Stress is so common in the U.S. that it pushes three quarters of us to experience physical and psychological symptoms on a regular basis. When the most common causes of stress involve job pressure, money, health, relationships, and poor nutrition, it’s no surprise that we get burnt out. After all, most of us get a heavy dose of these stressors on a daily basis.
What is surprising is that few of us actually take measures to reduce that stress–and that’s because it can take a lot of time and effort. Getting on the treadmill? No thank you! (Turns out only 14 percent of us use regular exercise to cope with stress.) The good news is that you don’t have to stick to a strict exercise regimen to beat stress. With these 30 quick stress relieving activities, you can reduce your stress levels now. Choose one to start beating stress in under five minutes.
A strong support network is a great way to beat stress during a rough time. One study shows that social support is a hugely effective stress management mechanism with students learning to cope with stress. Another study showed that frequent hugs from a partner can lower blood pressure. Kick-start that support by cuddling up with someone you love. Knowing someone is there is often enough to help you manage your stress more effectively.
Taking a hot bath with Epsom salt is a quick and effective way to let your worries go. Why add Epsom salt to your bath? The salt increases the water’s specific gravity, making you feel more light-weight and buoyant while helping your muscles relax. Your body also absorbs the salts, which helps replenish magnesium stores, a mineral that is reduced with stress. Magnesium can help decrease irritability since it reduces the effect of adrenaline on the body.
The sun acts as a powerful weapon against stress. That’s why in areas where people get little sun in the winter, much of the population experiences depressive symptoms. This is because sunlight affects the body’s level of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter that helps maintain good mood. If you can, try coupling your outdoor session with some exercise, like walking or biking, to further boost your mood.
You probably already know that exercise can boost your mood. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say that a single 40-minute exercise session can immediately boost mood. But what good is it if you hate the exercise? Get up and dance like nobody’s watching! You’ll get the stress relieving mood boost that comes with exercise while enjoying yourself.
Meditation comes in many forms, but whichever you choose to go with, it will likely help reduce stress. Start in a comfortable position and focus on clearing your mind. If your mind begins wandering, find something to focus on, like your breathing, a mantra, or an object in front of you. Check out these other forms of meditation to figure out which one best fits your personality and schedule.
Human-animal interaction can have positive effects on humans. That’s why it’s common to see children with autism, elderly patients, or other disabled individuals with support pets–usually cats and dogs that help them emotionally. Spending time with your own pet can help relieve your stress, too. If you don’t have a furry friend, meet up with a friend who does or volunteer at an animal shelter, where you can play with and walk the cats and dogs.
Certain scents like lavender have been shown to reduce stress levels. Draw a bath and add a few drops of lavender oil into the tub, light a candle, or light some incense. Other easy ways to enjoy the effects of essential oils include using a diffuser, adding it to your lotion before applying it, or letting the oil evaporate off a nearby cotton ball.
Herbal remedies like chamomile tea are great for relieving stress due to their calming properties. Chamomile tea promotes muscle relaxation, helping you unwind. Plus, it’s good for cramping, pain, and gas, so it can help relieve physical pain, too.
Studies show that after just a five-minute touch massage, heart rate is decreased significantly, pointing to a reduction in the stress response. If you have the time and money, head to a nearby spa for a professional treatment. If not, ask a friend or family member to rub your back for a few minutes, or give yourself a self foot, face, and calf massage.
Yoga is a method of meditation that helps relax the muscles and clear the mind. Not only can it provide a quick stress relief now, but ongoing yoga sessions can improve chronic low back pain, lower blood pressure, and improve overall health. It doesn’t have to take a huge time commitment–or even a lot of money–to start. Begin with the Yoga Zone videos on Hulu for free 30- to 60-minute sessions (although it shouldn’t take that long to start feeling the stress-relieving effects).
I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated quickly with slow-to-start yoga videos–and I’ve been known to sneak out of yoga sessions early because I find it more frustrating than relaxing. Instead, I turn on this 8 hours of relaxing music (don’t worry–you don’t have to listen to the whole thing) and do whatever stretches I feel my body needs while focusing on my breathing. Sometimes I just lie on the floor consciously relaxing every muscle in my body while listening to the music. Beware of starting a session if you have somewhere to go; you might fall asleep!
Dark chocolate is a tasty treat that’s loaded with nutrients with stress relieving properties, helping to lower stress hormones. But be careful. Some “dark” chocolates aren’t as “dark” as you might think. Most run around 45 percent cocoa content, but you’ll want at least 70 percent cocoa content to get the most health benefits out of it.
Stress can escalate by keeping it all in. Help your mind work through it by talking to a friend, praying, or even talking to yourself. This is a great way to sort out your stressors, come up with solutions, and put things in perspective. You’ll likely feel a weight lifted off your shoulders with a sense that everything will be alright.
It may seem like a simple solution to eat your feelings, but digging into the junk food isn’t going to help. Foods like alcohol, candy, and those high in sodium and fat are actually very bad
Media overload–be it television, radio, Internet, or social networking–is the sixth top cause of stress in the U.S. Given that your smartphone can deliver all of these–at once!–it’s probably best to stay away from it when you’re trying to reduce stress. Staying away from your smartphone for a while gives you time to focus on yourself, clear your mind, and work through your stress without distractions.
If you simply can’t get away from your smartphone, use it to your advantage. Apps like Relax Melodies feature anxiety-relieving music, and Breathe2Relax guides breathing exercises. The Acupressure: Heal Yourself app helps reduce stress levels by teaching you where to find your body’s acupressure points, and Worry Box — Anxiety Self-Help acts as a journal to help you deal with your stressors.
When you’re stressing, you probably don’t feel like smiling, but simply going through the motions can help you feel the happy emotions associated with it. If you need a bit of help, put a pencil between your teeth to simulate the smiling effect.
A common cause of stress is lack of sleep. Furthermore, stress can make it difficult to sleep. It’s an awfully vicious cycle. If you’ve only got a few minutes, lay down and set an alarm to allow yourself a few minutes of rest. At night, try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep to reduce your day-to-day stress.
In addition to boosting your immune system, memory, aerobic endurance, and creativity levels, laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormone levels. Along with that, laughter helps relax tension in the muscles, promote blood flow to the brain, and move more air through the lungs to deliver a cleansing effect similar to deep breathing. A simple way to get in a good laugh is to watch funny Youtube video clips. My favorite ones that get me every time come from the Talking Animals Youtube channel. If you’re an animal lover, you’re really appreciate these!
Kids have such a unique way of looking at the world that interacting with them can help you enjoy their worry-free views. The great thing about playing with your kids is that you get a stress-relieving kick in numerous ways. You become preoccupied to let go of your worries, you get exercise, and you get to interact with loved ones. If you don’t have kids, offer to babysit a friend’s to get your mind off your worries.
Staring a gratitude journal is a great step toward looking at life optimistically. By simply listing a few things you’re thankful for in your life, you can work up the courage to face your stressors, making them appear less difficult to deal with. As you’re listing things you’re grateful for, you may realize that a lot of the things you’re stressing over are pretty trivial, putting you in a position to let go of some of it and focus on what really matters.
Whether at work or at home, stress can grow quickly as your to-do list gets longer. Reduce your stress as you shorten your to-do list by handing off tasks to others. Is there someone in the office who can help you with your project? At home, can you have your children or partner pick up some of the chores?
Acts of kindness can help boost confidence, optimism, and happiness while reducing stress. In fact, studies show that people who volunteer are overall healthier and happier than those who don’t. If you have a lot of time, consider volunteering in organizing a community event. Truth be told, you don’t need to devote hours of time to a volunteer opportunity to enjoy these benefits, though. Simply look for opportunities throughout the day to perform a random act of kindness like the ideas listed here.
Whether you take a dip in your outdoor pool, head to the community pool, or laze on the beach, taking a dip in the water is a great way to beat stress and reduce depressive symptoms. Not only will the exercise give you a mood boost, but the water can have a calming effect on the body.
A 2008 study showed that gum chewing can reduce levels of cortisol in the body, a stress hormone. Research subjects reported feeling more alert with less anxiety after chewing gum. Opt for a sugar-free option that’s healthier on the teeth.
“Guided Imagery” is a stress-relieving technique that has many of the same benefits as deep breathing. The method works by getting yourself in a quiet, comfortable position and letting your imagination take you to your “happy place.” You might, for instance, imagine yourself walking along the beach while imagining sounds and smells and focusing on your breathing. If you can’t seem to focus, search for a guided online podcast that will help walk you through the process.
Sharing compliments with others not only makes you feel better about yourself, but it can change the way people treat you, effectively reducing tension in your work and home life. When you’re stressing over relationships, use a “kill them with kindness” approach to change the environment you’re living in and boost your mood.
You probably feel pretty special on your birthday when you’re treated to presents and cake. It’s a pretty great stress buster, right? Treat yourself like it’s your birthday! Buy yourself a present, or go out for a tasty meal–whatever it is that makes you feel special.
You might roll your eyes at the people who “waste” time looking at cat photos online, but the truth is that focusing on cute images can help produce positive feelings. This practice can even help you perform tasks more carefully afterward, says a 2012 study, so you really shouldn’t feel guilty about looking up cat pictures at work!
Aside from the exercise you’ll get from your walk, taking a short stroll is a great way to let go of stress. Studies show that even a moderate-paced walk can help reduce muscle tension and decrease anxiety. Try meditating as you walk by repeating a mantra. This has been shown to further promote positive mood and reduced stress.
Featured photo credit: RelaxingMusic via flickr.com
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