You’ve heard all the typical stress-busting tips before: Slip into a bath, light a candle, or call a friend. And while all of these things are great strategies to use, sometimes when you really want to forget about whatever’s got you feeling tense, it works best to try something new. To celebrate Stress Awareness Day (November 1), we decided to ask some experts for some fresh-feeling, haven’t-heard-it-a-billion-times-before stress-busting tips.
Turns out, breaking the stress cycle can be as easy as making a simple swap. For instance, instead of your usual elliptical-and-Netflix combo, take a five-minute dance break. Rather than taking a few deep breaths in your cube, getting some green will make them even more effective.
Here, experts and new research offer new and genius hacks to shake off the stress—if not for good, at least for the next half hour.
When you that “OMG, I can’t handle this!” feeling washes over you, stop what you’re doing as soon as possible, and take a five-minute break. “When people are feeling a great deal of overwhelm, I like to empower them to think about what they can do that they think is fun,” says Apryl Schlueter, founder of The Cheerful Mind and author of Finding Success in Balance. Some of her suggestions: watch a quick and funny YouTube clip, take a quick walk for fresh air, or—her favorite—dance. “I like to turn on upbeat music and start dancing. It always puts me in a better mood,” she says. Indeed, girls who grow up dancing have better mental health, including less stress, per research in JAMA. Bonus: they’re happier, too.
Stress often pops up from a never-ending list of have-to’s. You “have to” finish that presentation for work. You “have to” help your friend move into her new apartment. You “have to” hit up another birthday party this weekend for a colleague. Rather than using that language, flip it to say “I want to,” suggests Samantha Boardman, MD, positive psychiatrist and founder of Positive Prescription. This view is more motivating, and makes whatever you’re going to do more fun.
Piling things that bring on hygge vibes (a Danish term that basically means warm-fuzzies) into a self-care box can help you feel better fast, says Schlueter. Having one readily prepared means “you won’t have to waste a minute thinking about what you can do to find calm. If you’re in a high-stress situation, your ability to focus and make decisions is not as efficient, so preparing in advance is better,” she says. Stock the box with a book you love, photos of you and friends, watercolors or an adult coloring book, a candle, favorite tea, a face mask. You can even sign up for a subscription self-care box, like HavenTree.
You know those times when you just can’t get out of your own head? You’re stressed because things didn’t go your way—and it’s probably all your fault, you think. Or you just know something’s going to go wrong. And the tape replays in your head over and over. The antidote to banish all that negative self-talk? Time outside. People who took a 90-minute nature walk had less rumination and blunted brain areas linked to conditions like depression compared to those who strolled in an urban environment, finds 2015 research. Turns out, green, in all its restorative glory, has a way of turning your frown upside down—or, rather, negativity into positivity. If you don’t have that much time? Get outside anyway. You’ll feel better, promise.
When stress bubbles up, it’s so important to listen to what it’s telling you. “Self-awareness is the key to making real change and progress toward a less stressful and more fulfilling life,” says Sschlueter. Rather than reacting to stress all the time, “reflect on what’s working and what can be improved,” she says. Now is better than ever to do this deep dive, too—it’s more difficult to get through when you’ve reached a breaking point of burnout. Ask: What real change can I make to lessen this stress next time? Perhaps it’s improving time management, staying more organized, or even removing that toxic friend from your life.
It’s no surprise that after a stressful day at work, you’re elbow-deep in the pint of Talenti. What’s more, 43 percent of women say they’ve dealt with stress by eating too much or unhealthy foods (or both), reports the American Psychological Association. One thing you can do tonight to ensure it doesn’t happen again tomorrow: snag shut-eye. A new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that clocking good snooze time helps buffer the must-eat-it-now pull of stress eating after having one of those days at work. Rather than tucking in and binge-watching TV, throw on a luxurious eye mask and tuck into bed early.
When stress bubbles up, so often you want to deal with it on your own. But being alone won’t help lift you up—turning to others will, says Boardman. She recommends connecting with people, which will help boost your resilience when times get crazed. Even when things may feel out of control and the last thing you want to do is reach out, hold the elevator or the door for a stranger, say hi when you’re waiting in line, or help someone who looks like they’re struggling.
You already know meditation and yoga are tops for reducing stress. That said, thinking about how to meditate can be stressful in itself. (What the heck do you do?) One practice, called Shoonya meditation—where you sit and focus on not doing or thinking anything—was part of a three-month program that helped people deal with tension better and boosted their well-being, likely because the exercises rewires how the brain responds to stress, suggests research in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Next time things take a turn for the worse, take this excuse to sit down and do and think of nada.
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