GAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Am I right? There is too much going on! You’ve got work, family, friends, health, a mile-long to-do list, and everything else happening in the world! Humans are intensely busy creatures, but there’s no denying that stress can take a toll on our health. Stress can cause everything from headaches and upset stomach to anxiety and depression. And, of course, stress can also lead to more serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Why does stress lead to health issues?
When we experience stress and anxiety, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are designed to help us deal with dangerous situations by providing a ‘fight or flight response. But when this type of stress response is constant, it can take a toll on our bodies.
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to improve stress management and care for your overall health. Here are a few of our favorite stress-relievers:
1. Get regular physical activity.
Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Not only does it help to improve your mood, but it can also boost your energy levels and help you to cope better with stressful situations. And, of course, it’s also great for your overall health! Even just making time to get up from your desk periodically throughout the day is beneficial! Choosing movement that you love will help you stick with it, and any kind of movement counts. From gardening to walking to playing with kids or dancing. It really can be whatever you like. To help an exercise habit stick, start off doing the minimum amount that you won’t talk yourself out of. 10 minutes? Great, it’s ok to start with that! Bring on the stress relief!
2. Make time for relaxation.
It’s important to make time for relaxation and recreation, even when you’re feeling stressed. Taking some time out for yourself can help you to rejuvenate and be better prepared to deal with stressful situations.
Read a book. Listen to some music. Color in a coloring book. Even just 10 minutes a day can be adequate for improving mental health.
3. Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
Eating a healthy diet can help your body to handle stress better. Be sure to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. And limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, both of which can negatively impact stress resilience.
4. Get enough sleep.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. Most adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Getting adequate sleep can help you feel rested and refreshed and better able to cope with stress during the day. If you’re having trouble getting enough, see our sleep tips for information on how to protect the quality of sleep you are getting.
5. Connect with others.
Spending time with family and friends can help you to reduce stress levels. Whether you’re sharing a meal, going for a walk, or simply enjoying some conversation, interacting with others can help you to feel relaxed and relieve stress. For times when you can’t meet in person, there are a lot of great apps that make staying in touch super easy. Voxer is fun for sending voice messages back and forth. Or share a laugh through text!
6. Take a break from technology.
Many psychologists tell us that, as humans, we are just not meant to take in all the distressing information the world has to offer. But now we have access to EVERYTHING. Open twitter or your browser and get lost in a rabbit hole of pretty difficult-to-take information. If you find yourself overwhelmed by everything happening in the world, you are not alone. And while it’s important to stay connected most of us need a break for our mental health once in a while.
Yep, constantly being connected to your electronic devices can add to your stress levels. (2) Make an effort to unplug from your phone or the internet for at least an hour each day, and spend that time doing something relaxing, like reading a book or taking a nature walk.
7. Practice deep breathing exercises.
Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax and reduce your stress levels. When you’re feeling stressed, take a few minutes to focus on your breathing. One very easy exercise is making your exhalation longer than your inhalation. So if you inhale for 4 seconds, try exhaling for 6-8. This simple exercise can help to calm your mind and body.
For some people breathing exercises can be stressful. A great alternative is a body scan. Focus on one body part at a time, starting at the top of your head. Notice if you have any tension there. If you do, spend a few minutes trying to relax that area of your body. Once you have made some progress, move on to a new body part until you reach your toes.
8. Try meditation or mindfulness practices.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can help you focus your thoughts and become more aware of the present. These practices can help you manage stress better and improve your overall health. Guided meditations can benefit those who find their mental chatter a little too pushy. Apps like Calm, 10% Happier, and Mindspace are great and offer free meditations.
9. Laugh it up!
Laughing is so therapeutic it’s almost silly. ;), and it is fantastic for stress relief. You can keep a collection of saved funny videos or bring up a funny memory with a friend and get ready for the back-and-forth hysterics. Try just 5 minutes of engaging with something funny and see if you don’t feel instantly better.
10. DIY Stress Relievers.
What do you enjoy doing? You can find stress relief from doing that! Many times we feel if we do what we enjoy, we are taking time away from tasks that need to get done. Well, it just so happens that de-stressing is as essential to your health as nutrition and exercise. So if you are doing something you love, you are caring for your mental health, and that positively affects your whole health picture. Love reading? Do that! How about baking? Yes, that can help! If you enjoy it, it will make a positive difference in your feelings of stress.
11. Supplements that can help with stress relief.
There are a variety of supplements that can help to reduce stress. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha can help target your specific stress relief needs. (3) Assessing whether your regular diet contains enough stress-fighting nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium can help determine whether supplementing key vitamins and minerals may benefit you. (4,5) As a Certified Nutrition Specialist, I can review your current diet and perform functional testing that can help determine whether supplements may be right for you.
If you’re struggling to cope with stress, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can help you identify healthy ways to deal with stress and provide support and guidance to improve your mental health.
Severe or persistent stress that feels beyond the reach of these stress relievers may indicate it’s time to seek medical help. Stress can worsen existing medical conditions, and it can also lead to new health problems. If you’re having difficulty coping with stress, be sure to talk to your doctor.
- “The Effects of Stress on Your Body.” Healthline, 5 June 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body.
- Vahedi, Zahra, and Alyssa Saiphoo. “The Association between Smartphone Use, Stress, and Anxiety: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, vol. 34, no. 3, Aug. 2018, pp. 347–58. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2805.
- Speers, Alex B., et al. “Effects of Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia.” Current Neuropharmacology, vol. 19, no. 9, 2021, pp. 1468–95. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X19666210712151556.
- Young, Lauren M., et al. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals.” Nutrients, vol. 11, no. 9, Sept. 2019, p. 2232. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092232.
- Pickering, Gisèle, et al. “Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited.” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 12, Nov. 2020, p. 3672. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123672.