4th July, 20226 min read

How to relieve stress: 7 science-backed tips

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Got a tight deadline at work, having daily teatime battles with your kids, or been asked to make a speech at an event?

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to feeling under pressure. It’s normal – and even helpful – to feel it every now and again.

But if you always feel overwhelmed and burnt out, you might have chronic stress, which can stop your body from working at its best. (Read more about

how stress affects the body.
)

The good news? Stress-relieving activities can stop tension in its tracks, and help you find inner calm. So read on to learn 7 science-backed techniques that really work.

1. Laugh more

What the science says: Whether you’re watching your favourite Netflix comedy or catching up with an old friend, studies show that laughing releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals called endorphins, while lowering levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.

In fact, ‘laughter therapy’ has even been suggested as an alternative treatment for mental health problems, including anxiety and stress.

What you can do: Find what works for you in the moment. It might be getting lunch with a colleague before a big meeting because you know they’ll make you laugh; listening to a funny podcast before a busy day at work; or being silly with your kids, grandchildren, pets or partner at the end of a stressful day.

2. Be mindful

What the science says: When you’re mindful during

meditation
, you focus on the present moment. This gives you the chance to stop the stream of thoughts that’s usually running through your head – some of which could be causing you stress.

Research shows that meditating every day has the power to reduce stress, even if you only do it for a few minutes. While earlier research suggests it might lower your blood pressure and your heart rate, too.

What you can do: You can meditate anywhere – on the train, during a walk, or even while you’re brushing your teeth. All you need is a few minutes of calm to focus on your breath and the present moment. Want to give it a go? Check out this

shower meditation
.

3. Try deep breathing

What the science says: When we’re stressed, our breathing speeds up and becomes more shallow, and our heart rate and blood pressure rise. We might even go a few seconds without breathing at all. This is thought to be part of your body’s natural ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response to danger.

But 1 small study suggests that taking the time to slow down your breathing can ease this by starting your relaxation response (also known as your parasympathetic nervous system). It works by telling your brain to bring your blood pressure and heart rate back down to normal levels.

What you can do: Make slow, deep breathing part of your daily routine.

Airofit's
breathing trainer device creates resistance as you breathe in and out through the mouthpiece, to encourage deeper breathing. It’s small, so you can use it anywhere, from in front of the TV to during your commute.

Plus, it comes with its own app, which offers a range of breathing techniques to practise. Studies show that using these techniques – such as the box breathing method – can help lower your stress hormones and blood pressure.

This handy little device can also tell you how well your lungs are functioning. And if you’re into fitness, some research suggests that training your breathing muscles could help your athletic performance. Claim 15% off when you enter code HEALTHILY at checkout.

4. Get your sweat on

What the science says: It’s true that exercising puts your body under physical stress. But it also calms your mind, by lowering stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Ever felt that runner’s high? Working out also boosts endorphins, those brilliant little brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed.

What you can do: While an hour’s workout is great for your body and mind, shorter bursts of exercise can help lower your stress levels, too.

Try adding smaller chunks of activity into your daily routine, whether it’s star jumps while you wait for the kettle to boil, or a round of high knees during your favourite TV show. Learn more about

how to exercise when you’re busy
.

5. Let out your inner child

What the science says: Getting stuck into something creative and using your hands is another way to lower your cortisol levels, making you feel less stressed.

On top of this, creating something that’s pleasing to look at, such as a painting, can trigger the release of the ‘pleasure’ hormone dopamine, which makes you feel happier.

What you can do: Think back to when you were a child. What sort of activities did you really enjoy: colouring, creative writing, arts and crafts, drawing? Make a promise to yourself to do 1 of these activities every week, and see how you feel afterwards. If you have kids, get them involved, too.

6. Have a cuddle

What the science says: You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you share a hug or a kiss with a loved one? This is the work of the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel deeper connections with others. Being affectionate in this way can also lower cortisol levels, helping you feel more calm.

What you can do: Don’t bottle up your stress and keep it to yourself. Be open about it with family members and friends, and have a hug if you can. If you have pets, this is also a great excuse for a cuddle (not that you need one).

7. Scribble before bed

What the science says: Many of us have probably tried to get to sleep, only to find it impossible to drift off because of worries about money, family or work. These anxieties can raise your stress levels, making it harder for your body to fall asleep.

But research shows that jotting down your worries before bed can help lower your cortisol levels, and allow you to relax.

What you can do: Keep a notebook and pen by your bed, so you can write down your thoughts and anxieties before your head hits the pillow. Making a ‘to-do’ list for the next day might also help you find calm and get better-quality sleep.

Want more science-backed tips for stress? Download the

Healthily app
today and try our 28-day feel better plan. You can also use the trackers and journal to plot your mood changes and keep a note of what works for you.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.