21 Science-Backed Relaxation Techniques and Tips to Relieve Stress
Stress affects everyone, but when your stress seems so insurmountable that you can’t sleep, you might need some help to relax.
We’re going to help you take control of your stress levels with these 21 effective tips and relaxation techniques.
The best way to understand stress-reducing relaxation techniques is to organize them into three categories known as “The Health Triangle.”
The trifecta of stress-reducing methods
Mental Health: How do you choose to see the situations you encounter, both good and bad? Do you possess high levels of self-awareness when it comes to expressing your feelings constructively?
Physical Health: This encompasses eating, exercising, sleeping, and hygiene. In other words, is your body operating at a healthy level?
Social Health: Do you have a supportive network of family and friends? How do you treat yourself and other people? Are you able to maintain positive relationships while forming new ones?
All three components need to work together in harmony for a fully balanced life.
Our 21 best tips for relieving stress are also organized into three components. These pillars mirror the three aspects of a healthy life.
Each pillar explains different relaxation methods and tips you can use to unwind.
You can try to incorporate all three, but don’t worry if that seems daunting. Start with one pillar and slowly work your way to the next, taking as much time as you need.
1 • Learn how to say no
Many of us take on too much responsibility because it can be tough to say no. However, when you say no, you are simply prioritizing your health.
You have the freedom to choose what you say yes to, and what to decline politely.
Try to avoid putting yourself in a position in which you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them. This can lead to feelings of self-defeat which will only make stress worse.
Try to set boundaries and be more assertive about your own priorities without feeling guilt or shame.
2 • Indulge in some light reading
A study at the University of Sussex in 2009 by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis involved volunteers attempting different relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
He discovered that reading for as little as six minutes per day can reduce stress levels by as much as 60%.
Compared to the other relaxation techniques, reading is:
- 100% more effective than drinking a cup of tea
- 300% better than going for a walk
- 700% more powerful than playing video games
The act of reading in and of itself is a distraction. Your attention is being taken away from the real world and directed towards an imaginary world that stimulates creative processes in your mind.
Avoid the news, the internet, or anything that could potentially upset you.
Instead, choose a book that genuinely interests you. There is no right or wrong choice.
Last, make sure you are in a peaceful environment for reading. That means proper lighting, silence or relaxing music in the background, and no outside distractions to interrupt your quiet reading time.
3 • Use audio tracks to help you relax
Guided audio tracks have great success in helping you to decompress peacefully.
Researchers have discovered that certain audio tracks are not only relaxing but also do wonders for treating health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
When it comes to choosing the right audio recording, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Guided Imagery: You will be directed to visualize images that evoke positive feelings.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: You will be instructed to contract and relax all of your muscles in a specific order to induce full-body relaxation.
- Self-Hypnosis: With the direction of a hypnotherapist, you will gradually feel inner peace and have the opportunity to alter thought patterns associated with stress.
These audio tracks can be used anywhere and at any time. All you need is a couple of minutes in your day, a place to relax, and the audio tracks to guide you towards a state of relaxation.
Don’t worry if you don’t experience instant relaxation during your first attempt. Training yourself to relax, even with someone helping you, is a skill that gets better with practice.
You can try the Relax Melodies app and feel the benefits of stress-reducing sounds with its customizable library of sounds.
With white noises, ASMR and dozen of natural sounds that deliver tranquility, Relax Melodies is perfect to unwind after a long day and fall asleep.
4 • Schedule time to recharge
Despite an extremely hectic lifestyle, high-performance business coach and entrepreneur Dan Sullivan takes a total of 150 “Free Days” every single year and reports that his energy levels have never been higher.
Dan advises his clients to break up their weekly schedule into three separate categories.
According to Dan’s Entrepreneurial Time System, Buffer Days are dedicated to administrative, low-priority tasks that help prepare for Focus Days.
Focus Days are dedicated to high-priority, money-making activities.
Free Days are dedicated to rejuvenation and recharging your batteries, with complete and total disconnection from all business-related activities.
No conducting business, no reading emails or making calls, no checking in—zippo!
And believe it or not, Dan is very specific about having Free Days come first:
“Instead of seeing time off work as a reward, see it as a necessary precondition for success.”
Free Days ensure that chronic levels of stress remain minimal despite ever-increasing demands.
However, for a Free Day to truly rejuvenate you, you must be intentional and serious about it.
You can do whatever you want (except work!) on your Free Day. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Daydreaming or meditating
- Physical activities such as biking, hiking, or walking
- A full day at the spa
- Going out to dinner and movies with your friends and family
- Leisurely reading
- Spending time outside, enjoying nature
- Playing a musical instrument
If you can’t take a full day off, at least try to schedule blocks of time within your week (or even an hour within your daily schedule) to disconnect from your responsibilities.
5 • Defeat procrastination with time management
We’re all guilty of procrastination. It’s a tough habit to break. But did you know that chronic procrastination leads to higher levels of stress?
Here’s how you can avoid the guilt and anxiety that come with procrastinating.
Tiny chunking: Whenever you have a large project looming, break it down into smaller 30-minute tasks that seem achievable and assign micro-deadlines to each smaller task.
Brainstorm anything that needs to be done to get those tasks out of your brain and onto your calendar.
When in doubt, write it out: A major source of procrastination is a lack of clarity. Once you write things down, you’ll find which tasks can be delegated. You might even realize that many tasks aren’t priorities at all.
Achieve mental clarity by using a calendar. Put your responsibilities, events, and due dates in a single place for easy viewing.
You’ll recognize that some things will have to take a temporary backseat to allow for more important things to take priority.
Moreover, you’ll avoid the common trap of over-committing. We often underestimate how long things will take and overestimate our capacity to focus and finish them.
Clear out your working environment: For many people, having a disorganized environment leads to a significant source of stress.
You should have a place for everything, and likewise, put everything in a place for later retrieval whenever you need it.
Be kind to yourself: Don’t be so hard on yourself! Set realistic goals and expectations.
By being realistic, you will get everything done and keep the commitments you have made to other people.
Feeling overwhelmed and tired? Be kind to yourself! Everyone gets a little stressed out sometimes and it’s perfectly okay to feel that away.
Release any grudges or resentments you have for past instances of procrastination and get back on track today.
You’ll go from leading a stressful and reactive life to one that is proactive and far easier to handle.
6 • Write your stresses out on paper
According to scientists from Harvard Medical School, journaling is one of the most powerful ways of dealing with traumatic and stressful life experiences.
“The act of writing out stressors allows your brain to process the information effectively. This is how emotions are regulated. By getting all the anxiety-inducing thoughts out of your head and onto the page, you’re allowing yourself to let go of the ideas holding you back.”
Here are several things you can write about:
Gratitude: Gratitude is the attitude that can turn everything around.
Taking stock of all the people, experiences, and things in your life you are grateful for can help shift your perspective on a difficult situation.
A stressful situation: For some, writing down the details about a stressful situation can be therapeutic. You’ll be able to see the stressor from all angles and evaluate possible solutions.
Practice positivity: It helps to be an optimist.
Writing out affirmations and statements of positive self-talk will allow you to better cope with bad days and avoid negative self-talk.
Ultimately, writing empowers you to take control of your life because you come to realize what is within your control and what you can simply let go of.
7 • Practice meditation
The daily practice of meditation for just 10 minutes a day has beneficial short-term and long-term effects for stress relief, concentration, self-esteem, and overall happiness.
It’s easy to get started.
First, find a quiet place free of distractions. Get comfortably seated and start focusing on your breath.
Whenever negative thoughts arise, just allow them to come and go without judgment or acting upon them.
Enjoy being in the present.
Over time, you’ll improve your ability to pay attention to your thoughts and experience the gap between your intentions and your actions.
To start meditating we suggest you begin with a guided audio track to get used to the core principles.
You can try the Relax Melodies app to get started. It contains carefully crafted meditations for people at all levels.
8 • Listen to soothing music
Music is a powerful force in all cultures. It’s a cornerstone for everything from celebrations to quiet introspection.
Music also soothes our stressful minds. Listening to songs that you like has been proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Music even reduces feelings of anxiety and stress.
As long as the music you’re listening to relaxes your brain and body, and you genuinely enjoy it, you will reap those benefits.
There is a consensus as to which types of music generally work better than others for reducing stress. Experts explain:
“A bit surprising is that Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud.
Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz, classical (the “largo” movement), and easy listening music.”
Experiment until you find the type of music that best reduces your stress levels.
If you’re looking for soothing sounds to relieve stress, check out the hundreds of relaxing sounds, white noise, binaural beats, and restful music available on the Relax Melodies app.
9 • Get honest with yourself about your job
In today’s culture, there’s an increasing amount of pressure put on employees to get more done in less time.
A recent survey in the US revealed 80% of people are stressed while at work, and half of those people said they need outside help to learn how to manage stress.
While you may not be able to completely escape a stressful work environment, there are strategies that can help you tackle your present stressors:
What is stressing you out: Take note of all the things about your job that are stressing you out. Is it your salary? The lack of bonding and connection with co-workers? Are you missing meaningful challenges?
You may be surprised to find that your major stressors aren’t 20 different things, but rather the same three or four things repeated over and over again.
Set limits: If you’re comfortable having an open and honest conversation with your boss and co-workers about your responsibilities and what you can handle, you’ll be surprised to see how accommodating and supportive other people can be.
Oftentimes, we are assigned tasks that are either unfeasible within a certain time limit or beyond our skill set.
Be willing to say “no” to something that shows up on your desk.
10 • Consistently engage in physical activity
Exercise has been proven over and over again to be one of the best ways to lower your stress levels.
Not only does it prime your body to release endorphins, but it lowers your body’s stress hormones at the same time.
There are lots of fun exercises like:
- Planting a garden
- A brisk walk
- Lifting weights
Try being active outside. Being exposed to nature and the outdoors can do wonders for lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
11 • Fix your diet and supplementation
The foods and drinks you consume every day can have a tremendous effect on your overall stress levels. Researchers say:
“A nutritious, well-balanced diet has powerful stress-reducing benefits that improve brain functioning, shore up immune function, lower blood pressure, improve the circulation, and reduce toxins from the body.’’
So, make sure you’re supplying your brain and body with the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals essential for optimal physical health.
Avoid the temptation to reach for comfort foods when you’re feeling stressed out. Try to stay away from quick snacks that are high in calories, fats, and refined sugars. Chronic long-term stress can lead to unwanted fat gain, and immediate gratification can delay your stress relief.
Here are some general tips you can follow to ensure your diet is helping (not hurting) your ability to handle stress.
Limit your caffeine intake and avoid drinking it late in the day. A cup of coffee here and there is okay, but drinking too many cups will only make you more anxious and elevate your stress levels.
Focus on eating smaller meals throughout the day. You will be far less likely to experience rapid spikes and dips in your energy levels.
Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Being dehydrated can make you less productive and focused throughout the day, which can worsen your stress.
Choose healthy foods. Eat salmon, oatmeal, leafy greens, vegetables of all colors, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, eggs, and nuts.
Drink teas with stress-relieving compounds in them. Common go-to’s include green tea, black tea, and chamomile tea.
Don’t be afraid to look at supplements. Many natural compounds have been proven to relieve anxiety and help you sleep better at night.
12 • Reduce the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs
Often, these vices are the first choice for people who are experiencing high levels of stress and are seeking instant relief.
However, all three of these things act as stimulants that only agitate you further and make you more anxious.
Any temporary level of relief you get from them is soon canceled out by their ability to amplify your existing stress symptoms while potentially adding new ones.
If possible, try to reduce your use of cigarettes, recreational drugs, and alcohol as much as you can.
13 • Get a full night’s rest
There is a vicious self-feeding cycle that takes place between sleep deprivation and chronic stress levels.
People who cannot “shut down” their minds before falling asleep get little to no rest at all. They wake up tired and unable to function during the day.
As a result, your body produces stress-promoting hormones that prevent you from falling asleep and you will continue to feel tense at bedtime.
Both your stress levels and lack of sleep feed off each other until one of them is resolved for good.
Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every night. If you’ve been having trouble at bedtime, check out our guide to sleep better for useful tips to improve your sleep.
14 • Take deep breaths
Deep breathing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to take direct control of your mental state.
When you breathe slowly and deeply, you are slowing down your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Your cortisol levels will also go down and your mind will start to relax.
Deep breathing is something you can do anywhere, anytime. It works really well, and you’ll feel the stress-reducing benefits immediately. Also, it’s very easy to learn, and you don’t need anything special to do it!
If you’re looking for a breathing routine to help you feel relaxed, try the Breathe feature in the Relax Melodies app.
Whether you need a break, to clear your mind of the clutter, or even prime yourself to fall asleep faster, you’ll find specific breathing exercises to achieve your goal.
15 • Decompress with a relaxing massage
If you’re experiencing high levels of tension in your body, massage therapy from a professional therapist might be exactly what you need.
Studies in massage therapy prove that it can reduce symptoms of anxiety, relieve muscle tension, and help you manage pain.
You’ll also have peace and quiet while receiving a massage, which will allow you to focus on the present and let go of any stressful thoughts about the future or the past.
16 • Spend quality time with friends and family
If you’re feeling stressed out, having positive social support from family and friends can be your single greatest coping resource because:
“Social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health. Overall, it appears that positive social support of high quality can enhance resilience to stress.”
Dealing with stress alone is much more difficult than sharing your burden. Stress-induced anxiety or depression can take its toll. Allow loved ones to support you through the tough times.
Talking through your problems and stresses with a supportive network of people helps get your thoughts out of your head for further examination.
Not only will you receive social support, but you’ll also receive a new perspective that enhances your ability to cope with stress. They may have sage advice or wisdom to share.
As long as you are engaging in some form of positive activity with other people who uplift you, the activity itself doesn’t really matter.
On that note, avoid or minimize spending time with negative people who stress you out and make you feel worse about yourself.
17 • Laugh out loud
Have you ever felt super relaxed after watching a funny movie?
That’s because laughter causes your body to lower its cortisol levels while releasing endorphins. Laughing will reduce any muscular tension in your body, leaving you calm and comforted.
Try hanging out with friends who always put a smile on your face or watching a TV show that leaves you in tears from laughter.
Humor provides a different way of viewing the world by poking fun at your current beliefs and perceptions.
With a fresh new way to see life, you may find yourself less stressed out about your present circumstances.
18 • Engage in physical intimacy
Regular physical contact and intimacy is a science-approved strategy for lowering your cortisol levels and feeling less stressed out.
Physical affection in a safe and consenting environment—hugging, kissing, cuddling, sex—makes your body release oxytocin, which lowers your blood pressure. If you find yourself using intimacy as a coping mechanism, try a few of the other tips on this list instead.
19 • Hang out with your pet
There’s a reason people say that pets can be your best friends: They’re the perfect stress antidote!
Several studies conducted over the last decade found that animal companionship can boost our self-esteem, satisfy our need for physical contact, and lower our blood pressure.
If you’re feeling stressed out right now, spend some quality time with your pet.
20 • Surround yourself with relaxing scents
Some people are incredibly sensitive to smells and find that they do wonders for soothing their minds. Scientists say:
“The scents released by the oil act on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that influences the hormonal system. Individual responses to scents are highly personal, but a scent can affect your mood, metabolism, stress levels and libido”
Try different scents until you find the ones you like.
21 • When all else fails, see a mental health professional
If these tips just aren’t working for you, it may be time to consider seeking professional help.
They can help you identify the root causes of your stress and assist you in alleviating them.
The sooner you reach out, the easier it will be to handle your stress before it evolves into a much larger issue that interferes with your quality of life.
Stress is a regular part of everybody’s life, especially when trying to make significant changes.
While a moderate amount of stress can be helpful in certain situations, prolonged intense stress can have negative health effects.
Using our tips and strategies, you can start reducing your daily stress and take a step toward a calmer life.
Don’t be afraid of starting off small and experimenting. It may take time to figure out which tips work best for managing your mental and physical wellbeing.
Breathe in and take things slowly. Stress can’t be avoided, but it can be managed with the right mindset and tools.