It's probably safe to say that we could all benefit from a bit less stress in our lives. But if the mere thought of finding ways to minimize it tends to cause even more stress, fear not. There are plenty of things you can do to decompress and relax even in the face of challenging or daunting circumstances. This guide offers a stress management how-to and details how we can use these stress management techniques to improve wellbeing. We’ll also take a look at eight tips that could help you to better manage your stress anytime, anywhere.
What are stress management skills?
Stress management is a skill set that helps individuals control their stress levels through daily behaviors and a variety of calming techniques. Everyone can benefit from developing their stress management skills, no matter how little stress they may be feeling.
Stress management is a spectrum that begins with simple, daily activities that can reduce stress and keep it under control. For many people, daily routines and relaxation techniques are suitable to address common, daily stress.
1. Breathe In: Employ stress-reducing breathing techniques
It might sound too good to be true since it’s so easy, but simply taking a few mindful breaths can trigger the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s actually so universally effective, the experts at the American Institute of Stress call it the “Super Stress Buster” and recommend it for everyone — even kids.
There are additional stress-relieving breathing techniques as well. One, called Belly Breathing, involves sitting or lying flat with one hand below the ribs and the other resting upon the chest. Next, take a deep breath in through the nose, allowing the belly to extend while the chest remains still. After holding that inward breath for a moment, exhale through the lips, as if blowing out a candle. Feel the “belly hand” go in and apply light pressure to push all the air out while exhaling.
When feeling stressed, engage in Belly Breathing from 3 to 10 times, always slowly and focused on the process. At the end of the Belly Breathing exercise, take note of stress levels.
Other types of breathing exercises have been found to reduce stress as well, including methods known as 4-7-8 breathing, roll breathing, and morning breathing.
2. LOL: Make time to laugh and smile
Laughter may not be the best medicine for every ailment, but it’s good medicine for most things. In fact, in a comprehensive review of studies on the benefits of laughter, it was found to have physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and general quality-of-life benefits — so much so that the researchers recommended using it as an alternative therapy for preventing and treating disease. In regard to stress, laughing lowers cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) and boosts hormones called endorphins, which relieve stress and boost mood.
Social laughter — that is: laughter in group settings or via communication with another person — has been shown to lead to pleasurable feelings, primarily through the increase in endorphin release. Researchers believe that this is also an important element of human bonding; when we laugh together with a friend, our bond strengthens. Incidentally, this bonding promotes feelings of safety and togetherness, a perfect recipe for reducing stress.
3. Bathe in Nature: Find time to reconnect
Shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing,” has become increasingly popular (and even prescribed by health professionals) in Japan over the past few years for its beneficial impacts on stress levels. It’s not too surprising since a good, old-fashioned walk in the woods has always been appreciated for its ability to calm the nerves. And the science backs it up.
A recent meta-analysis investigated whether forest bathing, defined by the authors “as staying in a forest, either walking or simply resting and watching it, and taking in its air for a specified amount of time" could really significantly reduce levels of stress. Not only did they find rather conclusively that cortisol levels were significantly lower after forest bathing, they also noticed an "anticipatory effect" — that is, people’s cortisol levels dropped at the mere mention that they were going to take part in forest bathing.
And, don’t worry if you can’t take the proverbial plunge whenever tensions rise. The mental health benefits of being around green spaces, in general, are also receiving growing attention from scientists. And, other research shows that simply bringing a little nature indoors increases happiness, too.
4. Say Thanks: Stay grateful
Having good manners makes those around us feel better, but truly being grateful and practicing a mindset of gratitude makes us feel better, too. And it’s not just warm fuzzies. It leads to scientifically validated stress benefits (among other things). Studies show people who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress and have increased resilience in the face of trauma‐induced stress and enjoy more robust health in general.
Practicing gratitude is a daily exercise that can sometimes be challenging, but the more we practice gratitude, the easier it becomes to passively integrate into our daily perspective. Gratitude doesn't just mean thanking someone for a gift or holding the door. It also means looking at the silver linings of frustrations and giving thanks for them. Instead of "Oh no, not another Monday," think "I'm grateful to have this opportunity to support myself and my loved ones."
Although the common saying is "You don't know what you've got until it's gone," practicing gratitude means appreciating all we have, while we have it. There is often more to appreciate than we tend to realize.
5. Body Movement: Exercise regularly
While exercise is often thought of as a purely physical activity, it's essential for our mental and emotional wellness, too. Much like laughing releases endorphins, so, too, does exercising. Endorphins are so effective at producing a euphoric state that a post-workout bliss has become known commonly as a "runner's high." That energizing impact of an hour-long workout can spill over into other elements of the day. After a good workout, we’re likely to feel less stressed, less anxious, and more confident. We’re also more likely to sleep well at night, awakening refreshed the next morning.
6. Eat Right: Maintain a healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy diet dovetails nicely with regular exercise. Not only do we maximize physical results when combining a healthy diet with vigorous exercise, the combination can also enhance mental and emotional wellbeing.
The truth is that 90% of serotonin receptors, an important neurochemical tied to happiness, reside in the gut. That means a healthy diet that ensures gut health can also help reduce stress. Some key dietary habits that will help relieve stress include cutting out processed or packaged foods, increasing vegetable and fruit intake, and reducing sugar intake.
If combining exercise and diet, make a healthy dinner that includes protein, fiber, and vegetables just after getting home from a run or hitting the gym.
7. Find Your Zen: Try meditation
Meditation is an age-old skill that has been practiced in sacred settings for millennia. However, it is also a science-backed tool for reducing stress levels, promoting relaxation, focusing, and finding internal balance.
Meditation is intended to help practitioners clear their minds of outside noise, which often include the biggest stressors in life — work, money, obligations, etc. Meditation can help us gain new perspectives on challenging circumstances, as well as increase self-awareness and provide the tools we need to react the way we want, even in difficult situations.
Taking even 10 minutes out of every day to find a quiet space and meditate can make a big impact at the start. As meditative capabilities improve, consider increasing the amount of time spent meditating.
8. Set Intentions: Prepare for the day ahead
Stress can often be caused by the feeling that there aren't enough hours in the day. Disorganization or procrastination are common habits that can lead to stressful last-minute work. Instead of allowing things to wait until the last minute, plan ahead. Take some time every night to make a small list of things to do in the day ahead. As the list grows, think about how each task will be tackled. This doesn't need to be a long, arduous task; every detail isn’t being planned (the truth is: we often can't). Instead, spend 15 to 20 minutes before bed thinking generally about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow and how to get there.
9. Find balance: Feed the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is our internal superhero. It’s a relatively recently discovered family of molecules, receptors, and enzymes now known as the “master regulator” of the body — woven throughout the central nervous system and peripheral tissues, maintaining homeostasis (balance) across all of our physiological processes. Not surprisingly, given its ubiquity, it plays a key regulatory role in the body’s stress response mechanisms. And, as one of the most buzzworthy supplements in the natural therapy landscape, cannabidiol (CBD) can play a vital role in supporting the ECS.* At least two studies using a simulated public speaking test to induce stress have found that CBD reduced its symptoms.*