10 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Every Single Day, According to Psychologists
In a culture of constant over-scheduling, it seems like everyone is stressed. Think about it: When was the last time you told someone that you had so much going on or that you had just come up for air after a long day at the office? It’s nothing to brag about.
Take a study published last year in the journal Neurology: It found that in otherwise healthy, middle-aged people, high levels of stress were linked with increases in brain thinning and smaller amounts of crucial gray matter in the brain. But the effects of stress on your body go beyond your mind: It can make your more susceptible to illness, lead to addictive behaviors, spike your blood pressure, induce headaches, and even lower your sex drive.
The human stress response was designed to be acute (you know, to help you run away from that tiger during the caveman days) not chronic, lingering with you day-in and day-out. If your levels are teetering on the latter? There are endless ways to chill out—starting with these 10 tips from experts and research alike.
1. Sneak in a workout.
Exercise does just as much for your mind as it does for your muscles. “Blend or alternate aerobics with strength training, stretching, flexibility, and agility exercises for an endorphin boost,” suggests Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder and CEO of The Mindful Living Network & The Stress Institute. Up the ante by making your sweat sesh social. One study found that people who participated in group exercise saw greater improvements in mental, physical, and emotional health than those who worked out solo.
2. Walk through the park.
About to lose it at the office? A short, 15-minute stroll is enough to lower levels of stress and fatigue, finds a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. (You can thank both a release of feel-good hormones, such as endorphins, and exposure to nature for the benefits.)
3. Gargle water.
Why? “The vagus nerve is the long, wandering nerve that facilitates the relaxation response, or parasympathetic nervous system,” explains Heidi Hanna, PhD, executive director of the American Institute of Stress. “When we are stuck in chronic stress, we can get hijacked by our stress response, or sympathetic nervous system, and similar to muscles that go unused for a long period of time, the vagus nerve can lose its strength or tone.” Gargling stimulates the nerve, increasing your ability to shift to a state of calm, she says.
4. Listen to the waves (even fake ones).
Beach days are relaxing—science shows as much! Sunshine and much needed vitamin D boost your mood and ocean air even has negative ions which can act like airborne antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, says Hanna. But just listening to the sounds of waves (there’s an app for that) has a rhythmic, meditative effect, too, she notes.
5. Make yourself laugh.
Watch a stand-up comedian you love on Netflix, send memes back and forth in your group text, or meet up with your funniest friend. “Laughter is great medicine,” says Nicole Issa, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in Providence, RI and New York City and founder of PVD Psychological Associates. “It helps you relax your body, lowers cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone), and increases endorphins.”
6. Act like a kid.
Kind of. “Our mind, body, and soul are renewed when we play,” explains Hall. So go outside for a game of tag with your child or run around with your pup—doctor’s orders!
7. Do a mindfulness exercise. “I often teach clients is a 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise,” says Sari Chait, PhD, a clinical psychologist and owner of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, MA. How it works: Start by focusing on slow, deep breaths then find five things you can see around you; four things you can touch or feel; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; and one thing you can taste. “This mindfulness technique, like others, helps ground you where you are,” she says. Doing so can not only calm the stress, but give you a clear mind to be able to problem-solve and focus on what you need to focus on to move forward, she says.
8. Let your mind wander.
“It’s important to allow our brains to just explore on their own sometimes, free from the constraints of our task-focused intentions,” says Hanna. This helps you make connections that aren’t always obvious in your day-to-day grind, ultimately making you a better problem-solver (important when stress hits). To get started, doodle, zone out for a few minutes, or rock back and forth while listening to some music.
9. Focus on someone else.
Volunteer, call your mom, or pick your hubby up his favorite dessert: Those who help others are less likely to die after experiencing stressful events, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health. When you divert your own attention to someone else, it sinks your stress levels, curbing the cumulative effects stress can have on your health, experts say.
10. Take a nap.
When you’re stressed, you likely just want to get one more thing done to finally feel relaxed. The reality, though? There’s always more to do. “If we’re not careful, we’ll get so amped up on stress hormones trying to keep pushing through feeling tired that we won’t be able to fall or stay asleep at night,” Hanna says. A short 10- to 15-minute nap (or even resting your eyes for this amount of time) can help both brain and body recharge, which means when you wake up you can get more done in less time with a, well, clearer mind.