8 Simple Ways To Relieve Stress And Anxiety
Without Losing Your Mind Or Going On Meds
Stress affects everybody at one point or another.
When it goes unchecked, it can quickly turn into a long-term problem that often leads to anxiety and depression.
This website is dedicated to helping people cope by using easy stress-relieving activities that work.
With the current global pandemic unfolding caused by the Coronavirus, stress is more common than ever.
On this page you’ll receive practical ways to relieve, reduce, prevent and manage stress so you can get back control of your life and preserve your long-term health and happiness.
Dr. Olivia M. Anderson
Relaxation Techniques For Fast Stress Relief
1. Identify Your Stressors
You might say that you are stressed all of the time because you hate your job, or you have financial problems. Those are undoubtedly significant causes of stress for many people, so if that’s the case with you, then you’re not alone.
But there’s more than likely a few additional minor causes of stress that you need to identify as well.
For example, are you suffering from a minor medical complaint such as an old injury or pain from aching joints? Have you gained some weight and feel uncomfortable because your clothes are tighter than they used to be? Are you due for a medical but are putting it off because you’re worried what the Doctor might say?
Less significant issues like these might seem like minor niggles compared to hating your job or having financial problems, but they need to addressed all the same.
If you do not deal with them they will be left to fester in your mind, and will have a compounding effect on your overall level of stress.
Major stressors such as hating your job will become even more overwhelming because of the compounding effect of all the minor issues. You could end up feeling backed into a corner without any options, and that’s when you could wind up doing something you regret.
Going cold turkey on the biggest causes of stress in your life is not always possible. Quitting your job tomorrow might bring a fleeting sense of relief (and even a little satisfaction that you told your boss where to shove it!), but it will soon bring another set of stress triggers crashing into your life.
In other words, there’s a good chance you will find yourself out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the saying goes.
The key then to reducing your stress levels is to identify everything that’s causing you ANY amount of stress, both major and minor. You can break down the main causes of stress into smaller chunks. This will make them seem less overwhelming and more manageable. Most importantly, they will be more actionable.
By breaking things down, you will quickly see ways you can start removing some of the stress from your life straight away. Some things will take more time and more planning to change or to remove completely, but at least you will have made a start.
Just the thought of being more in control of your life can make a big difference. The fact that you are taking decisive action can help reduce your stress levels significantly. Maybe your job wouldn’t seem quite so bad if one or two of the minor niggles weren’t in the mix and compounding things.
2. Immediate Stress Relief With Breathing
Breathing is not something we generally give much thought to, even though it’s essential to our very survival. It’s something we just DO. Thanks to a subconscious part of your brain called the medulla; you’ve been doing it automatically an average of 23,040 times every day since you were born.
But mindful breathing and learning how to control your breath is a powerful way of coping with stress. It’s also beneficial to your overall health in many other ways.
Imagine this scenario: you’re hard at work on that report your boss wanted, and you find out he wants it on his desk yesterday instead of next week. You’re nowhere near finished and are going to have to work extra to complete it as soon as possible, or risk his wrath. Your mind is going into overdrive trying to think how on earth you are going to keep your boss happy.
You start to panic and can feel your stress levels rising by the second. Your heart’s racing; your hands are clammy and you feel wet under your armpits. Your stomach is churning and your breathing gets faster and more shallow.
Your sympathetic nervous system is now in charge and it’s time for “fight or flight”.
Fighting with your boss isn’t a good idea. Running away isn’t going to help the situation either. What you need to do is focus on completing the report as fast as possible, but with everything going on in your body right now that’s the last thing you’re capable of.
So what can you do? You can BREATHE!
It sounds simplistic, but slowing down your breathing and taking deep breaths instead of shallow ones sends powerful signals to your brain that everything is in fact OK. You don’t need to fight, and you don’t need to run away. You can cope!
Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
The majority of breaths you take probably originate from your chest rather than your diaphragm. For most people nowadays it seems the natural way to breathe, especially if you have a tendency to keep your tummy pulled in to look slimmer. Let’s face it, we live in a body-conscious world. But this type of chest breathing only fills the top third of your lungs.
Breathing from your diaphragm, the strong sheet of muscle between your chest and abdomen allows it to go through its full range of motion and fill your lungs full of air. It slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and brings immediate relief from stress. Your parasympathetic nervous system takes over. There are no more sweaty palms or armpits. You feel much calmer than you did before. In other words, you can function normally and finish that darn report.
Time to try it….
Find a comfortable position. You can either sit on a chair or lie down. Whichever you choose make sure you relax your tummy muscles. Put the flat of one hand just below your belly button and breathe slowly through your nose. You should feel your stomach expand about an inch and your chest rise slightly at the same time. Now breath out slowly through your mouth or your nose, whichever you prefer.
Practice this “relaxed belly breathing” for several minutes, alternating with your usual style. Compare how each method of breathing makes you feel. Diaphragmatic breathing should make you feel much calmer and more relaxed as opposed to when you breathe with a tensed up tummy.
3. Learning To Say “No” For Stress Prevention
It’s a familiar scenario. We’ve all been there. Somebody asks you to do something, and you hear yourself saying yes because you find it difficult to say no.
You might be asked to take over a project when you’re already under the pump with your existing workload. You say yes because you’re afraid of what might happen if you say no.
A friend might ask for help moving house when you’ve already made plans for that day. You don’t want to let them down or offend them, so you say yes and cancel your plans.
Saying the opposite of what you really mean does nothing for your stress levels except send them shooting skywards.
Taking the least line of resistance might seem like the most comfortable option at the time, but it will soon lead you down the path of resentment and internal conflict. It’s easy to let resentment fester and grow inside you until it becomes bigger than the issue you couldn’t say no to. Resentment will eventually boil over and spill out. That’s when you could end up doing something or saying something you regret.
Practicing assertive communication can prevent the build-up of resent and stress caused by passive behavior, and be incredibly empowering.
So what is Assertive Communication?
First of all, let’s address what assertive communication is NOT.
• It’s not just about saying NO
• It’s not about forcing your opinions on others
• It’s not about trampling over other people’s feelings
• It’s not about being aggressive
Assertive communication IS about being able to express yourself effectively, in a calm and confident way, while being respectful of the rights and opinions of others at the same time.
It’s about standing up for yourself and your opinions without getting emotional or argumentative.
If you can get your thoughts and feelings out in the open in a clear and calm way, you are much less likely to feel anger or resentment towards the person doing the asking.
It might seem super scary at first because your natural self-preservation mechanism is kicking in. After all, most people fear conflict and will do anything to avoid it.
But if you want to avoid the internal conflict and stress that inevitably follows when you can’t say no, assertive communication is something you have to learn.
The good news is, anybody can, even if you believe you are a born introvert or consider yourself to be shy.
Practicing assertive communication leads to less stress; it builds your confidence and improves your coping skills. Not only that, but your self-esteem will also grow because you are respecting and valuing yourself more.
4. The Power Of Water In Dealing With Stress
If somebody told you to drink a glass of water to help you find relief from the stresses in your life, you would probably scoff at the suggestion and think they were being far too simplistic. Am I right?
But listen up, because according to studies, being even slightly dehydrated can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The scary thing is you can be as little as half a liter short, and your stress levels could be shooting through the ceiling!
You’ve probably read somewhere that you should be drinking at least eight glasses of water a day – but do you ever actually drink that much?
And what about when you exercise, or Mother Nature decides to bless us with some warm weather? Do you make sure you get the extra fluids needed during those times?
According to a recent survey carried out by Quench, a corporate water solutions provider in the US, a massive 80 percent of working Americans say they don’t drink enough water, citing lack of time and the need to pay for water as the main reasons.
And get this – according to the American Psychological Association, the majority of Americans ARE suffering from stress. CEO Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D. even goes so far as to say “America is at a critical crossroads when it comes to stress and our health.”
The correlation between the two statistics is glaringly apparent wouldn’t you agree?
The link between reduced levels of stress and drinking the right amount of water is very well documented. In other words, there’s no getting away from the fact that our bodies need water to survive, to function correctly and keep stress at bay.
If you don’t drink enough and end up dehydrated as a result, all sorts of problems can arise, including mood swings, fatigue, and stress from impaired brain function.
So how much water should you be drinking?
As you’ve probably read a dozen times from doing a quick Google search, the generally accepted recommendation is eight 8oz glasses of water per day. But in reality, there is no set amount – no one size fits all formula for fluid intake.
Everybody’s fluid intake requirement is different and depends on their body weight and lifestyle.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine advises that an adequate daily fluid intake for the average man is around 15.5 cups (or 3.7 liters). The average woman needs less at 11.5 cups (or 2.7 liters).
Note the phrase “fluid intake.” A lot of the foods we eat like soups, vegetables, and fruit contain high levels of water and contribute to around 20 percent of daily fluid intake. Water and other drinks such as sodas, tea, coffee, and alcohol make up the rest.
Yes, alcohol counts! But before you rush to the fridge for a cold beer or a glass of wine to celebrate, think about how you always want to pee more often when you’ve been drinking? That’s not necessarily the amount of beer or wine you’ve consumed!
As well as being a depressant – so not a good idea as a stress reliever despite the initial temporary high you feel – alcohol is also a diuretic. Frequent urination increases water loss, so it’s easier for your body to become dehydrated, as well as lose vital minerals at the same time.
Coffee is also widely thought of as a diuretic because of its high caffeine content. But research carried out at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom did not find any evidence to that effect.
That doesn’t mean you should drink copious cups of coffee to meet your daily fluid requirements. Remember the impact that caffeine has on stress cortisol levels we discussed earlier? In other words, go easy on the coffee.
If you find plain water boring, or you don’t like the taste of it, the good news is that you can reach your recommended fluid intake by drinking other beverages such as fruit juice or herbal teas, etc.
What about too much water?
While it’s important to stay adequately hydrated to help ward off stress and keep your body functioning efficiently, you might have heard about a condition often referred to as water intoxication.
The bad news it is possible to overhydrate, and it can be life-threatening.
The good news is that Hyponatremia, to call it by its official name, is actually quite rare. You would need to drink an enormous volume of water or other fluids very quickly for it to happen – gallons and gallons within a very short timescale in fact – so it’s really not something you should be overly worried about, although it’s good to be aware.
So now you know why drinking enough water (or other fluids) can help you fight stress, and even help avoid it altogether, let’s look at some practical ways to get your fluid intake on track for optimal stress busting and general good health.
5. The Link Between Diet And Stress
It’s all too common for people who feel stressed to turn to food as a source of comfort and relief. Common comfort foods are ice-cream, chocolate and other foods containing high amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. These cravings are caused by the hormone cortisol that floods the body whenever a stressful or dangerous situation activates the sympathetic nervous system.
But the quality of your daily diet can also affect your ability to handle stress in the first place, and cause you to react badly to situations and events that otherwise might not have fazed you.
We could think of it as a chicken and egg situation. Which came first? Has your poor diet contributed to your ability to handle situations without feeling stressed, or do you have a less than healthy eating regime because of the stress in your life?
Whichever it is, it’s super important that you take steps to maintain a healthy diet. By doing so you are giving yourself the best chance of preventing stress to start with, and of combating stress when it occurs. You will also be improving or maintaining your overall good health and well-being.
What we put in our mouths affects both our physical and emotional well-being. So let’s look at some food and drinks that are healthy and nutritious, as well as have stress-fighting properties. We’ll also look at what you should think twice about consuming when you are trying to reduce stress.
Having a cup of tea is widely viewed as a relaxing and social activity in many cultures, and there is scientific evidence to explain why. Research has shown that drinking tea lowers the levels of cortisol in your body, helping you destress more quickly.
Tea, both the black and green variety are full of polyphenols, a type anti-oxidant, so both are beneficial to our overall health. Green tea, however, contains slightly more theanine than black tea, an amino acid that helps to relax you without affecting your mental focus.
A hit of caffeine can give you a temporary mood boost, but if you need several cups of strong coffee to get you through the day, you are not doing your health, or your stress levels any favors.
The caffeine in one regular cup of coffee is enough to increase the cortisol in your body to a level which simulates the “fight or flight” response ordinarily reserved for threatening or dangerous situations. Habitually drinking several cups of coffee through the course of each day prolongs the elevated levels of cortisol. This leads to the development of health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain, a depressed immune system, high blood sugar and even a decline in your cognitive function. Yikes!
Fruit & Vegetables
The majority of fruits and veggies available contain high levels of magnesium, which helps to keep our body’s stress system in check by suppressing the release of both adrenalin and cortisol. The potassium they contain also helps to lower blood pressure and relax your muscles, so you feel less tense.
The high levels of B-vitamins found in non-citrus fruits and starchy vegetables help with the production of beneficial neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This can help improve your mood and make you more resilient to stressful situations.
Citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, which helps to regulate the levels of cortisol in your body and keep your blood pressure at normal levels.
The elevated levels of cortisol present during times of stress causes insulin to rise, as well as triggers cravings for foods high in sugar fat and salt. This explains why people who suffer from stress often say they put on weight as a result.
If you’re suffering from stress and trying to lose weight at the same time, a diet program that encourages you to “cut the carbs” may be the wrong choice.
Eating the right kind of carbohydrates, such as bread made with whole wheat flour rather than bread made with processed white flour, can help keep you calmer, reduce stress and combat associated weight gain. The increased level of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin that occurs when we eat complex carbohydrates can give us an immediate mood lift, boost our ability to concentrate and keep the cortisol in check.
Protein is vital for every cell in your body. But did you know that many sources of protein can also help reduce stress?
Tryptophan from poultry, eggs, and salmon can improve your mood as this is the precursor to serotonin – in other words, it’s the raw ingredient that the brain uses to create the ‘happiness hormone.’
There is some evidence that a zinc deficiency can lead to cognitive problems. If you’ve been suffering from stress for any length of time, your body has probably been depleted of this vital mineral. Meat is an excellent source of zinc, red meat in particular, as are shellfish and dairy products.
Omega 3 fatty acid may improve mood by helping neurons to communicate with one another through the process of increasing cell membrane permeability. Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are excellent sources of Omega 3, as are walnuts.
If feeling anxious or stressed out makes you want to snack, you’re probably going to be craving sweet treats. This is because of the serotonin in your body and the increased levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone that controls appetite.
Resist the temptation to grab a processed food such as a sugar-laden donut or a deep-fried churro which may give you a temporary “sugar high”, but which will ultimately leave you feeling worse than you started. Make sure you indulge in a healthy snack such as a banana or a handful of nuts. This will help lower your stress level and give you a nutritional boost at the same time.
If you find yourself craving chocolate, don’t grab a cheap bar of processed junk. Opt for a few squares of rich, dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content, the better) instead. This will give you an antioxidant boost as well as satisfy your craving for comfort food.
6. Exercise To Relieve Stress
You already know that regular exercise is beneficial to your health, I’m sure. I dare say you’ve embarked on an exercise program in the past so you could improve your physical fitness? But if you gave up on because it felt too much like hard work, you didn’t have enough time or felt too tired to exercise; you should feel much more motivated to start exercising regularly after reading this chapter.
Exercise isn’t just good for your physical fitness. Sure, you’ll benefit from improved stamina, more energy, stronger muscles, and a more toned and sculptured body. But the beneficial effects of exercise on overall mental health, including stress relief and reduction are well documented.
It’s the reason that exercise may be the most recommended coping technique for stress by health professionals, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
It works like this: Physical exertion boosts the production of new brain cells and burns the stress hormone cortisol. It also stimulates your brain to produce the mood-enhancing chemicals Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins.
Let’s talk a little about each of these brain chemicals, which have their own particular benefits.
Dopamine is the chemical that governs motivation and achievement. Get a hit of dopamine in your system, and you’re going to feel more driven to get things done and more focussed on the task ahead. You’ll also be able to concentrate better than you could before.
Oxytocin is a chemical that helps with love, trust, and happy relationships. Think of Oxytocin as a bonding hormone. High levels of the substance are released into the body during sex, childbirth and when you are in love.
Serotonin is what keeps you happy. That’s why many people with depression have low levels of this chemical in their body and need to take serotonin boosting prescription drugs.
Endorphins are the body’s morphine, an opiate known for its pain relieving properties as well as its ability to give users a chemical high. Runners often report a sense of euphoria from the rush of endorphins while they’re exercising. Hence the term “runners high.”
It’s pretty cool how our brains work, and that’s why regular exercise is a win-win for mind, body, and soul.
The good news is that you don’t have to feel like you’re killing yourself by going at it full pelt to feel the benefits of exercise. Even five minutes of aerobic exertion will have beneficial effects. Working out at around 80% of your capacity for 20-30 minutes will trigger those high-inducing endorphins and make you feel fantastic.
Joining a gym is always a good option, but you don’t need a formal gym membership or set program to start an exercise routine. Workout tapes or videos can give you lots of options for exercising at home.
7. Sleeping Off Your Stress
One of the first ways that stress manifests itself is by making it difficult for you to get a good nights sleep. You will either be tossing and turning because it’s difficult to nod off, or you will wake up several times during the night and find it hard to get back to sleep.
Sleep disruption caused by stress is like a double whammy. It makes you feel physically and mentally exhausted the next day, which means it’s even more difficult for you to cope with whatever is causing the stress in the first place. It’s like a vicious circle that needs to be broken.
High quality sleep is essential to our overall health and well-being. It is during a proper sleep cycle that the brain and body go into action to repair, restore, heal and grow.
When your sleep is frequently disrupted for whatever reason, brain function is compromised. Hormones get out of balance, cells are not repaired, and a whole host of other natural processes that usually happen inside our amazing bodies do not take place. We also become prone to heart problems and fat retention, and our immune system is compromised.
It’s therefore vitally important that you do everything you can to help yourself get a good night’s rest, not just to fight stress, but for your overall health too.
Firstly, you must understand that there are many factors in play when it comes to the quality of your sleep, not just how stressed you are.
The amount of sunlight and exercise you get; the electronic devices you own and use; your diet and lifestyle; the temperature of your bedroom; even the type of globes or bulbs you use can all have a positive or negative effect on how well you sleep at night, and they almost all revolve around three hormones.
Melatonin, which controls your sleep cycle; Serotonin, which is a precursor to Melatonin; and a hormone that you’ve seen mentioned multiple times in this guide, Cortisol.
Serotonin is vital for the production of Melatonin, but when Cortisol levels are elevated, Serotonin levels decline. One goes up; the other goes down. So when Melatonin production is restricted because the levels of Serotonin and Cortisol are out of sync for the time of day or night, that is when insomnia rears its ugly head.
Thankfully there are many ways proven to help you break the sleepless stress cycle you may have fallen into.
8. The Incredible Benefits Of Laughter
Here’s a riddle: Everybody enjoys it. We feel drawn to people who make us do it. We turn our heads when we hear it. And when it’s contagious, we don’t need to run to the doctor because it’s already the best medicine we can get. What is it?
We’re talking about laughter. The thing we do when our brain decides something is funny, and triggers the physical response of opening the mouth and making the sound we call “our laugh.”
Laughing is a bit like breathing. We don’t think about it. We see something funny; we laugh, end of story. Or is it?
Studies show there is a lot more to laughter than meets the eye. Here’s why we all should be making a concerted effort to laugh more often.
What happens when you laugh?
‘A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.’ Proverbs 17:22
We know by now that stress is no laughing matter (excuse the pun!), but perhaps it should be! There is strong scientific evidence that laughter is beneficial to your health, as well as an excellent way of finding immediate relief from stress.
It’s not only your physical health that benefits when you laugh, but your mental health also gets an enormous boost.
In short, laughter is a powerful antidote to stress.
Remember the hormones that flood your body when stress creeps in? When we laugh, they get their marching orders, and the happy hormones move in and take their place.
The natural release of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals when we laugh doesn’t just make us happier, it also makes us more relaxed, eases tension, increases blood flow and even gives a vital boost to your immune system.
The physiological reactions in your body from laughing can help protect against you against heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Laughter can also help fortify you against sickness and disease by making your immune system stronger.
If you’ve ever said to a friend “I could do with a good laugh” – it was probably more accurate than you realized.
So now you know just how good laughing is for your health and for reducing your stress levels, let’s look at some practical ways of getting more laughter in your life.