Stress Hardiness for Stressful Times

December 12, 2021 Joe Brady

Stress is change, whenever we experience a change in our lives whether good or bad change creates stress. These days it seems the world changes on a daily basis. Public health recommendations keep changing, every day brings changes in the economy, politics, climate, even family relationships keep changing. Like an episode of “Lost in Space,” it seems that it is just “one damn thing after another”. Stress is a normal feeling. However, unrelenting, long-term stress may contribute to, or worsen a range of health problems including digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Building stress hardiness and avoiding the long-term consequences of stress response means engaging in some form of relaxation, meditation, exercise, or any one of many methods for developing stress hardiness. Regular practice strengthens the mind to be prepared for and to reboot itself from the stresses of day-to-day life, especially during a pandemic. Meditation, relaxation techniques, tai chi, and yoga have been shown to be effective in reducing the effects of stress. Here is a list of some of the best evidence-based stress management techniques to help get you through the holiday season.

Relaxation Techniques

  • Some people use relaxation techniques (also called relaxation response techniques) to release tension and to counteract the ill effects of stress. Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention on pleasing thoughts and images to calm the mind and the body. Some examples of relaxation response techniques are autogenic training, biofeedback, deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and self-hypnosis.


  • The scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation—a practice that cultivates abilities to maintain focused and clear attention and develop an increased awareness of the present—may help reduce symptoms of stress, including anxiety and depression.
  • Mindfulness-based meditation. A 2019 review concluded that as monotherapy or adjunctive therapy, mindfulness-based meditation has positive effects on depression, and its effects can last for six months or more. Although positive findings are less common in people with anxiety disorders, the evidence supports adjunctive use. A 2014 meta-analysis of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggests that mindfulness meditation programs show moderate evidence of improving anxiety and depression. But the researchers found no evidence that meditation changed health-related behaviors affected by stress, such as substance abuse and sleep.
  • Mindfulness-based programs for workplace stress. A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis of nine studies that examined mindfulness-based programs with an employee sample, which targeted workplace stress or work engagement, and measured a physiological outcome. The review found that mindfulness-based interventions may be a promising avenue for improving physiological indices of stress. 

Tai Chi Chuan: Meditation in motion

  • Beneficial effects were found in a study in 2008 that evaluated a population infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (mean age 42 years, n = 252) randomized to practice Tai Chi for 90 minutes once weekly for 10 weeks or to a cognitive-behavioral relaxation group, spiritual growth group, or a wait-list control group.

McCain NL, Gray DP, Elswick RK, et al. A randomized clinical trial of alternative stress management interventions in persons with HIV infection. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology. 2008;76(18540736):431–441. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

  • A study in 2001  that used a healthy geriatric population (mean age 73 years, n = 72) randomized to practice Tai Chi for 1 hour twice weekly for 24 weeks versus a wait-list control group also found that Tai Chi reduced stress.

Li F, Duncan TE, Duncan SC, et al. Enhancing the psychological well-being of elderly individuals through Tai Chi exercise: A latent growth curve analysis. StructEqu Model. 2001;8:53–83. [Google Scholar]

  • Tai Chi was shown to reduce stress in a study in 199662 that evaluated health among older adults (mean age 67 years, n = 20) who practiced Tai Chi for 2 hours, once weekly for 10 sessions compared with a routine physical activity group.

Sun WY, Dosch M, Gilmore GD, et al. Effects of Tai Chi Chuan Program on Hmong American Older Adults. EducGerontol. 1996;22:161–167. [Google Scholar]

  • Positive effects were found in a study in 199245 that looked at healthy adults (mean age 36 years, n = 96) who underwent a single, 1-hour session of Tai Chi versus meditation, brisk walking, or neutral reading.

Jin P. Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation, and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress. J Psychosom Res. 1992;36(1593511):361–370. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

  • Some but not all studies of yoga for stress management have shown improvements in physical or psychological measures related to stress.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: January 2020