They say that some stress can be beneficial. So, why do tension and anxiety almost always make you feel horrible?
In the short term, stress leaves you moody and irritable. And even though the thing that’s stressing you out might be a mile-long task list, all that negative energy makes it almost impossible to concentrate on getting anything done.
It gets worse. Having too much on your mind can make it tougher (or, sometimes, impossible) to fall asleep. As a result, you’re exhausted when you get out of bed the next morning, which only serves to make you more stressed.
And in the long-term? Too much stress can wreck your immune system and make you more susceptible to colds. It can raise your blood pressure. And new findings even suggest that it could erode your memory.
It’s time to stop the madness. But instead of just taking 10 minutes to meditate or going to a weekly yoga class, how about taking small steps to slash your stress levels all day long?
Simple, Everyday Ways to Reduce Stress
Here are 6 simple stress-busting moves to work into your daily routine.
Skip the snooze button.
Stealing five or ten extra minutes first thing in the morning feels pretty luxurious. But drifting off to sleep and abruptly waking up a few minutes later can disrupt your sleep cycle and prompt the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, say sleep experts.
To make matters worse? Sneaking a few more winks gives you less time to get ready in the morning. And there’s nothing like feeling crazy rushed to make you feel crazy stressed.
It might be unpleasant at first, but try to get up the first time your alarm clock goes off. (Pro tip: Going to bed earlier makes it easier!) If you have to, put your alarm on the other side of the room, so you’re forced to get up and turn it off.
Break a sweat.
Now that you’re getting up when you’re supposed to, you’ll have plenty of time to exercise. Which won’t just help you sleep better at night—it’ll also slash your stress levels all day long.
In the short term, working out prompts your body to pump out feel-good hormones called endorphins, so you’re more happy and less anxious. And over time? Regular exercise might actually strengthen certain mechanisms in the brain that help prevent stress-producing neurons from firing, suggests findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience. So you actually adapt to stay calmer under pressure.
Turn on a funny podcast.
Stuck in insane traffic on your way to work? Instead of letting off steam by laying on the horn, try listening to something that’ll make you crack up.
Laughter doesn’t just take your mind off of whatever’s stressing you out. It actually prompts positive physical changes in the body—like boosting your circulation and relaxing your muscles. A big guffaw means you’re taking in more oxygen, too, which spurs the release of those feel-good endorphins.
Work your choppers.
When your boss piles on another project she needs you to take care of ASAP or a client crisis strikes, stop and take a breath. Then pop a piece of gum.
It might sound odd, but the simple act of chewing has been shown to reduce stress, fatigue, and anxiety on the job, according to one Appetite study. Even better? A wad of the sticky stuff might even make you more productive. One Japanese study found that gum-chewing activates blood flow to the brain and helps you feel more alert.
So what’s it gonna be—spearmint or cinnamon?
Help someone out.
By the time you get home from work, you’re probably pretty pumped to just eat dinner, Netflix, and chill.
But before you veg out, take some time to lend a hand to someone who needs it. When participants were asked to think about a time when they gave social support to someone else, they had less activation in areas of the brain related to stress, found a Psychosomatic Medicine study.
Try calling the friend who you know is going through a rough patch. Help the neighbor who’s out there doing yardwork. Or find a cause that’s meaningful to you and spend some time volunteering. However you choose to help, it’ll help you feel better.
Have a bowl of popcorn.
In the mood for a late-night snack? Skip the fatty ice cream or greasy chips. Though they might ease your mind temporarily, they’ll make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
Instead, fill your bowl with some air-popped popcorn. It’s rich in the complex carbohydrates your brain needs to produce the happiness hormone serotonin. As a result, you’ll start to feel calmer almost instantly.
Even better? It might also help you doze off easier. Carbs make the amino acid tryptophan more available to the brain, which promotes feelings of sleepiness.
Now, isn’t that a relaxing thought?