Stress and Anxiety Relief: 10 Strategies That Can Help

Man writing in a diary sitting on a sofa

Verywell / Mayur Kakade

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life. Sometimes they can even be a good thing. They can inspire you to take action and do your best when it really matters. 

The problem is when feelings of stress and anxiety get out of control. Then these feelings cannot only impair your performance—they can also make you sick. Chronic stress can have a number of serious health consequences including decreased immunity, decreased longevity, and a higher risk for anxiety disorders.

Stress is a response to a potential threat, while anxiety is the reaction to that stress. Unfortunately, both are incredibly common among U.S. adults and evidence suggests that recent world events have made the problem worse for many people. Nearly 8 in 10 adults report increased stress levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While you can’t avoid all of the stress in your life, there are stress and anxiety relief strategies that can help you cope more effectively. This article discusses some self-help techniques that can help you get a handle on stress and anxiety. It also covers when to consider talking to a professional.

Exercise

Exercise can be a highly effective way to deal with things in your life that are causing distress. Research has also found that regular physical activity can protect people against stress and anxiety while also promoting positive emotions.

Exercise can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. It helps to lower the body's stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, while also increasing endorphin levels. Endorphins are the body's "feel-good" chemicals. In addition to acting as natural painkillers, they also play a role in inducing feelings of relaxation and boosting mood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination each week.

Even if you can't meet these benchmarks, any amount or type of exercise is better than nothing and can benefit your mental health and help to decrease anxiety and stress.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can be a highly effective way to deal with feelings of stress and combat symptoms of anxiety. According to the American Institute of Stress, deep breathing combats stress in a number of ways:

  • Increased blood flow to the brain stimulates the parasympathetic symptoms and promotes feelings of calmness
  • Redirects attention from negative thoughts to the body and physical sensations instead

Fortunately, deep breathing techniques are easy to learn, can be practiced anywhere, and don’t require any special tools.

Try This: Belly Breathing

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your belly to expand to move your hand outward without expanding your chest.
  4. Slowly exhale through pursed lips and let your hand on your belly gently help push all of the air out.
  5. Repeat this move for 3 to 10 breaths.

Meditation

Experts also suggest that meditation, the ancient practice that involves focused concentration, can be a highly effective tool for stress and anxiety relief. A brief meditation can be helpful as a quick way to induce feelings of calm when you are feeling stressed. Practicing it regularly may help lower your overall stress levels and combat feelings of anxiety. 

While the body's stress response can trigger the fight or flight response and put the body into an alert state so you can take action, meditation acts in much the opposite way. It soothes the body's stress response, bringing your heightened physiological and psychological reactions back to a more relaxed state.

Because meditation involves focusing your awareness, it can also help take you out of the distracted, worried thoughts that make you feel stressed or anxious. 

Fortunately, there are many different forms of meditation that you can try. Two main types you might consider include concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. It pays to experiment and figure out which one you find the most helpful.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of being fully aware and focused on the present moment. It can have a number of positive health effects, including helping to lower stress and anxiety. 

Research has found that an approach known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), can be helpful for reducing normal everyday stress as well as for coping with other sources of stress such as chronic illness. 

This eight-week program utilizes mindfulness along with yoga to address the behaviors, feelings, and thoughts that worsen stress.

While this program is a great option for intensive mindfulness-based training, there are also many quick and easy mindfulness practices you can try to incorporate daily.

Write in a Journal

When you are feeling stressed out or anxious, you might find it helpful to spend a few moments writing down your feelings. Journaling for stress relief allows you to express your emotions, notice patterns you might have missed, and reflect on the things for which you are grateful.

One 2018 study found that journaling, particularly when it focused on positive emotions, was an effective way to combat the effects of stress and improve overall well-being.

If you decide to try this strategy for stress and anxiety relief, make sure that it doesn’t become an exercise in rumination. This doesn’t mean you should avoid writing about all negative feelings, but consider using it as an opportunity to write about solutions you might try or ways to turn the situation around and make a negative into a positive.

Watch Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine might be the most commonly consumed drug in the world, but its psychological effects are often underestimated. While low to moderate doses can make you feel more alert and energetic, too much can leave you feeling jittery and anxious.

It is important to remember, however, that everyone's tolerance for caffeine is different. Some people may be able to drink a moderate amount of coffee each day, around four or five cups a day, without noticing any ill effects. 

For other people, just a small amount of caffeine can cause feelings of shakiness or nervousness. If you feel like caffeine might be contributing to feelings of anxiety, consider gradually reducing your intake. Slowly lowering your intake over time can help minimize the unpleasant symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential for mental well-being, and research has shown that a lack of sleep may contribute to both the onset and maintenance of a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety.

A poor night of sleep can also leave you feeling stressed and irritable the next day. In addition to feeling exhausted, you might find that even the smallest inconveniences seem unmanageable. 

Research has also found that people who experience problems with anxiety are also more likely to struggle with sleep problems. People with sleep difficulties are at a higher risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by excessive, persistent, and intrusive feelings of worry and anxiety.

Even people who normally don't have problems with anxiety have higher levels of distress and anxiety levels after a night of poor sleep, so finding ways to protect your rest is important.

Tactics like going to bed and waking at the same time, avoiding digital devices before bedtime, and creating a comfortable sleep environment can help you get a better night's rest. 

Talk to a Loved One

Social support is essential for mental health, particularly when you are facing something that causes you to feel stressed or anxious. Spend some time talking to a good friend or other loved one about how you are feeling.

Social support can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes it can involve validating your feelings (emotional support), while in other cases it involves doing things to help people manage a problem (tangible support). In other instances, it might simply involve sharing information (informational support) or helping you feel supported (belongingness support).

No matter what type of support it is, however, research suggests that feeling supported by others can help lower your blood pressure and better cope with stress.

Also, remember that you are not alone and there are people who understand what it is like to struggle with anxiety and excessive stress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. have some type of anxiety disorder.

So don't be afraid to share what you are feeling with a friend, or consider reaching out to an anxiety support group, either in person or online. 

Label Your Emotions

Research has also found that, in many cases, putting your feelings into words, known as affect labeling, can help reduce the intensity of those emotions. This means that talking to a friend about the things that are causing your stress can actually make those feel less overwhelming. 

Try This: Affect Labeling


Focus on labeling your emotions clearly and be as specific as you can be. You might start by saying something general such as “I feel bad,” but work on going further to really identify the source of the distress and how you feel about it.

After some thought, you might realize that you feel bad because you are worried, angry, or disappointed. Acknowledge and accept your emotions without judging them.

Talk to a Therapist

It's not always easy to know when it's time to see a professional about your stress and anxiety. It often builds over time, so it can be difficult to recognize when it's become too much because it has simply become your new normal. 

If your symptoms of stress and anxiety are causing distress and interfering with your ability to function normally, then it is important to talk to a doctor or therapist. But you also don't have to wait until things feel overwhelmingly out of control to reach out for help.

A therapist can help you identify the sources of stress and anxiety in your life and come up with strategies that will help you cope. They can also determine if you have an anxiety disorder and recommend effective treatments that can help you find relief, including psychotherapy and medications.

A Word From Verywell

Stress and anxiety can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do on your own to improve your ability to cope with stress. By becoming better at managing your stress, you may also be able to lower your risk for anxiety. 

If you are still struggling to find stress and anxiety relief, it may be time to talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional.

Was this page helpful?
16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body. Published November 1, 2018.

  2. American Psychological Association. Stress in America™ 2020. Published October 2020.

  3. Schultchen D, Reichenberger J, Mittl T, et al. Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating. Br J Health Psychol. 2019;24(2):315-333. doi:10.1111/bjhp.12355

  4. Harvard Health. How does exercise reduce stress? Surprising answers to this question. Published July 7, 2020.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How much physical activity do adults need?. Published October 7, 2020.

  6. American Institute of Stress. Take a deep breath. Published August 10, 2012.

  7. University of Michigan Health. Stress management: breathing exercises for relaxation. Updated August 31, 2020.

  8. Sharma H. Meditation: Process and effects. Ayu. 2015;36(3):233–237. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.182756

  9. Hoge EA, Bui E, Marques L, et al. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013;74(08):786-792. doi:10.4088/JCP.12m08083

  10. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. doi:10.2196/11290

  11. Lara DR. Caffeine, mental health, and psychiatric disorders. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S239-48. doi:10.3233/JAD-2010-1378

  12. Scott AJ, Webb TL, Rowse G. Does improving sleep lead to better mental health?. A protocol for a meta-analytic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open. 2017;7(9):e016873. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016873

  13. Shanahan L, Copeland WE, Angold A, Bondy CL, Costello EJ. Sleep problems predict and are predicted by generalized anxiety/depression and oppositional defiant disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014;53(5):550–558. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2013.12.029

  14. Bowen KS, Uchino BN, Birmingham W, Carlisle M, Smith TW, Light KC. The stress-buffering effects of functional social support on ambulatory blood pressure. Health Psychol. 2014;33(11):1440–1443. doi:10.1037/hea0000005

  15. National Institute of Mental Health. Any anxiety disorder.

  16. Torre JB, Lieberman MD. Putting feelings into words: affect labeling as implicit emotion regulation. Emotion Review. 2018;10(2):116-124. doi:10.1177/1754073917742706