It goes without saying that stress is bad for your health, so stress-relieving activities should be prioritized during times of angst. By reducing levels of tissue-damaging stress hormones, we can improve our cardiovascular health, immunity, mood and more. Reducing stress is scientifically linked to a lower risk of developing respiratory infections, along with the prevention of various other health conditions.
How you cope with stress makes all the difference, because there are many unhealthy coping mechanisms that you’ll want to avoid. Healthy stress-relieving activities are your best bet so that you don’t turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Your lifestyle plays a major role in healthy stress management, including your hobbies and activities. Active stress relief – which nine of these 10 activities involve – help keep your hands busy. This helps keep your hands away from screens and snacks, so you don’t resort to stress-eating or binge-watching social media reels. Scrolling through social media often does more harm than good, especially if you tend to cyber-stalk an ex or compare yourself to others and feel inadequate. Stress-eating junk food isn’t healthy, either, because the inflammatory effects of sugary and processed foods are very harmful to your health.
We need better alternatives when we’re stressed, and healthier stress-relieving activities to take part in. Below are 10 different stress-relieving activities you can do at home:
No experience required – just put on some music and get moving in your living room. Dance has been described as “exercise plus”, with all the brain-stimulating, stress-reducing effects of physical activity and more. It can be a very freeing form of self-expression, and can even provide a sense of achievement if you want to improve your dancing skills.
As a semi-professional dancer myself, I enjoy both the rush of performing and simply dancing for fun alone or with friends. Even during hectic study periods, dance has been a much-needed break from life’s stressors that keeps me from ruminating over my problems.
As with all exercise, dancing releases endorphins and helps you release any pent-up, stressed-out energy.
2. Create Art
Artistic expressions such as drawing and painting can be just as good for stress relief as dancing. Art therapy is effectively used in a range of situations, with participants describing an improved ability to manage emotions, build healthy relationships and identify positive change. Buy an adult’s colouring book, or a sketchbook and some paint. You could even sculpt or sew – whatever you enjoy the most.
3. Listen to Music
Whether you’re chilling out on your balcony or cleaning the house, listening to your favourite music can help to relieve stress. Compared to no stimulation or the sound of running water, music was associated with the fastest nervous system recovery after a social stress test in one study. In another, music both reduced cortisol levels and increased alpha-amylase, a digestive enzyme in saliva that breaks down starch. Many people enjoy the stress-relieving activity of singing along to their favourite songs, especially if the song evokes a happy memory.
4. Get Lost in a Book
Reading is one of those stress-relieving activities that is very often used as therapy. This sometimes takes the form of a workbook, or novel where the main character goes through similar struggles. You can get lost in a book and get a break from your own problems. Regardless of what you prefer to read, paper may beat screens. The tactile stimulation and lack of visual overstimulation can retrain your brain to slow down. You stay more present in the moment, and your brain is activated in deeper ways. Reading is like meditation for those who can’t seem to keep their minds quiet.
5. Do Some Gardening
Research shows that gardening may be even more effective for stress relief than reading. In this study, half an hour of gardening caused a stronger fall in levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Gardening goes beyond keeping your hands busy and giving you time outside. You get to achieve something because you’re growing food or flowers from as little as a few seeds. This provides a sense of accomplishment and some much-needed time outdoors.
Cooking can be a great way to keep your hands and mind busy and forget about everyday stressors. It also helps to ensure that you’re eating enough fresh, healthy foods. All the more reason to reach for a recipe book instead of Netflix and a takeout menu. Diets rich in antioxidants, vitamins, polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre support a healthy, anti-inflammatory gut microbiome. Less inflammation, in turn, supports neurotransmitter production and lowers the stress hormone, cortisol.
7. Call a Friend
One of the best stress-relieving activities is often to just talk it out. Even if time or distance stop you from physically meeting your friends, a phone call could easily brighten your day. One study split 60 pairs of friends or couples into three types of interaction: affection (verbal or physical), quiet time in the same room, or separation from each other. After a set of stressful activities, those interacting had the smallest rise in heart rate and blood pressure. You may therefore enjoy the greatest benefits from calling a friend in the morning or the night after a long day.
Dog-lovers rejoice: science may have in fact proven that dogs are better for stress relief than people. A study comparing spending time with a dog, a friend, or time alone demonstrated that the dogs were best at blunting the rise in cortisol and heart rate after a social stress test.
How were dogs the best? For one, some “friends” weren’t always that friendly. Dogs also communicate through non-verbal means such as an affectionate paw or touch, triggering a greater rise in oxytocin.
If you can’t get a dog of your own, volunteering to work with dogs or offering dogsitting services could give you your regular dose of stress-relieving pet therapy.
Meditation may sound like one of the most obvious stress-relieving activities, but it gets a mention thanks to its wide range of academically demonstrated effects. It’s a free anti-ageing treatment, as research shows it improves gene expression related to telomere repair, cellular energy production and sugar metabolism.
Regular meditation improves the stress response by activating areas of the brain used in focus and mood regulation, too. It is associated with larger brain volume in some areas, lower cortisol and lower blood pressure. Meditation can easily be done at home, and there are plenty of guided meditations available on YouTube.
10. Watch a (Silly) Movie
There’s really no shame in choosing guilty pleasures over the latest think-piece film. Laughter is the best medicine for many stressed-out individuals. Laughter has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which can be destructive to our bodies and minds when they remain at high levels. On the other hand, it raises serotonin and dopamine, elevating mood and improving motivation.
While binge-watching TV is unhealthy, treating yourself to one funny movie and lots of laughs is a stress-relieving activity that’s very often effective.
There are so many ways to relieve stress by finding an activity you enjoy at home. Whether you’re into dance, reading, gardening or cuddling cute animals, there is something that will work for you, that you can do right at home.
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