Stress is a part of our everyday lives. In small amounts stress is actually good for us – it helps us react and adapt to our environments. But too much stress can cause health problems, like headaches, trouble sleeping, depression, and other illnesses1. Learning to deal with stress can keep us healthier and happier. Luckily, lots of research has been done on the best ways to reduce stress. Here are some of the most proven ways to reduce stress, with tips on how you can make them part of your life:
- Meditate: Meditation, or mindfulness, is probably the most researched method of stress reduction. Studies show that meditation can help relieve many different types of stress2. Meditation involves becoming more mindful – basically paying attention your mental state without grasping on to any thoughts that go through your mind. If you’re an on-the-go type of person and don’t feel like meditation comes easily for you, try starting small. For just a few minutes, sit quietly and focus on your breathing. When your mind wanders (which is normal – don’t worry), gently let the thought go and bring your focus back to your breathing. Just a few minutes of relaxing and focusing on breathing can help make you feel better. And with practice, you may enjoy meditating and continue using it to reduce stress.
- Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which help improve mood and decrease stress. If you’re feeling stressed, sometimes you may feel like you don’t have time for a workout. But even short bouts of exercise can help. Tell yourself that you’ll exercise for ten minutes, and if you don’t feel good, you can stop then. Chances are, you’ll feel better as you start exercising, and end up finishing your workout. And any type of aerobic exercise can help relieve stress – so go with whatever you enjoy most! Also, studies have shown that spending time outside, like in parks or forests, can decrease stress3. So, if possible, going for a walk or run outside may be a better option than exercising on a treadmill.
- Spend time with friends or pets: Research has found that spending time with friends can help decrease stress responses4. Try picking out one or two friends or family members who are the most supportive (and are good listeners!). Then, when you feel stressed, you can give them a call or spend time with them to help decrease your stress. Pets can help too! Simply having a pet near you can help relieve stress4. If you don’t have a pet, see if you can spend time with a friend’s pet – your friend may appreciate an offer to take her dog for a walk.
- Write in a journal: Remember writing in your diary as a kid? Writing down your thoughts and feelings can actually help you deal with stress. When you feel overwhelmed, just start writing – it doesn’t have to flow well or make sense to anyone else, as long as you get your thoughts down on the paper. Eventually, you may start seeing patterns in what’s stressing you out and how you responded to the stress. This can help you figure out how to best deal with stress in the future5.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation: Relaxed muscles can lead to a relaxed mind. You can do progressive muscle relaxation on your own, or try a recording that guides you through it. It’s easy to learn6 – what you’ll do is go through all the muscles in your body, from head to toe, and think about tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. (So start with your head and jaw, then your chest, then shoulders, arms, hands, etc.) Your muscles may feel much more relaxed after this exercise, which will reveal how tense they were to begin with!
Taking good care of yourself and improving your overall health can also help with stress reduction. You’ve probably heard it all before, but eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and exercising can help keep both your mind and body healthy. Make your own health a priority, and enjoy less stress in your life!
- Web MD, Stress Management Health Center, http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/default.htm. Accessed 28 October 2013.
- Grossman, P., et al. 2004. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits – A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57: 35-43.
- Hansmann, R., et al. 2007. Restoration and stress relief through physical activities in forests and parks. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 6(4): 213-225.
- Allen, K.M., et al. 1991. Presence of human friends and pet dogs as moderators of autonomic responses to stress in women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61(4): 582-589.
- Smith, M., & Segal, R. Stress Management, http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm. Accessed 28 October 2013.
- Diezemann, A. 2011. Relaxation techniques for chronic pain. Schmerz (Pain) 25(4): 445-453.