In recognition of Stress Awareness Day today, we've put together 10 simple steps you can take to effectively cut back on stress, reduce anxiety, and feel more balanced throughout your day.
1. Get some exercise
Exercise can be one of the most beneficial and effective ways to immediately combat those symptoms of stress. Whether going for a walk, run, playing sports, or going to the gym - your body will release endorphins and lower the levels of stress-inducing hormones, like cortisol (commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”). In the long term, regular exercise can continue to help regulate these hormone levels and keep stress at bay.
Exercise has many other benefits too. Sleeping patterns can be improved, and it’s likely you’ll feel more confident as well, which all contributes towards reduced anxiety and stress.
2. Consider supplements
Our bodies can only run as healthily as the fuel we put in. Sometimes, a natural supplement can be a great solution to balancing the body and keeping our mindset calm. There’s a whole array of options out there, usually targeted and marketed at all kinds of various ailments or areas of the body. For stress, there are many that are effective. Omega-3 has been shown to reduce anxiety, green tea can boost serotonin, and lemon balm has been studied as an anti-anxiety - to name a few.
If you’re going to try out a supplement, just make sure that it won’t have any negative effects on any current medication you may be taking. The majority of the time, this isn’t a factor, but it’s important to make sure you always check.
3. Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine is the most widely consumed stimulant on the market, and is not without its benefits. By blocking certain receptors in the brain that make us feel tired, caffeine can make us feel more awake, alert and motivated. It’s no surprise that all over the world, a large portion of people start their morning with tea or coffee. Energy drinks also contain high levels of caffeine, which can provide a handy burst of energy during a busy day or during sports.
Unfortunately, the payoff is that caffeine also causes increased levels of anxiety and heart rate. This can lead to nervousness, jitters, and in the long run can also cause mild addiction which will leave you feeling drained if you suddenly reduce your intake. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be worth cutting down on caffeine and reducing intake later on during the day, as this will also start to disrupt sleep.
4. Socialise with others
There’s nothing worse for stress than being isolated and having to deal with it alone. It’s very easy in states of anxiety or stress to fall down irrational trains of thought, and speaking to those closest to you about it can provide you with much-needed outsider advice. This can help ground us, as well as be a cathartic experience by sharing our stresses with others.
Socialising to reduce stress doesn’t have to be a direct conversation about what’s on your mind, either. Sometimes both the distraction and social validation can improve mood and wellbeing, and release helpful chemicals, such as the anti-stress hormone oxytocin. Those with the fewest social interactions in society generally are the ones who are most likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.
5. Spend time with pets and animals
If you’re lucky enough to have pets, or access animals out in nature, then you already have a natural anti-stress solution to hand. Interaction with pets helps release oxytocin and directly improves your mood. It can also help give your day more structure and exercise (depending on if you have a pet that requires walking) and provides valuable companionship - which all counts towards boosting your mood and reducing day-to-day anxiety.
6. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination may seem like a good way to avoid stressful responsibilities in the short term - but getting on top of those stressful tasks and confronting them is a much more effective way to deal with it. Most often, it’s not the tasks themselves that are stressful; it’s the apprehension of getting started, which is why we put off important things with easy distractions. This isn’t the healthiest way to deal with stress, and has a knock-on effect to the rest of your routine and day-to-day structure.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to help cut back on procrastination and make your responsibilities more manageable. Writing down tasks into lists, and breaking down large tasks into smaller, achievable steps, will give you a clear view of what needs doing and make things far less intimidating. Work through these in priority order, rather than jumping between tasks, and you’ll very quickly find that you’re making good progress.
Most people also find productivity is increased when you get rid of distractions - turning off the TV, putting your phone on silent (or leaving it in a different room entirely), and finding somewhere quiet can all be useful. You don’t have to work in complete silence; gentle music or ambient sounds can actually aid productivity. Just make sure you’re away from any loud external disturbances.
7. Try mindfulness
Our thoughts - especially negative ones - tend to have a habit of getting carried away and stressing us out. Mindfulness is essentially the practice of the opposite; to ground yourself and anchor your awareness into the present moment.
Mindfulness comes in many forms. Usually, people associate it with meditation, but it can be a part of any exercise or activity that focuses your attention to the present. This could be yoga, or while sitting on the train, and is also a commonly used technique in cognitive therapies.
Not only is mindfulness an effective way to cut down stress and anxiety, but also can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce depression, and will contribute to almost all other aspects of general health and wellness.
8. Listen to music
The impact that music can have on the mind and body is still not entirely understood, but is certainly remarkable. Music can have an almost immediate relaxing effect on the mind and body, lowering anxiety levels and engaging the senses. Slow, calming music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress-inducing hormones - especially instrumental music (music without vocals) such as classical.
There could easily be a whole blog post on the benefits of music other than stress reduction. To name a few - improved memory and learning, decreased fatigue, pain management, and better athletic/ exercise performance.
9. Breathing exercises
When we’re stressed, our stress hormones (such as cortisol) cause an increase in heart rate, fast breathing, and increased blood pressure. Basically, the opposite to being calm. We can counter this with deep, slow breathing exercises which engage something called the parasympathetic nervous system - responsible for relaxation. Deep breathing exercises also cross over into mindfulness by occupying your focus.
These exercises can be anything from slowing your breathing and making your breaths less shallow, or there are established methods to try already (diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing). A quick search online will give you plenty of options, so you can always try a few and see what you find easy and effective.
10. Go to sleep
If all else fails, a good sleep is a foolproof way to improve your mental and physical health. So important, in fact, that we’ve just written a post all about it. If you’ve been skipping out on sleep or pulling late nights lately, then it might be just what you need. Have a read and find out why sleep is important.