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Ways to De-stress Your Mind and Body Relax Physically

Managing stress is essential for both physical and mental health. Stress can take a serious toll on your well-being, so finding ways to keep stress levels low can have benefits that resonate throughout your whole life.

Stress creates both physical and psychological tension, and these tensions can feed off of one another. Feeling physically tense can increase your psychological and emotional tension and vice versa.

Conversely, relaxing your body physically can help relieve psychological stress, and relaxing your mind can help you physically relax and release tension in your body. When your stress response is no longer triggered, it becomes far easier to approach challenges in a proactive, peaceful way.

Learning to master techniques that enable both types of relaxation is a highly effective route to stress relief. Many people try to ignore stress and hope that stressors pass quickly. It's not uncommon to be caught off-guard by stress. It's important to know when you have too much stress and need to relax.

This article discusses some of the strategies that you can use to relax. This includes physical, mental, and emotional ways to relax.

Relax Physically

Physically relaxing your body interrupts and reverses the stress response and can stop a negative-feedback cycle where your mind responds to stress by signalling a physical stress response. The tension in your body that can result from this response increases the levels of stress you feel emotional.

What Is Cortisol? Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which is known as the body's stress hormone. It plays a role in important body functions, including immune function, glucose metabolism, insulin release, and blood pressure regulation. Too much cortisol, however, can be detrimental to your health.

There are several effective techniques to relieve tension in your body. Practising these strategies regularly improves your ability to manage the effects of stress.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can be an extremely effective way to reduce stress. When faced with feelings of stress and anxiety, people often engage in rapid, shallow breathing. Learning to take deeper, slower breaths can help ease the body's stress response.

In one study, participants who learned to control their breathing experienced improvements in sustained attention and significant reductions in cortisol levels.3

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a strategy where people learn to relax all of the muscles in their bodies. This is done one muscle group at a time until the entire body has reached a state of relaxation.

When practising, people begin by relaxing the muscles in their faces and head and then work their way down until they reach their feet. With continued practice, people can achieve this relaxation more quickly until it feels like a wave easing tension as it rushes down their bodies.


Exercise can be a powerful stress reliever. When faced with an acute stressor, physical activity can help ease feelings of tension and anxiety. Over the long term, regular physical activity helps people become more resilient in the face of stress.

There are many different ways to get regular exercise, whether taking an afternoon walk each day, participating in a sport, or signing up for an exercise class. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening training per week.4

Recap Finding ways to relax physically can help ease tension and reduce cortisol levels. Strategies that can help with physical relaxation include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and exercise.

Relax Mentally and Emotionally

Your experience of stress involves your thoughts and emotions. You may think that you can't adequately handle the stressors you're facing (thoughts), and experience fear (feelings). These can accompany and even perpetuate your stress response. Often, reexamining your thoughts can help you to relax emotionally.

You can better understand your thoughts and alter this cycle if you learn how to relax as you face your stressors.5 Techniques to achieve this include:

  • Changing negative self-talk to positive

  • Creating a gratitude list to gain strength from the blessings in your life

  • Determining your cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, jumping to conclusions, focusing on the negative, labelling, and "should" statements, as well as how to correct them

  • Engaging in daily spiritual practice to support your mental well-being

  • Finding forms of creative expression—whether it involves music, art, crafts, or even colouring—that will help you feel relaxed and happy

  • Journaling to explore your experiences

  • Learning how to reframe thoughts so that the way you perceive potential stressors in your life is less stressful

  • Working to develop greater optimism

Incorporating stress relief strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga into your daily life can be helpful. Studies have found that practising meditation is linked to decreased physical arousal, lower heart rate, reduced respiration, and lower overall stress levels.6

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