Stress is a natural response to challenges ranging from the brief stress of exercise to the chronic stress of living with trauma. Certain reduction strategies can help a person manage their stress levels.

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While stress is a typical part of life, chronic stress can undermine health and well-being. Stress reduction strategies may reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress and help a person feel better equipped to manage challenges.

No single stress management technique works for everyone. For example, while many find meditation helpful, some individuals experience anxiety attacks and other negative effects.

The right stress management technique must fit well into a person’s lifestyle, be consistent with their values, and give them a sense of agency over their stress. It is also important to explore the underlying cause of the stress and find ways to reduce it where possible.

Read on to learn about short- and long-term stress reduction strategies.

Short-term stress is a type of acute stress that occurs when a person faces a specific stressor. This may be a medical procedure, public speaking, or an important exam.

Strategies for short-term stress relief focus on calming the body’s stress response so a person can more easily face the stressful event.

Individuals can try one or more of the below relaxation exercises.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery involves visualizing calming, soothing situations.

A person can do it on their own by writing a script and then reading it to themselves, or they can use guided meditation to lead them through a soothing scene. They can try guided imagery recordings, programs, and apps.

Breathing techniques

Controlling a person’s breathing may help reduce the physiological effects of stress, such as rapid breathing and high heart rate. It may also help a person feel calmer.

To practice breathing techniques, individuals can start by slowing the pace of breathing, focusing on taking slow, deep breaths into the stomach, and slowly exhaling them.

Box breathing may also help. A person can try the following:

  1. Slowly breathe in for a count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale and count to four.
  4. Wait 4 seconds before taking the next breath.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a process where a person searches for tension in their body, usually beginning at the feet. They then become aware of that tension and slowly relax their muscles to reduce physical and emotional tension.

An individual can do it on their own by beginning with their toes, slowly working their way up the body, and steadily relaxing each muscle and group of muscles. If they have difficulties relaxing, they can listen to a recording or soothing music.


Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more present in the current moment. It can help a person slow racing thoughts and avoid catastrophizing.

Many different approaches can help someone be more mindful.

For example, they can try observing three things they can experience with each sense: three things they can see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. They might also try to calmly and without judgment notice everything about their surrounding environment.

Long-term stress relief can help ease the symptoms of chronic stress, such as from a troubled relationship, difficult job, or chronic illness.

Some long-term stress relief techniques that may help include the below.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction uses principles of mindfulness to help a person manage and reduce stress. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present and less focused on the past and future.

While anyone can practice mindfulness on their own, mindfulness-based stress reduction is a structured program that incorporates several stress reduction techniques, including:

  • yoga-like exercises
  • deep breathing
  • body scanning
  • cultivating mindfulness


Psychotherapy can help a person deal with the effects of stress, identify stress coping methods, and manage the mental health effect of stress.

One particularly helpful approach, cognitive behavioral therapy, emphasizes that a person’s thoughts influence their emotions. This can help them gain control over their thoughts to reduce stress.


Exercise can help ease stress and anxiety. It may also reduce some of the effects of chronic stress, such as heart disease. A person should find the exercise program that works best for them.

For example, some people find that intense cardiovascular exercise helps manage feelings of anxiety. Others find that slower, more deliberate movements, such as from yoga or pilates, are effective.

Exercise is an effective strategy for reducing stress and anxiety. It can also help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many other health conditions. These health issues are more common in people living with chronic stress, so exercise is an important strategy for reducing the health effects of stress.

In addition to helping with stress, exercise can ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

A 2020 paper points to research finding that exercise may also prevent anxiety disorders. Additionally, a 2018 paper argues that exercise may reduce the temptation to stress-eat, potentially helping people adopt a more nutritious diet even during times of stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

It is important to remember that despite these recommendations, any exercise is better than none.

Chronic stress is harmful to health.

It can cause infertility, sexual dysfunction, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and many other health conditions. In addition to stress management techniques, it is also important to identify ways to reduce stress.

A person can try the following:

  • Identify the specific cause of the stress: For example, the problem might not be a person’s job, but the long hours they work or the manager they work for. A person can assess whether there are options to reduce this stress, either immediately or by implementing a long-term plan.
  • Find ways to escape the stress: A person might take more time away from work, schedule more enjoyable activities, or take an exercise break in the middle of the day.
  • Practice good self-care: People can aim to get plenty of sleep, eat nourishing meals, and exercise. They can develop strategies for incorporating these choices into their daily life, such as by preparing meals in advance or exercising at the same time each day.

A person should contact a doctor if they:

  • develop a stress-related illness, such as chronic pain or high blood pressure
  • need help developing stress management techniques
  • develop depression or anxiety
  • have thoughts of self-harm

Learning how to reduce stress is critical to maintaining good mental and physical health. Stress can undermine a person’s health and relationships and make life less enjoyable, but the right stress management techniques can improve their quality of life.

However, managing stress may not always be enough. Sometimes a person’s situation is intolerable and too harmful to continue, such as when a person experiences an abusive relationship, unsustainable working hours, or severe financial hardship.