Stress is a person's internal and external response to an element that is challenging or potentially dangerous. Stress itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can actually be a motivational factor that pushes people to reach new heights when it's at optimum levels.
However, stress isn't always a good thing. It can also be harmful to both your physical and mental health if you experience high levels of it or if you are exposed to stress for long periods of time. Group activities are one way to manage to stress when it feels like it is getting out of control.
5 Stress Management Activities for Groups
Stress affects people in different ways depending on a variety of factors. It's likely that you will encounter some form of stress in your life at one point or another, which is why it's important to learn how to manage your response to it when those situations arise. These group stress-busting activities can help you do just that.
Activity #1: Have a Scavenger Hunt
Treasure hunts are a fun way to have groups work in smaller teams, teach problem-solving skills, and introduce a little friendly competition.
Scavenger hunts can strengthen relationships, foster teamwork, and help new members fit in. They require critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and friendly competition.
Researchers have found that when people are physically active, in deep concentration, and taking some type of risk, a psychological flow state occurs. During this flow state, people report higher rates of productivity, an increase in mood, and a sense of relaxation. Scavenger hunts provide all three of these components: physical activity through looking for clues, deep concentration when they figure out hints, and a sense of risk through engaging in competition.
There are many possibilities when it comes to designing a scavenger hunt. Smaller groups can compete as a single team for the challenge, while larger groups can be broken down into smaller teams of two to three people. Having teams can add another competitive element to the game.
Then, you can create a series of riddles that lead participants to the next clue. Or, you can have them complete challenging tasks, such as building a house of cards, before they are able to receive the next clue. Depending on the space you have available, you can have a scavenger hunt in a backyard, house, or across an entire neighborhood. Examples of scavenger hunt designs include:
- A list of riddles that lead to objects or locations where the next clue is hidden
- A series of difficult tasks, such as solving a math equation or crossword puzzle
- Having participants ask for help from neighbors/others in the community
- Having to find a list of objects within a certain area
Depending on what kind of resources you have available, as well as what kind of scavenger hunt you choose to run, you may need different materials. some things you may need for this activity are:
- A map of the area where the scavenger hunt is taking place
- A prize for the winning team
- Assorted objects for the teams to find
- Paper/pen for writing clues or rules, or a clue sheet template
Here is an example of a clue-focused scavenger hunt.
- Decide on the boundaries and area in which the hunt will take place. Are you going to run the hunt inside of a house or office? Or will teams be able to spread out across a neighborhood? This will help you determine the types of clues you can create, as well as whatever rules you want to establish.
- Write your clues.
- You can search for riddles and clues for your scavenger hunt online to give you a sense of inspiration. You can even make clues about your office/group, choose a theme of your scavenger hunt and base your clues on it. You can also modernize your treasure hunt using text messages to send clues/updates, and require teams to take pictures at each location to get the next clue.
- Make sure the answer to one clue leads to the next. For example, if a clue is hidden in a pile of towels and mentions fun in the sun, the next clue should be located by a pool or lounge area where people enjoy the sun and may need a towel.
- The first team to find all the clues wins the prize (and the bragging rights).
An alternate scavenger hunt can be done looking for information rather than clues. Each team gets an identical list of information they must find. The list can include a search for objects or people. The first team to find all the information on their list wins. Some examples of information may include:
- An object that can be found on a playground
- Someone whose name starts with A
- Someone who has more than two children
- Something that belongs on a cake
Activity #2: Try a Stress Ball Toss
Everyone knows what stress balls are, and you may even have a few lying around your house. Research shows that these squishy objects really do have a positive effect on stress relief. There are ways to put a twist on the traditional "squeeze to release stress" technique that can bring a bit of fun into your stress management activities.
This exercise can be used for any group, either big or small. It can help people experience a mild amount of stress in a controlled environment and can help people experience and cope with the physical sensations and feelings that arise when they are stressed. It can also help people practice how to focus during a stressful event, and maybe even find some humor in stressful times as well.
In addition, participants will be able to communicate and provide support for one another while the group undergoes stress as a team during the game. Participants can also process this activity afterward individually and in a group by discussing the following:
- Mindfulness - Mindfulness involves being in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It involves actively and consciously paying attention to the present, and how you feel both inside your body and mind. Research has shown mindfulness to have positive health benefits, such as reducing stress, relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even helping people cope. Some things to discuss are:
- What were people thinking about during the exercise?
- Did people experience thoughts of worry about the future or rumination about the past?
- What did people find themselves paying attention to during the activity?
- Multitasking - People believe that they can "juggle" multiple tasks successfully. However, research shows that doing more than one task at a time can lead to reduced accuracy, causing more errors, and even slower performance than just focussing on one task at a time. The bottom line is that no one can do several things at once as well as they can do one thing at a time. Some things to discuss after the exercise are:
- How easy the exercise was with one stress ball versus with several.
- How important it is to focus on responsibilities when they are in front of you
- How to use time management to achieve goals
You will need stress balls (up to one per group member), and any number of participants.
- Have everyone stand in a circle.
- One person starts out with one ball, and they toss it to someone else in the circle. They must remember who they tossed it to.
- Then, the person that received the toss, throws the stress ball to someone else in the circle that hasn't received it yet. This continues until everyone has had the ball, and it returns to the first person who started.
- Each person only needs to remember who they toss the stress ball to and who they receive it from. This will create a pattern of where the ball goes next that everyone in the group can anticipate. Pass the ball in this same order until it is remembered by the group and seems to come easily.
- Then, introduce more balls into the group. The pattern and order of the tosses will remain the same, but now there will be many balls being thrown from one person to another. This will cause distractions for the group, and it will be more challenging to remember where to throw the ball and where to receive the toss from. You can add as many balls to the circle as you have available.
- If balls fall or roll, pick them up and continue the pattern until everyone is laughing too hard to play effectively, or until about five minutes are up.
Activity #3: Group Guided Meditation
Meditation has been used for thousands of years to bring about a deeper understanding of one's place in the universe, to help accelerate physical healing, and to relieve anxiety and stress. In addition, research shows that it can enhance memory, improve attention, and uplift a person's mood. There are many types of meditation, most of which can be done in groups in almost any setting and with very little equipment.
Guided meditation is a form of meditation in which you use mental images to reduce stress. You can have one person facilitate the meditation by reading a meditation script while other members of the group engage in the meditation. Or, you can play a guided meditation for the group so that everyone can practice together. The exercise may be helpful for group stress release, especially if it is followed by a group discussion of everyone's experiences with the activity.
Meditation can help people focus on the present moment, as well as get a better understanding of their thoughts and physical sensations surrounding stressful events. This means that it can help increase a person's sense of self-awareness by recognizing their individual responses to stress. It might even give people a new perspective on a situation or problem that they have become caught up in.
It can be used as a tool to provide people with a mental break whenever they are feeling overwhelmed, and act as a new exercise to add to their stress management tool belt. Not to mention that the shared experience of group meditation can improve group focus, create shared intention, and promote comfort and relaxation.
You will need a guided meditation script and a comfortable place where group members can sit or lie with their eyes closed.
- Before the meditation, set an intention as a group. Talk about focussing on the breath, the sensations in the body, and being in the present moment.
- Have group members sit or lie comfortably with eyes closed. If people are seated, remind them to place their feet on the ground and sit up straight with their back against the chair. Lower the lights if you wish.
- Have the facilitator lead the group through the guided meditation script or press play on your guided meditation.
- Allow group members a few moments after the meditation to relax and come back into the room.
- Follow with a group discussion about their experiences during the meditation.
Activity #4: Laugh
People often say that laughter is the best medicine, and, when it comes to stress relief, they may just be right. Research shows that laughter is a big factor in positive affect, which can actually reduce stress. Studies show that getting your daily dose of giggles can actually act as a stress buffer for the way people experience stressful events, as well as reduce the severity of stress symptoms. That's definitely something to smile about.
Laughter causes the brain to produce dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that are responsible for feelings of happiness, motivation, and pain relief. By improving your mood, laughter allows you to gain a different perspective on difficult situations and connect more easily with others.
In addition, laughing as a group relieves stress and can form stronger bonds between people. These stronger bonds can create a greater sense of emotional support for people to turn to whenever they face a stressful situation. They can offer people a sense of comfort and remind them that they aren't the only ones that feel overwhelmed with stress from time to time.
You will need any materials that can make people laugh:
- Have your group bring in or share something that always makes them laugh. It could be a story or a photo, anything that they would like.
- Have each person share their story/item with the group.
- Allow the group to benefit from each member's laughter.
You can try these alternate methods, as well.
- Find a funny video or movie to watch as a group and go to the theater or host a movie night.
- Have everyone share a story about an embarrassing moment or the funniest thing that has happened to them.
- Have everyone write a joke or funny story on a piece of paper and collect them in a jar and come together in a group to share them.
- Insert funny or relevant pictures into a slideshow presentation.
- Treat your group to a show at a comedy club.
Activity #5: Share Gratitude
Gratitude is the process of being thankful for things in your life that bring you joy or happiness. Sharing your gratitude within the group is a great way to improve group dynamics and also remind people of all of the things in their life that make them happy and that they are grateful for.
It can make members of the group feel more connected to one another through vulnerability, especially if some members of the group express gratitude for some of the same aspects or elements of their lives. Also, it can help remind people that although there are stressful events in life that there are also a lot of things to be grateful for, as well.
The expression of gratitude has been linked to improved emotional well-being and decreased stress levels. In addition, some studies have found that it can even help with a person's physical health and that a daily gratitude practice can lead to a reduced risk of heart disease. Some people can get caught up in the negative aspects of their lives, such as stressful events or what they wish they had, and gratitude helps counteract those intrusive thoughts.
There are many ways to practice gratitude, such as making a gratitude list and writing bullet points, keeping a gratitude journal, or writing gratitude letters to people in your life that offer you love and support. You can explore these exercises as a group, or even play a game of gratitude "Pictionary". They are all great ways to practice gratitude as a group.
You will need the following:
- Markers or dry erase markers
- Two large pads of paper on an easel or two whiteboards
- Divide into two teams.
- Have each player write on slips of paper several things for which they are grateful. Then, have the teams swap their papers.
- Each player pulls a slip of paper from the pile and takes turns drawing a word written on it. You can use a large paper pad or whiteboard for the activity. Then, teammates attempt to guess what word or gratitude item a player is drawing. Each round allows the team two minutes to draw and guess appropriately.
- Award one point for each time the team gets the image right. The team with the most points wins.
Advantages of Group Stress Relief
People thrive in communities where they can rely on their neighbors for comfort and support. People can practice stress management techniques on their own, but they may find it more helpful to be a part of a group as they learn more about themselves and their reactions to stress.
It may seem difficult to express hardships surrounding stress because it requires people to be vulnerable. If this resonates with you, you're not alone. Many people find it difficult to explore their relationship with stress, let alone do it with others.
However, being a part of a group can put you in contact with people that will keep you accountable for your stress management practice. This can help you stick with it, and may even help you remember to use these techniques when needed. Other advantages to group support include:
- Adds tool to participant's stress management tool belts that they can use whenever they encounter stress
- Creates a sense of community among group members through bonding and strengthening relationships
- Ensures that all group members are learning the same techniques and can rely on one another to participate and practice them
- Shows people that there are a variety of ways to manage stress, some of which are even fun
Performing these activities as a group has the added benefit of creating more support and potentially increasing a person's motivation to learn. Group members can encourage each other to put new skills in place and can even help each other practice. If you're experiencing something difficult, such as intense emotions due to stress, you don't have to go through it alone. It can be comforting to know that others struggle with the same thoughts and sensations as you do. They might just give you the support you need to make the changes you've always wanted to.