Simple Habits To Reduce & Manage Everyday Stresses
Feelings of stress and anxiousness seem to go together with modern-day life. And, although getting off track is common, it doesn’t mean it’s not stressful. Here are some simple habits to integrate into your daily life to manage — and even reduce — everyday feelings of stress.
We are not here to tell you to feel less stressed. We are here to offer you ideas to combat stress, find your balance and, ultimately, take back your day and all the potential it holds! Depending on your lifestyle and preferences, there are techniques and good habits that can help you manage your feelings more effectively. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for stress relief, but there are many techniques known to help people. You can choose one or a couple to help you — it’s in your hands!
1. Get Moving With Physical Activity
Physical activity is a great way to manage and relieve stress. “Exercise increases the release of feel-good chemicals (endorphins), increases confidence, self-esteem, motivation and energy levels… [It] produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction from stress and anxiety.”1
Weaving in just 20 minutes a day can help you maintain your healthy lifestyle in mind and body. Try ditching the car and walking or cycling instead. Aim for activity that raises your heart rate.
2. Listen To Music
Music helps many people tackle their everyday stresses, offering a moment of joy, peace, or outlet for their feelings. Whether you play some music while you walk to work or during the school drop off, or when you go for a workout, this is time for you to shake off your feelings — literally.
Dance, cry, smile — let your emotions out and experience the sounds you are listening to.
3. Try Good Eating Habits
It’s not new news that if you eat well, you will feel well. But it is the truth. A Harvard Medical School article2 notes that “a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of... stress... that’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected.”
Frustratingly, as life’s daily stresses take center stage, we often deprioritize our own healthy eating. The key is routine; embedding healthy eating into your day-to-day gets easier when you make it a habit.
Here are a few simple ways to build healthy eating into your life:
- Get 5 fruits and vegetables a day: The World Health Organization recommends eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day to maintain healthy eating and — more specifically — “for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies.”
- Create weekly meal plans: Every week, plan three meals a day, whether that’s just for you or your entire family. Within each meal, make sure you’re including recommended vegetable and fruit intake. And don’t forget snacks! Planning ahead will not only help you stay healthy, but it might also help you save money by only buying the food you need.
- Home cooking: Try to cook the majority of your meals at home. That way you are in control of salt and sugar intake, and more likely to make each meal as healthy as possible.
- Start your day right: When you wake up, try not to immediately reach for your cellphone. Take 30 seconds to give yourself an intention or purpose for that day. Focus on your mind and body. Starting the day with a positive mindset as often as possible will give you the best chance of sticking with those good eating habits during the day.
4. Get Good, Quality Sleep
Stress and sleep are two sides of the same coin. The University of Utah3 found that that when you’re stressed, you’re in a state of hypervigilance and on the lookout for dangers. If you're in this hyper-vigilant state, of course it’s going to be harder to switch off and sleep. And, in turn, this can cause stress levels to rise. It’s an unpleasant cycle that needs to be broken.
First, remind yourself — as sleep expert Dr. Kelly Baron says — that “when you're under times of stress like this, it’s normal to have some disruption to your sleep. That’s a normal human thing.” Take the pressure off. Remember “this too shall pass.” And with that, try to let go of the burdens that you carry when you go to sleep. This will put you in a good place mentally as you approach sleep.
Next, you can start to create your optimal sleep environment. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Stick to a schedule: Sticking to the same bedtime and wake time will allow you to regulate your body clock and get into the right routine.
- Make your bedroom dark: Use blackout blinds or curtains to make your room dark. A dark environment is a clear signal to your body to release melatonin, the ‘sleep’ hormone that helps you drift off and stay asleep.
- Limit blue light before sleep: Make sure you switch off your phone or the TV before bed and engage in a relaxing activity to wind your body down before sleep. Blue light that’s emitted from our devices wakes our bodies and minds up, reducing the ease at which you might fall asleep. There’s more information about blue light below.
5. Practice Self-Care
Self-care looks different to everyone, but whatever it means to you, practicing it as often as you can helps you to reduce or manage your stress. By practicing self-care, you will be taking a pause — concentrating on the present to help free your mind of unnecessary stresses.
Here are a few simple ideas to get your self-care routine off the ground:
- Light a candle and relax – using essential oils or burning a scented candle can help in reducing stress. Choose scents such as lavender, lemon balm, or chamomile which are calming and soothing, run yourself a hot bath or pick up your favorite book and relax.
- Write down your worries – one way to relieve tension is by writing down your worries and daily thoughts, as well as to do lists for the next day. You can also write down things you are grateful for, such as your health, friends, family, and career. This will help you reflect on the positivity in your life.
- Practice meditation – meditation makes us feel happy and can relax tension and pain we are feeling in the body. The art of practicing meditation must begin with you finding a quiet, comfortable space and focusing on your breathing. Begin by deeply inhaling and expanding your body at the same time, then exhaling slowly. Try and focus on your body and not the distractions you may have around you — this helps us with the notion of living in the moment.
- Listen to soothing music – listening to music can have a relaxing effect on the body. Slow-paced instrumental sounds can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and stress hormones.
6. Socialize With Friends & Family
Seeing friends and family can help relieve feelings of being stressed-out, reduce loneliness, help you share and talk about your feelings, and remind you of your support network and how much you are loved.
There’s an old saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved.” It’s important to socialize and share with the right people — those who support you and actively make you feel good. “A good support network of coworkers, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way,” states Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster on the NHS website.4
Try planning activities with friends or family that you know you’ll enjoy (and might make you laugh!) such as going for a walk, dancing, or having dinner — whatever helps you relax!
7. Meditation Or Yoga
Calming the mind and body through meditation and yoga can be helpful when trying to reduce and manage everyday stress.
Slowing down, breathing and being mindful can help you focus on the present and give yourself a moment to realign your thoughts and stop feeling so stressed or anxious.
We know how busy your days might be, so fitting in time to do one more activity can be difficult. However, by waking up or going to bed just 15 minutes earlier can help you to create that well-deserved and needed time to practice meditation or yoga.
8. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique for the body, which should help by lowering the heart rate, calming the mind, and reducing bodily tension.5 In turn, it leads to reduced stress levels by counteracting the fight or flight reaction that leads to heightened cortisol levels.
PMR is a step-by-step sequence of increasing and releasing tension throughout the body:
- Get comfortable: Sitting or lying, find a spot that’s comfortable and free from distractions. You can keep your eyes open or closed.
- Breathe: Inhale through your nose, focusing on your lungs filling with air. Slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat 5 times.
- Focus your muscles: Move through your body tightening and releasing each muscle and focusing on the feeling of releasing.
- Breathe: End the PMR sequence by taking a few slow, deep breaths and acknowledging how you feel.
Journaling can help you to acknowledge your everyday stresses, thoughts and feelings, and deal with them appropriately.
Try to journal a few times a week for as much time as your schedule will allow. Any time from 5-15 minutes is enough for you to start making a difference in your mental wellbeing. Write down how you started the day feeling with one or more reasons. This should help you start to establish why you feel the way you do, and to help you understand your triggers and how to avoid or work with them.
10. Spend Time Outdoors
Being outdoors can help with feelings of stress and improve mental health. A study by Science Direct6 says, “outdoor nature-based interventions improve mental health outcomes in adult populations in the community.”
Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day outside — whether this is tending to plants in your garden, going for a walk to shop or heading to your local park.
In addition to the exercise benefit, being outside also provides a natural dose of Vitamin D which can help you avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of low mood that can be experienced during times of the year, especially the colder seasons.
It might sound obvious but taking time to breathe properly can also help with our feelings of stress. Our busy lives can mean that we jump from task to task without taking a moment to relax our minds and body. By dedicating time and effort to breathing fully, deeply, and slowly into our lungs, we can take those precious moments and break the rat race that is modern life.
See #8 above about PMR to practice breathing or check out our breathing exercises here.
12. Try To Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination can make your everyday stresses harder to deal with. By putting tasks, exercise, work or even sleep off, you might find yourself in a rut with the ever-growing list of things to do and little time to do it. It can be a vicious cycle that will provide you with no time for replenishing your energy.
- Start off by writing a general to-do list with the larger projects that you need to get done; this could be preparing for a wedding or holiday, searching for a new job, renting / buying a new house.
- And then, break it down into your daily to-do list: clean the bathroom, walk the dog, oversee the kids’ homework, meal prep for the week.
- Put your lists in a visible place in your home and work through your daily tasks first, ticking them off as you go.
We promise that once you get going, you will find this easier and easier.
You might also find yourself indulging in revenge bedtime procrastination, a new behavior during which someone intentionally stays up late to take part in leisurely activities, to feel like they are claiming some downtime back from their busy day. If this describes your evening routine, your sleep might be significantly impacted. Try to establish a clear routine that you stick to: same bedtime, an enjoyable wind-down activity (yoga / meditation / reading / bath) and create a sleep environment where you can melt into a state of relaxation.
13. Positive Self-Talk
Talking to yourself positively can help you break-up your stressful moments during the day. Acknowledging how well you are doing on a regular basis can help you to refocus your mind and banish the negative narrative that your mind might be taking.
When you visit the bathroom, walk past a mirror, or catch your reflection, take a moment to look at yourself and utter three positive things to yourself. “I am great at my job;” “I am a wonderful parent;” “I am going to do well in this race.” It might be hard to do at first but stick to it and you will see how your everyday stress starts to diminish under the weight of your positivity, while your confidence, self-pride and life satisfaction thrive. It’s a win-win!