15 Ways to Manage Stress and Reduce Anxiety
Wondering how to relieve your stress? Here are 15 stress-reducing activities you can work into your day to relieve anxiety and increase stress resilience. (One of them takes 15 seconds.)
Stress-Relieving Activity #1: Get some exercise
Twenty minutes of moderate exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours. (I write more about the mental health exercise benefits research in 10 Ways Exercise Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety.)
You don't have to go to a gym to exercise, just getting out for a 20-minute walk can help relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and make you feel better.
Stress-Relieving Activity #2: Spend time in nature
Twenty to thirty minutes of being in nature (even just sitting in a nature setting in the middle of a city) has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Taking a walk outside where there are some elements of nature, or working in a garden, gives you the anti-anxiety double dip of nature exposure and exercise.
Stress-Reducing Activity #3: Take a magnesium bath or footbath
Magnesium helps relax both your body and mind. Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or magnesium chloride flakes can be added to a relaxing full-body bath or footbath.
I find magnesium chloride flakes more powerful than Epsom salts for this. Add about one cup to a dishpan/basin of ankle-deep warm water and soak your feet for at least 20 minutes. Doing this before bed also improves sleep.
Adding calming essential oils to the bath may give your anti-stress efforts an even bigger boost in effectiveness.
Stress-Reducing Activity #4: Smile
You don’t have to be happy to smile, you can smile to be happy.
Research shows that smiling releases feel-good endorphins and lowers stress-related cortisol even when it isn’t a spontaneous smile.
Try it: smile for 15 seconds. See how it feels.
I call these bonus smiles.
Work one to three bonus smiles into your day (e.g., when you first wake up, while doing the dishes, driving, waiting in line, walking from room to room . . .).
Anxiety Self-Care Activity #5: Play
Play is doing something for the fun of it. It’s being present in the moment and savoring the joy of it. It reduces stress, releases feel-good endorphins, and helps get your brain in a creative problem-solving state. Play could involve individual activities or playing with your partner, friends, kids, or pets.
Examples of play activities:
- participating in sports on your own or as part of a team,
- flying a kite,
- witty banter,
- video or card games,
- Sudoku or crossword puzzles,
- singing or playing a musical instrument, and
- blowing bubbles.
Stress Management Activity #6: Watch something (TV, movie, videos) that makes you laugh or smile
You have the same emotional response to something you vividly imagine as you do to something that actually happens. Anxious ruminating on awful stuff can take you down. Watching movies, TV shows, and videos that make you laugh and/or smile can lift you up. It’s a way of using this power for your benefit instead of detriment.
Stress Management Activity #7: Talk to someone supportive
You may want to set up an appointment with a therapist for some personalized help (to work with me, reach out via my contact page).
You might also benefit from talking with people around you. Talking to supportive family members or friends can help lift the stressed feeling, help you process stressors, and give you a boost of stress-countering joy. Having said that, not everyone has supportive family and not all friends are supportive. You may want to pick one or a few people that you open up to.
If you aren’t accustomed to reaching out to people, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. You can experiment by letting people in a bit to discover who you can trust to be valuable.
It may help to be clear with your support system about what you would like from them: tell them how they can help. For example, saying something like:
“I just want to vent about this. I’m not looking for solutions,” if that’s what you’re looking for.
Or, “Can I call you when I’m feeling panicky even if it’s in the middle of the night?” if that’s what you’re looking for.
Anxiety-Relieving Activity #8: Fidget with fidget jewelry and toys
Having something to fidget with may relieve your stress.
There are lots of options in fidget rings, necklaces, bracelets, spinners, desk toys, and kids’ toys.
These items are designed in a form that is easy to rotate or so that an element, such as a bead or separate band, can be spun and played with.
I have a client who has been wearing fidget spinner rings for years and swears by them for stress relief. She likes wearing the spinner ring on the finger next to her thumb for easy spinning.
Anxiety-Relieving Activity #9: Spend time with animals
Spending time with pets can lower blood pressure, increase serotonin and dopamine (feel-good neurotransmitters), and relieve stress.
Pets can help bring out your playfulness, motivate you to exercise, and provide companionship. Petting animals can be calming and soothing.
Stress-Relief Activity #10: Look at fractal patterns
Fractals are repeating patterns that recur on smaller and smaller scales.
They are found in nature (shells, flowers, leaves, the rings of an onion, water ripples), architecture, and art (e.g., mandalas, hypnotic spirals).
Placing items with these patterns in your environment may help you relax. It can also be fun to be on the look-out for them.
“Viewing mid-range fractals reduces your physiological response to stress by up to 60%.”—R. P. Taylor, Professor of Physics, Psychology and Art, University of Oregon
Anxiety-Relief Activity #11: Write in a journal
Multiple studies have found that journaling improves both mental and physical health when it includes 3 key components: emotions, thoughts, and insights. When all three components are present in journaling about either positive or negative experiences, writers tend to improve physically and psychologically (less illness, less stress, less depression, better grades . . .).
I included journaling pages in Becoming Calm: Silver Lining Anxiety and Stress Resilience Workbook and Journal.
Anxiety-Relief Activity #12: Do some art
You don’t have to be a great artist to enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of art activities. This category of adventures includes painting, scrapbooking, quilting, doodling, photography, collaging, drawing, pottery, woodworking . . . and the currently very popular coloring.
Drawing and coloring fractal patterns such as mandalas offer two stress-reducing activities at once. I included mandalas for coloring in the Calming Activity Pages section of Becoming Calm: Silver Lining Anxiety and Stress Resilience Workbook and Journal.
Anxiety-Relief Activity #13: Get Hot
The use of heat and sweat for health, well-being, and ceremony goes back thousands of years in many cultures across the globe.
Recent research is putting scientific backing behind these traditional practices and the modern use of saunas for reducing stress and improving health and mood.
“I’m a sauna enthusiast, and I often recommend ‘sweat bathing’ in saunas (or steam rooms) to cleanse the skin, soothe sore muscles, or simply relax. . . In addition to the sauna’s effects on the body, many people find that it increases energy levels, reduces stress, and promotes restful sleep.”—Dr. Andrew Weil, MD
Stress Management Activity #14: Listen to relaxing music
Listening to music can alter your brainwaves, so choose what you listen to wisely.
Some music is relaxing and some will rev you up.
There are lots of music recordings that have been created specifically to help calm your mind. You may find them helpful, or you may prefer to just experiment with the work of musicians that you enjoy to discover those pieces that are calming.
“We may be sitting on one of the most widely available and cost effective therapeutic modalities that ever existed. Systematically, this could be like taking a pill. Listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication, in many circumstances.” —Gabe Turow, Co-author of Music, Science, and the Rhythmic Brain: Cultural and Clinical Implications.
Anxiety Management Activity #15: Listen to hypnosis recordings
Hypnosis and guided meditation recordings are extremely well suited to help with stress and anxiety because they are based on helping you relax. I’ve used hypnosis as one of my tools to help reduce my clients’ anxiety for decades.
Through the years, I’ve written and rewritten hypnosis scripts for a variety of issues, including anxiety. I’ve used these scripts as a basis of recordings that are available for download. You can listen to the recordings any time you have a half-hour to relax or as you are going to sleep. (People often report that listening to the recordings at bedtime helps them go to sleep more easily and get a better sleep.)
Books to Help Relieve Anxiety and Mange Stress
Through a lifetime of dealing with my own anxiety, and decades of helping clients reduce their anxiety and increase their stress-resilience, I've learned a lot about what helps and doesn't help. I put that learning into books so that more people (like yourself) can experience less stress and more happiness.
Eye-opening explanation of emotions, including anxiety, panic, nervousness, and worry
Guidance on how to catch overreactions, and stop anxiety from turning into anger
Journal writing prompts for processing old and new sources of anxiety
5 relaxation skills and 5 quick grounding reset techniques
Worksheets for challenging cognitive distortions , stopping anxious thoughts, and building an anxiety-reducing mindset
Stress resilience lifestyle tips
As someone who struggles with severe anxiety, this workbook was a God send. It teaches you things you never knew about anxiety and then makes you dig deep by having you write about your experiences and what you’ve learned about them. I’ve had so many “ah-ha” moments while working on this book. It breaks things down for you and gives you tips on how you can help yourself get better. I can’t recommend this workbook enough!!"
In Feed Your Calm, you'll learn:
- What's happening in your body as you try to deal with stress
- How specific vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, probiotics, and herbs help you deal with stress
- 5 types of foods that add to your stress and hurt your ability to be calm
- 12 anti-anxiety foods for stress resilience
- 10 anti-anxiety supplements for stress resilience
"Anxiety is at epidemic levels today. In Feed Your Calm, Ann Silvers gives readers an approachable antidote to this epidemic."
--Dr. Megan DeBell, MD
- Ann Silvers