Let’s face it– stress is universal and we all have to experience it in some form or another in our daily lives.
At certain times, you may feel stuck in a stressful situation even though you want to flee – a boring job or a torturous relationship. This is when stress becomes chronic and starts chipping away at your emotional and physical health.
Although you cannot always control the sources of your stress, you can change the way you react to them.
Learning to manage stress can go a long way for your everyday health. Here are some easy tips to reduce stress.
- Identify what causes you stress. Notice the circumstances or situations that cause you stress. Make a list of situations, challenges, people or environments that trigger your stress response. Once you have done this, it will be easier for you to handle stressful situations.
For instance, if there is certain situation that causes you stress, you can prepare your brain for the upcoming stress. If there is someone who causes you to fret, tell them how they make you feel in a non-threatening way. If you know you are going to face a stressful situation, prepare for it beforehand. Picture yourself handling the situation successfully.
- Do not worry about things you cannot change. Accept things and people as they are. Admitting when you cannot change a situation or a person will help you adjust to it, thereby reducing your stress.
- Step away from the problem. Take some time away from focusing on the problem. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate or learn relaxation techniques. When you take a time-out from a problem, it helps clear your head and even helps you find a resolution.
- Take control of the situation. If a situation or problem is causing you stress, simply sitting and thinking about it can add to your woes and worsen your stress. Determine if it is one of those things that you cannot change. If it’s not, then take control of the situation. Attempt to change it for the better. The feeling of loss of control can itself stress you out. The act of taking control is empowering and will make you feel relaxed.
- Lead an active lifestyle. Stressful situations can cause your stress hormone levels to rise. Physical activity will help you metabolize those hormones and help clear your thoughts, so you can deal with your problems in a calm and sensible manner.
When you feel stressed, go for a short walk or meditate. Also, try to include regular physical activity in your routine – whether it’s swimming, aerobics, yoga or other forms of exercise.
- Breathe deeply. Deep breathing is one of the best exercises for reducing stress. Typically when people are stressed, they start taking shallow breaths. Shallow breathing can worsen the physical symptoms of stress.
When you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, it tells your brain to relax and calm down. Deep breathing slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure.
- Mantra meditation. Focus on a positive word or phrase. For instance, words like ‘calm’, ‘relax’, ‘peace’ or a mantra like ‘I feel relaxed’ or ‘I will be okay’ will make you feel relaxed and reduce your stress. Focus on a self-affirming mantra and when you catch your mind wandering, become aware of the thoughts and return your focus to your chosen word. With practice, you will be able to relax and focus more each time.
- Be present. Stop and focus on the present. Take 5 minutes to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Notice the way your feet touch the ground or savor the taste and texture of every bite of your food.
- Get proper sleep. Lack of sleep can cause stress. At the same time, when you are stressed, your thoughts keep bothering you and stop you from falling asleep.
Try to relax before going to sleep. Keep your bedroom free from stressors. Stop doing any mentally exhausting work several hours before going to bed. Take a warm bath, read a relaxing book or listen to calming music to wind down and relax before bedtime.
- Journal your stress. When you jot down the situations that cause you stress, it will help you identify the stressors. Note the time and place where you started feeling stressed, what you were doing, who you were with and how you felt. Use the diary to identify your stress triggers. It will help you avoid stressful situations as well as learn how to cope with them effectively.
- Listen to music. When stressed, take a break and listen to relaxing music. Research suggests that listening to calm and soothing music has a positive effect on both your body and mind. It can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol in your body and reduce your blood pressure.
- Learn to laugh it off. Laughter releases endorphins, the natural feel-good chemicals in your body. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being. A good, hearty laugh can relax your muscles, improve your mood and reduce the levels of stress hormones. It helps relieve pain, physical tension and stress.
- Relax with scents. Research suggests that aromatherapy can help reduce stress. Certain aromas like lavender can help you relax and calm your nervous system.
- Express gratitude. Maintain a gratitude journal to help you remember the things that you are grateful for in life. When you are grateful, it reduces your negative thoughts and worries. Write down your positive experiences, accomplishments and achievements, things that make you happy – it can be anything from your child’s smile to getting a surprise from your family on your birthday. Whenever you feel stressed, spend a few minutes glancing through your gratitude journal to remind you how beautiful your life is.
- Talk to someone. Although this may sound simple, talking to someone is one of the most effective and easy things to do to reduce stress.
Talking about your thoughts and feelings, and explaining your situation can actually help clear your mind. Also, the person you are talking to can help you see a different perspective of the situation. A person outside the situation can also come up with a solution you never thought of.
- Talk to yourself. Talking to yourself can help you clarify your thoughts, clear your mind and shake off your stress. Self-talk goes a long way to reduce stress. Talk to yourself about why you are stressed and that everything will be okay. Remind yourself of all your past accomplishments.
- Say no to additional responsibilities. One of the main causes of stress is having too much to do in too little time. Learn to say ‘no’ to additional responsibilities and things that don’t matter, so you can focus your energy and time on things you care about. People are usually reluctant to say no out of fear of rejection, a missed opportunity or conflict. Know that all these excuses are self-created. Also, when you respond with a straight ‘no’, you won’t have to provide an explanation. If you wish to provide a reason, explain it in a positive terms. For instance, ‘I am sorry I cannot commit to this as I have other priorities.’ When you are clear and honest, people understand that you are not rejecting them.
- Time management. Your to-do list can be one of the reasons for your stress. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is prioritizing your to-do list. Create lists of things to be done in order of priority. Make a list of tasks that are urgent. The less important tasks can be on a list for the next week or next month. Also, don’t forget to delegate tasks to others when possible. Successful time management can help you complete tasks in a timely manner, which can further help reduce stress.
- Take some time out for yourself. No matter how busy you are, take out some time for yourself.
Do things that you love doing. Dedicate some time every week for socializing, relaxation or doing your favorite activities. Set aside time to do things you enjoy.
- Get a massage. When under stress, get a good rub down of your body. Massage increases your body's levels of oxytocin and serotonin, which results in lowered stress.
Massage helps you relax, which further lowers your body pressure and elevates your mood.
- Learn something new. When you learn something new, you gain knowledge and this helps build your confidence. Also, learning something new will take your mind off of whatever is bothering you.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. When stressed, people often turn to comfort foods like sugary, fatty snack foods. These foods can make you feel lethargic and weaken your body’s ability to fight disease. Instead, go for low-fat, high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich meals like baked sweet potatoes, minestrone soup or sautéed vegetables over rice. Consume vegetables and fruits like carrots, squash and citrus fruits rich in vitamin C, as they help you fight stress. Fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are also good to reduce symptoms of stress.
- Avoid unhealthy habits. Reduce your consumption of caffeine and nicotine. They are stimulants and raise your stress levels. Although alcohol is a depressant when taken in large amounts, it can act as a stimulant when taken in small quantities. So, drinking to reduce stress will not be helpful. Swap your coffee and alcohol for herbal teas or natural fruit juices.
- Drink green tea. Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee and healthy antioxidants that help calm your nervous system.
- Chew gum. Pop a piece of gum in your mouth and chew your stress away. Research suggests that chewing gum can reduce the stress hormone cortisol instantly.
- Help others. Try to help others through volunteering, charity or other community work. Even if you do not want to get involved in volunteering, you can help others by doing small acts of kindness in your everyday life. For instance, help someone cross the road or donate warm clothes for homeless people in the winter. When you help people who are in worse situations than yours, it helps you look at your problems with a different perspective.