Stress, to some extent, is unavoidable. We might feel it when we're stuck in traffic, facing a tight deadline, or overwhelmed with responsibilities. When it becomes ongoing and chronic, however, we often start to experience severe consequences of stress that not only impact our mental and physical health but also make life seem a lot less enjoyable. But what if there was a way (or many ways) to relieve stress that is also fun and enjoyable? As it turns out, there are many ways to relieve stress that involve doing things you enjoy! So, if meditation or yoga isn't your thing, it doesn't mean you're out of luck when it comes to better managing your stress.
Today, we're going to share several ideas for how to relieve stress that you'll enjoy at the moment while also reaping the stress-reducing effects for hours, days, or weeks to come.
Before we get into these ideas, however, let's first talk about the health benefits of hobbies and how they work to reduce stress in your life. Although hobbies are most commonly thought of in terms of fun and enjoyment, it turns out their benefits go much deeper than that.
Health Benefits of Hobbies
Hobbies are those activities done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure. This can include anything from playing a sport to collecting stamps. Some people even consider their job a hobby if they enjoy it that much!
The health benefits of hobbies are vast and well-documented. Research has shown having a hobby can:
- Improve your mood: One study found that people who participated in regular leisure activities had lower levels of depression and anxiety.
- Reduce stress: Several studies have shown that hobbies can help reduce stress, including one that found knitting to be especially effective. (Knitting can also help with chronic pain and anxiety and promote social connections)
- Boost your immune system: One study showed that participants who had a hobby had a significantly higher level of antibodies than those who didn't have a hobby.
- Slow cognitive decline: A large-scale study including over 6,500 participants found that those who engaged in leisure activities were less likely to experience cognitive decline as they age.
- Increase your lifespan: A study of over 3,500 Japanese adults found that those who had a hobby were less likely to die during the multi-year study period than those who didn't have a hobby.
As you can see, there are many impressive reasons to make time for a hobby! Not only are they enjoyable, but they also have some serious health benefits.
How to Relieve Stress Doing Things You Already Love: How Does it Work?
Doing things you already love is useful for reducing stress in your life for several reasons we'll explore next.
You likely already know that relaxation feels great at the moment. But it can also play a big role in reducing the overall stress in your life. At the same time, relaxation is important for maintaining good physical health. That's because chronic stress can lead to several serious consequences, as we mentioned. These include health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity.
Luckily, there are many ways to relax. And conveniently, you can tailor your relaxation method to fit your preferences and needs.
Here are some quick ideas for how to relax:
- Listening to calming music
- Reading a book
- Spending time in nature
- Organizing your home or office
- Working on a puzzle or Sudoku (read more about mental fitness next)
- Taking a bath
- Getting a massage
- Practicing deep breathing exercises
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Hiking or walking
- Playing with a pet
- Meditation before sleep
You've probably experienced eustress before, but the word for this type of positive stress isn't as well known as the classic definition of stress. This is a type of stress that is associated with positive outcomes. For example, you might be stressed on a long travel day to an incredible destination. Because the outcome is positive (arriving in a beautiful location), this is a type of positive stress or "eustress."
Unlike distress, which is harmful, eustress has some benefits.
Research has shown that eustress can:
- Improve your mood
- Increase your motivation
- Enhance your performance
- Help you stay focused
- Boost your immune system
Now, how do you get more eustress in your life? One great way is, you guessed it, to find a hobby you're passionate about. Doing something you love regularly can help increase the amount of eustress in your life while also reducing the amount of distress.
Some ideas for hobbies that can lead to eustress include:
- Playing a musical instrument
- Traveling to new places
- Learning a new language
- Trying new foods
- Experiencing different cultures
- Engaging in physical activity
Positive psychology and activities you enjoy are often closely intertwined. Luckily, many different techniques fall under the umbrella of positive psychology. And each one can be used to help you feel happier, more fulfilled, and less stressed.
Some powerful positive psychology techniques that can help reduce stress involve attitude, gratitude, and positive affirmations.
This technique involves focusing on the positives in your life. It can help shift your thinking from negative to positive and improve your mood in the process.
Attitude, as they say, is everything. Having a positive attitude all the time is tough, but if you can focus on improving your attitude even a little bit, it can make a big difference in how you feel.
Expressing gratitude has been shown to increase well-being and happiness. It can also help reduce stress by allowing you to focus on the good things in your life.
There are many ways to express gratitude to yourself or others. For example, you could:
- Keep a gratitude journal and write down things you're thankful for daily
- Write a thank-you note to someone who has done something nice for you
- Tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them
These are short, powerful statements you say to yourself regularly. Positive affirmations can help shift your thinking from negative to positive and increase your overall happiness.
Here are some affirmations you might consider trying:
- "I am worthy of love and happiness."
- "I am strong and capable."
- "I am surrounded by people who support and love me."
Burnout can be intense and all-consuming. But focusing on relieving stress by doing things you love can be a powerful tool in your efforts to feel better.
Before we move on to the common causes of burnout and what burnout can look like in those scenarios, let's list some symptoms of burnout many people experience:
- Loss of motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Isolating yourself from others
- Negative thinking
What causes burnout?
Many factors contribute to burnout. Here are some of the most common:
- Unrealistic expectations: If you're constantly setting unrealistic goals for yourself, it can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.
- Lack of control: When you feel like you don't have any control over your life or your work, it can be very stressful. This lack of control often leads to burnout.
- Poor work-life balance: If you're working all the time and never taking time for yourself, it's only a matter of time before burnout sets in. You need to make sure you're taking time to relax and recharge, or you'll end up feeling burnt out.
Often, unrealistic expectations, a lack of control, and a poor work-life balance are common in work, school, family, friends, and financial situations.
This is one of the most common culprits of burnout. It's not surprising when you consider how much time we spend at work. If you don't enjoy your job or you're constantly feeling overwhelmed, it's only a matter of time before burnout sets in.
Here are some signs to watch for when it comes to burnout at work:
- You dread going to work
- You feel like you're constantly under pressure
- You're not being recognized or appreciated
- You're not given enough resources to do your job properly
- Your workload is excessive
- There's a lack of support from management
- The company culture is toxic
For many people, family is the most important thing in their lives. But that doesn't mean that it can't be a source of stress. Family relationships are one of the most common causes of burnout.
Here are some signs to watch for when it comes to burnout and family:
- You're constantly arguing with your partner or spouse
- You feel like you're carrying the majority of the load when it comes to parenting
- You're not given any help or support from other family members
- You don't have any time for yourself
- You're constantly worried about your family member's well-being
Having a strong social support network is crucial for good mental health. But even the best relationships can be a source of stress. If you're feeling burnt out, it might be time to take a closer look at your friendships.
Here are some signals your friends are causing burnout:
- You feel like you're always the one giving and never receiving
- It feels like you have to put on a facade around your friends
- You feel like you can't be yourself around them
- They're always talking about themselves and never asking about you
- They're always negative
- You don't have any time for yourself when you're around them
Whether you're five, 25, or 55, being a student can be stressful! The pressure to perform, the never-ending assignments, and the constant comparisons can all lead to burnout.
Here are some signs that school is causing burnout:
- You're constantly worried about your grades
- You feel like you're not good enough
- You're always comparing yourself to other students
- You are finding it hard to motivate yourself to study
- You're skipping classes or not handing in assignments
- Your sleep patterns have changed
Money is one of the most common sources of stress. If you're struggling to make ends meet or you're constantly worried about money, it's hard to focus on anything else.
Here are some indicators that financial problems are causing burnout:
- You're constantly worried about money
- Thoughts of where every dollar comes from or goes keep you up at night
- You're unable to pay your bills
- You're using credit cards to cover expenses
- You are not able to save any money
- You're considering bankruptcy
Now that we've looked at some of the most common causes of burnout let's take a look at how you can prevent it.
There are several things you can do to prevent or reduce feelings of burnout. Some suggestions include:
- Setting boundaries: One of the most effective ways to prevent burnout is to set boundaries. When you have clear boundaries, you're less likely to take on more than you can handle. This can help reduce your stress levels and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.
- Taking breaks: It's useful to take breaks throughout the day, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Taking some time to yourself (even just a few moments) can help you recharge and come back feeling refreshed.
- Make time for yourself: In addition to taking breaks, it's also helpful to make time for yourself regularly. This can be anything from reading your favorite book to going for a walk in nature. Taking some time each day to do something you enjoy can help reduce stress and prevent burnout.
- Talk to someone: If you're feeling burnt out, talking to someone can be incredibly helpful. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can help you offload some of your stress and figure out how to better deal with it.
Burnout is a serious issue that shouldn't be ignored. If you're feeling burnt out, make sure to take action and make some changes. Otherwise, you'll just end up feeling even more stressed and overwhelmed.
One of the other most effective ways to prevent burnout is spending time doing things you love, so let's get back to that.
How to Relieve Stress by Doing Things You Already Love
Now, without further ado, here are some of the actual practices you can try if you're figuring out how to relieve stress by doing things you already love.
How to Relieve Stress Quickly
As it turns out, some of the best ways to relieve stress can be done incredibly quickly. At first glance, they might not seem like things you love, but we're going to explain how you can incorporate these stress-reducing activities into practices you love.
Of course, exercising is great for your health, but it can also be an extraordinary way to reduce stress. Exercise releases endorphins—powerful mood-boosting chemicals. Additionally, they can help you sleep better and even improve your self-esteem.
So, how can you make exercise something you love? Start by finding an activity that you genuinely enjoy. Maybe it's going for a walk, lifting weights, or playing tennis. Once you've found an activity you enjoy, make sure to schedule it into your week, so it becomes a regular part of your routine.
Sun (Vitamin D)
Another quick and easy way to reduce stress is to get some sun, and luckily, this is something many people already love to do! Sunlight exposure helps your body produce vitamin D, which has some benefits for your health. Vitamin D has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and even boost immunity.
Start by making it a habit to spend some time outside every day. This could be anything from taking a walk in the park to sitting on your porch. Once you've made it a habit, you'll start to look forward to your daily dose of vitamin D!
Okay—we know counting might not be on a list of things you love. But what if we told you that counting could help you reduce stress? Research has shown that counting can help improve focus and attention, and it can also help to control anxiety.
As for making counting something you love, start by finding a practice that incorporates counting into something you enjoy doing, like knitting or gardening. While you do these things, try counting your breaths and see how it calms your mind and helps you relieve your stress.
Speaking of counting your breaths, let's talk more about breathing exercises next.
Physical exercise is one thing, but breathing exercises are also incredibly important for stress relief. That's because deep breathing helps to improve oxygen flow to the brain, which can help to reduce anxiety and improve focus.
Start by finding a practice that incorporates deep breathing into something you already love—maybe it's reading, crossword puzzles, or painting. While you do these things, make sure to focus on your breath and notice how it helps you relax and reduce your stress levels.
Have Fun, Smile, Laugh
Having fun, smiling, and laughing might seem like child's play. But the truth is, they play big roles in the topic of how to relieve stress—it's hard to focus on your stress when you're smiling and having fun!
Here are some of the different ways to have more fun, smile more, and laugh more that can also help your stress levels at the same time.
How to make life more fun
There are so many ways to do this because fun means something a little different to everyone. But here are some general ideas:
- Find ways to do the things you love more often. If you love going to the movies, make it a point to go once a week. If you love hiking, try to hike in a new place every month.
- Make time for your hobbies. Whether it's painting, biking, or cooking, make sure you're making time for the things you love to do outside of work and obligations.
- Spend time with people who make you laugh. Surround yourself with positive people who will make your life more enjoyable.
Smiling is another great way to reduce stress because it sends signals to your brain that help improves your mood. In one study, participants were asked to do a stressful task while either holding a pencil in their teeth (forcing them to smile) or between their lips (forcing them to frown). The results showed that the group who were smiling had lower levels of cortisol than the group who were frowning.
In this case, faking it until you make it can provide you with some stress-relieving benefits! The next time you're feeling stressed, try smiling and see how it makes you feel.
Laughter is also a great way to reduce stress because it helps to release endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain). Endorphins not only make you feel good, but they also help to improve your mood and reduce stress.
During a 2021 study, participants were asked to do a stressful task while either watching a funny video or a neutral video. The results showed that the group who watched the funny video had lower levels of cortisol than the group who watched the neutral video.
So, if you want to laugh more and relieve some stress, try watching a funny movie, TV show, or stand-up comedy routine. You could also try hanging out with friends who make you laugh or reading a funny book.
Bonus: How to Relieve Stress with Vagus Nerve Stimulation
It's also worth talking about vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) while we cover the different ways to relieve stress while doing things you love. VNS is a process where a mild electrical signal is sent to the vagus nerve in the ear. For many people, this can help to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve focus and concentration.
There are a few different ways to do VNS, but one of the most popular non-invasive options is Xen by Neuvana headphones. Xen is a device that uses patented earbuds to deliver electrical signals to the vagus nerve. It's easy to use and convenient, so you can relax without the strain.
While you reap the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation with the special headphones, you can even listen to your favorite music or sounds. Talk about relieving stress while also doing something you love!
How to Relieve Stress: Final Thoughts
Stress is a part of life, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer from it. There are all kinds of things you can do to relieve stress and feel better. And the best part? Some of these things (like having fun, smiling, and laughing) are things you probably already love to do.