We all get stressed from time to time and have to deal with the physical discomfort stress causes: changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and muscle soreness from tension in the back, shoulders, jaw, and neck. Not to mention the extra irritability and sensitivity to emotional triggers. Whether you’re dealing with everyday troubles, a particularly stressful period or event, or you are especially susceptible to high levels of stress—like those coping with anxiety—there are some no-cost tools at your disposal to help manage your stress.
Please note: This is a contributed post, but all opinions are my own. View full disclosure policy.
Talk With Someone You Trust
Talking about whatever is stressing you out is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. The best people to talk to are the ones who actively listen, keep everything you say confidential, and offer no judgement. Just be sure you’re considerate of the other person before you launch into a rant: let them know if you’re looking for advice or just want to vent. If you can’t find someone in your life to listen, then an online psychiatrist could be ideal.
Check Your Schedule for Balance
When your schedule has more have-to-do than want-to-do things, it doesn’t take long to feel burned out. Class, work, chores, errands, administrative tasks… They can all eat up a lot of time. It’s easy to fall into thinking you’ll relax once you have some free time, but when will that be?
Invest in your relaxation time. Schedule blocks of time where you’re unavailable to do any of those have-to-do things. You don’t necessarily have to plan an activity for that time, but it can be helpful for some people to plan and schedule their leisure time. Even if it’s only blocking out ten minutes before and after lunch where you won’t answer emails, you’ll give your mind and body a chance to relax and recharge.
Engage With Your Hobbies
When you adjust your schedule to have more time spent on things other than your responsibilities, it’s important to include your hobbies in that time. Why give yourself free time if you aren’t going to spend it on things you actually like doing? Read a book, play a game, join a group activity, whatever you want.
Prioritize Hydration and Healthy Eating
It sounds too easy to say staying hydrated can help with your stress, doesn’t it? But it’s true. When your body doesn’t have the fluids it needs, it can raise your cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for your body’s fight-or-flight feeling). If plain water doesn’t do it for you, you can always add a “water enhancer” to give you a boost of electrolytes (Patrick and I recently started using Nuun tablets, and they made a huge difference for us).
Stress can also mess with our relationship with food. For some, food is a distraction. For others, stress makes us lose our appetite and skip meals. Neither is a healthy coping mechanism, and both can cause your body further distress. Eating the right amount to fuel your body is just as important as eating the right things. High-quality proteins—eggs, salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey, tofu, and beans—support brain function and positive moods. Fermented foods that promote a healthy digestive system, like Greek yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut, also help with your body’s production of serotonin.
Distract Yourself From the Moment
There are healthy distraction techniques taught through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) that can help ground you in a stressful situation. These techniques—like the DBT ACCEPTS method—act like a soft mental reset. Once intense negative emotions are reduced to a more manageable level, you can return your attention to dealing with whatever triggered the emotion in the first place. Some people can enact this on their own while others would benefit from practice with a therapist.
Like therapeutic distraction methods, mindfulness can help refocus your attention and regulate your emotional response. However, you don’t have to wait until you experience high stress levels to practice mindfulness. You can try meditation and breathing techniques throughout your day, and you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Many apps can walk you through different mindfulness exercises.
Take a Break
From time to time, it isn’t a five-minute breathing session or adding hobbies into the schedule that helps. Everyone needs a break from time to time; perhaps a weekend away is the right answer. It doesn’t have to be far or expensive, or even an overnight trip. All you have to do is get out of your usual environment for a little while.
What methods of reducing stress work best for you? Do you recommend a technique not on this list?