Our modern world is fantastic. Our lives are infinitely more convenient than they were just 10 or 20 years ago, mostly thanks to technological advancements — but these same advancements that help make our lives easier also place us in higher demand. Stress levels are at an all-time high because we’re always expected to be “on,” and the pace of everyday life has reached a breakneck speed.
Sometimes I feel stressed and can’t even explain why. But it helps to know that it can happen to anyone.
The important part is getting to the root of the problem and preventing it in the first place. Easier said than done, though, right? Not only is managing stress essential for your mental well-being, but it’s also absolutely crucial for your physical health. Experts say those who suffer from excess stress have a higher risk of health issues such as heart attacks.
You don’t have to break your back to prevent stress, though. It’s actually the little things that count. These tidbits are meant to keep it simple and easy. And isn’t that what we want when we’re stressed out?
1. Check in with yourself
Knowing your mind and body isn’t always easy, but it’s important. If you feel stress coming on, don’t wait until you’re completely overwhelmed to do something. The earlier you can detect it, the easier it is to deal with the situation and manage the negative feelings.
2. Meditate & breathe deeply
Seems obvious, right? I’m not suggesting an hourlong meditation session every single day, but it really does help to take a few minutes each day to sit in quiet and turn your brain off. When we’re stressed, our brain can easily go into overload with rapid thinking. Find a relaxing, quiet spot in your house and experience mental silence with some deep breaths.
3. Discover relaxing scents
Aromatherapy and candles are perfect when you need calming. Find a scent that works for you and makes you feel good on the inside. For many, it’s lavender, which has been shown to reduce stress levels. Incense, infused baths, candles and diffusers all work great.
4. Laugh, and laugh often
It’s actually been scientifically proven that laughter can help reduce and prevent stress. And who doesn’t like to laugh at a good joke or movie anyway? I’m totally guilty of throwing on a tearjerker flick when I’m feeling down, but give comedy a try! Life is too short not to find reasons to laugh — even the occasional laugh at yourself.
5. Rock out to your favorite music
Music is my favorite healer. Researchers from Brandeis University in the U.S., the University of Zürich, the University of Marburg in Germany and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in the U.S. have found that music can trigger biochemical stress-reducers in your body. Whether it’s Aretha Franklin or Taylor Swift, make sure to routinely get a dose of your favorite jams. Turn it up, and turn your living room into your own dance floor.
6. Take one thing at a time
Sure, life’s busy. And the world spins fast, but don’t try to tackle everything all at once. It’s difficult and unhealthy. Be present in the moment, and focus on what you can get done in that moment. Tomorrow there will be more, and yesterday is over with. Do what you can, and understand that you can only do so much in one day.
7. Develop a taste for tea
If you already love tea, great! And if you don’t, give it another try. Tea has amazing health benefits, and black tea has been shown to lower post-stress cortisol levels and increase feelings of relaxation. It seems like there are a million teas to choose from, so there is bound to be one for you. Chamomile, lavender, ginseng and mint are great flavors for stress relief.
8. Accept things you can’t change
My dad has repeated this to me over and over, and it’s one of the most challenging things to do. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the right to be upset over the loss of a job or bad weather on a vacation, but if you can’t change it, don’t let it get to you too much. Instead, try focusing on how to make the best of a situation and look for upsides.
9. Hang out with animals
Who doesn’t feel warm inside when hugging a puppy? There’s a reason dogs and cats make great therapy animals. But some people, like myself (landlord rules), can’t have animals in their homes. Tag along with your friend and their pet next time they head to the park or volunteer at a local shelter. There’s nothing a dog kiss can’t fix!
10. Don’t make mountains out of molehills
It’s easy to freak out over situations that are new or seemingly overwhelming. Take some time to examine the problem and possible solutions. Are you overreacting? Will it matter in five years or even a few weeks? Creating extra drama and overthinking the negatives will only make the stress worse.
11. Treat yourself
What makes you feel extra special? A massage? A fancy dinner? A pedicure? It’s so important to give ourselves extra love and do things that make our bodies and minds happy. Most of us don’t have the bank accounts to support weekly massages, but how about once a month? Or how about getting your nails done every other month? Take a moment to treat yourself — you deserve it!
12. Keep an exercise routine
Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent stress. Take a 30-minute walk, join a Zumba class or do some simple arm exercises. Getting in the habit of doing something physical that you enjoy is incredible for both your mind and body. And the more you do it, the better. Listen to your body and what it needs. Don’t overdo it if your body tells you no.
13. Get out with your friends
Sure, it’s difficult to go to every social event, but try to go to as many as you can. Engaging socially can really make you feel good, and not just at the event, but after too. Socializing is a great way to prevent stress and treat it when it is at its worse. Even a simple phone call to an old friend or relative can be helpful during rough times.
14. Know when to ask for help
We’re not perfect. Absolutely no one is, and that’s life. Sometimes stress can simply just be too overwhelming to treat by ourselves. Whether you need help at work or help dealing with a life change, ask for help. Don’t be afraid or ashamed if you need a co-worker’s help with a big project or if you need professional counseling.
15. Finally, avoid unnecessary stress
If you know what stresses you out, try to stay away from it. Many times, this means learning to say no. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and know your limits — whether at work or in your personal life. Take control over your life and your environment. If rush-hour traffic stresses you out, take the road less traveled.
Originally published September 2016. Updated April 2017.