Total Access Medical - Direct Primary Care Blog

Tips to Relieve Stress

Posted by Total Access Medical on Jan 04, 2024

Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 11.22.06 AM

Stress is a destabilizer and a catalyst for other health problems because it messes with the optimal state of balance in our bodies.

Our sympathetic (‘fight, flight, or freeze’) nervous system gets fired up to respond to stressors, which triggers a range of physiological changes, such as the release of stress hormones and an increase of blood pressure. When this happens, nonessential activities like digestion are put on standby.

In the short term, these changes can help us cope with a stressor, but repeated or chronic activation of our body’s stress response can be a serious threat to our mental and physical wellbeing.

Over time, stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol stop helping us and start being destructive to our bodies. Being in a constant state of stress increases strain on our hearts, suppresses our immune system, and increases inflammation

Here are evidence-based ways to relieve stress.

1. Prioritize Sleep

Sleep and stress are notoriously bad companions. When we’re stressed, we often sleep less, and when we sleep less, we’re stressed. 

When you’ve survived a stressful day, getting enough good-quality sleep (particularly rapid-eye-movement sleep) can be an important recovery strategy. Chronic sleep deprivation can disrupt our stress response system and reduce our ability to deal with stressors

To combat the negative sleep–stress cycle, improving habits is a good start.

  • Get a sleeping and waking schedule in place so your body knows when it’s time to rest.
  • Wind down before bed in whatever way works for you. Take a warm bath, read a book, or try one of the relaxation exercises in this article.
  • Make your bedroom a haven for sleep. Try to remove anything that’s not conducive to sleep, such as clutter, pesky sources of light, exercise equipment, or work-related items

2. Get more physical activity 

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.

3. Eat a balanced diet

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.

4. Limit coffee intake

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.

5. Spend time in nature

Spending more time outside may help reduce stress. 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.

6. Practice deep breathing 

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:

  • diaphragmatic breathing
  • alternate nostril breathing
  • box breathing
  • paced respiration

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.

New call-to-action


Topics: Stress Management