How to Relieve Stress and Calm Your Nerves

Whether you’re dealing with the threat of layoffs at work, financial or family troubles, a hellish commute or something else that’s aggravating, stress is an inevitable part of modern life.

But stress isn’t entirely bad. In the right amounts and in the right places, stress can actually motivate or energize you.

“Stress can be helpful,” says Michele Patterson Ford, a licensed psychologist and chair of the psychology department at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “It can help us be productive or perform well, so it’s important to keep it in the zone where it’s helpful and doesn’t take a toll on your physical or mental health.”

Indeed, experiencing stress overload on a regular basis essentially leaves you in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, with elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Over the long term, chronic stress not only puts you at higher risk of depression and anxiety, but it can take a physical toll on your body by increasing the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and certain forms of cancer.

[See: 10 Unexpected Signs That You’re Stressed]

10 Tips to Relieve Stress and Calm Down

Given the negative effects chronic stress can have on your mental and physical health, it’s important to take steps to manage your stress and calm your nerves.

Here’s how:

1. Accept your feelings.

2. Engage in deep breathing.

3. Put yourself on a media diet.

4. Get moving.

5. Focus on your senses.

6. Consciously relax your body.

7. Spend time in nature.

8. Write your heart out.

9. Treat yourself to good scents.

10. Show yourself some compassion.

[READ: What Are the Best Food and Drinks to Improve Your Mental Health?]

1. Accept your feelings

Rather than judging yourself for feeling stressed, accept and acknowledge your feelings. A series of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions and thoughts have a lower negative response to various forms of stress.

Ford recommends checking in with yourself occasionally during the day to take your emotional pulse, then acknowledge that you’re feeling angry or anxious.

“Recognize that this emotion will dissipate on its own, then go about your day,” she advises.

In other words, don’t give the negative emotion more power than it deserves.

2. Engage in deep breathing

People often breathe shallowly when they’re stressed or anxious, which can make them feel even more stressed, notes Dr. Lise van Susteren, a psychiatrist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and coauthor of “Emotional Inflammation. By contrast, breathing slowly and deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces the relaxation response. In fact, research has shown that a single session of deep breathing reduces physiological stress and anxiety in both younger and older adults.

To relieve stress, van Susteren recommends the 5-6-7 breathing pattern: Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose as you count to five, hold your breath for six seconds, then very slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of seven. Repeat for a total of five breaths, and use the technique throughout the day.

[READ Best Breathing Techniques for Anxiety]

3. Put yourself on a media diet

The world is full of bad news these days, and being exposed to worrisome news all day long can amplify whatever stress you’re feeling. Research found that people who closely followed the news about the COVID-19 pandemic had higher levels of psychological distress. That’s why it’s wise to limit your news exposure.

“Set limits on how frequently you check news feeds or resolve to read the news only in the morning, then avoid it for the rest of the day,” van Susteren advises. “Think of this as a healthy form of self-care.”

4. Get moving

Regular exercise is one of the best stress-busters around. Not only does it trigger the release of mood-boosting brain chemicals, such as endorphins, but it also has a positive effect on the central nervous system and brings “stress robustness,” which researchers define as a state of both resistance and resilience to stress.

The key is to find a form of exercise you enjoy — whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming, practicing yoga, doing Pilates or something else — so that you’ll do it on a regular basis.

5. Focus on your senses

When your stress-meter hits a tilt, give yourself a time-out and use this sensory-based grounding technique: Look around and identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

“By drawing your attention to tangible things in your personal space that engage your senses, this technique helps you focus on the moment and away from things that are causing you stress,” Ford explains.

6. Consciously relax your body

When you’re under emotional stress, you may be carrying muscle tension in your neck, jaw or just about anywhere else.

That’s why it’s smart to periodically carve out time to intentionally release that tension, with a technique called progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. The idea is to start at your head and focus on alternately tensing, then relaxing different muscle groups in your forehead, jaw, neck and shoulders, arms and hands, belly, butt, legs and feet.

A study in a 2024 issue of Psychology Research and Behavior Management found that practicing PMR is effective at reducing stress, anxiety and depression in adults; combining it with other interventions, such as listening to calming music, was found to be even more beneficial.

7. Spend time in nature

The next time you’re feeling stressed, go outdoors and take a walk in the woods, a park or a garden. While you’re there, tune into the rich colors in the landscape, the sounds of birds chirping, the feel of sunshine or a breeze on your face. You’ll undoubtedly return feeling refreshed and calmer. Research has shown that spending more time in natural environments — so-called forest bathing — has provided people with restorative effects, including relieving stress and improving their mental and physical health.

“Connecting with the awe-inspiring effects of the natural world transports you out of your own worries and helps you feel part of something larger than yourself,” van Susteren explains.

8. Write your heart out

You could choose to vent your frustrations and angst in a journal, a process referred to as expressive writing, or focus on what you’re grateful for, Ford says. Either way, the practice of putting your feelings into written words has been found to have a stress-relieving effect.

Ford recommends writing in a gratitude journal before bed as a way of framing what went well during the day in a positive light to set you up for good-quality rest.

9. Treat yourself to good scents

Exposure to certain scents — such as lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, clary sage and others — has been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. There are various ways to use aromatherapy to relax and calm your mind, such as using a diffuser with essential oils or applying a roll-on essential oil or cream to your wrists.

In fact, scientific evidence supports the use of aromatherapy to alleviate stress and anxiety. A study in a 2023 issue of Holistic Nursing Practice found that use of a diffuser with lavender oil led to lower work stress and higher job satisfaction among health professionals.

“The scents can be very soothing and can trigger a mental shift if you do this as a matter of routine,” Ford says. “It’s a signal that it’s time to calm down.”

10. Show yourself some compassion

With self-compassion, the goal is to talk to yourself (in your head) just as you would to a valued friend: by being kind, understanding and supportive, not judgmental. Besides easing stress, research has found that treating yourself this way can help protect you from depression, shame and guilt.

“Being kind to yourself calms you down and allows you to broaden your mind, so you can see more positive outcomes,” Ford says.

[READ: The Power of Meditation: A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness]

Bottom Line

While you can’t change the vicissitudes of modern life, you don’t have to be at their mercy. You can find ways to get a grip on stress and regularly use your personal decompression valve to calm down.

“The only way to control what’s out of your control,” Ford says, “is to control your reaction to things.”

If you use these stress-relieving strategies regularly, they’ll become second nature to you. And before you know it, you may feel less stressed in general.

However, if you still feel overwhelmed and emotionally frayed, you may want to consider talking with a mental health professional. Various forms of therapy — such as cognitive-behavioral therapy — will provide tools and techniques that can help you cope and manage your stress.

More from U.S. News

What Is Alexithymia and How Does It Affect People’s Emotional Lives?

Stress-Relieving Exercises to Help You Feel More Relaxed and Empowered

10 Unexpected Signs That You’re Stressed

How to Relieve Stress and Calm Your Nerves originally appeared on

Update 04/10/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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