• HS - Exercise to Lower Stress

    By Holly Parker, MA Edu, BSHW

    Stress is a normal part of a healthy life. We actually need some degree of stress to function and accomplish tasks. However, repeated exposure to stressful events without periodic breaks in between can have a negative impact on the body and eventually cause pain and illness.

    This source reports 75 to 90% of doctor visits are directly linked to the stress we are dealing with in our lives. So how do we reduce that staggering percentage in our own lives? We learn to take consistent breaks throughout our workday to lower the stress load on our minds and bodies.

    How about a brief but powerful list of a few stress reduction exercises you can do whenever and wherever? You might start feeling tense at your desk and realize you need a break. The line at the grocery store might seem insurmountable, so take a stress break that only you know you are taking. The carpool line at your child’s school might be moving more slowly than your schedule would allow, so take a moment to reduce your stress. You get the idea. Here’s the list:

    1. Breathe–This one is simple and powerful. You breathe all the time, it’s biologically necessary. You can breathe to reduce stress and no one will even notice. Dr. Andrew Weil has a technique to breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, let out for a count of 8. Davidji has a 16-second breathing exercise that is short and sweet; breathe in for 4, hold for 4, and release for 4. It’s also very easy to remember when you need it in a hurry. Breathe deeply for maximum impact. Don’t take a shallow breath that only raises your shoulders. Breathe from your belly, let your lungs fill and let your diaphragm expand. You will feel the calming difference immediately.

    2. Do The Windmill–Sometimes when we are stressed out, we just need to get our circulation moving and we feel better instantly. We don’t always have time to drop what we are doing and go workout, but we can stand up, move a bit, and feel better. One quick exercise we can do is the windmill. It’s so easy. Stand up, hands by your side, feet flat on the floor. Raise both arms over your head and cross them at the top and rise up to your toes at the same time. Now drop your arms down windmill-style and bend your knees a bit, almost like you are going to sit in a chair, but not quite that much. Repeat 5 times and you are all done. You will be feeling refreshed and that stress will have floated away for a bit.

    3. Meditate–Meditation often conjures images of monks sitting in the lotus position for hours and breathing incense, trying to reach some altered state. However, meditation can help anyone in as little as 5 or 10 minutes a day and you don’t need to be a religious person to reap the benefits. When using meditation for stress relief, envision your brain as a toy top. When you feel stress, that top can seem wound very tightly. You can really benefit from unwinding that top a bit and relieving the tension in your brain.

    You can meditate silently or listen to an audio track from a site like calm.com where you can take a guided break from 2 to 20 minutes in length. If you want to do this without audio, simply sit in a comfortable position in a chair or on the floor. Close your eyes and focus on one thing, perhaps counting from 1 to 10. When you reach 10, start over again. You might do this 10 times and then see how you feel. The benefits of meditation are well documented. A simple daily practice can do wonders for your stress management.

    Give these exercises a try and see how you feel. Stress impacts us all, but with a few breaks during the workday we might be able to avoid some trips to the doctor and do something more enjoyable with our time!



    Davidji. (2015). Softening to oneness. Retrieved from: http://davidji.com/softening-to-one-ness-weekend-meditation/

    Goldberg, J. (reviewer). (2014). The effects of stress on your body. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body

    Jabr, F. (2013). Why your brain needs more downtime. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/

    Weil, A. (2016). Breathing exercise: 4-7-8. Retrieved from: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00160/Dr-Weils-Breathing-Exercises-4-7-8-Breath.html

    Wilson, P. (1995). Instant calm: Over 100 easy-to-use techniques for relaxing mind and body. Penguin Group: New York, NY.


    Holly Parker, MA Edu, BSHW is a faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University. 



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