12 Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Chronic Stress
Is all stress bad?
Stress is your body’s reaction to your world – your family life, your work deadlines, the commute and how much you’re sleeping.
Not all stress is bad – having the fight or flight reaction can get your body safely out of the jaws of a tiger (or even give you the energy to power through a deadline at work!). But chronic stress – and the resulting high blood pressure, difficulty focusing and constant overwhelm – is not healthy. Your life will never be free of stressors (the things that cause stress), but much of your response to those stressors is under your control, and can even be conditioned over time to cultivate healthy default response patterns for long-term balance.
Let’s talk through a few strategies that you can start with – right now – to reduce your stress.
Four things to try
Stress is not just a feeling, it’s a physical response that you have partial control over. As simple as it sounds, deep breathing is robustly backed by science to help slow down your heart rate, reduce your anxiety and give you space to think. You can implement this strategy anytime – while driving, before speaking in anger to a co-worker and before snapping at your family. For most of the day, we aren’t breathing to our full capacity…recentering in the here and now can help to take back control of the automatic systems stress activates.
You do not need to be in a robe on a mountain top to practice meditation. Meditation is the opportunity to check on your own brain and actively release tension you may not have even noticed creeping in. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and let an app such as Calm or Headspace be your virtual guide as you learn to quiet and sooth the inner chatter. Here are some free, fast, and easy guided visualizations on YouTube:
- 5 Minute Guided Meditation – Body Scan For Relaxation, Tension and Stress Release
- 5-Minute Meditation You Can Do Anywhere
- Ocean Escape: Walk Along the Beach
Make a list
It can be difficult to identify what is making you stressed if your thoughts feel like a tornado swirling around in your brain. Pause and make a list of everything on your mind. Next – pick the one thing that is most important to focus on right now and put the list away. Enjoy the satisfaction of crossing that one item off of your list. I like to use Evernote to keep my lists because it makes things easy to format, and I can use check boxes instead of bullets to feel that gratification of putting and X next to anything I need to accomplish, whether it’s laundry or other chores, workouts, or job-related!
Play your favorite happy song
Music can boost mood with just one song. Maybe you need to blow off some steam with some 1990s grunge while booking it on the treadmill. Or, bounce around the kitchen singing along to your favorite Disney musical (forget about those human problems with a little “Under Da Sea,” perhaps!). My go-to’s: Beyonce’s “Love on Top” or Maren Morris “My Church.”
Four things to avoid
The more decisions we make in a day, wearier we feel. Optimize your healthy decisions by creating your environment so support your goals. I love having a batch of kitchen sink breakfast cookies in my freezer so I can grab a quick breakfast when I’m needing to get out the door in a hurry. Have a rotating short list of go-to snacks and breakfast options for variety that doesn’t require a brainstorm every day!
Sitting still for hours
We were not meant to sit still for hours and hours. A quick lap around the block or your office can lower stress and give your eyes a rest from the computer screen. Try a few quick stretches to boost your flexibility and mood – or try a 10-minute standing core workout to breath and move to break things up!
Drinking too much coffee or soda
Moderate caffeine is healthy for most of us. Soda, coffee desserts such as coffee frappe are no substitute for being well-rested, well-hydrated and well-nourished with healthy foods. An afternoon tea is a great pick-me-up with a low amount of caffeine (black has the most, then green, then white), or try a herbal peppermint for a caffeine-free boost.
Are you speaking to yourself with harsh words and unrealistic expectations? You deserve the same grace and patience as your best friends. Be kind to yourself; if you are far from a specific goal, take whatever frustration and worry bouncing around in your head and reframe the defeated sentence with a ‘yet” at the end. For example, “I have not developed an exercise routine, yet.” Leave room for your goals to come to fruition.
Four ways to cultivate flow
Make time for hobbies you love
Immersing yourself in an activity you love lets your brain experience flow – that delicious mental state where you’re completely focused and don’t have any sense of time. For me, that means making pottery at Hinckley Pottery in DC. Throwing pottery is a Type A person’s dream: relax and be creative while productively making something useful!
You probably already know that exercise is good for you – but finding movement that you actually enjoy and getting over your mental hurdles is another story. Start by walking for just a few minutes. Consider avoiding talking on the phone or listening to music – enjoy people watching and time away from screens and input. Don’t love the term exercise? Try movement instead.
Connect with nature
Are you suffering from nature deficit? If it has been a while since you’ve wiggled your toes in the grass or sand, deeply inhaled the scent of a pine forest or campfire or listened to the sounds of the birds, you might enjoy some instant relaxation if you did. Farming has been a fantastic way for me to enjoy the outdoors again – if you’re in the area, schedule a day to stop by and get your hands dirty with us! If not, search for farms in your area – many accept volunteers or have activity days to join.
The more we try to juggle a million tasks and thoughts at once, the more we spin our wheels, get worn out, frustrated and stressed. Try turning your phone in do not disturb mode for 30 minutes chunks while at work to increase productivity and then reward yourself with a quick stretch.
You’re reading this because you’re ready for some guidance and tips to reduce your stress. Pick one or two things from above to get started right now – your life, your choice!