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Effective ways to relieve stress

If you look at nature, everything around you is in motion. The world is in motion. There is no stop for anything and so you must move too.

You cannot be in two places at once. So, to be effective, we need to find a balance between being active and passive, between being outgoing and staying in, and between having too much responsibility and not enough.

If we don’t find balance, we tend to feel anxious. We worry that we are not doing enough, we worry that we aren’t spending enough time with people, we worry about the things we have to do and we worry that we haven’t done enough.

In this article I’ll reveal techniques that you can use to help you stay calm and relaxed, whatever is going on around you. And to relieve your stress when things do get stressful, so you can remain effective.

Ready, let's dig in...

What is stress

Stress is the intangible mental and physical force that limits a person's ability to respond to or deal with life's situations or threats in ways that they are normally able to.

Stress is the limit to which we can push ourselves psychologically or physically before things start to go wrong in our bodies and minds.

Whilst good stress pushes us into action, bad personal stress eventually stops us from the action.

The Biggest Causes of Stress

Generally, people tend to list the following things as the biggest causes of stress.

  • Workplace stress
  • Personal relationships
  • Health
  • Financial problems
  • Family problem
  • Dealing with teenage children 

Whilst these answers are not wrong, people often miss out the fact that of themselves, these situations cannot induce stress. Stress is induced by the meanings we place on these difficult situations.

The biggest causes of stress are our interpretations of life's difficult situations and the perceived impact we believe those situations will have on us.

Here is a list of things and situations that I have come to see as the biggest causes of stress. The connected links take you to articles that highlight practical steps you can take do address these causes of stress.

  1. Our Incorrect interpretations of events that are not threatening as threatening. See generalized anxiety disorder.
  2. Our tendency to see our experiences through the eye of the fears that have been activated by situations we find ourselves. See the blinkered specs.
  3. Our misjudgement of the amount of effort we need to use in order to address the threats that are apparent to us. See the root cause of stress
  4. Our tendency to try harder with strategies that are not effective.
  5. Our interpretation of symptoms depicts the body's natural limitations as threatening. See the truth about panic attacks
  6. Many of the strategies we use to attempt to stop ourselves from experiencing emotional discomfort. See avoiding emotions.
  7. Self-criticism about the effects of difficult emotions we encounter because of our unawareness of the natural fact that the increase in the intensity of our emotions = a decrease in our ability to be Logical. See "are my symptoms me or are my symptoms depression".

Why balance is the best antidote to toxic stress levels

Our whole body is always driven toward maintaining a balanced state, and in the world where stress lives; anything that pushes the body out of that balanced state is bound to call stress into action.

When the body perceives that its balance is being tilted it has a variety of nervous and hormonal reactions it calls upon to restore it back to a balanced state.

As an example, you know that intense urge we get when we have a full bladder (balance tilted making you feel you must do something).

Once that bladder is emptied, we experience a sense of relief.

Aaaaaah! Balance restored.

But how does this all relate to stress?

Our bodies and minds feel at peace, contented, and secure when we are in a balanced state of body and mind.

We experience stress when something or an experience tilts us off that balance.

This is a very crucial point that can easily be underestimated. Our underestimation of this point is why we often end up entangled with toxic stress.

You see, In order to restore the natural balance, our body begins to fight against us when it feels under toxic stress. This tends to become unbearable because stress now makes our day-to-day struggle double hard to bear since it impedes our ability to resolve those issues.

Many of us fail to realize that this is happening, so we conclude that we are not trying hard enough and keep pushing ourselves harder in an effort to resolve our difficulties. Unfortunately, Our body keeps fighting back with equal force the harder we push.

 Chemicals at play: How to maintain adequate stress hormone levels 

 Adrenalin is the body’s first line of defence in dealing with threats. When the body experiences any threat, it responds by pouring adrenalin into the bloodstream.

Adrenalin helps to quicken the flow of blood by making the heart pump faster.

(Yes, you guessed it, that racing heart is not a heart attack)

This enables energy to get to the necessary parts of the body as quickly as possible.

The body is quick in its secretion of adrenalin, so our response time to danger is quite fast.

So In line with our previous line of thought, the body is really only using adrenalin to address the threat in order to return to its balanced state of peace, safety, contentment, wellness and tranquillity.

What... Not enough resources? Then... take it from someone else

The best model I’ve seen for understanding the impact of stress on the body is the current economic crises most countries are experiencing.


A big financial black hole began threatening the economic infrastructure of a number of countries.


A number of government bodies across the world began to tighten their country’s expenditure, increase Vat payments on things, cut out a number of public service jobs, increase the pensionable age and stealth increases in the price of petrol.

The impact on innocent people like me:

In reality, what the government did was take financial resources from innocent people like you and me in their attempt to plug the black hole.

As a direct result, we began to realise that our monthly salaries do not seem to be lasting so long. The hype about the cost of petrol meant that we could only fill slightly over half a tank of petrol with the same amount of money that used to fill a petrol tank.

In short, we all began to feel the “PINCH.

How to prevent cortisol from sapping your energy

This analogy gives us a good insight into how stress affects our bodies.

The actions of adrenalin deplete the bodies stored energy resources really fast, creating an “energy black hole” which puts the body out of balance.

The problem created by this energy black hole is magnified if the threat remains over a long period of time.

As energy is not produced by magic, the body has to call another hormone Cortisol, which proceeds to sap energy (glucose) from all other organs and systems within the body in order to restore that balance and prepare the body to face continuous bouts of threats.

Unlike adrenaline, Cortisol takes time to build up in the bloodstream. It also takes a while for the levels of cortisol to drop back down.

Hence, there is a relationship. The more cortisol exists in the bloodstream, the longer energy sapping from other organs goes on.

As energy-sapping continues, our bodies reach a breaking point where things begin to malfunction.

The energy sapped from the various organs, and body systems mean that we no longer get 100% protection from physical distress and illnesses.

As such we might experience an increase in physical symptoms of stress.

Why stress management is important: Secrets to stable stress relief

Tips to relieve stress

1) Be fully aware of all types of behaviors that increase toxic stress

Cognitive behaviors:

  • Thinking too much about past events
  • Worrying a lot
  • Over planning for things and events
  • Self-critical thinking
  • self-undermining thoughts

Physical behaviors:

  • Studying for long hours without breaks
  • Working too hard for too long without breaks
  • Taking on too many responsibilities from others
  • Not taking breaks
  • Failing to rest or sleep
  • Failing to engage in enjoyable or soothing activities

2) Untangle yourself with RECS

This is a strategy I use all the time with people struggling with anxiety, depression, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, anger difficulties, agoraphobia, and OCD. I often like to teach it at the start of therapy so that people learn to cope better whilst they are learning to drop their ineffective thinking and behavioral styles.

I call this strategy RECS -

which means

  1. Restful activities
  2. Enjoyable activities
  3. Calming activities
  4. Soothing activities

I have placed the activities in this order to depict the power that these activities have on reducing stress (i.e. in my experience, for reducing stress; activity 4 is more powerful than activity 3, and activity 3 is more powerful than activity 2, and so on)

But before you think "this is of no use," let me show you how you can use this strategy in practical situations.

You know how after a long, stressful day, you feel like you are absolutely dying for a bar of chocolate...  And how after you bite into that bar of chocolate, you get this complete AHaa!! soothing sensation...

Well...  What do you think would happen if you could call on this soothing feeling anytime you wanted (without the bar of chocolate of course!!!!)

Some people who smoke call upon this soothing feeling all the time when after every 15 to 30 minutes you hear them say, "I am getting stressed, I need a Cigarette." After the cigarette, they suddenly find the strength to continue.

In fact, in my experience, In order to cope, many people who smoke will go through loads more cigarettes than usual on days that they are highly stressed.

So for our strategy, we simply borrow what cigarette

smokers do and substitute the cigarette with RECS.

Practical examples of how to use this technique:

For example, let's say you are feeling low in mood, or you are worrying about something. Instead of allowing yourself to think about the issue constantly for the whole day, actively mix the day up with something mentally restful, enjoyable calming or mentally soothing.

So let's say you have a friend, boyfriend, partner or spouse who you really enjoy conversing with. Ensuring that the individual knows you are going to be doing this and is happy to cooperate, call him/her up every 30 to 45 minutes and talk about something completely neutral, funny or pleasing.

If the individual is around you and has an intimate relationship with you, get them to give you a warm long hug as well.

What if you don't have someone you can do this with? Well, as a substitute,you can

  • Play a computer game
  • Use soothing strategies like the Bonjela Technique
  • Watch a movie/comedy
  • Use calming strategies like the mindfulness meditation approach
  • Take a walk
  • Have a warm bath/shower
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Meditate to calming music
  • Meditate using calming scents
  • Do some artwork or crafts
  • Use the attention training technique for mental relaxation

Or simply do a combination of all the above. The main point to remember is that RECS has to be practiced multiple times a day. Every 30 to 45 minutes or even every 15 to 20 minutes if you feel more stressed.

Top business companies use RECS too!

I know that this strategy may sound very simple, but It is extremely effective and you will find that your productivity levels will soar.

In fact, this strategy is so effective that top business companies are recently using similar strategies of adding play, excitement, and enjoyment to their work as a way of boosting the effectiveness and productivity of their staff members.

See the two links below for evidence of this.

Before you click to read the evidence please consider this:
I have given you some tips on how to keep your stress levels down whilst struggling through unavoidable stressful life circumstances. If you have found this article useful, please be kind enough to share it with someone who you know will benefit from it.

Work simulation games


Using gamification at work


Here are some fun activities that have been proven to reduce stress

a) Using  the Mindspa: If you are struggling to relax or sleep at night,
Stresstherapist.net suggests that you

Give MindSpa a try.

This system has started to gain a lot of fame due to its effectiveness and ease of use.

The Mindspa is highly effective for enhancing sleep quality, sharpening the mind, and maintaining optimal brain fitness.

This system is useful for switching off that sea of persistent negative thoughts and worries, especially when you are trying to sleep at night. It stops the brain's internal chatter resulting in less anxiety. This leaves you feeling fresh and motivated when you wake up in the morning.

What's more, the Mindspa, when used during the day has been noted as an effective tool for improving focus and concentration. Allowing you to carry out all your daily duties at work or home a lot more effectively.


b) Making Origami: Origami is a Japanese art of paper folding (My son really loves this one, and it can be used as a family bonding exercise).

The goal is to transform a flat sheet of material into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. The art prides itself in not using, cutting or gluing techniques in the creation of complex and beautiful sculptures.

Origami combines a few basic folds in a variety of ways to make intricate designs. A few good sites that teach origami for free


c) Finger painting: Using finger painting for relaxation: Finger painting can be really fun and exciting. The most important rule is not to be timid (It is probably helpful to work on a waterproof surface so that you do not have stains on your table or carpet).

Allow yourself to be a child again and Use your fingers to scoop a large amount of paint onto a large piece of paper. Be creative and smear the paint around with your fingers.

You can imagine that you are an abstract artist and try not to force yourself into any form of structure. Use lots of bright colors and bold strokes can create interesting results. Be messy. Use your fingers, hands, and even your feet. 


d) Self-massage: Massage is a useful method of maintaining good health and relieving headaches, sleeping difficulties, aches, and pains. The effect of massage on our bodies can really be amazing.

Massage helps to improve blood circulation; it aids digestion and helps in the elimination process of waste materials from the body. Whilst it is helpful to have someone else massage us, nothing stops us from massaging it ourselves and benefiting from it.

The added advantage of self-massage is that it does not have to cost us much money. It is, however, advisable to use massage oils if you intend to massage bare skin. Full instructions coming soon.


e) Making use of calming scents: Scents can have a pleasant and calming effect on our mood. It is also known to have a positive effect on our work performance (creating the ability to be more effective in daily tasks).

It has been noted that scents can act in a similar way to thoughts or visualized memories since they are connected with experiences. Scents have a way of connecting directly to our limbic system.

The limbic system plays a major role in processing emotions. In my experience cognitive behavior therapist, I have used the recollection of scents like lavender, vanilla and sun cream to help people who were very anxious to gain a sense of peace and safety.

 3) Practice progressive muscle relaxation

I have provided a full-length progressive muscle relaxation audio session here for free. Once you have followed the provided guidelines, why not check out our relaxation forum. It's a good place to discuss your experiences of relaxation, ask related questions, and get further guidance and support.

Progressive muscle relaxation mp3
What are the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation?

A good approach for stress management and relaxation:

This relaxation technique is especially helpful if you suffer from the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Sleeping problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Tension headache
  • Backaches
  • Tightness in the jaw
  • Tightness around the eyes
  • Muscle spasms

Regular use of this technique will help you experience a reduction in your tendency to worry and make negative future predictions. This will result in an increase in your ability to be creative and productive.
Guidelines to follow for Progressive Muscle Relaxation

To reap the full benefits of Progressive muscle relaxation, I would encourage you to practice daily. 20 minutes is a good minimum to aim for, but if you are able to go for thirty minutes that's great. The more you practice, the more you will find that you can relax in a shorter space of time.

Try your best to practice the techniques at the same times and places. Maybe after waking up in the morning or before going to bed at night. 

Sit in a comfortable position but do try not to fall asleep. 

It is important that you put your worry aside and try to concentrate on the activity to the best of your ability. Tell yourself you can continue with worry after the relaxation exercise.

Just follow the instructions and let it happen. Don't stress over whether or not you are doing it correctly. Your performance is not being marked. Remember this is really only a skill that takes practice to master.

The technique:

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing, in succession, sixteen different muscle groups of the body.

The idea is to tense each muscle group very hard for about 5 seconds, and then to let go of it rapidly. Then take 10 seconds to relax paying attention to how the muscles feels when relaxed in comparison to when tensed.

Throughout the exercise, keep a mental focus on your muscles. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to the focus on same muscle you were working on.

Step by step instructions: To commence your progressive muscle relaxation session, take a deep breath, inhale and then exhale slowly. Take another deep breath then again exhale slowly. As you breathe in count 5 seconds and as you breathe out count 5 seconds. Continue to breathe In and out and imagine that tension is flowing throughout your body and flowing away as you exhale.

Clench both of your fists tightly. Hold for 5 seconds and then release immediately. Relax your fists for 10 seconds. Wriggle your fingers to aid the relaxing of your fists. Continue to breathe in as you clench your fist and breathe out as you relax your fist. Repeat this step once.

Squeeze your biceps by lifting your forearms up toward your shoulders and "making a muscle" with both arms. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Stiffen your triceps (the muscles on the undersides of your upper arms) by extending your arms out straight and locking your elbows. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Stiffen the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as far as you can. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Try to feel the tension and the relaxation as you do the exercise. Repeat this step one more time.

Tense the muscles around your eyes by clamping your eyelids firmly shut. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Try to feel the tension and the deep relaxation in the area around your eye as you do the exercise. Repeat this step one more time.

Tighten your jaws by opening your mouth so widely that you stretch the muscles around the hinges of your jaw. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Try to feel the tension and the relaxation as you allow your jaw to hang loose. Repeat this step one more time.

Stiffen the muscles in the back of your neck by bending your head backwards, like you are trying to touch your back with your head (be careful with this step to avoid injury). Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Try to feel the tension and the relaxation and feel free to repeat this step two or three more times.

Tense up your shoulders by lifting them up trying to touch your ears with them. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Tighten the muscles around your shoulder blades by pushing your shoulder blades backwards trying to touch them together. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Stiffen the muscles of your chest by taking in a deep breath. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Tense up your stomach muscles by pulling your stomach in. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Squeeze the muscles in your thighs from your hips all the way down to your knees. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Tighten your calf muscles by-pulling your toes toward you, but be gentle to avoid cramps. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Stiffen your feet by curling your toes downward. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Now mentally feel through your body for any remaining feelings of tension. If you notice tension in any particular area, try tensing that area. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat.

Now as you continue breathing in and out, try to imagine a wave of relaxation slowly moving throughout your body, beginning at your head and then gradually penetrating all your muscles all the way down to your toes. 

Once you have followed the provided guidelines for this Progressive muscle relaxation, why not check out our relaxation forum. It’s a good place to discuss you experiences of relaxation, ask related questions and get further guidance and support.

4) Practice mindful meditation for stress

Do you want to be better in control over their minds and emotions?

Are you trying to stop being so irritated and snappy?

Do you want their physical health conditions better?

Do you want to stop feeling so anxious and shy in social situations?

Would you like to be able to drop their tendencies to self-criticize?

Would you like to be in control of general anxiety and worry?

If yes then, mindful meditation is the way to go...

I like to think of mindfulness in this way:

Depression forces us to drown in our past failures, rejections, hurts and criticisms we have experienced. Anxiety causes us to look into the future in fear of what we believe is likely to go wrong. Anger can cause us to ruminate heavily about how other people and the world around us have been unfair to us, causing us to feel very bitter.

Meditation and Mindfulness cause us to focus on the "NOW" in the most neutral way possible.  No judgment, not focus on the pain, just focusing on something in the present that carries no negative or positive meaning.

What this does is stop your Negative thoughts and worries for that specific time.

If practiced appropriately, the end result is a noticeable improvement in mood and an experience of tension dissipating from your body.

It does take a bit of practice to master it, however, if you are patient in your attempts to learn meditation and mindfulness strategies, you will notice all your mental and emotional struggles naturally fade away.

Note that I am not stating here that you will not have difficulties again because of meditating or being mindful. What you develop is an ability to be focused and more organized in your thinking which then has a domino effect on everything else.

6) Use biofeedback to monitor your stress levels

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way you could train yourself to relax? This would be especially great if you knew beyond any doubt that you’ve never been able to achieve any form of relaxation whatsoever.

Biofeedback is a technology that uses your body's temperature, ph levels, or chemical change to determine if you are stressed or relaxed. With the use of biofeedback, you can train yourself to learn to relax instantly.

You train yourself to recognize situations or activities that increase your stress levels negatively and then train yourself to become more aware of the physical or mental actions you can take to reduce your stress levels.

In my experience, I have found that many people don't really know what the sensation of a relaxed body and mind should feel like. They have spent most of their life worrying, being on edge, or feeling anxious and agitated.

As a result, many people would even go as far as arguing that the reason for their inability to relax is because their chemical make-up is naturally different from everyone else's, so believe that they are perpetually doomed to experience a constantly high-stress level.

Enter the age of biofeedback technology.

The videos below show particularly powerful biofeedback equipment, the  GSR2 Biofeedback Relaxation System, in action.

7) Master mental relaxation

Our minds have more ability for mental or emotional recovery than we often realize. However, If you struggle regularly with experiencing bombarding negative thoughts which you just, can't switch off, you are most likely missing out on the effective use of this ability.

In this article, I aim to highlight the biggest barrier that interferes with your mind's ability to switch off and recover emotionally.

What's this big barrier, and how can you protect yourself against it?

The skill to focus the mind and feel settled and calm in the midst of so many worrying concerns is a crucial one.

Many people do not realize that this skill is necessary for the health of their minds and bodies. Sadly, many who recognize that this skill to access mental focus and calmness is necessary, don't know how to access it or remove the barriers that are stopping them from accessing it.

The biggest barrier to achieving this mental focus or calmness is what I refer to as Mental Noise.

At this point, you maybe feel skeptical and think that this is not important for you to pay attention to right now. However, if you struggle with any mental health difficulties or you tend to feel irritable and frustrated a lot of the time, I can guarantee you that this is something you don't want to treat lightly.

Later in this article,  I will be revealing a video of a real-life example, with scientific evidence, that proves once and for all that learning the skill of accessing calmness or mental relaxation at will is essential to the health of your mind and body.

But first, what is mental noise, and how is it relevant to you right now. How can mental noise be acting as a barrier to your recovery?

Mental noise and your mind's power

Generally, noise is often used to refer to loud harsh or confused sounds. Sounds that are separate from the actual sound we are trying to listen to.

We as humans have a very strong ability to filter things out.

As you are reading this page, you probably didn't realize that you have filtered out the noise of your computer's fan, the clock ticks, people talking, the passing cars outside, the kids playing, the fridge humming, the washing mashing grumbling (except you are reading this in a place built specially to keep noise out.

Even then you would still find that you have filtered out the sound of your breath).

Important Tip:

Filtering and focusing are two necessary skills for developing your mind's recovering power.

As I called your attention to these things, did you notice how all of a sudden you became consciously aware of them? You might even notice that some of these noises are actually quite loud. This shows the amazing ability of the human brain to filter out things it is not focusing on. We all have this ability.

One of the best ways to relax is being able to filter out life noises (i.e. Negative worries, problematic thoughts, distressing images, etc).

Unfortunately, the more stressed we become, the more it seems we are unable to use this filtering ability. What's worse is that the rushing of thoughts in our mind can become so confusing that they begin to feel like noise which we can't filter.

Take, for example, Christine who was a single mother of one daughter. She experienced postnatal depression after giving birth to her daughter. Before her daughter was born, she lived a pretty stable life going to work, socializing, etc.

Now she seemed unable to stop worrying about her daughter's safety and her own inabilities to cater for her daughter's needs.

These thoughts were constantly on her mind. She would even dream about herself making mistakes.

She tried her best to stop the thoughts realizing that they were wearing her out, but found that she was unable to do so. Her attempts seemed only to make her thoughts more present and vicious.

Dealing With The Mental Noise

Good News!

The good news is that our brains can use this same ability to filter out mental noise. However, the common rule is that the ability to filter out mental noise is parallel to the level of stress hormones in our systems.

In other words,

more stress hormones equal reduced mind power and less stress hormones equal more mental recovery power.

If we analyze Christine's experience, we may note that her bad stress was being driven by her fear of her inabilities to be a good mother.

Similarly, for all humans, life threats tend to create a perfect breathing ground for unrelenting painful thoughts that can seem to drown us.

Many people describe this experience as feeling their head is full and foggy. They struggle to find a peaceful space in their minds.

In these types of circumstances, we lose our ability to filter out many thoughts because it seems necessary to allow the thoughts so that we are prepared for all eventualities

Now, if you are still skeptical about all this,  here is the video I mentioned.  Watch out for how "mental noise" affected Fiona's mind and also note the benefits Fiona achieved from learning to calm her mind by choice.

Watch the video for a first person account of the above

Articles in this series

Effective ways to relieve stress (This article)
Do this to stop drowning in stress: 5 Simple Mental Flips to Overcome Overwhelm
How to reduce stress at work
79 misconceptions about stress
Is heavy work stress strangling you

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa


How to deal with a difficult family member

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