Stress. It’s the not-so-silent villain in most of our lives. In fact, it’s so normalized that we hardly bat an eye to its sensation. We live it—and breathe it—every day. Between relentless deadlines, mounting bills, personal conflicts, and the constant buzz of digital devices, stress inserts itself… everywhere. Worst part is? Living in fight-or-flight mode becomes habitual. In turn, cortisol, sugar cravings, and copious cups of coffee fuel the day. This toxic cycle has burnout knocking (loudly) at the door. Fortunately, knowing how to relieve stress isn’t rocket science.
With that in mind, we’re sharing simple yet creative ways to find relief. But here’s the caveat: you must first commit to doing things different. Meaning, shifting your internal dialogue, adjusting how you engage with others (including social media), and learning to say no unless it’s a hell yes. Time to act from a place of inner peace.
What causes stress?
A lot. Potential stressors include everything from a poor diet and lack of sleep, to navigating parenthood, relationship issues, feeling tremendous pressure (personally or professionally), having little control over a situation, and experiencing discrimination or abuse. The list is long—and particularly nuanced. When these factors overwhelm our ability to cope, the body’s stress response is activated. In turn, cortisol takes over and symptoms arise: an increased heart rate, muscle tension, irritability, anxiety, and more.
Can I avoid stress?
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible. Stress is an inherent part of the human experience. However, there are a variety of ways to manage your stress. For example, implementing resilience-building techniques is key for responding to stress constructively. More on this, below. Ultimately, rather than let stress get the better of you, let it empower you to make non-negotiable changes. Spoiler alert: the results could be life-changing.
How Stress Shows Up in Your Body
Some of us primarily experience physical symptoms (hello, gut issues), while others notice psychological symptoms—anxiety, difficulty concentrating, etc. Depending on the severity, stress manifests in more ways than one.
- Muscle tension: Stress often leads to the tightening of muscles, resulting in muscle aches, tension headaches, and even conditions like TMJ.
- Digestive issues: Stress typically disrupts digestion, causing everything from stomachaches and indigestion to constipation and diarrhea.
- Increased heart rate: The body’s fight-or-flight response to stress often leads to an elevated heart rate. Long-term, this can increase the risk of cardiovascular issues.
- Respiratory problems: Stress may cause rapid, shallow breathing or exacerbate conditions like asthma.
- Skin woes: For some, stress triggers (or worsens) skin conditions like acne and eczema.
- Weakened immune system: Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
- Sleep disturbances: No surprise here. Stress often results in difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restorative sleep.
- Anxiety: Stress can trigger feelings of unease, worry, or nervousness—sometimes escalating into anxiety disorders.
- Depression: Prolonged or chronic stress can contribute to the development or exacerbation of depressive symptoms.
- Irritability: Stress makes most of us more prone to irritability, mood swings, and a shorter temper.
- Difficulty concentrating: Stress typically impairs cognitive function, making it challenging to focus, make decisions, or think clearly.
- Memory problems: Additionally, chronic stress can affect memory and lead to forgetfulness or cognitive decline.
Identify Your Stress Triggers
As you begin learning how to relieve stress, start with identifying your triggers. This involves self-awareness and observation. Keep a journal nearby, and jot down moments when you feel particularly anxious or overwhelmed. Document the circumstances, people, or situations that coincide with these feelings. Look for patterns and commonalities! Additionally, pay attention to physical and emotional cues—such as muscle tension, racing thoughts, or changes in mood.
If possible, seek feedback from a trusted therapist. They can help paint a clearer understanding of your personal stress triggers. Once you’ve pinpointed them, you can take proactive steps to address your triggers (and minimize their impact on your life).
Learn to Set Boundaries
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. They’re foundational when it comes to relieving stress. In turn, boundaries help you limit certain people, tasks, and experiences that currently cause angst. Before you know it, you’ll make space for more of what makes you feel grounded, inspired, and happy. When you get clear on what you’re comfortable with—and what you’re not—you’ll protect yourself from relationships and experiences that may cross certain boundaries. While it takes practice, standing firm to what you will (and won’t) allow into your life is game-changing.
Nourish Your Body
When your body hits its limit with inadequate nutrition, stress takes over. And stress breaks the body down, burning through important nutrients to keep things humming along. In other words, diet and stress are a two-way street. To start, make sure you’re eating enough. Then, consider swapping some of your go-to packaged foods with whole, minimally processed alternatives—fruit, veggies, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, etc. After, slowly increase your fiber intake while lowering stimulants, like caffeine. A nourished body is better equipped to handle stress. Trust.
Establish Supportive Habits
If we’re simply living on autopilot—out of touch with our body’s needs—our habits are likely doing more harm than good. Read: they’re causing stress. Therefore, this is a gentle nudge to identify potential habit shifts. This might mean finally dropping that toxic friendship. Or maybe, it’s adding a morning walk to your routine. Ultimately, to understand what is working for you, you have to pay attention to what isn’t. How to relieve stress requires supportive habits, and supportive habits are built from scratch.
Creative Stress Relief Techniques
Now, let’s dive into the fun part—creative stress relief techniques! Yes, identifying your triggers, setting boundaries, nourishing your body, and shifting your habits are all important. But inner peace also comes from drawing outside the lines.
Speaking of drawing outside the lines, don’t underestimate the power of painting, drawing, sculpting, or any form of artistic creation. These all serve as a therapeutic outlet to channel your emotions and release tension.
Soothe with music
Listening to—or creating—music can soothe your soul and reduce stress. Grab your guitar or simply have a dance party in your living room. Shake off that stagnant energy.
Activities like yoga, tai chi, and sex (yes, sex) not only improve physical health but also promote mindfulness and relaxation. They help you reconnect with your body and breath.
Of course, spending time in nature is a natural stress reliever. Go for a hike, have a picnic in the park, spend time in water (try a cold plunge!), or take a leisurely stroll to refresh your mind.
Find joy in the kitchen
Go to a comedy show
Laughter releases endorphins (the body’s natural stress fighters). Be it a comedy show, funny movie, or hilarious podcast, give yourself the gift of laughter.