For most people, a certain level of everyday stress is inevitable in these modern times. The structure of our lives seems to make tension, and even anxiety, almost a foregone conclusion. For one thing, most of us are heavily overscheduled, our days filled with fights through traffic, trips to crowded grocery stores, demanding jobs, challenging classes, spouses and children with never-ending lists of needs that must be met — not to mention the pressure of paying adequate attention to our own physical and emotional wellbeing. In fact, on our daily to-do lists, activities like an hour of exercise, massage or simple downtime are usually the last things to be slotted in. We see these not as necessities, but as luxuries; these are the things we feel we can and should put off in order to tend to other, supposedly more important items. We might even feel guilty about taking a bit of time to attend to our own needs, when there are so many other pressing obligations to manage.
Yet research shows that juggling many small sources of stress can have the same negative impact on our health, both emotional and physical, as enduring a more significant traumatic event. When viewed in that context, it becomes much clearer that better techniques for daily stress management are sorely needed — and they must be simple, quick and accessible enough to work into our already full schedules. After all, everyone knows that healthy eating and regular exercise can be effective in reducing tension and stress, but it isn’t always easy to make time for home-cooked meals or physical activity. There are, however, several things we can do quickly and easily on a regular basis to help alleviate tension and create an inner sense of calm. Read on to learn simple strategies for reducing your daily stress — even slashing it in half — so you can feel more tranquil and centered.
1. Hug the one you love. Along with exercise, sex is another well-known stress-reliever, yet it is also yet another activity that can get pushed low on the priority list when fatigue sets in or other obligations take precedence. The good news is, you don’t have to fit in a full intimate session with your partner — in fact, you don’t even need to be partnered at all — to gain the stress-relieving benefits of physical connection with another person. All it takes is a few moments of hugging or holding hands to create the hormonal changes needed (lowered cortisol, increased serotonin) to get that loving feeling. Next time you’re feeling stressed, grab your sweetheart, your best friend or your little one, and just wrap your arms around each other for a few moments. In less than a minute, you’ll be enjoying a marked sense of comfort along with the feeling of your worries slipping away.
2. Take your vitamins. Healthy eating and home cooking can feel like a real challenge in the face of a jam-packed schedule — who has time to grocery shop for fresh, healthy items, much less cook them at home? But that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on including important vitamins and minerals in your diet. Vitamins C and E, for example, help regulate stress hormones and lower your blood pressure. Taking a multivitamin daily — one that contains C and E along with other important nutrients — could offer important tension-reducing benefits.
3. Indulge in some stress-eating. It turns out, not all stress-eating — turning to food to calm your nerves when you’re feeling tense and tired — is bad. But going for empty calories like candy, chips or ice cream isn’t the right way to go about it; in fact, relying on these foods for comfort can actually increase your stress in the long run, as they contribute to high blood pressure, obesity and other health issues over time. Even in the short run, they can add to emotional stress simply due to the feelings of guilt and failure that eating unhealthy snacks can inspire. Instead, go for proven tension-busting foods like avocados, pistachios and other nuts, salmon, oatmeal, milk and spinach. These foods contain nutrients like calcium (milk, spinach), vitamin E (pistachios and other nuts), omega-3 fatty acids (salmon), potassium (avocados), and fiber (oatmeal, avocados) that are known to cut down on fatigue and the stress hormone cortisol, while helping you feel comfortably full — so you won’t end up reaching for that bag of potato chips in a weak moment, and then regretting it later. Try grabbing a bowl of oatmeal with milk for breakfast, adding avocado or salmon to your spinach salad at lunch, or downing your meal with a glass of milk. You can even keep packets of instant oatmeal or bags of pistachios and almonds in your purse or your desk at work, for a quick pick-me-up when you need it most.
4. When something upsetting happens, write it down. Writing in a journal doesn’t need to become a regular daily practice — yet another task to squeeze into your already endless to-do list — and it doesn’t have to take long. Just a few minutes of writing down your thoughts and feelings about the argument you had with your spouse or that upsetting email from your boss can significantly reduce the tension you might otherwise bottle up inside. Journaling about your feelings not only gives you a safe and much-needed space to vent; it can also help you gain a new perspective on the situation, or even brainstorm strategies for resolving the issue. Keep a journal in your bedside table drawer so you can jot down a few sentences at night before bed, or keep a file on your computer that you can pull up and add to whenever you need to vent.
5. Don’t bottle it up — talk it out with someone you trust. Though it might seem nobler to keep it to yourself when someone’s comment or behavior shocks or annoys you, it can actually be a much more effective stress-buster to go ahead and open up to a trusted friend, coworker or other confidant about your reaction to the situation. This isn’t about malicious gossip; it’s simply about getting irritation and other tense feelings off your chest in order to release steam. Also, just like writing in a journal, talking things over with someone else can help you gain a different, better perspective.