“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn't ask me, I'd still have to say it.”
George F. Burns
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
As you know, stress is no good or fun for you.
But what can one do to decrease the amount of negative stress in his or her life?
Here are 36 suggestions. You may not want to try them all right now. That would just add to your stress. Try a few of them out and see what works for you. I've put ten of the tips that I think may be most useful at the top of the list.
1. Stay present.
Probably my favourite way to decrease stress. It works so well because when you are present you feel centred and you aren't thinking about the past or future (two major causes of worry and stress). How can you reconnect with present moment and what are the other very positive benefits of doing so? One benefit is increased mental clarity. One way to reconnect is to focus on what's right in front of you right now.
2. Accept the situation.
Stress is often to a large part resistance to what already is. You may be in a stressful situation and think to yourself that this situation shouldn't be, that you shouldn't be here. But the situation has already arisen, is here, and so are you.
So to decrease the stress and resistance you accept the situation. With your resistance gone or lowered you can now direct more of your mental energy and focus to finding a solution in a level-headed manner instead of panicking. Check out this post on acceptance for more on this topic.
3. Get off coffee.
In November last year I stopped drinking coffee for 30 days and I have drunk perhaps 4 cups since the beginning of December. Quitting coffee was especially hard during the first week – I felt really tired – but became easier after that.
When I was drinking coffee my mind was racing quite a bit, but that wasn't anything I noticed – since I was so accustomed to it – until I gave it up. Quitting this habit has helped to relax more easily and think more clearly. Today I drink a cup or two of green tea on most days, but it is nothing I need to function properly. You can read about this in How I Quit Drinking Coffee and the Benefits I've Experienced.
4. Prioritize, simplify and get organized.
One of the big problems with a life filled with stress is that it's filled with too much stuff to do and think about. Another big problem with a life filled with stress is perhaps not that it's filled with things to do but that a lot of those things are stuff you really don't feel like doing. You may feel that it's just something that you should do.
Do you really have to do all things in life? Or are some of them just things you do by habit, not knowing really why you are doing them when you think about it?
I have found that using the 80/20 rule – also know as the Pareto Principle – to be effective when trying to figure out what's important in your life and what's not really that important. Basically what the 80/20 rule says is that 20 percent of what you do accounts for 80 percent of the value you receive.
In your personal life or at work there are a few very important things that you can do. Try to figure out what's really important in your life. What those 20 percent are. Then do as much of that as you can.
Try to figure out what isn't that important of the remaining 80 percent. Minimize the time and effort it takes or, if possible, remove it. Then use the new, free time to do more of those really important things or to try new things.
You may also want check out Brian Tracy's excellent book Master Your Time.
5. Take everything less seriously.
Taking things or yourself overly serious adds a lot of unnecessary negativity and stress to your life. A minor situation may be blown up to a major one in your mind. If you just learn to lighten up a bit, life becomes more fun and you realize that you get great results even if you aren't super-serious about everything. You can read more about what I have learned about this topic right here.
6. Decrease or put a stop to negative relationships.
If someone is always making you more stressed or creates a lot of negativity in your life you may want to consider decreasing the amount of time you spend with that person. Some people almost seem to like to dwell in negativity and to a large extent that is quite often their choice (there are of course exceptions). It's your choice if you want to participate.
7. Just move slower.
You emotions work backwards too. If you slow down then while walking or moving your body you can often start to feel less stressed (compared to if you move fidgety and at a rapid speed).
This allows you to think more clearly too. A stressed mind tends to run in circles a lot of the time. And slowing down to decrease stress goes for other forms of movement too, like riding your bicycle or driving the car. This tip is a personal favourite of mine as it is simple to implement and has worked well many times.
A simple and time-tested way to decrease inner tension. Regular exercise can do wonders for both your mind and body. If you don't feel like going to the gym, I suggest developing the habit of just doing it! It can come in handy in other situations too.
9. Don't be dependent on other people's validation.
Or expectations (imagined or not). It's not a good plan to try to live up to everyone else's expectations. You'll be stressed out and later on possibly burned out.
You need to replace your need for validation from others. You do that by validating yourself. And you replace the expectations of others with your own expectations for yourself. Then those imagined or real expectations that are imprisoning you will start to lose their power.
How do you go about practically? You think about how awesome you are. You appreciate how far you have come and the positive things you have done. You appreciate your own value in the world. You set goals and you achieve those goals. This builds confidence in yourself and in your abilities. These things will help you to build a habit of inner validation.
And so you set standards for yourself and start to like yourself more and more. Instead of seeking to be liked and needing validation so much from other people.
10. Hang out more with non-stressed people.
Who you socialize with, the human environment you live in can determine a lot about your stress levels. One way to lower your stress levels is simply to hang out more with relaxed and non-stressed people. Another is to watch and listen to such people. One really relaxed is Eckhart Tolle. Just watching him for perhaps 20 minutes usually lowers my stress levels and makes me feel more centred.
11. Go outside.
Just being out in the fresh air can clear your mind and make you feel more relaxed and energized. This has been especially useful here in Sweden for the last few weeks as the sun and warm weather has finally come back.
12. Belly breathing.
This is a really easy way to calm yourself down and for me it has worked pretty much every time. If you keep your focus on your belly breaths going in and out then it's also a one good way to reconnect with the present moment. Here's how you go about it:
Sit in a relaxing position with your legs apart.
Put your hands on your stomach. Using your stomach breathe in slowly through your nose. If you are doing it right your stomach will expand and you'll feel it with your hands.
Breathe out slowly through your nose and do it with some force so you feel your stomach pull slightly inwards towards your spine.
Breathe in and out 30 times. Take slow and deep breaths.
After you have taken 30 breaths and focused on counting them you should not only feel more relaxed and centred. Your body will also be able to continue breathing in this manner without you focusing on it. And that's it. Continue with your normal day.
13. Watch something funny.
Laughter is a great stress reliever. A simply and pretty much guaranteed way to laugh a bit is to watch or listen to something funny. I like comedy shows on TV like The Simpsons, American Dad, How I Met Your Mother and Futurama.
14. Balance your social life.
If you feel the need to be alone, be alone. If you feel the need to hang out with people, do so. Decide for yourself, don't get too wrapped up in what you feel that you need or don't need to do.
If you for instance work from home then you may need to get out in the evenings so you don't get too isolated (sometimes you may even need to force yourself). And if you feel like you have to spend too much of your time with other people – without any time for yourself – then that can also add stress.
15. Take a bath/shower.
I don't have a bathtub, but I know that a lot of people really like to wind down and relax by taking a bath. I have however found that something as simple as a shower can make a difference too. It makes you feel fresh and relaxed once again.
16. Find five things you can be grateful for right now.
Being grateful and appreciating your life and surroundings is one of the most effective ways to turn a negative emotional state to a more positive one. So find a few things you are grateful for right now.
Perhaps it's the sunny weather, that you feel healthy and energetic today, that you have just eaten a delicious after-noon snack, that the guy/gal that just walked by had a great looking jacket on and that tonight there is a new episode of your favourite TV-show to enjoy.
17. Eat slower.
If you are wolfing down all your food in a few short minutes then that can really make you feel like you are having a stressful day. Also, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you're full. That's because your stomach needs to begin stretching before it starts to produce the hormones that tells your brain that you are full. By slowing down your eating your brain can stop you before you eat unnecessarily much. Eating slower can also help prevent digestion problems.
18. Learn to recognize a negative thought spiral.
You can gradually learn to be more alert to what thoughts are flowing in your mind. If you notice that you are going down into a negative thought spiral then it's time to either to cut that thread of thought and move your focus to something more useful. Or to just becomes present and observe those thoughts and through that zap away the power they may have over you.
19. Listen to relaxing music.
I like to listen to some movie soundtracks, a few classical pieces and some vaguely new agey pop songs (like Cocteau Twins) to help me relax. There are a lot of compilations on CD with relaxing music. Explore those and other sources to find what works for you.
20. Listen to guided meditations.
Guided meditations like Paraliminals from the Learning Company have worked well for me. A favourite at the moment is Perfect Health that pretty much always helps me to feel more relaxed and clearheaded after listening to it for 20 minutes.
21. Change your job or living situation.
If you have a job or living situation that in some way creates a lot of stress for you then you may at some point need to consider making a change in your life. This is of course easy for me to say. It can be a lot harder to do. On the other hand, if your job or something else is really stressing you out you may at some point need to look at your options before you go into a tailspin and crash.
22. Get enough sleep.
When I don't get enough sleep I'm more susceptible to – and have a harder time handling – stress and other kinds of negativity. One tip to improve your sleep is to cut down on caffeine. Another is to wind down before going to sleep. Read a fiction book, watch a bit of TV or something that doesn't make you think too much. Avoid personal development books, non-fiction or other stimulation that can make your mind overly active. Otherwise you may spend an hour or two thinking and spinning in bed before you finally fall asleep.
23. Eat a proper breakfast.
If you're already on a low energy level when starting the day then that can make it harder to handle stress while commuting, while in morning meetings etc. Plus, if you get off to a bad start then it's easy to get stuck in that stressed and negative pattern for the rest of the day.
24. Look for solutions.
When faced with a challenge that can cause stress, try to direct your focus to solutions rather than to dwelling on the problem for too long. Dwelling only causes more stress and makes your mind less open to finding a solution. Also, when trying to find a solution, try to keep your focus on the abundance and not on a perceived scarcity. This lessens inner tensions and relaxes your mind. You can read more on how to create the very useful abundance mentality here.
25. Find the opportunity hidden within the problem.
One thing about problems/challenges is that we often focus on the bad part of them. But there is almost always a good part too. Or at least an opportunity within the problem. Perhaps it teaches us to be more patient, how to live more frugally or become more empathic.
Finding this more positive part of the problem reduces its negative emotional impact and you may even start to see the situation as a great opportunity for you. When you are faced with a problem ask yourself: What is the good thing about this? What can I learn from this? And what opportunity can I find within this problem?
26. Be prepared.
If you're prepared for whatever you are about to do then you'll feel a lot more confident and calm than if you are badly prepared or not prepared at all.
27. Be early.
Just be 10 or 5 minutes early for meetings etc. This very simple tip can cut down on stress quite a bit.
28. Let go of the need to always keep the little things perfect.
You may not have to keep everything in perfect order at home all the time. You can also simplify things like dinner plans, grooming and clothing.
29. Take a break.
It's easy to get wrapped up what you are doing. And before you know it fatigue and stress may start to creep in. Prevent that by taking regular breaks. If your schedule is really jam-packed, write down and schedule breaks to prevent forgetting or skipping them.
30. Outsource and delegate.
If you have a lot to do, you don't have to do everything yourself. There are only so many hours in a day and, at least sometimes, you cannot do everything yourself. Figure out ways to get good people to exchange their time for your money (or some other value like your time or knowledge) or delegate so you can do more of what you really like doing. Or just get some more sleep.
31. Complete tasks.
Leaving a task incomplete may seem like a good way to slack off and do something more fun. But not finishing a task can produce low-level stress during the time you are not working on the task.
It nags somewhere in the back of your mind. It's a vague, uneasy feeling. Try to gradually make a habit of completing your tasks. This also means you have to know when a task is completed. So set that limit for the task before you begin. Or you may feel like there is always more to do and that you never seem to get done (which causes a lot of stress).
32. Do just one thing at a time.
Single tasking and focusing on doing just one thing at a time not only decreases stress but from my experience gets things done a whole lot quicker than if you multitask.
33. Get off the internet.
It's easy to become a RSS/Email-junkie. Or a Reddit/Digg-junkie. That's when you check these endless information sources maybe 5, 10 or 20 times a day thinking: “What's new?”.
Get off the internet once in a while or as much as you can. Bunch emails/RSS-reading and similar tasks. Disconnect your internet-connection for at least a while each day or week. It not only calms the mind but also lets you get more of the most important stuff in your life done quicker and easier.
34. Talk to people around you about it.
Perhaps they can offer you advice that has worked for them or just an ear and some support. Just telling someone about something, just getting it out can often help to relieve some of the stress.
35. Desensitize yourself.
If you find a particular situation – for instance meeting new people or trying something new – stressful then one way to lower that stress is simply to get used to the situation. By putting yourself in that situation over and over you become desensitized to it. And the situation becomes more and more normal and less stressful for you.
36. Do what you really like to do.
It might be playing with your children, fishing, playing video games/board games/water polo, collecting something, writing or painting. Or something entirely else.
Whatever it is, do it on a regular basis. And perhaps try to find time do it more – and/or in a better and more focused way – than you do today. Immersing yourself in such a joyous activity is a great and rewarding break from the stress of your life.
What is your best tip for relieving stress?