Stress is something we all experience. It’s our body's way of reacting to difficult situations that cause us to feel threatened or worried.
The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as: “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.”
The stress response itself is useful and designed to keep us safe. You’ll no doubt have heard of the ‘fight or flight response’.
This is how the body responds to stressful situations, by getting us ready for action so we can protect ourselves or face challenges in our lives.
So, in the short term, stress isn’t a particularly bad thing. However, when we’re regularly experiencing stress, it can take its toll on your mind and body.
While it’s impossible to avoid stress altogether, there are lots of ways you can reduce stress in your life. Let’s take a look at twelve tips to help you out.
1. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep is crucial for our body and mind to function properly. We’ve all been there: when we don’t get the sleep we need, we feel tired, grumpy, and stressed.
Yes, that’s right, lack of sleep can contribute to stress levels.
Yet when we’re stressed, it can make it hard to sleep. It can feel like a vicious circle (unfortunately one that I know well). So what can we do about it?
Practicing good sleep hygiene can improve our chances of sleeping well. Sleep hygiene includes simple things like:
having a regular sleep schedule
avoiding caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime
exercising during the day
avoiding electronics close to bedtime
making your bedroom cozy and calm
making time to relax before bed
I find taking twenty minutes to wind down before bed and practice self-care is really useful.
2. Exercise Regularly
We all know that exercise is good for you, but did you know it can also help to reduce stress levels?
Research shows that during exercise endorphins are released, which are ‘feel good’ hormones. This helps to improve your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and generally make you feel more relaxed.
One of the things I love most about exercise is that there are so many types, you can find something you actually enjoy doing.
3. Eat a Balanced Diet
Food is fuel for our bodies, so it’s important we provide our bodies with a balanced diet so they can function properly. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a nice piece of cake now and then! To me, ‘balanced’ means a good variety of food that makes your body and mind feel good.
Research shows that a balanced diet can help to reduce stress and set you up for success. Don’t forget to eat regularly and drink plenty of water too.
4. Set Boundaries With Others
You no doubt want to be there for those you love. You might find that you’re exhausted trying to manage other people’s emotions as well as your own. This can often lead to feeling overwhelmed and in turn, can contribute to stress.
It can be tough to learn to say ‘no’, especially to people you value. But setting these boundaries is crucial to your wellbeing. You need time for yourself, to nurture yourself before you can be there for others.
This is a journey I’ve been on for a while. I’m learning to put myself first and not feel guilty about it. I’m slowly feeling more in control and learning when I need to take a step back and focus on myself, and I’m feeling the benefits!
5. Make Time to Do Things You Enjoy
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy for us to forget to set aside time to do things that make us happy, especially when we have busy lives. Don’t overlook things that bring you joy. They’re just as essential as other tasks you do in your everyday life.
Even setting aside ten minutes a day to do something that makes you happy can make a big difference to your mood. I always notice a positive difference when I make time for exercise and artistic expression.
6. Express Your Feelings
While we’re talking about expression, let’s not forget how important it is to express your feelings. Keeping things bottled up contributes to stress and can make us feel alone. Getting things off your chest can feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders (that sounds cliche but it really is the best way to describe the feeling).
Talking to a loved one is a great outlet, but if you don’t want to do that, there are plenty of other ways you can express your feelings. You could jot your feelings down in a journal, express them through art, or simply say them out loud. It’s cathartic getting them out into the world.
7. Face Problems Head-On
When problems arise, it’s normal to try to ignore them because it can just feel too hard to face them. Unfortunately, this can cause more stress and doesn’t resolve the issue.
So, as hard as it is, instead of hoping problems will go away on their own, facing them head-on is far more productive. Dealing with your problems proactively might feel stressful at first, but once you come to a resolution it will feel like such a huge relief!
8. Seek Help When You Need It
When you’re struggling it can feel tough to ask for help, especially if you’re a very independent and proud person. But we all need help sometimes, it’s part of human nature!
It’s nothing to feel guilty about and isn’t something you should try to resist: you don’t have to do everything on your own. Reach out for help when you need it, whether it’s needing someone to talk to or needing help with practical everyday tasks like housework.
9. Take Time to Rest
Like taking time to do things that make you happy, taking time to rest can often be overlooked. It’s not something many of us schedule into our day when we’re really busy, but it should be!
Your body and mind need to rest even more so when you’re busy and stressed. Try to make five or ten minutes now and then to sit down and just breathe. Relax and set aside your worries for a moment.
10. Practice Mindfulness
While you’re making that time to rest, it’s a great time to fit in some mindfulness. Mindfulness practices involve being present in the moment, promoting a sense of deep relaxation. And it’s proven to reduce stress!
You don’t need a lot of time to integrate it into your daily routine, even five minutes of mindfulness can help to ease stress. The American Psychological Association explains that mindfulness influences two stress pathways in our brain. These pathways actively change the structure of our brain and its activity to improve attention and emotional regulation.
Why not check out this five-minute meditation you can do anywhere?
11. Focus On What You Can Change
It’s far too easy to worry about the things that you can’t change in your life. While this is natural and understandable, it’s also not helpful.
Instead, try to let go of the things you can’t change and focus on being proactive with the things you can change. This will help you to feel motivated, in control, and more confident. It’s also far more likely to reduce stress in your life.
My amazing grandma always encouraged me to focus on this, so now whenever I’m struggling, I stop and take a moment. I think about whether the things that are causing stress are things I can influence. If they are, I set out a plan to change them for the better, and if they’re not, I take a deep breath and as I breathe out, I mentally let them go.
12. Notice The Positives
When things are hard, it’s common to focus on the negatives. It can be really hard to shift your focus from that negative mindset when things are feeling so overwhelming, but it is possible.
By trying to actively focus your mind on the good side of things, it can help to ease your stress and make you feel more positive. As you get the hang of it, it becomes a habit and is much easier.
At the end of each day, I love to take a few minutes to think about at least three positive things that have happened that day. It makes me feel good, helps me to be grateful for what I have, and generally improves my mood.
Stress Free Living
Learning productive ways to reduce stress in your life can have a big, positive impact. Why not try out a couple of these tips in the next few days and see if it makes a difference?