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How To Reduce Stress (Almost) Without Trying

04/16/2015 12:17 EDT | Updated 04/16/2015 12:59 EDT
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Is there anyone these days who isn’t chronically stressed? We lead busy lives these days: work, school, kids, volunteering, hobbies, commuting, fun. It’s hard to feel like you can step off the treadmill for a break, but the consequences of not doing that are pretty unappealing.

Stress increases the levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies, and this can have negative short- and long-term effects, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the short term, while cortisol can give us a quick energy burst — an evolutionary leftover from when stress was most likely to be the result of something life-threatening — extreme stress can also leave a person feeling tense and fatigued once that initial rush wears off. And over time, increased exposure to cortisol in our bodies can affect our thyroid function, contribute to blood sugar imbalances, impair cognitive performance, affect sleep, lower immunity, increase blood pressure, and increase abdominal fat.

There are bigger ways to combat chronic stress: avoid your biggest stressors, alter the stressful things in your life that you can change, accept that some things just need to pass, and adapt to stressful situations by finding coping methods. But there are also smaller steps you can take to give yourself a break and relieve some stress, ones that will fit within your everyday life.

Here are 11 of them below — share your own tried-and-true stress busters with us in the comments.

  • Laughter
    It’s the best medicine, right? A real belly laugh can quickly help you forget more minor stressors and give you a bit of respite from the bigger ones. Subscribe to a funny podcast like WTF with Marc Maron or Friends Like Us, or make a YouTube playlist full of clips of your favourite stand-up comedians. If you have a bit more time, watch a favourite episode of a sitcom or even your favourite funny movie. Before long you’ll be feeling looser and lighter.
  • Exercise
    "It’s been proven time and time again that getting your body moving releases endorphins and can instantly lift your mood,” said Nitika Chopra, a certified life coach and wellness entrepreneur. Exercise helps you relieve stress because it causes a release of mood-boosting endorphins, the Mayo Clinic says, and the effects only increase over the long term. Getting more exercise doesn’t mean that you have to hit a gym. Buddy up with a friend for regular walks or runs together, or join a local rec-league sports team. Even a night out dancing counts!
  • Stretch
    Stretch: It’s hard to remember to get a good stretch into your day, whether it’s around a workout or simply because it feels good. But taking a break to get in a few stretches can be a great stress buster, especially for desk workers — stretching those shoulders out helps to relieve some of the tension we can carry there. This guide by Walking Spree outlines easy stretches you can do in a few minutes at your office, and this one from Beauty High has a great yoga routine you can do at home.
  • Essential Oils
    Chopra admits she wasn’t always sold on the relaxing powers of essential oils, but since incorporating them into her routine over the past year, she’s been wowed by the effects. For example, she uses a bit of lavender oil on her wrists to help her unwind before bed, a time that she said can be the most stressful of the day for her. "I now use that to calm my mind and relax my body to allow me to sleep,” she said. If a boost is what you’re looking for, try citrus or peppermint. But ultimately, the most relaxing scent will be one you enjoy — get a candle with a scent that reminds you of a place you love, for example.
  • Self Massage
    It would be nice to have a personal masseuse, but that’s just a dream for most of us. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the relaxing benefits of massage every day. Self massage can help you loosen your muscles and release tension. Try yoga poses with massaging benefits like these ideas from Shape, gentle shiatsu-based techniques, or a massage ball.
  • EFT or Tapping
    "This technique is often used on people who are experiencing trauma or have deep-seeded emotional blocks” Chopra explained. "When we get stressed out, it’s often because something at our very core is being triggered.” It’s not necessarily about the specific event as much as it’s about the emotions tied to it. "With EFT you actually tap on the meridian points on your body while saying an affirmation,” she said. “This helps you release emotional energy and release stress at the same time.” If that sounds intriguing you can learn more here.
  • Say No
    We all have overloaded lives these days, and that can really amp up our stress levels. But what if we started to simply decline some of the invitations that come our way? You don’t have to attend every event, especially if going actually adds stress to your life instead of enjoyment. And you don’t have to sign up for every committee. In her new book Better Than Before, author Gretchen Rubin suggests considering how you would feel if asked to do a particular task next week; it’s easier to know if we really want to do something if we imagine it happening sometime very soon as opposed to in the distant-seeming future.
  • Talk To Someone Close
    Chopra referred to your “Love Entourage” — "the people in life you love you, lift you up and have your back for real.” When stress is really getting to you, these are the people you want to talk to. "Some times we need to release stress verbally, so when you speak to them, let them know that you need to vent and would love a listening ear,” she suggested. If you can’t meet in person, even a call or a chat session by text can help you unwind and let go.
  • Listen To Music
    : A great song can really transport you in powerful ways. Take advantage of that and load up your phone with your favourite albums, or put together a playlist of songs that make you feel happy — whether it’s because they remind you of a great time in your life or just because you really love them. A string of songs that put a smile on your face can turn your mood around more quickly than you’d suspect.
  • Pick Up A Pen
    Have you heard of the idea of writing a letter to someone you’re upset with, then getting rid of it without sending it? There’s something to that. "Writing out what is stressing you out is just another way to get that stress out of your body and on to paper,” Chopra said. Writing your feelings out can help you make sense of them because you’re forced to articulate them. And just putting it down can help you on your way to letting it go.
  • Take A Real Break
    Sweden has a concept called fika: it’s like a coffee break, but it’s a real break. When it’s time for fika, you leave behind whatever it is you were doing and take a few minutes to truly enjoy your coffee or tea and a snack — sometimes alone, sometimes as a short social break in the day. Doesn’t that sound more relaxing than getting your coffee to go or eating lunch at your desk?


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