We experience physical and emotional responses to daily challenges and demands that, when accumulated, may leave us feeling overwhelmed. Keep in mind that not all stress is "bad"—healthy levels of tension can bring excitement, exhilaration, and action to our lives in many forms, like falling in love, taking an exam, or performing in an event. On the other hand, stress that accumulates beyond our ability to cope effectively can cause a number of physical and emotional symptoms.
Through the practice of new behaviors, we may be able to incorporate new habits into our day to day that will help us manage stress levels. See below for evidence-supported tips to calm your mind and relax your body.
Sleep: Big exam coming up? Nix the all-nighters and make sure to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep for a few nights before the exam. Not only will it help you focus and increase energy levels but it is also scientifically proven to reduce overall feelings of anxiety.
Fuel your body: When your body and mind are out of sync, taking in the right nutrients can help to balance things out.
Express gratitude: Grab a journal and start jotting down three things you’re grateful for each day. This mindset of appreciation is proven to reduce anxiety. Go a step further and let the people in your life know you’re thankful for them—tell them in person or send a note.
Get moving: Yoga, dancing, walking, running, hiking, or elliptical—it doesn’t matter how you break a sweat—adding physical activity into each day helps clear our heads. If you're short on time, throw on some sneakers and head outside for a walk.
Find your Zen: Take the time each day to focus on your breath or relax both your body and mind with meditation. Studies suggest meditation can induce physiological changes to the brain that can help to increase your ability to adapt to stressors, increase your focus and concentration, and improve your memory. It doesn’t take much to see the benefits and you can start with five minutes a day.
Unplug: Plan for small increments of time where you can set aside your phone and laptop and disconnect from email and social media. Evidence shows a little downtime goes a long way to easing our minds.
Be creative: Break out a coloring book and crayons, start that DIY project, or spend some time writing (or reading) for fun. Research suggests bouts of creative energy ease tension and create a positive calming effect.
Grab your pals: Spend time with people that make you smile. A quick phone call, a walk in the fresh air, or a night out with friends and family all give you a chance to give your brain a break and calm your thoughts.
Remember that stress is experienced on an individual level. People react differently to various stressors, at varying levels of intensity, and with different resulting symptoms. Effective stress management is just as unique—different things work for different people at different stages of their lives. Try some of the above techniques to figure out what works best for you!
Build Your Toolbox
- Managing Stress
- Helpguide on Stress
- Mindfulness Resources
- Stress Quiz
- How to Turn Stress into a Good Thing
- Relax with breathing exercises.
- Take a five minute self-compassion break.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
- Running routes and walking trails