#78: 3 Terrible Ways to “Relieve Stress” (They backfire like crazy)

3 Terrible Ways to "Relieve Stress" (They backfire like crazy)

Often, the ways that we attempt to relieve stress can actually make our stress worse. (How stressful!) In today’s episode, I’m sharing why these common approaches don’t work and what you can do instead to find real relief.

You’ll hear about:

  • Why movement is the best way to complete the stress cycle
  • Why you shouldn’t take exercise (or lack of it) to an extreme
  • Why distraction is a common and unhelpful way to cope with stress
  • How drinking or eating to try and relieve stress actually disturbs your sleep and mood
  • Effective ways to complete the stress cycle

Mentioned in this episode:



Let’s talk about stress. Or rather, how we handle it, day in and day out.

Spoiler alert: the very best way to get your body out of stress mode is through movement. I did a whole episode about that awhile back.

So movement is good! But using movement for stress relief can backfire if you aren’t careful. 

The same goes for a couple other common behaviors that women rely on.

I have three examples to share with you so you can avoid these traps. Since we’re here, let’s start with movement…

Exercise: why more isn’t better

We all know we should exercise. Duh. 

But some women take it to an extreme. Getting up super early to work out and skimping on sleep. Or working out super duper hard – because more is more, right?

Wrong. More is not more when it comes to your health.

Lack of sleep is actually a huge stressor for your body…so, losing sleep to get in a workout? It backfires. Same goes for working out too hard– your body goes into fight or flight mode, and that makes more stress, not less.

Movement can be gentle. (Imagine – going easy on yourself!) And movement can be incorporated into your day, it doesn’t have to be a Crossfit workout. More intense movement can be beneficial for stress relief too, but it depends on your individual constitution. 

What you want to avoid – and this will be different for everyone – is working out so hard that you’re in that all-out, max heart rate, redlining kind of situation. 

When you’re already stressed, the last thing you need is an instructor yelling at you to push yourself while music blares at full volume. Or pounding pavement for hours of marathon training. Or anything else that’s putting significant stress on your body.

Think about it: if you’re adding stress, you’re not exactly relieving it, are you? 

You can still move, still burn calories, still get your heart rate up– but be gentle.

How about walking? It’s low impact, and walking up hills is actually a decent workout! If you’re outdoors, even better– you’re getting a double dose of stress relief between the movement and time in nature..

Yoga or pilates can work too. (Unless it’s hot power yoga where you think you’re going to die halfway through. That’s stressful. See the difference?)

We get confused about how exercise makes us feel because with stress comes our good friend, adrenaline. Adrenaline feels a-mazing in the moment. We lift those weights, we run like hell —whoooo! 

But what’s actually happening with adrenaline release is that your stress response system has turned on to try to keep you going. That’s not stress relief. That’s stress.

Distraction isn’t solving anything

Distraction is another common way women try to cope with stress. If we keep super busy and we’re jumping from one thing to the next, we don’t have time to think. Or feel. 

We take on projects and make plans and volunteer for extra things because we desperately want to be distracted from how crappy we’re feeling.

And just like when we overdo it with exercise, our adrenaline kicks in to try to keep us going.

The more we do, the more we push, the more our adrenaline rises. It feels good at first, so we do more.

And if we STOP doing? That adrenaline we love so much crashes down. (It’s kind of like withdrawal from a drug. It feels terrible.)

So we keep going at top speed, and keep ourselves in the stress response. Meanwhile, we’re not relieving stress at all – we’re digging ourselves deeper.

When treating yourself is cheating yourself

To cope with stress, we drink wine. And eat chocolate. Or anything we can get our hands on, especially at night. Sound like anyone you know?

It’s that relief at the end of the day. We’ve “earned it.”

The problem? Yup, it backfires, too. 

Alcohol, especially red wine (sorry!) disrupts sleep, big time. Maybe you’ve noticed. If so, you’re not alone. By 40, this is very common complaint among women who used to adore red wine. 

So on top of being stressed, now you’re not sleeping.

There’s also something called the “rebound” effect. While you’re drinking, you feel extra calm and happy, but the next morning? Anxiety shoots through the roof. Your wine is actually creating stress rather than relieving it.

The same thing happens with sugar. In the moment, it feels awesome. It gives us a high. But sugar disrupts sleep, disrupts your moods, and makes you feel worse in the long run. 

So self-medicating with wine and chocolate cake? You could actually be making yourself feel much, much worse.

So what DOES help relieve stress?

Ok… so exercising too intensely, keeping too busy, and eating or drinking too much can totally backfire.

So what ARE effective ways to mitigate stress?

#1 – Movement. Any form of movement can do the trick! I have this free resource to help you find more movement in your weeks WITHOUT adding stress.

#2 – Laughter. Big, belly laughter, which coincidentally usually comes with a good dose of friends or family, is an amazing stress reliever.

#3 – Deep breathing. It helps quell the stress response. Singing works, too – you can’t sing without breathing!

#4 – Human touch. A good, long hug you can sink into. Find your person and cozy up, because the power of touch goes a long, long way.

… and these won’t backfire on you. Promise.

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