You’re never going to live a stress-free life. Life is, by its very nature, stressful. If we all agreed on everything all the time, there would be little motivation to change or grow. And if we didn’t change or grow, we might as well be mold sitting on the couch.
Some stress can provide the spark of inspiration. More stress can make you focused. Too much stress? Well, that’s just no good for anybody.
When you’re really stressed, and really stressed for a prolonged period of time, the physical and mental factors take their toll. If you feel overwhelmed, lonely or depressed, if you’re easily agitated, if you avoid others, those are key emotional signals. Physically, you may feel sluggish or sick. You may experience chest pains, rapid heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, or a decrease in libido. If you can’t focus, if you’re constantly worrying, if you just can’t seem to remember anything, it’s time to take a step back.
When you’re in a bad place and you need to hit the reset button, try any or all of these 15 stress-relieving techniques.
1) Eat Better
Who doesn’t enjoy a nice fried bucket of pity chicken? Or a hamburger that’s more grease than meat? Unfortunately, stress-eating only feels good in the moment. Like alcohol or drugs, that high quickly fades and you’re left with even more painful side effects. What you eat has a tremendous impact on how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Ditch the sugary and processed stuff, which only sets you up to crash, and try fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants. Fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are believed to reduce stress, so head over to your local sushi bar or make yourself a tuna fish sandwich.
2) Listen to Soothing Music
Soothing music has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the hormone linked to stress. There are plenty of meditation and stress-relieving albums to choose from. Then again, if heavy metal is your jam and you’ve got a place to rock out, feel free to let your freak flag fly. Whatever kind of music makes you feel good, that’s what you should dial in to.
3) Take Some Deep Breaths
According to psychologist Judith Tutin, PhD, “Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.” You don’t need a yoga mat or even a gym membership to try this exercise:
- Just sit up straight
- Close your eyes
- Slowly breathe in and out
Focus on your breathing for about five minutes and you’ll be amazed how much better you feel.
But, while we’re on the subject of yoga mats…
Imagine that the stress in your life is a bunch of rotten logs blocking up a river. When you exercise, it’s like releasing the flood gates to clear out all the debris. Regular (but not strenuous) exercise is great for your body, but you don’t need to do a thousand reps on the StairMaster every morning. Starting small with simple stretches or a twice-daily walk around the office can get your blood pumping and release the endorphins that are necessary to conquer anxiety.
You know that old chestnut about laughter being the best medicine? Well, it might not be the absolute best, but it’s pretty darn useful. A hearty laugh has been shown to relax muscles for up to 45 minutes. Laughing reduces stress hormones and improves your immune system; it triggers endorphins and even burns calories. It’s also great for your heart! Laughter increases the flow of blood and fortifies your heart against future cardiovascular problems.
6) Don’t Drink So Much Coffee
Yes, it’s delicious. Yes, it smells like heaven itself. Yes, it’s low in calories and great for keeping you sharp on the job, but you know what it’s also great for? Raising anxiety and blood pressure. Cut back on the java and your mood will improve.
And to help you out with that…
7) You Can Drink More Green Tea
With less than half the caffeine of coffee, green tea is like java’s older, wiser sibling that’s learned to slow down and just chill out. Not only is it high in antioxidants, it also contains theanine, an amino acid that moderates the jittery anxiety that coffee produces.
8) Get More Sleep
You know you want to. With our electric lights and digital screens blinking at us 24/7, our circadian rhythms are all out of whack. If you sleep poorly, this isn’t going to change overnight. You need to make a concentrated effort to stick to a schedule.
- Use less lights at night
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid stimulants of any kind
- Relax your mind and body with melatonin
Try to dedicate a solid hour for mentally preparing for bed. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but there may be no better stress reliever than a good night’s sleep. (Even if #9 is more fun.)
9) Have More Sex
Easier said than done, right? If you’ll forgive the pun, this suggestion is more tongue in cheek than the others. Yes, romantic intercourse with a partner you love and trust is wonderful, but you don’t need to “go all the way” to enjoy this stress-relieving activity.
Positive physical contact – such as cuddling, kissing and hugging – releases oxytocin into your system. Sometimes called “the love hormone,” oxytocin reduces stress responses and makes you feel, well, lovely!
Sex or no sex, you can benefit from this hormone just by snuggling with your sweetie on the couch.
10) Explore Stress-Relieving Supplements
Supplements and vitamins can help reduce your stress and boost your energy. Natural Wellness’s Stress Relief includes all natural stress calming herbs such as valerian, hops and skullcap, and provides you with energy to counteract the exhaustion caused by stress.
11) Smell the Roses
Aromatherapy is about more than smelling something sweet. Inhaling essential oils can relieve respiratory congestion and help to disinfect your sinuses. The mental benefit of pleasant scents can’t be overlooked, either. Scents like:
• orange blossom
can stir positive emotions.
When your brain is tickled by a familiar scent, it sends messages to your heart, lungs and even your hormones, to let them know that everything’s groovy.
12) Chew Gum
There are actually studies out there that show people who chew gum have lower stress levels. The prevailing theory is that the act of chewing pumps more blood to your brain. More blood flow helps to clear your head and leaves you feeling better than when you started.
Don’t you want to test it out just to see if it works?
Remember that love hormone, oxytocin? Studies have shown that, for women in particular, spending time with friends releases that natural stress reliever. One group of scientists have labeled this phenomenon “tend and befriend” as a play on “fight or flight.” Studies have shown that less social interaction correlates to higher feelings of isolation and depression. We’re naturally social creatures, so remember: No one is an island!
14) Write It Down
When it feels like the sky could come crashing down at any moment, people tend to react one of two ways:
- by drawing inward
- or lashing out
Those who internalize their pain suffer in silence, while those who snap may say things they don’t mean or even hurt themselves. When that anxiety comes over you, channeling it into writing can be a powerful antidote. It can help you to focus on what’s really bothering you, and you’ll gain a better grasp on your emotions.
As Alexander Hamilton says in his titular Broadway smash: “I wrote my way out / Wrote everything down far as I could see…”
15) Play With the Dog
Maybe you don’t have a dog. Maybe you’re a cat person, or an iguana person, or you raise guinea pigs. Whatever fuzzy or scaly creature lives in your home, they, too, are a valuable source of oxytocin. Just like hanging out with friends or loved ones, playing with our pets promotes stress-relief and feelings of well-being.