a team hiking at sunset

It’s no secret that stress is an inevitable part of daily life in a fast paced corporate environment. With deadlines, problems to solve, and team dynamics to manage, things can get mega stressful pretty darn quickly. Believe it or not, certain specialized types of team building activities have been proven by real life scientists to reduce stress levels for you and your team. There are various types of team building activities for stress relief that incorporate evidence based methods that work.

If you’re about to run for the hills to avoid participating in yet another trust fall exercise, please don’t! We aren’t talking about forcing your team to participate in passing a weird, sweaty neck orange. We’re talking about community based activities, specifically curated to sooth an overactive, overused, burnt out stress response system.

As a professional songwriter, it’s literally my job to be creative and collaborative. Over the years, I’ve found my favorite go-to methods to create the calm I need to foster my creative spirit. Some of my personal favorites to practice individually are acupuncture and mindful breath-work. 

The nature of my job requires me to be quite good at managing my level of stress. Why? Because I know from experience that intolerable levels of stress are toxic to the ability to create, collaborate or problem solve. Team building activities for stress relief will not only help your group feel better, they will increase productivity!

Why Stress Relief is Vital for Team Performance

Science is here to back me up on the importance of managing stress! Research shows that overload of the stress response system shuts down the brain’s ability to be creative or collaborative. Can you see why total shut down could be a major problem for your corporate team? Creativity is vital for every day problem solving so this has major impact. And collaboration…well of course that’s important!

This shut down is a protective response from your nervous system that pulls function from higher cognitive abilities in order to marshal resources to task numero uno: survival. The body experiences intolerable levels of stress as a threat, thus triggering a chain of hormonal and neural responses that are way old and way more powerful than that double shot latte you just chugged to try and “power through” your panic. This threat response system evolved far before lattes existed, back when when cavemen ran from lions and tigers on a daily basis.

So…if you are stressed out, you are experiencing the equivalent of a cavemen walking out of his cave dwelling and smack into a tiger. Your ability to function well at work is severely compromised, because your brain and body have been kicked into survival mode.

So how do we relieve enough stress to get your team out of the panic mode and into the productive, collaborative groove? Here’s an overview of the best types of team building activities for stress relief. 

4 Areas of Focus To Reduce Stress

There are several accessible and simple ways to tell the stress response system to calm down. All of these are even more effective when practiced in groups.

1) Music

Music is pretty much the easiest, most evidence based way to access the amygdala (the head honcho of the stress response system) and tell it to chill the heck out. It literally flips the panic switch off in the amygdala, almost like magic. MRI imaging shows that music triggers the amygdala to send a message of safety to the body, flooding the system with feel good hormones and neurotransmitters. Essentially, music helps the brain to reconnect with its ability to function on a higher level. 

Studies have shown that this calming effect is amplified when music is performed in a group setting. In a 2022 study scientists decided to test the level of stress hormones before and after engaging in thirty minutes of choral style group singing. No surprise here, stress hormones were vastly reduced in participants after singing as a group. 

2) Yoga

Yoga combines breath and movement in a way that really reduces stress. Slow, purposeful breath in combination with movement allows participants to be in the present moment and practice mindful awareness. Deepening of the breath combined with purposeful movement of the body creates a sense of calm and presence. Yoga has been shown by various studies to reduce stress, improve mood, and even boost short term memory.

These days, yoga is so well established that you shouldn’t get push back from your team when you suggest trying this. 

3) Get Your Body Moving

This one is pretty simple, but very effective. Anything that gets you moving both sides of your body can be very helpful in calming the stress response system. Whether its yoga, pickle ball, a group hike, or a ropes course; whenever you have to focus on utilizing both sides of your body, there is a natural calming effect to the nervous system. The technical term for this is “bilateral stimulation” and it’s a major player in the therapeutic field.  

In normal speak, we’re just trying to stimulate communication between both sides of the brain by moving both sides of the body. This type of stimulation has been proven to calm the nervous system and increase stress tolerance. If your group has any concerns with mobility limitations there are simple things you can do. For example, utilizing both hands is enough to get this bilateral stimulation effect going.

4) Meditation

Meditation has been shown to have a myriad of positive effects on the brain, nervous system, and body. Studies have shown actual measurable changes in the structural features of the brain after engaging in a daily meditation practice. In non neuroscience speak, meditation can literally grow your brain both in size and functionality. When we meditate in community, each individual meditator naturally attunes to the group and the facilitator, amplifying and reinforcing the level of stress reduction. 

Those are four effective areas to focus on for stress relief. Now I’ll share five specific team building programs that touch on these ideas.

5 Worthwhile Team Building Activities for Stress Relief

Let’s dive into my choices for effective and enjoyable team building activities for stress relief.

1) Group Yoga

A group yoga session for your team is surprisingly easy and affordable to plan and facilitate. Just hop on google and search local yoga studios. You can also search for topics like, “Yoga for corporate events”.  Studios that have classes with words like foundations, gentle, and restorative are the ones you want. Steer clear of studios that have classes called “power flow” or “advanced flow”, as that will probably be a bit too intense for your crew. 

Ask for an experienced teacher that can lead a gentle, beginners practice with options to practice from a chair. This way, if you have any folks on the team with mobility limitations, they can still participate in an inclusive way. 

Most yoga studios offer options for private sessions on premises. You can take your team on a field trip to the studio for a private session or arrange for a yoga teacher to come to your office space. Make sure your team wears comfortable, loose clothing that they feel confident moving around in. As everyone breathes and does gentle movement in community, you’ll start to feel the sweet relief from stress.

2) Group Meditation

Group meditation is another easy and affordable team activity to facilitate. Local yoga studios are a great resource for facilitators of group meditation. And many cities or destination locations have meditation centers. There are varied ways of meditating, ranging from spoken guided sessions to sound healing methodologies. The possibilities are endless and can be tailored to meet the needs of your group. 

Having an experienced facilitator is important. Throwing on a guided meditation YouTube video is just not the same, especially if you want to experience that community amplification effect. Even the most skeptical amongst your crew will blink open their eyes at the end of the session feeling refreshed and de-stressed.

3) Group Hike

Group hiking checks a lot of the major stress relief boxes. Your choices for hiking will vary based on your group’s interests, activity levels, and what types of hiking you have access to. If you are in a big city, this might look like going for a group walk in a park. If you work somewhere with a beautiful natural landscape, you might get the group out into a National Park or a local hiking trail. If there are folks in your group with mobility limitations, choosing an accessible and inclusive local park with wheelchair access will be important.

Ideally, look for a guided hike. You’ll benefit from learning about the area you’re exploring from an expert. And you’ll increase everyone’s comfort level. If your team is attending an offsite meeting or convention, plan an area hike as a team building option to reduce stress. Even attending a convention can cause stress for some of us!

4) Team Building Through Song

When I say that team songwriting with the Kidbilly Music crew is both an effective and awesome stress reliever, I have to disclose personal bias. Team building through song is what we do, day in and day out here at Kidbilly Music. We see the positive benefits for each team we work with first hand. As facilitators, we literally watch the stress melt off of people as they get into the process of songwriting. 

Your team will come together under the guidance of skilled songwriter-facilitators to create your own unique songs, based on shared experience. We’ll guide you through a process of content gathering and data mining to get intentionally creative. By the end of the session, everyone will be singing along to your co-created, completely original song. 

As we know from our friends the scientists, group singing and music making has been proven to reduce stress hormones in the body. Win win! In addition to the scientific data, you can check out our own data; what our clients say about this process. 

And as an added bonus, your family will think you are very cool when you come home at the end of the work day and announce that you co-wrote a song with an award winning songwriter!

5) Group Pottery Classes

This is a great option for a group that wants or needs to remain seated, but still offers the opportunity to utilize both hands in an alternating fashion. Creating pottery involves the mindful focus and bilateral stimulation to calm the nervous system and bring higher cognitive function back on line in a gentle manner. A bonus of this activity is that everyone will walk away with a souvenir. 

Maybe you’ll end up with a crooked coffee mug, or a lopsided bowl, but who cares? The point is the utilization of both hands to mold the clay (think bilateral stimulation), not what comes out of the kiln at the end of the session. And honestly, the point is also that this is a lot of fun! Your team will create in community and share quality time together. 

Whatever method you choose to bring your team some stress relief, make sure to build time into your schedule to do this. Team building for stress relief will help foster a healthier, happier culture. This will make your organization more productive while increasing engagement and employee retention. Your team members will thank you – and so will your HR department!

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.