Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Stress hurts in more ways than one. While many people think of stress as mental, it takes a physical toll. 7 out of 10 adults in the US experience stress or anxiety daily. The good news is that you can take steps to consciously gain more mindfulness and experience lower levels of stress and anxiety. Whether your stress levels are low or through the roof, here are 10 stress relievers everybody should know about.
No matter how much you research stress relievers, exercise is going to come out on top. With that said, it doesn’t matter the physical state you may be in right now. You don’t have to go to the gym every single day. Even a small amount of activity will elevate you from your current station in life, both physically and mentally.
Research shows that physical activity floods your body with endorphins, which help you feel good. The emotions you experience during exercise can help you view things from a distance, helping you put everything you’re dealing with in context. If the thought of getting on a treadmill, stuck with your own thoughts, is less appealing, find a way to get your mind engaged as well. Instead of running a 5K all by yourself early in the morning, you could perhaps get together as a family and play catch in the evening! If you find yourself more engaged, happier, forgetting about everything else that is going on, and able to refocus your entire being in the playful activity of your choice, you’ve already won the game. The idea is that you can take up anything, with gardening on one end and swimming on the other. It’s all about using up that extra energy and getting in a more relaxed headspace, which is the whole concept of Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.
2. Eat A Healthy Diet
So, what constitutes a healthy diet? This is a complicated question with the plethora of advice online, fads, and programs all touting a diet that may just do the trick in today’s world. Ultimately, we want to make sure our bodies and minds are getting the proper nourishment that they need so they can be at their best. It’s important to recognize that with all the fad, online advice, and programs out there, we can sometimes make mistakes and things go wrong- harming your body and jeopardizing your health for several years, especially if you don’t do the proper research.
Regardless of which specific type of healthy diet you follow, the objective is to have a well-rounded, well-balanced mixture of everything. Be sure to incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. What you eat and how nourished your body and mind play a massive role in how you will feel and act. As easy as it is to grab some fast food or processed foods when you’re stressed, it’s important to avoid them as much as possible. This is because there is a direct connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal system. The vagus nerve carries signals both ways, meaning what you eat impacts directly how you feel and vice versa.
3. Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle
When we’re stressed, we look for something to make us feel better for many of us. Whether it’s that glass of wine (or bottle) at the end of a long day, smoking, self-medicating to ease the pain of stress, etc. The problem is that as our lives become increasingly stressful, we begin depending on these de-stressors more and more. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle that incorporates healthy habits, exercise, food, and socialization. Substance and prescription abuse can never answer better mental health, reduced levels of stress or anxiety, etc. So, if you’re stressed, don’t make the mistake of looking at alcohol or even caffeine, much less smoking or using drugs in your fight against stress. Doing so can end up making your situation worse than it was. Instead, focus on things that can help lighten your stress (such as those things listed here).
4. Meditation And Mindfulness
Meditation has been growing in popularity lately, largely due to the immense benefits it can offer. So what exactly is it? Meditation is simply the process of focusing your attention while removing the jumble of thoughts that cause you to stress. Simply doing meditation for 5 minutes a day can help you reduce stress, improve your mental prowess, and help you with your decision-making processes. The more regularly you meditate, the better the results you’ll see.
Active meditation helps you shift your focus from whatever has been stressing and distracting you. You want to be able to tie the last one of your thoughts onto a gas balloon and see it drift away slowly. In this way, meditation will bring you peace, calm, and a sense of balance to promote your all-around well-being.
On the other hand, mindfulness is working with your thoughts and constantly overseeing them as a way to regulate your mental activity. Therefore, mindfulness requires a bit more effort than meditation upfront. There are several different variations, including mindful meditation, which brings awareness of the self and meditative practice. There are various other practices in both mindfulness and meditation. You just have to find one you like the most (which can help the habit stick).
The best part about meditation and mindfulness is that they are free and don’t require anything extra. Whether you are waiting at the doctor’s office, stuck in your daily commute, or winding down from a long day, both can help calm your mind and relieve the stress and tension you were feeling.
5. Find A Reason To Laugh
There’s nothing more soothing to the soul than a good, deep belly laugh. But, when you’re stressed, it can be hard to find things to laugh about. Try your best to not stop yourself from indulging in humor and laughter by superimposing conscious stress upon your natural reactions. The tendency to laugh, a good sense of humor, comes innately built-in. Some people are great at extracting humor in mundane situations; then, others allow themselves to creatively react to even silly, tepid jokes. All of this goes into a good sense of humor, which will directly impact how you are feeling going through life. Believe it or not, humor goes on to have a strong positive impact on your physical health as well.
Laughter is also understood by some as firing up your stress response and then cooling it down in short order. One thing that we can all do is seek out a company with a good sense of humor. You can even watch a comedian, read a funny book, or follow people who make you laugh on social media. Even better, learn to laugh at yourself. Stress can commonly come from taking ourselves too seriously. Learning to relax and laugh at one’s self can be a huge stress relief.
If you’re up for it, try laughing out loud for no reason at all! It will feel silly at first, but the more you do it, you can often work yourself into a laughing frenzy, releasing the negative, stressful energy. So, go ahead and give yourself permission to laugh.
6. Hang Out With Friends And Family
Research shows that stress relief is often tied to social connections. Find time to visit and call your family and friends that support you. You will find yourself distracted from whatever is stressing you out. It is important, however, that you be selective with the people you surround yourself with. If you always fight with your sister, she may actually cause you to be more stressed. Instead, focus on spending time with those individuals (family or friends) that help you feel lighter and more relaxed.
7. Learn To Say ‘No.’
Many times, stress is simply an internal reaction. Failing to assert yourself and agreeing to something you don’t want to do can stress you out. In addition to the stress, you also begin to feel resentment and perhaps anger. Therefore, it’s important to consciously think about reacting externally. The easiest way to do this is by asserting yourself and saying ‘no.’ If it is not something that is absolutely necessary and it doesn’t make you happy, you are not obliged to do it. Choosing to say ‘no’ can even boost your own self-esteem. You will appreciate that you stood up for yourself. Oftentimes, saying what is in your heart is the best thing to do in terms of stress.
8. Practice Yoga
Even though the exercise was already mentioned, yoga deserves its own spot on the list. Yoga is all about postures and intricate control over-breathing. A sincere yoga practitioner could tell you how beneficial yoga is in stress relief. Some of these postures, breathing exercises and combinations help alter mental states, directly helping you achieve peacefulness and reduce stress levels. Even if you don’t want to go to a yoga studio, you can easily find free yoga sequences on sites like YouTube or a more dedicated site like Yoga International. Keep in mind that yoga is enormous in its volume, and without getting intimidated, all you need is between 5 and 10 exercises that you love, and practice regularly.
9. Make Sure You Sleep
Sleep is essential. It’s easy to fall victim to the hustle and sacrifice your sleep in the process. However, when you do that, you are actually making yourself more stressed. Without proper sleep your body’s response times are lower, you have poor decision-making capabilities, and you experience more stress. Simply getting sleep is not enough, though. It’s important to get good quality sleep. Not only does stress make it difficult to fall asleep, it negatively impacts the quality of it, and in many cases, it won’t even let you sleep. You need quality sleep to let your positive energy recharge itself. If you find yourself stressed and having trouble sleeping, consider listening to soothing, relaxing music, remove devices from your bedroom, and follow a healthy bedtime routine (shutting off devices at least 1 hour before bed).
Journaling can also help reduce your stress. Get in the habit of putting down your thoughts, even if they do not bother you as much. Not only will you start to feel better, but the stress will also slowly disappear. Sometimes it is OK to just write whatever comes into your mind. If you are anxious about your journal falling into the wrong hands, take steps to encrypt it, password protects it, or keep it secret. This will at least allow you to empty your mind and begin the healing process. Some people also like to throw away what they may have written down, even on the same day. Just find a process that works for you.
You Don’t Have To Do It Alone
If you find yourself struggling with stress, know that you don’t have to tackle it alone. Working with a licensed counselor or therapist can help you learn stress management techniques that relieve stress. Many times, we do everything on our own, which only leads to more stress. Sometimes talking with a counselor can be just the little push you need to get you back on your feet, ready to tackle what the day has in store.
Here is a test you can take to understand how stressed you may be to decide which stress reliever you want to try. Just remember that no matter how good each technique or hack may be for someone; it may not be as effective each time or with every person or situation. Starting out, try out a variety of techniques to find out which ones you like so that you can begin building health, stress-relieving habits today.