AXA Health's Fitness and Nutrition Team

80 ways to reduce stress


23 July 2020

  • Experiencing too much, or prolonged periods of stress can harm our mental and physical health, but by having coping mechanisms in place, we can help stay on top of stress and prevent it from spiralling out of control.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for you.
  • Build your stress-busting activities into your day as regular practice to get the most benefit. 

Stress is a natural response to new, unexpected or potentially dangerous events; or feeling a lack of control over a situation. It triggers the body's fight or flight mechanism and activates our immune system in order to keep us safe. And it can be beneficial when experienced in short bursts. But we know that experiencing excessive stress, or if the stress response is triggered repeatedly or over long periods of time, it can have a damaging effect on our behaviour and our mental and physical health.

By having simple coping mechanisms we can use throughout the day, we can help to let out a little bit of stress and prevent our levels from building up and getting the better of us. We asked the AXA Health's Fitness and Nutrition team for their favourite ways to bust stress – why not give some of them a go?!

  1. Resistance (weight) training can be great for relieving stress as it’s been shown to improve self-esteem (Beauchamp, 2018) regardless of someone’s health status and whether or not they got stronger as a result of their workout.
  2. Get outdoors and soak it in - getting back to nature helps top up your vitamin D levels and boost your mood. Step out in the morning to put yourself in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the day.
  3. Move daily to prevent stress from building up – take time out for lunch or go for a walk in the evening to unwind.
  4. Find an activity or hobby you enjoy doing to really lift your mood and signal to your brain that you’re worth it!
  5. Focus on the process, not just the goal. Cook nutritious food for enjoyment, and remember fitness isn’t just for weight loss or to get a six pack – it’s great for your mental health and overall wellbeing and if you enjoy the process, anything else is a bonus.
  6. Deep breathing, as practiced in yoga, can help us relax and decompress.
  7. Stretching before bed can help us sleep better and in turn, reduce stress.
  8. Social connection through group exercise or team sports can help manage stress.
  9. Learn a new skill such as gymnastics - this requires time and dedication, which helps build self-confidence and overall mood.
  10. Plan exercise into your week so it’s easier to stick to and prevent trying to find time for exercise becoming a source of stress in itself.
  11. Why not try tai–chi? It can increase flexibility and boost energy...
  12. Or perhaps yoga as this also increases flexibility and reduces stress due to its deep breathing techniques.
  13. Walk outside in nature – this has a calming effect and the exercise releases tension in major muscle groups.
  14. Gardening encourages us to get outside, move more and feel calmer with nature. Gardening can also give a lot of satisfaction, improve self esteem and, if you grow vegetables, provide a low cost source of healthy and nutritious food for you and your family.
  15. Dancing isn’t just a joyful way of meeting your recommended activity levels, it releases endorphins and serotonins, which can help reduce stress…
  16. You don’t have to go out clubbing or to a class – simply turn the music up at home and let yourself go (no-one’s watching)!
  17. Cycling gets you outside with nature but also has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones).
  18. Regular Pilates helps to improve your posture and relieves muscle stress and tension.
  19. Boxing allows you to exert tension in a controlled manner and tone your arms at the same time.
  20. Try hula-hooping - a fun activity that can help relieve stress, tone our bodies and make us feel young again.
  21. Table tennis is another fun, energetic activity that keeps you on your toes – perfect for stress relief and a chance to bond with family and friends.
  22. Change up your gym workouts to challenge your body in different ways.
  23. Enjoy active family days out such as walks, bike rides and picnics with a game of frisbee, football or French cricket to get everyone up and moving.
  24. Planning is key for progression - think ahead to when and how you could step things up.
  25. Remember rest days are key to avoid burnout so make sure to build them into your routine.
  26. Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up and cool down properly so your body and muscles have adequate time to prepare for and recover from your workout.
  27. If you stop exercising for a while, start off slow and build gradually when you get back to it.
  28. If you’re limited for time, try increasing the intensity, e.g. with an HIIT workout…
  29. Or try just 5 minutes of skipping to give you a surge of energy and get you ready for your next challenge.
  30. Sign up for an event to as a goal and to motivate you. This could be anything from an exercise class online to a charity run or bike ride.
  31. Find time to stretch and work on flexibility.
  32. Why not bounce your way to a happy mind? Indoor trampoline parks offer a great way to exercise, while spending time with family and friends…
  33. Or buy a mini trampoline – or rebounder – to use at home. It’s a low impact exercise that burns as many calories as running and is even approved by NASA!1
  34. Jump in the sauna ater a workout to relieve tension and stress in the body.
  35. Have a morning move – exercising in the morning has been proved to boost productivity and concentration, helping us feel less stressed at work.
  36. Don’t push yourself too hard – overtraining can induce a negative stress response.
  37. Break up sitting time by moving/stretching every 20 minutes.
  38. It can be hard to get outdoors in the winter months but it’s more important than ever to try to get some natural light when the days are short and the fresh cool air can be extra invigorating.
  39. Have a cup of tea or coffee – simply pausing to put the kettle on an give you a few moments to yourself to decompress...
  40. Or make one for a friend/ colleague – small acts of kindness can give us a boost.
  41. Plan a trip with a friend or a group of friends – friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health.
  42. Think of 3 things that you’re grateful for and keep a gratitude journal to refer back to on days when you’re struggling.
  43. Do some mindfulness practice through meditation, going for a walk or being in nature.
  44. Read a book – you can get lost in the story and reading can help to give a busy mind a break.
  45. Volunteer with a local charity/ community - we know reaching out benefits us as much as those we reach out to.
  46. Listen to some music.
  47. Take up a hobby like knitting or woodwork.
  48. Call a friend or family member - a problem shared is a problem halved.
  49. Pay someone a compliment - be the reason someone smiles today and you might find yourself smiling along.
  50. De clutter at home or your desk – it helps you stay motivated, productive and focussed.
  51. Say no. It isn’t a weakness – you can do anything but not everything.
  52. Take a break from social media - comparing yourself to others can increase stress and trigger insecurities.
  53. Focus on one task at a time and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking each one off your ‘to do’ list.
  54. Positive self-talk can be a powerful motivator.
  55. Complete a puzzle such as a sudoku, crossword or word search.
  56. Watch a movie – could be a horror, comedy or rom-com!
  57. Write your worries down in a journal.
  58. Do something that makes you smile.
  59. Take a vacation or a staycation during this time – having some time away from your normal routine is important to recharge the batteries and give yourself some perspective.
  60. Try to get enough good quality sleep. Being tired can make it harder to deal with everyday difficulties, affect self-esteem and increase feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn can disrupt sleep, so it’s really important to tackle sleeplessness before it becomes a serious issue.
  61. Congratulate yourself for something you’ve done today.
  62. Laugh - it really is the best medicine!
  63. Set 10 minutes aside in the day for ‘me time’ and focus on something that YOU want to do.
  64. Consider a creative activity such as drawing, dancing or painting.
  65. Pay someone praise/thanks – it feels good not just to receive praise but to give it.
  66. Think of what has made you smile today.
  67. Take a warm bath – this will help relax and reduce physical stress and tension in your body.
  68. Try mindful eating – avoid watching TV or using your phone at mealtimes and instead appreciate the smell, texture and appearance of your food before and as you eat to get maximum enjoyment from every morsel.
  69. Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, avocado etc.) as they can boost your mood and cognitive function.
  70. Whole grain carbohydrates can also lift your mood by increasing serotonin levels in the body.
  71. Nuts (pistachios, almonds) contain B vitamins, which can help reduce stress.
  72. High levels of vitamin C may also help reduce stress – think citrus fruits and strawberries.
  73. A healthy gut = a healthy mind: eat plenty of fresh foods in a wide range of colours for maximum nutrition.
  74. Cut back on the processed foods – these have links with depression.
  75. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, this helps to balance the body and can help to keep a clear mind.
  76. Have regular meal times and try to avoid skipping meals, to maintain your energy and sugar levels throughout the day.
  77. Don’t restrict your intake of any nutrients – excessively restricting nutrients such as calories or carbs will impact your mood.
  78. Spend some time in the sun (remembering the sun cream), vitamin D is known to have a positive effect on mood.
  79. Have an avocado – they’re loaded with potassium, which can lower blood pressure and keep balance in muscle activity.
  80. Challenge yourself to make a new recipe each week. Take a look at our diet and nutrition hub for lots of tasty and nutritious recipes for you to try - and with more added every month you'll never be short of inspiration!

By trying and finding new effective ways to unwind you’re giving yourself the tools you need to help bust stress and thrive, both at home and in the work place.

Always remember, that however well-prepared you are, or how generally resilient you may be, there can be times when life – and stress – get the better of all of us and it’s important if this happens to seek help, from your GP, your workplace EAP if you have one or one of the many support services available, some of which are listed below.

More articles from AXA Health to help manage stress

How to treat stress

How to worry less

Harness the power of positive thinking

The benefits of mindfulness

Mindful breathing tips

Further resources

Mental health hub – AXA Health

Mind – the mental health charity

Mental health matters

Mental health foundation

Anxiety UK


1. A. Bhattacharya, A; E. P. McCutcheon, E.P, E. Shvartz, E, and J. E. Greenleaf, J.E.. Body acceleration distribution and O2 uptake in humans during running and jumping. Journal of Applied Physiology 1980 49:5, 881-887.

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