Simple Hacks for Fighting Stress That Anyone Can Do

By Jake Schroeder
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Stress is a normal part of life. When we encounter difficult situations, our muscles tighten, our heartbeats quicken and our thoughts start to race. Stress is the body's response to anger, frustration and fear.

It's natural to experience stress on occasion, but when it occurs on a regular basis, those uncomfortable feelings can create physical and emotional problems that may interfere with our work and home lives. Although we can’t escape stress, here are some great ways to keep it under control.

Have a Good Laugh

There's some truth in the old saying "Laughter is the best medicine." A good chuckle reduces our stress response and relieves tension. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates people’s hearts and lungs by supplying fresh oxygen. Studies have also shown that laughing revs up the immune system, relieves pain and makes it easier to cope with stressful situations.

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The next time you're feeling worried, try watching something funny on television, planning a night out to a comedy club or browsing some memes. Wearing a smile and laughing out loud, even when you're feeling down, can improve your mood and reduce your stress levels.

Try Float Therapy

If you enjoy total solitude, you may want to try relaxing in a float tank. These specialized enclosed bathtub "pods" are filled with over 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts so you can remain buoyant without having to tread water. The tank’s water is heated to your body temperature and often has soft lighting and calm music.

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Thanks to the Epsom salts, floating in one of these unusual tanks can relieve aches and pains and soothe certain skin conditions. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Stress Management discovered that float therapy decreased pain, stress, anxiety and depression while increasing optimism and sleep quality. Float tank retreats are available in many metropolitan areas.

Adopt a Pet

If you’re an animal lover, then you know there’s nothing like snuggling up to a cuddly, furry friend after a rough day. Adopting a pet saves a life and can provide you with constant companionship, entertainment and unconditional love. And the benefits of pet ownership aren’t just anecdotal.

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Scientific research supports the idea that pets are the perfect prescription for stress. A 2013 statement from the American Heart Association noted that having a pet, especially owning a dog, was associated with a lower risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Researchers believe this might be linked to dog owners regularly walking their canines.


Have a Cup of Tea

If you’ve been feeling anxious, a cup of warm tea may just chase your worries away. Research has shown that tea can boost mental clarity, improve mood and increase feelings of calmness. But it’s not just the beverage that has a calming effect. The ritual of preparing tea also creates feelings of relaxation.

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Some people find that drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bedtime helps them get a full night’s rest. Green tea contains theanine, a chemical shown to decrease stress. Rosemary, catnip, lavender and linden teas may also help calm frayed nerves. Discover your favorites by tasting several varieties.

Go for a Check-Up

We tend to chalk stress up to a bad day at work, a fight with a loved one or a poor night's sleep. But if stress has been an ongoing problem, those issues may not be what's to blame. Underlying illnesses are sometimes the culprit when we're experiencing lots of tension.

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Heart disease, asthma, diabetes, hormones, obesity and migraine headaches can all contribute to making us feel on edge. Speak with your doctor to determine if there might be a medical explanation for your stress, depression or anxiety. An annual checkup and blood work can rule out any potential medical causes.

Breathe in Some Aromatherapy

Have you ever smelled something and had the scent take you back to a wonderful memory? Aromatherapy uses concentrated extracts known as essential oils to help you relax. These essential oils are derived from flowers, herbs, bark, roots and fruit peels. They work by stimulating an area of the brain called the limbic system, which helps regulate emotions.

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Aromatherapy oils can be heated or misted in the air using a special diffuser. Lavender, lemon, peppermint, orange, chamomile and spearmint are just some of the essential oils available at most health food stores. Mix a few different essential oils to come up with your own relaxing scent.


Learn How to Lucid Dream

It’s natural to feel like you have no control over what you’re thinking while you're asleep. But lucid dreaming teaches you how to recognize when you’re sleeping so you can use that time to relax, pursue creative ideas and solve problems. Lucid dreamers can decrease their stress by willingly changing a dream's setting, characters or plot.

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One of the best methods for encouraging lucid dreams is to repeatedly tell yourself that you will be in full control of your dreams just before you go to sleep. Dream journaling upon waking up is another effective way to facilitate lucid dreaming.

Start Saying “No”

Learning how to say the word "no" when your plate is already full is one of the most effective ways you can deal with stress. Saying "no" lets you take control of your life and put your needs ahead of others’.

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We all want to be helpful and avoid hurting someone’s feelings, so putting your foot down when you decline a request can feel uncomfortable at first. The more you practice, the easier it’ll become. There’s nothing selfish or wrong about saying "no" when you do it respectfully. Be firm, honest and brief when you need to give a "no" answer.

Trim Your "To Do" List

Lists are often used to help increase productivity, but sometimes they can also be sources of stress. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by an out-of-control task list. Be realistic about what you can truly accomplish. Take a look at your list and separate the important items from the busywork.

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Rather than just writing down projects, stop and think about how much time and effort each project will require. Then, schedule it appropriately on your calendar. Large projects may need to be broken down into manageable pieces that you can tackle over a set period of time. Don't forget to pencil in time for yourself.


Go for a Walk

When stress is getting the best of you, it’s time to lace up a pair of sneakers and go for a walk. Walking has been proven to reduce stress and alleviate depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, individuals who exercise are less prone to anxiety and depression than their couch potato counterparts.

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Studies have shown that a 10-minute walk may be just as beneficial as a 45-minute workout. Walking also offers a number of other benefits, including helping to maintain a healthy weight, strengthening bones and muscles, improving coordination and reducing the risk of certain conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Spend Time With Friends

When the pressure is on, it’s only natural to want to be alone. But spending time with a friend may actually be more helpful. A 2011 study published in Developmental Psychology revealed that, when the chips are down and we're feeling anxious, a close friend can increase our feelings of self-worth.

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When you’re feeling worried or down, reach out to your friends and ask for their help and guidance. Let them know if you’re struggling with stress, anxiety or depression. Cultivate friends who are different from one another, value their friendship and make them a priority in your life.

Go Dancing

Dancing is a wonderful form of exercise that’s fun, social and a great stress-reliever. Whether you’re into ballroom dancing, salsa, country or disco, getting out on the dance floor encourages your body to produce natural painkillers called endorphins. A rush of endorphins can make you feel relaxed and happy.

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Dancing is a highly creative activity that helps you put aside everyday problems, even if it's just for a few hours. Step on the dance floor and your worries will float away. Going out to dance with a fun partner and meeting other dancers can also help you develop friendships and build a solid support system.


Cut Back on Caffeine

Lots of people can’t live without their morning java. The caffeine in your cup gives you that energy boost you crave first thing in the morning. But caffeine can have negative effects. If you've been feeling stressed, caffeine can make you feel even worse by elevating your blood pressure and causing headaches, anxiety and insomnia.

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Caffeine isn't just in coffee. Certain teas, sodas and chocolate products also contain caffeine. Energy drinks are another source. While these beverages may be infused with minerals and vitamins, they often have large amounts of caffeine. Instead of looking for a jolt from caffeinated beverages and foods, consider switching to calming herbal teas or water.

Start Volunteering

When you’re under a lot of stress, volunteering may not seem like a wise idea. But mental health experts say that, when we volunteer, we aren’t only helping others but are also helping ourselves. The Mayo Clinic reported that volunteering reduces depression and alleviates anxiety by giving people a greater sense of purpose and a stronger social network.

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The Longitudinal Study of Aging discovered that volunteers have lower mortality rates compared to those who aren't motivated to help. Volunteers also reported greater overall life satisfaction. If you don't have the time to volunteer, performing a random act of kindness, such as buying a stranger a cup of coffee, is certain to lift your spirits.

Listen to Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are subtle musical beats that produce a different frequency in each ear. It’s believed that this difference puts the brain in a relaxed, meditative state. People who listen to binaural beats register a change in brainwave activity that leads to a decrease in stress and an increase in focus, motivation and creativity.

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Researchers believe these changes occur because the sounds that binaural beats produce can activate specific areas within the brain. Some people consider this unusual form of music to be a great self-help tool for relaxation, concentration and studying. Binaural beats are available on numerous websites and YouTube channels if you want to give them a try.


Take a Vacation

People often think they have too much on their plates to pack up and go, but sometimes that’s the best reason to say "adios." According to the American Psychological Association, penciling in regular vacations is a great stress-reducer. A study conducted by the University of Vienna discovered that employees who regularly take a few days off have fewer physical ailments.

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Rather than frowning upon employees who use their vacation time, some companies are now requiring staff to spend time out of the office. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that professionals who were forced to take time off were more productive than their overworked colleagues.

Declutter Your Home and Office

If you have too much stuff, all of that clutter could be stressing you out. It’s no surprise that a 2009 study by University of California researchers Darby Saxbe and Rena Repetti discovered that individuals who described their homes as "cluttered" were more likely to suffer from depression.

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Home-organization experts suggest only keeping objects that you use or that improve your life. Start small by committing to throw out or give away five items each day. That number may seem insignificant, but by the end of one year you’ll have cleared out 1,825 items that had previously been taking up space in your home.

Read a Good Book

The next time you’re feeling worried or down, try heading to the library or bookstore for relief. Reading a good book or fascinating magazine article is a perfect form of escapism. Let the words and photos take your imagination to another realm.

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According to a study by the University of Sussex, reading an interesting book has the ability to reduce stress by up to 68%. The subject matter is unimportant as long as what you're reading isn't negative or depressing. Whether it’s nonfiction, adventure, romance or sci-fi, your stress is certain to melt away once you start turning the pages.


Stay Away From Social Media

Social media can be a hard addiction to break. It’s often our primary tool for staying in touch with friends, relatives and co-workers and catching up on current events. But spending too much time online can add worry and tension to our lives.

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Lancaster University professor Monideepa Tarafdar discovered that some people become addicted to social media, even if going online feels stressful. Experts suggest cutting back on social media by changing your notification settings, not using your phone during dinner or in social situations and keeping your phone or tablet in a different room at night so you’re not tempted to go online when you should be sleeping.

Try Tai Chi

Tai chi was originally created in China as a form of self-defense but is now a popular method of meditation and relaxation. Tai chi is a low-impact exercise that’s beneficial for everyone, regardless of age. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and boost overall well-being.

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While you can practice tai chi on your own or with friends, it’s always a good idea to take a few classes with an instructor who can show you proper postures and breathing techniques. With training from a qualified instructor and your doctor’s sign-off, tai chi is typically safe enough for most pregnant women and people who’ve had prior injuries.

Learn How to Meditate

Meditation is an ancient method of relaxation that can "reboot" a stressed mind and body. It has been proven to help people manage anxiety, insomnia and depression. It also can alleviate some symptoms from certain medical conditions like heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.

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There are several different types of meditation. Transcendental meditation focuses on the repetition of a word or sound known as a "mantra." Breathing meditation creates awareness of breath. Guided meditation helps you concentrate on positive thoughts with the help of a trained instructor or recording. If you'd like to try meditating, experiment with different techniques to learn which one works best for you.


Do Something Repetitive

Research has shown that performing rituals or repetitive activities elicits a relaxation response when we’re feeling tense. Repeating a word, sound, phrase, prayer or activity can create a tranquil feeling, according to Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard University’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.

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If stress is getting the best of you, there are plenty of repetitive activities that can help calm you down. Try hitting a punching bag, dribbling a basketball, knitting, saying a mantra or washing dishes. Repetition is also good for the brain. One study of over 2,000 seniors who practiced repetitive activities showed a decreased risk of developing dementia.

Count Your Blessings

When we're hit with stressful situations, we tend to focus on what’s going wrong rather than paying attention to what’s going right. But expressing gratitude each day for the people and things in our lives can help reduce tension. A 2015 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine discovered that people who show daily gratitude and mindfulness reported greater happiness and decreased stress and depression.

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Take a few minutes each day to literally count your blessings by writing down five things for which you are grateful. Externalize those positive feelings by spending time with a loved one, giving a hug, sharing a meal or helping a friend.

Try Forest Therapy

Forest therapy is a Japanese practice that encourages people to immerse themselves in nature for health and happiness. Forest therapy is known in Japan as shinrin-yoku and means "taking in the forest" or "forest bathing." Researchers have learned that spending as little as 20 minutes per day outside enhances mood and relieves tension.

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Here in the west, forest therapy is conducted by individuals who’ve been trained and certified as guides. Guides can teach you how to de-stress as you focus on the sky, land, animals and water. A typical forest bathing program asks participants to leave their worries behind and concentrate on the sights, sounds and scents of nature.


Take a Yoga Class

Yoga is an ancient form of meditative exercise that can restore your body and mind. By performing certain poses, yoga practitioners experience a greater sense of calmness and physical health. Yoga also concentrates on focused breath practice. This combination of physical, mental and breath control is what makes yoga one of the better options for relieving stress.

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There are many different styles of yoga. Some have the student hold a pose for several minutes, creating a deep state of relaxation and reflection. Other styles of yoga move at a faster pace and are conducted in a warm room, sometimes resulting in a sense of euphoria.

Have More Sex

When you’re feeling tense, one of the best remedies is to have sex. Sex has the ability to lower blood pressure, reduce pain and improve sleep. A combination of intercourse and intimacy can have a soothing effect on you. How can it do so much? According to researchers, sex releases oxytocin, a happiness hormone that counters the stress hormone cortisol.

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Even Great Britain’s National Health Service recommends having regular sex: "Anything that exercises your heart is good for you, including sex. Sexual arousal sends the heart rate higher, and the number of beats per minute reaches its peak during orgasm."

Keep a Journal

Journaling is an excellent outlet when you’re dealing with overwhelming situations. It can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety and deal with depression. Putting pen to paper allows you to visualize your thoughts and track feelings or challenges you may have while dealing with stress.

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There's no right or wrong way to journal. You can keep a traditional diary with entries that detail your day or use each entry to explore a different topic or theme. It’s a good idea to write daily in a place that’s quiet, comfortable and private. Keep it honest, write what you truly feel and reflect on what you’ve written.


Catch Up on Sleep

Sleep is critical to our survival. It allows our bodies to rest and refreshes our brains. If you aren't getting enough sleep, chances are you'll feel more stressed. According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of adults only get 6.7 hours of sleep each night — less than the recommended eight or nine hours.

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If you fall into this category, adding 60 to 90 minutes to your sleep schedule may help boost your mood. And because the quality of your sleep is just as important as the amount of time you spend in bed, keep the television, smartphone and any work-related materials outside of the bedroom.

Get a Massage

Massage may seem like it’s an indulgence, but it actually offers a multitude of stress-relieving benefits. Because stress can also negatively affect your body, massage performed by a licensed therapist can relieve stress and everyday aches and pains by stimulating circulation and relaxing tense muscles.

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Massages can also combine the use of aromatherapy, mud treatments, Epsom salt baths, acupressure and oils. There’s a variety of different massage techniques. Some types of massage use deep pressure and forceful strokes, while other forms, like Swedish massage, offer a lighter touch. Speak with your massage therapist about which style may be best for you.

Eat a Healthier Diet

When stress rears its ugly head, people often crave junk food. But foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat can increase stress and anxiety. While those foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat can exacerbate stress, when we make healthier food choices, we can also alleviate that anxiety.

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The UCLA Center for East-West Medicine suggests upping your intake of vitamin C, eating complex carbohydrates such as grains and vegetables, and adding both omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium to your diet. Dark chocolate and oatmeal are healthy comfort food alternatives. Chocolate has been proven to relieve anxiety, while oatmeal has been shown to lower stress hormones.