Engaging in activities that support self-care may help reduce stress and anxiety. These can include exercise and mindfulness practices.

Many people deal with stress every day. Work, family issues, health concerns, and financial obligations are parts of everyday life that commonly contribute to heightened stress levels.

Certain factors may affect your vulnerability to stress. These can include:

  • genetics
  • level of social support
  • coping style
  • personality type
  • discrimination due to race, gender, or perceived gender, LBGTQIA+, socioeconomic status, or other factors
  • childhood trauma
  • your profession

Minimizing the chronic stress of daily life as much as possible can support your overall health. Chronic stress can increase your risk of health conditions, including heart disease, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Stress and mental health conditions

Stress isn’t the same as mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Although the tips below may relieve many types of stress, they are not a substitute for treatment from a mental health professional.

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Here are 15 evidence-based ways to relieve stress.

If you’re stressed, moving your body consistently may help reduce stress levels and improve mood.

A 6-week study of 185 university students found that participating in aerobic exercise 2 days per week significantly reduced overall perceived stress and perceived stress due to uncertainty. Plus, the exercise routine significantly improved self-reported depression.

Regular exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression (15, 16).

If you’re currently inactive, start with gentle activities such as walking or biking. Choosing an activity that you enjoy may help increase your chances of sticking to it in the long term.

Your diet affects every aspect of your health, including your mental health.

A 2022 review of research suggests that people who follow a diet high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar are more likely to experience higher perceived stress levels.

Being chronically stressed may lead you to overeat and reach for highly palatable foods, which may harm your overall health and mood.

Not eating enough nutrient-dense whole foods may increase your risk of deficiencies in nutrients essential for regulating stress and mood, such as magnesium and B vitamins.

Minimizing your intake of highly processed foods and beverages and eating more whole foods can help ensure your body is properly nourished. In turn, this may improve your resilience to stress. Whole food options can include:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • beans
  • fish
  • nuts
  • seeds

While smartphones, computers, and tablets are often necessary, using them too often may increase stress levels.

A 2021 review of literature points out that several studies have linked excessive smartphone use with increased stress levels and mental health disorders.

Spending too much time in front of screens is associated with lower psychological well-being and increased stress levels in adults and kids.

Furthermore, screen time may negatively affect sleep, which may also lead to increased stress levels.

Setting aside time to practice self-care may help reduce your stress levels. Practical examples include:

People who engage in self-care typically have lower levels of stress and improved quality of life, while a lack of self-care is associated with a higher risk of stress and burnout.

Taking time for yourself is essential to live a healthy life. This is especially important for people who tend to be highly stressed, including nurses, doctors, teachers, and caretakers.

Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated. It simply means tending to your well-being and happiness.

Exposure to certain scents via candles or essential oils may be especially calming. Here are a few relaxing scents:

  • lavender
  • rose
  • vetiver
  • bergamot
  • Roman chamomile
  • neroli
  • frankincense
  • sandalwood
  • ylang-ylang
  • orange or orange blossom
  • geranium

Using scents to boost your mood is called aromatherapy. Aromatherapy can decrease anxiety and improve sleep.

Journaling may help reduce stress and anxiety and provide a positive outlet for your thoughts and emotions.

A 2018 study noted that expressive writing or therapeutic writing can benefit people managing chronic health conditions, including but not limited to mental health conditions like depression.

They noted that regular journaling may be linked to a higher quality of life, more proactive self-care behaviors, and other healthful behaviors, such as taking prescribed medications.

You can also try a guided journal if you’d prefer more targeted, expressive writing.

Caffeine is a chemical in coffee, tea, chocolate, and energy drinks that stimulates your central nervous system.

Consuming too much may worsen anxiety, according to a 2021 review of literature on the subject. Overconsumption may also harm your sleep. In turn, this may increase stress and anxiety symptoms.

People have different thresholds for how much caffeine they can tolerate. If caffeine makes you jittery or anxious, consider cutting back by replacing coffee or energy drinks with decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, or water.

Although coffee has health benefits in moderation, it’s recommended to keep caffeine intake under 400 mg daily, which equals 4–5 cups (0.9–1.2 L) of coffee.

Still, people sensitive to caffeine may experience increased anxiety and stress after consuming less caffeine than this, so it’s important to consider your tolerance.

Social support from friends and family may help you get through stressful times and cope with stress.

One 2019 study in 163 ​​Latinx college-age young adults associated lower levels of support from friends, family, and romantic partners with loneliness, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress.

Having a social support system is important for your overall mental health. If you’re feeling alone and don’t have friends or family to depend on, social support groups may help. Consider joining a club or sports team or volunteering for a cause that’s important to you.

Not all stressors are within your control, but some are. Putting too much on your plate may increase your stress load and limit the amount of time you can spend on self-care.

One way to help reduce stress and protect your mental health may be to say “no” more often. This is especially true if you take on more than you can handle because juggling many responsibilities may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Being selective about what you take on — and saying “no” to things that will unnecessarily add to your load — can reduce your stress levels.

Creating boundaries — especially with people who add to your stress levels — is a healthy way to protect your well-being. This can be as simple as asking a friend or family member not to stop by unannounced or canceling standing plans with a friend if you need more space.

Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and avoid procrastinating when you aren’t feeling stressed.

Procrastination may harm your productivity and leave you scrambling to catch up. This can cause stress, which negatively affects your health and sleep quality. It’s also true that you may be more likely to procrastinate in times of stress as a coping mechanism.

A study in 140 medical students in China linked procrastination to increased stress levels. The study also associated procrastination and delayed stress reactions with more negative parenting styles, including punishment and rejection.

If you find yourself procrastinating regularly, it may be helpful to make a to-do list organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and work your way down the list. Sometimes, adding an item to the list may help you feel better about it, even if it doesn’t get done immediately.

Work on the things that need to get done today, and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time. Switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful in itself.

Yoga has become a popular method of stress relief and exercise among all age groups.

While yoga styles differ, most share a common goal — to join your body and mind by increasing body and breath awareness.

Research shows that yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety. Plus, it can promote psychological well-being.

These benefits seem related to yoga’s effect on your nervous system and stress response.

Yoga may help lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate while increasing levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that’s low in people with mood disorders.

Mindfulness describes practices that anchor you to the present moment.

Stress reduction techniques that utilize mindfulness include meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Meditating consistently, even for short periods, may help boost your mood and decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Countless books, apps, and websites can teach you the basics if you want to try meditation. There may also be therapists in your area who specialize in MBCT.

Human touch may have a calming effect and help you better cope with stress.

For example, studies show positive physical contact may help relieve stress and loneliness.

These types of contact may help release oxytocin and lower cortisol. In turn, these effects help lower blood pressure and heart rate. Both high blood pressure and increased heart rate are physical symptoms of stress.

Spending more time outside may help reduce stress.

Studies show that spending time in green spaces such as parks and forests and being immersed in nature are healthy ways to manage stress.

A review of 14 studies found that spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting may help improve psychological and physiological markers of mental well-being, including perceived stress and happiness, in college-aged people.

Hiking and camping are great options, but some people don’t enjoy — or have access to — these activities. Even in an urban area, you can seek out green spaces such as local parks, arboretums, and botanical gardens.

Mental stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, sending your body into fight-or-flight mode.

During this reaction, stress hormones trigger physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, quicker breathing, and constricted blood vessels.

Deep breathing exercises may help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.

Deep breathing exercises include:

Deep breathing aims to focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. When you breathe in deeply through your nose, your lungs fully expand, and your belly rises. This helps slow your heart rate, allowing you to feel at peace.

Having a pet may help reduce stress and improve your mood.

When you cuddle or touch your pet, your body releases oxytocin — a hormone linked to a positive mood.

Plus, research shows that pet owners — especially those with dogs — tend to have greater life satisfaction, better self-esteem, reduced levels of loneliness and anxiety, and more positive moods.

Having a pet may also help relieve stress by giving you purpose, keeping you active, and providing companionship.

Several vitamins and minerals play an important role in your body’s stress response and mood regulation. As such, a deficiency in one or more nutrients may affect your mental health and ability to cope with stress.

Some studies show that certain dietary supplements may help reduce stress and improve mood.

For example, your magnesium levels may deplete when you’re chronically stressed.

Since this mineral plays an important role in your body’s stress response, you may want to ensure you’re getting enough each day. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to improve stress in chronically stressed people.

Other supplements, including Rhodiola, ashwagandha, B vitamins, and L-theanine, may also help reduce stress, though more research is needed to understand their potential benefits better.

However, dietary supplements may not be appropriate or safe for everyone. Consult a healthcare professional if you’re interested in using supplements to help relieve stress.

Although stress is unavoidable, being chronically stressed takes a toll on your physical and mental health.

Fortunately, several evidence-based strategies can help you reduce stress and improve your overall psychological well-being.

Exercise, mindfulness, spending time with a pet, minimizing screen time, and getting outside more often are all effective methods.