Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Too much untreated stress can potentially cause long-term physical and emotional issues. Our bodies are built to cope with it, but may need some extra help in this age of smartphones, road rage and 24-hour news.
What can we do? We may not be able to completely eliminate stress from our daily lives, but we can try to avoid some of it and help our bodies recover more quickly. Here are 10 easy ways to lessen the stress in your life that can fit into almost any busy schedule.
1. Start the night before
A rushed routine in the morning can set you up for a stressful day. Save yourself time and worry by doing some prep work the night before. Pack your lunch, iron clothing or gather work documents before heading to bed. That way, you can sleep in a little longer and prepare for your day in a more peaceful state of mind.
2. Step away from your computer (and other screens)
A near-constant bombardment of emails, texts and notifications can leave us overwhelmed and more stressed out. We are often sitting for long periods of time while we use screens, which has also been linked to increased anxiety.1 Combat technology-induced stress by unplugging—read a book during your commute, visit a colleague at their desk instead of sending an email, turn off your phone at lunch, or cut television from your nightly routine.
3. Practice deep breathing
People tend to breathe shallowly when they’re stressed, which may actually increase their anxiety and tension.2 Deep breathing is one way to counter this. Taking deep breaths—when the chest rises and the abdomen fully inflates—has been shown to help lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body.3 The next time you’re feeling stressed, take a few slow, deep breaths to help settle your anxiety.
4. Go for a walk
Walking, or any type of exercise, could help reduce stress and improve your overall fitness. Taking a walk may reduce anxiety, anger, aggression, depression and tension—all emotions associated with stress. Also, physically fit people may be able to cope better with stress than people who exercise very little or not at all.4 Plan a daily walk in the morning, during lunch or after work, and keep up the habit on weekends, too!
5. Do some yoga (or a few stretches)
Emotional stress can cause physical pain, including tense muscles, headaches or neck and back pain. Traditional yoga combines the stress-busting benefits of deep breathing and exercise, as you move through gentle stretches whilst controlling your breath. If you’re someplace where yoga is not possible, simple stretches may do the trick. Focus on areas of pain or discomfort, and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, if you can.
6. Talk to a friend
Talking about your feelings can be a healthy way to relieve stress. A trusted confidant can offer sympathy, advice or just let you unload your troubles. Call a friend or family member when you’re feeling stressed to get some help or validation. If you feel like you need more support than a friend can provide, consider speaking with a counsellor, psychologist or clergy member.
7. Write down your worries
Expressing your feelings in writing could also help reduce levels of stress. Writing about a traumatic or stressful event may help you gather your thoughts and regulate the emotions surrounding it.5 Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to share it with anyone. Simply spending 15 to 30 minutes writing whatever comes to mind could be enough to calm nerves and relieve stress.
8. Laugh a little
The old saying “laughter is the best medicine” may be true when it comes to stress! Research shows that laughter can stimulate circulation and aid in muscle relaxation, which may reduce some of the physical symptoms associated with stress.6 It can also improve your mood and may make it easier to cope with difficult situations. Next time you feel stressed, share a laugh with a friend, watch a comedy film or find a funny video online.
9. Eat a snack
Too much stress can overwork the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol and other stress-related hormones. Over time they can have difficulty producing the right amount of these hormones. Adrenal gland function is influenced by blood sugar, so a healthy snack may help regulate stress.7 Opt for fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains over processed foods and sweets.
10. Listen to music
Music can affect our emotions in many ways. You might have a workout playlist to pump you up, or can be brought to tears by a special song. Now there’s growing evidence to back up the idea that it can also help with stress relief. Listening to classical music may help people recover from a stressful event faster.8 However, any music that lifts your mood may be beneficial.
How do you fight stress? Share your tips with our community on Facebook.
1. Live Science, Sitting down for too long may increase anxiety
2. Harvard Health Publishing, Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response
3. Frontiers in Psychology, The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults
4. How Stuff Works, Benefits of Walking
5. Harvard Health Publishing, Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma
6. Mayo Clinic, Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke
7. BBC Good Food, Stress & diet – can food help?
8. PLOS One, The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response