Stress can scream—a racing heart, chest pains, an upset stomach, a throbbing headache, a panic attack. Or it can be more subtle and show up as fatigue, low libido, irritability, trouble sleeping, a clenched jaw, or a general feeling of sadness. When it’s chronic, it can lower your immune system and bring on health issues like high blood pressure or depression.
Stress can also lead to unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drinking to excess, or developing an eating disorder. There are better ways to manage stress. Keep reading for four healthy ways to relieve stress anytime, anywhere, so you can start feeling more like yourself again.
Relieve Stress with Box Breathing
Box-breathing, or four-square breathing, is a breathing method used to reduce stress and improve mood, focus, and performance. Deep breathing techniques such as box breathing help to lower blood pressure by regulating the autonomic nervous system, which controls your body’s involuntary functions like temperature.
Box breathing involves holding your breath on a count of four. This gives CO2 a chance to build up in your blood. With CO2 available, the cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve is primed for a four-count exhale. When you exhale, you activate your parasympathetic system for an enhanced feeling of calm.
When the demands and pace of your day pick up and you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed, use box breathing to combat stress. It’s also a great way to ease your body and mind into a good night’s sleep after a full day of activities.
How to Do Box Breathing
- Find a comfortable seated position in a quiet, distraction-free environment.
- Keep your posture relaxed but upright. Let your hands rest in your lap, palms up.
- Exhale slowly and with intention, releasing all the oxygen from your lungs.
- On a slow count of four, inhale deeply through your nose. Fill your lungs and your diaphragm with breath.
- Hold your breath on a four-count. Be sure to count slowly.
- Exhale on a count of four, releasing every bit of breath.
- Hold your breath for another four-count. And then repeat steps 4-7 at least four times, as many times a day as necessary.
Relieve Stress with 4-7-8 Breathing
Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is based on pranayama, the yogic practice of regulating your breath. Also known as relaxing breath, 4-7-8 breathing is similar to box breathing but uses a different counting system. You inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. You can use this breathing method to help reduce anxiety or to fall asleep faster.
How to Do 4-7-8 Breathing
- Exhale deeply, emptying your lungs of air.
- Breath deeply in through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale forcefully through your mouth, puckering your lips and making a “whoosh” sound for eight seconds.
- Repeat four times.
Relieve Stress with a Body-Scan Meditation
Stress is so subtle it’s sneaky. Often, you don’t even realize it’s behind the scenes running the show. A body-scan meditation helps you become more aware of what’s happening in your body and mind. Where is pain, tension, or discomfort showing up? To relieve the stress, you have to first be able to find it. See if you can sleuth it out with the guided meditation below.
How to Do a Body-Scan Meditation
- Find a quiet place to get comfortable and press pause. Lie down, or, if you’d rather be seated, make sure you can stretch your limbs easily. If you’d like, play some soothing music or listen to nature sounds.
- Start your body-scan meditation by focusing on your breath. How does the breath feel as you inhale and fill your lungs? Can you feel the tension fading as you exhale, releasing the breath through your mouth?
- Bring your awareness to your body. Feel its weight on the chair or the ground. Let it hold you steady.
- Now, focus on your feet, from the tops of your toes to your heels. Feel your feet connect with the floor. Check in with your environment. Does the air feel cold on your toes? Is the carpet beneath your feet scratchy?
- Is there tension anywhere? Any pain? If so, do not judge it or criticize it. Acknowledge any discomfort. Breathe into it. And with each breath, release the tension and resistance.
- Bring your awareness to your legs. Are there any points of contact, sensations, or an area where you are storing stress? Focus on your muscle groups, large and small, where you might be holding on tight to stress.
- Release any stress points with deep inhales and exhales.
- Now move to your back. Repeat the process. Acknowledge any sensations that arise. Connect to your breath and release any tension.
- Move your awareness to your belly. Remember not to judge any sensations or feelings. Just let any tightness in your belly release.
- And onward to your hands, softening any tension or tightness.
- Then to your arms. Release any muscle tension from your shoulders. Let them drop down and relax, allowing your body to become heavier, melting away the stress.
- Move to your neck and throat. Tune into any ache you may feel at the moment.
- Soften your jaw and let your face relax. Release the stress, even in those hard to reach places like the corners of your eyes and your forehead.
- Now check in with your whole body. Breathe and release any stress or tension that’s still hanging on.
- Send your body love. Imagine it filled with a soft golden light. Visualize your cells healthy, alive, and stress free.
Relieve Stress with Regular Exercise
Regular physical activity is good for weight loss and mental health. Research shows it can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of feel-good endorphins like dopamine. It might seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re feeling stressed, because exercise can mimic the effects of stress, like the fight-or-flight response. Think of it as conditioning. Your body gets better at handling stressors, and you strengthen your heart health, digestive health, and immune system in the process.
We encourage you to choose the type of exercise that works best for you. Here are some ideas:
- Go for a quick walk
- Take a yoga class
- Try a HITT class
- Take up cycling
- Swim some laps
- Go on a long run
Or try this 10-minute tabata workout to sweat away stress and promote physical and mental wellbeing.
6 Stress Relief Tips
In addition to the stress relief suggestions above, here are six more ways to feel less stressed:
- Strive for a positive attitude. Replace any self-criticism with positive self-talk and hang out with positive people.
- Eat a healthy diet. Stay away from sugar and eat fermented foods to help enhance gut health.
- Activate your senses. Diffuse the essential oils sandalwood and clary sage to help you feel better.
- Seek social support. You are not in this alone. Reach out to loved ones to help you through stressful moments.
- Escape with a good book. It could be pure fantasy or nonfiction subject matter you’re interested in but haven’t had the chance to explore.
- Squeeze a stress ball. Put all that tension into the ball and strengthen your grip while you’re at it.
For more tips on stress management, be sure to reach out to your coach in the myPrimalCoach app.