
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.Meditation: In depth.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Relaxation techniques: What you need to know.
By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.
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