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Stress Management Activities

Stress management is a frequent topic on LinkedIn and so many have shared their wonderful exercises and activities. Here are some that stood out as most “liked.”

Stress for Success

IMPLEMENTATION: Ask participants to stand and form circles of about five to eight people. Give each group one stress ball to begin. Have the first person throw a ball to someone else and remember who they threw it to since they will be asked to remember and continue the same pattern. If there is only one group, you can be part of the group, but if there is more than one, make sure you are not in the mix, since you will need to move around between groups. Each person throws the ball to someone who has not yet had the ball. The last person sends it back to the original person who “keeps the ball rolling” a little faster then next time. (Do not have them throw to the same person twice until all members have gotten it first.) Once they have the pattern down, introduce another ball—then another and then another. Balls drop, roll, etc., but urge them to pick them up and continue. With five or six balls going at a time, it becomes quite a circus with a lot of laughing!

PROCESSING: After about five minutes, have everyone sit down and identify what they can learn from the activity (besides it being hard to keep all the balls in the air!). What did they learn they had to do to be successful? How many thought of what they would eat for dinner, etc.? This is a great lesson on mindfulness, as people are totally in the present, and thus would be an ideal activity for DBT groups when addressing the subject of mindfulness. Point out that life is like the activity—we all juggle many things at one time, and if we are not focused, things get dropped! If we focus too much on the past or present, the stress balls will pound and bombard us if we are not alert. Note: You can order stress balls through many vendors on the internet by putting in the keyword “stress balls.” (They are foam bouncing balls that are soft and will not cause injury.)

Posted online by Judith Belmont

Straw Activity

Take a straw and place it horizontally on the table. Now hold both the ends firmly and start twisting them in such a manner that they overlap each other and form an air bubble at the center. Now ask a volunteer to step forward and burst the straw air bubble with a thumb or finger (as if hitting the stricker on the carrom board). The bubble with burst and will create a lot of noise.

Debrief: Human beings are like straws, bottling up stress & tension, which we consider as a part of lives and routine, we become fragile over a period of time and with a slightest ‘tick’ will burst. It’s healthy to admit and recognise your individual triggers to de-stress, which allows us to bounce back!!! Posted online by Pooja Whig

Start talking!

A useful starting point may be to introduce a tool such as the stress drivers questionnaire that the whole team can do together and to use this as a basis for starting a conversation. Posted online by Deryl Dix

Stress Management Thumball

The Stress-Management Thumball is an excellent way to initiate conversations about the causes and remedies of stress. See discussion prompts here.

Consider the Consequences

One interesting thing about stress is that in 90% of cases there isn’t anything to actually stress you up, but the very thought gives stress. And it’s all cooked up stories in our own mind. For example: I have yet not shared my report with the boss, but since I know him to be really crooked, I keep thinking his various possible reactions and consequently get stressed. Here is an activity that helps to understand that:

  1. Ask particpants to think about something that gives them stress.
  2. Ask them to think various consequences and reactions that might take place.
  3. They keep thinking about the same for approximately 5 minutes.
  4. You may give them directions to intensify the thought.
  5. All of a sudden SAY – Stop thinking.
  6. Ask them how do they feel.
  7. Ask- has anything of that yet happened?
  8. And so stress in most cases is just your own mental makeup. More you thing about something, more stress it will cases. The important step here is to catch yourself while cooking stressful thought and remind that nothing has happened yet. So lets just prepare.

Posted online by Richa Sahay

Help from Colleagues

This exercise works best with a team who already work together. I use it half way through the day – usually after lunch.

Get everyone to write their name at the top of a piece of paper. Then add the following:-

  1. What I need my colleagues to do when I’m stressed is …. (fill in the blank)
  2. What I need my colleagues NOT to do when I’m stressed is … (fill in the blank)

The information is collated and every member of the team is given a copy for future reference. I have seen huge turnarounds with teams using this exercise.

The understanding that occurs through discussion in the workshop is amazing because people recognize very quickly that we all have different needs and should never assume that what you need/don’t need is the same as for others.  Posted online by Gail Page

Quick Calm Deep breathing Exercises

Quick Calm is an easy deep-breathing exercise that I use with every audience. I have an audio demo of it on my homepage: There’s a trainer-friendly video demo of the same technique along with other exercises on my YouTube channel (accessible via the YT icon on the homepage). Posted online by Jordan Friedman

Take your Stress Temperature

I start a workshop by asking participants to put a “dot” (I use a red circle sticky) on a thermometer drawn on a flip chart that represents their stress level as they begin the workshop. At the bottom, write “centered and calm” at the top write “about to explode.” Add other descriptors as you see fit.

At the end of the workshop I ask them to place a blue dot on the same thermometer for their current stress level. It’s interesting to see the shift towards the bottom of the thermometer .

I emphasize that it doesn’t take a lot of techniques to better manage stress, but that when we ARE stressed, when we most need to practice the techniques, we may “forget” to do any of them. I then have them identify the 1, 2 or 3 techniques or tools we covered that they feel best “fit them” and have them plan for how they WILL use them.

Posted online by Vicki Legman

Taking Control – Stress and the Body

On a flipchart you draw the shape of the human body and draw in different colours where stress affects the body i.e. tension in the neck, stomach aches, chest pains etc.

Invite participants to do the same, it allows the participants to see what stress is actually doing to their bodies and how much they put themselves through. Also discussed is what we like to do for ourselves and how we can build these things into our lives to help alleviate the stress. Posted online by Catherine Conlon

Stress Wheel

I use the wheel approach (similar to the performance wheel used in coaching) to measure a person’s stress. I ask the audience to name causes of stress and ask them to note these down on the blank wheel handout provided, scoring 0 – 10 (0 being stressed – 10 not an issue). Some examples have been ‘relationships at work, relationships at home, salary, work load pressures, personal finances’ and so on. Individuals choose 6 that are pertinent to them and to then complete the wheel. This allows participants to identify their key areas of stress.

Participants are asked to share with the person next to them initially. Further into the programme we look at tools and techniques to cope with the stressors identified on the wheel. This approach allows the audience to deal with ‘real time’ issues.  Posted online by Jane Worthington



Ask your group to make a list of all the things they can think of that make them angry.

Next to each trigger, have them write the reaction that they ‘already’ do. Then, ask them to write the reaction they ‘wish’ to do.

They can discuss the reaction and ‘wish’ with you and their training-mates if they choose. Then they can spend some time to visualize moments where one of the anger triggers happened and reverse the situation replacing the action they usually with the action they wish to do. They can practice this for just 5 minutes daily… Posted online by Doaa K (Trainer’s Box)

Balloons. Balloons. Balloons.

Use a large balloon and a drawing pin. Tell people that you are going to pop it at some point during the period, but you are not going to tell them when. Then you can ask how they feel, and engage in a discussion about the different anxieties that build up before a person actually feels “stressed.” Posted online by Paul M.

I’ve used balloons for getting people to blow their stress into the balloons and then either let them go outside OR pop them. This helps them feel as if they are taking back control. Another option is to have them draw symbols on the balloons, representing how they feel. Posted online by Gail Page

Pressing their Buttons

If yo have an hour or so, you can have people make “buttons” as in, the things that press their “buttons” and produce stress. Start with listing specifically what their button issues are, then get them to construct their buttons out of a variety of crafts and office materials, then they can wear them, and encounter each other to describe what’s on their buttons. It’s a great lighthearted and creative way to own what bugs us on a daily basis! Posted online by Kymberly Dakin

Trigger Points

Have each participant list 3 priority stress areas which they find difficult to handle. Ask them not to write their name on list. Later, shuffle and distribute the lists. Have participants read the list he/she received and ask them to share how they would handle those stressful situations.  Posted online by Ashok NaraYanan

Pass the Cup of Water

Have your group stand give them a half-full cup of water to pass around. Instruct the group to pass the cup around clockwise or counterclockwise. When you think they’re ready, add another cup  of water . . . then another . . . and soon another.  As the group continues, increase the challenge: take some half-full cups out of the rotation and add 3/4-full cups, add more cups, and ask a few people to step out of the circle, making the group smaller. Pretty soon you will find that each person still in the circle has two cups each and is continuing to pass them around faster and faster.  Then call “stop.”

Debrief:  Have the group discuss how they all felt about the people who were in the room, about passing the water (which was in this case the customer in the call queue) how they felt about being pulled out of the circle, how they felt about being in the circle and having to pass things faster and faster with few people.

The use of water is effective because while mostly un-harmful there is something inherently fearful about spilling it that is human nature. For those who do step out of the circle, they may assume that they can’t jump back in to help.  It creates a very rich discussion. Posted online by Thomas Cameron

6 thoughts on “Stress Management Activities”

  1. Liked the simple yet effective activities. Have used the one with Stress balls earlier, will definitely use the water cups and other activities. Thanks..

  2. Have used the balloons and chits will incorporate few others too.Thank you Sharing…

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