Daily life is filled with stress. No surprise there.
However, it’s ultimately up to you whether you do something about that stress or not.
It might sound obvious that if we’re experiencing pain, we’d seek to heal it. But most of us push through the pain of stress and carry on, hitting our head against a brick wall thinking that if we ignore the pain, it will just go away.
In a recent survey, Harris Interactive and the APA found that stress levels have increased among adults and children ages 8 to 17. According to the survey, most adults are suffering from moderate to high stress levels, with more than 44 percent of survey takers stating that their stress has increased over the past five years.
Clearly, stress is a problem and it’s not going to go away unless we do something about it. Fortunately, there are endless practices, tricks, and techniques you can use to manage it and live a happier life.
There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether to let it affect you or not.
– Valerie Bertinelli
Here are twenty-four stress-relief techniques for helping you live a happier life:
1. Make sure you’re well-prepared
Irrational expectations and surprises are the main drivers of stress. When reality doesn’t match up with what is decided in our mind, we tend to get angry and stress out.
To combat this, take some time each day to plan your day. You can then plan your week every Sunday night (or whenever works best for you) so you at least have a good grasp on what you’re doing over the next several days. This will give you more of a sense of control over your life and lead unexpected events to have less of a negative effect on your state of mind.
2. Eat healthy snacks
It’s hard to resist junk food, especially when we’re under pressure. However, consuming foods that are heavy in sugar and bad fats can actually affect your mental health. Instead, adopt a diet that is low in processed foods.
To some, this point will be a surprise. Others will recognize it as a go-to stress buster. This is primarily because most cleaning activities involve repetitive movements, which helps focus and relax the mind. Examples include sweeping, mopping, or wiping down the windows or bath.
4. Listen to some good music
Several studies have shown that music, particularly slower, rhythmic tunes, helps relieve stress. This is ideal because we can listen to this kind of music while doing something else. So, whether you’re working, running errands in your car, or even sleeping, consider putting on some calming music.
5. Pay with cash or use a finance-tracking app
According to the American Psychological Association, money is one of the leading causes of stress (no surprise there).
And one of the biggest and most stressful challenges is keeping track of spending. To remedy that, withdraw your budget in cash each week and pay using that so you can track your spending better. Alternatively, you can just use an app like Mint.
A study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that being in water helps lower stress hormones, reducing tension and even depressive symptoms. So, go find some water and jump in!
7. Get off your smartphone
Get off your phone! Between personal and political drama, international tension, and work, your phone can do an awesome job of reminding you why you should be more stressed right now. So, reduce smartphone usage and put that time towards something more productive like reading a good book.
8. Reflect on peaceful, happy times
It’s well known by positive psychologists that there are two effective ways to cultivate happiness: focusing on the present (mindfulness) and reflecting on past (happy) memories. Take a few minutes to dig up some old positive, peaceful memories and bask in them, it works wonders.
9. Make note of something positive that happened today
Similarly, you can reach back into the recent past and make note of something positive that happened today. Did someone recognize your good work? Did you get a new client? Or did you have a breakthrough with your child? Even small things like organizing your daily process and making an important phone call count.
10. Be smart about your worries
Take a few minutes to write down all the things that have worried or stressed you in the past week. Some studies have found that, while some worries are rational, much of what we stress about is based on irrational worries or problems in the world we just can’t control.
By taking some time to write all of these worries and stressors out, you can bring clarity to what is going on in your mind. This will also help you zero in on the things that are bothering you the most. If you focus on working through those one by one, you can reduce your stress in a more organized fashion and bring logic to what is often an irrational mental process.
11. Be more present
Most of us go about our days being half here and half somewhere else, whether that’s worrying about dinner and bills at work or work at home. Take a little bit of time each day to stop that mental loop and become present to whatever is around you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking to your car, sitting at your desk, or are on your afternoon commute home. Take a minute to notice all the sensory information around you to help ground you and reduce stress.
12. Talk to a friend
We’re social creatures, so take advantage of that fact and chat with your best friend, sibling, or confidant. Talking can help relieve stress and reassures us that not only do we have someone in our corner, but we’re also not the only person in the world feeling this way.
13. Or talk to yourself
Have no one to talk to? No worries. According to a recent study, talking to yourself actually relieves stress as well. Who would have known?
14. Write about it
Another one of my personal favorite stress relievers, writing has a powerful ability to focus our thoughts and bring clarity to what is going on within our mind.
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to write down what’s on your mind and you’ll find that (no matter what you write about it, just write), you’ll feel better afterward.
15. Get close to a loved one
According to recent studies, physical touch can help relieve stress. Whenever you have the chance, don’t forget to hug and kiss your loved ones and spend a little time just being next to them.
16. Get a massage
Similarly, science has shown that getting a massage can also help reduce stress. However, anyone who’s gone to get a massage knows that’s not exactly a surprise. Feeling overloaded and looking to treat yourself? This could be a good option.
17. Identify and change expectations
One of the primary sources of stress in our life is our expectations. One of my favorite examples is traffic. Often, what frustrates us about traffic is we irrationally believe we’ll get home without a hitch, even though we could have just checked traffic reports to know that wasn’t going to be the case.
So, we hit the freeway and, low and behold, it’s packed (at least, over here in L.A.). We proceed to become frustrated and have an unpleasant drive. However, this happens primarily because we expected differently.
If you go into your drive expecting traffic and plan accordingly, either with an audiobook, podcasts, or just a music playlist, the experience is entirely different and much less stressful.
Meditation is one of the easiest and most effective techniques on this list. Simply find somewhere to sit down, turn your attention to your breath, and either maintain focus as you breathe in and out or count each inhale and exhale as one.
Meditation has been shown in countless studies to reduce stress, among several other positive benefits, and it can be done anywhere making it incredibly convenient.
19. Take a walk
One of my favorite stress-relief techniques, taking a short walk or run outside has several awesome benefits aside from simply reducing stress.
The fresh air and feeling of the elements on your body wake you up and make you more alert. Let the sounds, scents, and scenes of nature help calm you.
20. Watch a funny movie
One of my favorite things to do when I’m a little stressed is to watch a comedy. I love funny movies regardless, but few things relax me better than laughing my ass off. After all, laughter has been shown to reduce stress.
Try it sometimes, it’s easily one of the most effective points on this list.
21. Take a break
Breaking from work is a practice that has its own benefits, even if all you do is go for a short walk outside.
Many of us work continuously throughout each day, breaking only for lunch. However, we work much more effectively in 30- to 60-minute blocks. If you try to work continuously for several hours in a row, you’ll not only become less productive, but also strain your mind.
22. Do a simple gratitude exercise
Reflecting on what you’re grateful for has been known to make us happier and relieve stress.
Take just a few minutes at the end of your day to reflect on three things you’re grateful for, from your education, job, or family all the way down to simple things such as having access to running water, food, and money in the bank.
23. Be with it
You’re always running around, trying to get everything done and, even when you do something to relax, your mind is often preoccupied with what you’re going to do when you’re done relaxing.
So, take some time to be with your stress. This is a similar technique to meditation, but it’s a little bit more focused. You’re allowing yourself to feel the effects of stress across your body and in your mind, noticing restless legs and tension in your facial muscles. It’s one of the best ways to relax when stress is really beating down on you in the moment.
24. Find an exercise that you love to do
It’s well known that physical exercise is one of the most powerful stress relievers available to us. But most of us think that exercise has to be torturous, or at least boring.
I’m constantly blown away by the fact that personal trainers don’t push this idea more. There are dozens of different ways you can work out and exercise, so if you’re really trying to stick with it, you need to find something you love to do.
For example, I trained in martial arts for several years, so a workout using a punching bag and shadow boxing is a ton of fun for me (and a great workout, by the way). Do you like nature, music, or riding a bike? There’s something for everyone, so take some time to find something that excites you.