Stress is inevitable in life, but it can be a double-edged sword. On one end, small doses of stress boosts alertness and performance. However, when you’re constantly stressed, your well-being will surely suffer the consequences. As stated by Mayo Clinic, chronic stress has been linked with chronic health conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
But fear not! Through the guidance of personal experience and expert insight, you can melt away any kind of stress, anxiety, or jitters. Here are the 12 most powerful exercises for stress relief that will leave you feeling like an entirely new person. Personally, I have found that all of these exercises have their own unique benefits to mitigate stress and I continue to practice them to this day.
Meditation is an exercise of the mind and performing it daily has been the single most effective stress-reliever for me, and if performed correctly and consistently, leads to lasting peace, serenity, and abundance in life.
Meditation requires you to bring awareness into your mind and observe your thoughts rather than react to them. As a consequence, you are not as reactive to tension and anxious feelings, leaving you in a calm state of mind.
Verywell Mind's Guide to Meditate Properly:
1. Find a quiet and well-suited environment to sit in without external distractions
2. Sit down and relax the body with palms resting lightly on knees
3. Close your eyes and try to observe the thoughts flowing through your head
4. Be present to the moment and focus on observing these thoughts and your breathing (breathe through the nose and out of the mouth)
Meditating for a mere 5-10 minutes every day will have profound effects on calming your mind, which makes it the perfect tool to combat stress. If you are having trouble meditating on your own, apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, and Aura provide guided meditations. There are also plenty of guided meditations available online.
2. Hitting the Gym
Quite the contrary from meditating, working out is an active exercise that releases endorphins which in turn decreases the amount of cortisol and adrenaline in your body, according to Harvard Health Publishing. This ultimately leads to a stronger mind that also has newfound confidence, as when you push yourself in the gym, you take your mind off of whatever event or task is causing your anxiety in the first place. Additionally, when you see your progress and results improving at the gym, you will definitely feel proud of yourself and unstoppable!
I love going to the gym to strengthen my physical and mental toughness. If you can push your body to its limit when working out, you can also push through any stressful situation and overcome it.
3. Yoga in Nature
Even if you aren't as advanced as the lady in the picture, yoga at any level is a very common and highly touted exercise to let stress flow away from your mind and body. Although it can be performed anywhere, I enjoy doing my yoga practice outdoors. This is because anytime you are outdoors, you connect yourself to nature and your energy will match that of the serene outdoors.
Yoga is the ultimate mix of mind and body fusion. Your mind will be calmed and your body will feel loose of any tension and aches, in accordance with facts states by the American Osteopathic Association. When you relieve the underlying tension in your body, your mind is also relieved because of its connection with the body's nervous system. Who wouldn't want to loosen the stress of their mind and body at the same time? A simple 10-15 minutes of yoga is perfectly fine.
If I ever felt burdened by work and a friend asked me to go jogging with them, I'd take the offer and run with it! Not only does jogging provide the same benefits to diminish as working out i.e. reduced adrenaline and cortisol (ADAA), but it also is a lot more accessible to the general population on any given day.
Add in some friends while you're at it to take your mind off any worries you might have and enjoy the present moment. Then, when you get back to a stressful event, you will feel a boost of energy and aliveness.
5. Walking Your Pet
Unfortunately, I no longer have the pleasure of spending quality time taking my pet for a walk, but if you do, make the most of it. As discussed before, a lower cortisol level in the body directly relates to a lower stress level. Not to my surprise, playing with your dog, cat, or any animal that you can interact with is proven to decrease cortisol as well as blood pressure levels in the body as claimed by Better Health.
So if you're ever faced with an egregious task, remember to have fun taking your pet outdoors beforehand to get yourself into a high-vibrational state of flow and peace.
If you're like me and enjoy spending time with plants and nature, then you will surely benefit from gardening during stressful times. Not only are you spending time outdoors, which is proven to be a nature stress-reliever, but you are also being active while gardening. Furthermore, interacting with plants is also shown to increase serotonin levels- a natural happiness-booster and antidepressant as stated by Permaculture.
Therefore, if you enjoy digging your hands in soil and helping out the environment while you're at it, gardening is perfect for you when you're faced with stress or anxiety.
7. Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that combines meditation with active movement and motion. The goal of this incredible exercise is to aid oneself with the energy of life and peacefulness, otherwise known as qi energy. Muscle strength and endurance are also shown to increase along with greater mental focus and discipline.
A mind that is focused is also powerful. According to Mayo Clinic, additional health benefits of Tai Chi include decreased stress and anxiety, improved mood and energy, and lastly an enhanced immune system. It is easy to find beginner's Tai Chi lessons anywhere, ranging from the internet to sometimes even professional institutes in your city.
Spending quality time at the pool can refresh your mind and body due to the release of endorphins that stimulate happiness. Studies by swimming.org show that a half hour of swimming is enough to increase overall well-being and provide health benefits. Swimming has always helped me take my mind away from worry and stressful situations and instead place it on enjoying the purity of water and the outdoors.
If you don't have time for swimming, a cold bath has been shown to stimulate nerves in the muscles and brain that serve as a "cooldown" feature. Similar to the pool, the water massages your body in a way that brings overall peace and relaxation.
9. Biking in the Great Outdoors
Removing yourself from the stressful mind and instead focusing your attention on the great outdoors while biking is a great way to alleviate anxiety. Biking allows you to explore the outdoors and savor the crisp air, and as we learned before, aligning oneself with the energy of nature is tremendously beneficial to feel at peace. Next time you face a worrisome situation, try spending time on two wheels and take in the freshness that Mother Nature provides.
Additional health benefits noted by Better Health besides the reduction of stress include stronger joint mobility, improved cardiovascular health, and immunity to disease. Biking has improved my ability to feel energized as well, so it is definitely a staple of my stress-relief routine.
Many people know the term "pilates", but not everyone knows exactly what this great exercise is. Pilates is a non-aerobic exercise that requires little physical exertion, however, it is incredible in the long term to settle down the mind and tone the body. According to Pilates Central, pilates also provides the benefit of interacting with like-minded folks. Our minds naturally ease up when having casual and diverting conversations, proving the fact that pilates can lessen anxiety!
If you don't have access to a group lesson for pilates, individual training will supplement well since pilates gives you the chance to self-reflect and observe your thoughts while performing the exercises. Spending time alone is nothing to shy away from when stress overcomes you, as it grants you the opportunity to grab the root cause of your stress and decide that through exercising, it can melt away.
Believe it or not, dancing has more benefits than just showing off your moves at parties. Much like many other physical activities, dance reduces cortisol levels in the brain and releases endorphins, which are commonly attributed to making people feel emotions of happiness (Goodnet).
In fact, a friend of mine who has been dancing for ten years shared that through her personal experience, dance has diminished her feelings of stress and anxiety and has been an excellent way to maintain her emotions while increasing overall well-being. It serves as an outlet and adding her personal artistic touch makes it a wonderfully enjoyable way to destress. Even if you aren't a professional, a couple of minutes of jamming out to your favorite songs can do the trick so make sure to try it out next time!
Last but not least, go for a hike and immerse in the fresh air if stress is burdening you. Hiking may require extra steps to plan compared to a colloquial walk in the park, but if you have access to a hiking trail, make the most of your opportunity. Spending time in nature has been proven to bring forth feelings of tranquility and what better way to enjoy nature than to engage directly with it in the form of a hike?
The Final Take
In reality, any form of exercise has the ability to adequately induce endorphins and release cortisol. thus reducing stress and anxiety. Simply pick a couple of these exercises the next time you're hit with these feelings and watch as your mind and body naturally energize and fill you with tranquility. Stress is never impossible to overcome and with the right steps, defeating it will seem effortless.