street sign that says less stress

We all have stress. It’s just part of being human. And some stress can be good for us. It’s our body’s natural way of protecting us from danger and it helps us to respond to challenges. Over time, however, chronic, unmanaged stress can create problems with your emotional and physical health, leading to issues like depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and rapid aging (yep, it makes you look and feel older), and can impact your ability to be your best at work.

Signs that you may be experiencing chronic stress include:

  • Physical symptoms like chronic colds, headaches, sore muscles, stomach problems, and trouble sleeping
  • Engaging in numbing, addictive, or other unhealthy behaviors
  • Conflicts with your relationships at home or work
  • Withdrawing from the important people in your life
  • Struggling to be focused and engaged at work

The good news is that there are many simple ways to take control of stress and protect your health and wellbeing.

Simple Tips for a Less Stressed You

1. Take a Hike

One of the best ways to combat stress is to get your body moving. When you exercise, you quiet your body’s stress response, which in turn helps you feel less anxious, improves your mood, and sets you up for a good night’s sleep. You can boost these feel-good benefits even more by taking your exercise routine outside. Spending just 20 minutes in nature – a forest, park, beach, or even your backyard – has been shown to help lower stress hormone levels.

Try this: Find an exercise routine or physical activity that you enjoy, like walking, running, bicycling, dancing, rock climbing, or yoga, and bring it to the great outdoors whenever possible. Bottom line: When you take a hike, stress takes a hike!

2. Pump Up the Volume

Music is another powerful tool in relieving stress. Research shows that cranking up the tunes counteracts the stress response in the body, lowers heart rate, and raises the production of the hormone dopamine, also known as the “happy hormone.” It doesn’t matter if you listen to it, play it, or sing it, simply put, music makes you feel good.

Try this: Experiment with different kinds of music that are known to be relaxing to find what you connect with most. Explore sounds of nature mixed with other light music, ambient sounds, or Native American, Celtic, or Indian stringed instruments, drums, and flutes. These have been proven to have a calming effect. In one study, researchers found that this song was so effective at reducing stress, participants were warned not to listen to the song while driving!

3. Just Breathe

Emotions and breath are closely linked. When you’re stressed, you naturally take quick, shallow breaths. When you’re relaxed, your breaths become slow and deep without effort. What’s amazing about your breath is that you can harness it anytime, anywhere to feel more relaxed and calm. Whenever you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you can quickly quiet your body’s stress response simply by focusing on deep breathing.

Try this: Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, allowing your breath to fill up your chest and expand your belly. Then, breathe out slowly through your mouth, making a big “sigh” as you exhale. Make sure that your “out” breath is a bit longer than your “in” breath (this is the secret ingredient to kicking in the relaxation response). Repeat several times until you feel relaxed and calm.

4. Hug It Out

Physical touch is another simple yet potent stress reliever. When you physically connect with someone, particularly a close friend or family member (pets included), your body releases oxytocin. Also known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin not only promotes calm and relaxation, it helps you bond and feel more connected with others. This is especially beneficial when you’re going through a tough time.

Try this: Next time you’re feeling stressed, reach out to friends and family for a hug or even a good old-fashioned handhold. The best part is, you’ll both reap the benefits.

5. Be a Stress Detective

Just as important as managing stress, you have to understand why you’re feeling stressed in the first place. Your body is constantly sending you signals about what it needs, but you might not always take the time to tune in and listen. Check in with yourself regularly to uncover the sources of your stress, learn how stress is impacting you, and, most importantly, discover what it is you really need to care for yourself.

Try this: Many EAPs, wellness programs, or health plans offer tools and resources to support stress management. Take a few minutes to check in on how you’re doing and better understand the role stress is playing in your life. Next, consider connecting with a therapist or coach to review your results, talk through how you’re feeling, and create a plan to tackle stress and feel your best.

You may also be interested in our podcast Why Self-Care is Important in the Workplace.

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