Today is Stress Awareness Day. Earlier this month, we detailed what stress is and how it affects your body in our blog post, The Science of Stress. Today, we’re sharing 16 of the best ways to relieve your stress along with the scientific research behind them!
When you work out, you increase the blood flow throughout your body. Bringing in new, oxygen-rich blood will help relieve any stress tension in the muscles. Increasing blood flow to the brain helps flush out cortisol and improves brain function, so you’ll be able to think more clearly, analyze better, and make better decisions compared to the foggy brain you may be used to when under stress.
Working out also leads your body to release serotonin and dopamine (your “happy hormones”) as well as endorphins, a hormone that gives you a feeling of euphoria. With these hormones running wild, it’s hard to stay in a state of stress or in a bad mood!
You’ll notice that these benefits of exercise – increased blood flow to the body and brain and increased levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins – are common themes among the other stress relievers we share below. So, while all these tactics are great and aren’t in any particular order, exercising is a great one to start with as it packs so many benefits into one activity!
Need some exercise guidance or motivation? Check out one of our partners, EnVie Fitness Online – a motivating fitness community created by women, for women. With fitness challenges, access to trainers, member forums, and much more, it could be just what you need to complement or kickstart your fitness routine!
2. Chew gum
The simple act of chewing gum increases blood flow to the brain and also helps to release tension in the jaw, which is typical when stressed out.
Journaling about your day, your thoughts and feelings, and what’s going on in your life can help you to identify stressors and work through your problems. Journaling also serves as a “vent”, which can be super helpful when stressed!
Reflecting on what you’re grateful for has also been shown to decrease feelings of stress, increase feelings of relaxation, and lower blood pressure.
If you’re an Apple user, check out the journaling app called Jour. The app offers both a private, portable journal as well as guided Journeys, which each offer a step-by-step approach to specific areas for growth, such as: feeling calmer, sleeping better, combatting anxiety, and improving mental health.
4. Breathe deeply
Taking deep breaths brings fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain, flushing out cortisol and improving brain function. It also helps to decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, which tend to naturally rise when stressed.
We all know that when we’re well-rested, our bodies will feel better and we’ll likely be in a better mood.
Beyond that, proper rest will help your serotonin and dopamine levels stay high and healthy throughout the day. If you’re falling short on sleep and therefore start to get tired during the day, the serotonin in your body gets converted to melatonin, which makes you sleepy instead of happy!
Lastly, your brain works through issues at night while you’re asleep. Giving your brain the time to process and recharge will help it to better deal with whatever stress you have going on.
Having a hard time falling asleep at night? Try our All-Natural Sleep Aid! The ingredients in our sleep aid are clinically proven to be just as effective as Ambien, the most popular prescription sleep aid in the U.S. with none of the negative side effects like risk of addiction, excess drowsiness, and morning grogginess.
6. Get a massage
Getting a massage is more than just a #treatyoself luxury. It can be really effective at reducing stress for several reasons – massages relieve muscular tension, increase blood flow throughout the body, and decrease heart rate and blood pressure. They also trigger the release of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.
7. Take a walk (preferably outside)
Walking increases blood flow to the body and brain. Better yet, the outdoors will give your body high quality, oxygen-rich air. Scientifically, a breath of fresh air really will do you good!
8. Play with your pet (or someone else's)
Spending time with your furry friend increases your body’s levels of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, and helps to take your mind off stressors. We’re so obsessed with our dog that she made it as the blog cover this week, so we view this one as a serious no brainer.
If you don’t have a pet of your own, you can find an animal shelter near you by visiting Petfinder’s shelter list.
Go to a comedy show, watch a funny movie, or hang out with your best friends – whatever will get you laughing! Laughter releases endorphins from the brain, giving you feelings of elation. Laughing also stimulates your lungs, heart, and other muscles, pumping more blood and oxygen throughout the body and brain.
10. Spend time with friends
Research shows hanging out with friends increases the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in your body. It also promotes positive feelings such as inclusion and self-worth.
11. Eat brain-boosting foods
Resist typical stress foods like ice cream and potato chips, and instead go for healthy, brain-boosting foods. Healthy fats like walnuts, avocados, and salmon enhance brain function and antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, pecans, and spinach help to prevent stress-driven oxidative damage to your body. (We recently wrote a blog post all about antioxidants and oxidative stress if you want to learn more.)
On top of the specific stress-related benefits, we all tend to feel better mentally and physically when we eat fresh, healthy foods!
If you tend to reach for snacks when stressed, try keeping these healthier options on hand!
Frozen yogurt-covered blueberries – using a toothpick, dip blueberries (antioxidants!) into full-fat yogurt (healthy fats!) and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze berries for 1 hour, and then eat or move to an airtight container.
Kale chips – tear 1 bunch of green kale (antioxidants!) into pieces and mix with 1 tbsp of melted coconut oil (healthy fats!). Sprinkle with sea salt, spread onto baking sheet, and bake at 225 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping chips halfway through.
Make your own trail mix by combining healthy fats like nuts and coconut flakes with antioxidant-rich foods like dried berries and dark chocolate.
12. Use a sauna or steam room
Spending time in the heat from a sauna or steam room can help to relax tense muscles and decrease inflammation. You’ll also sweat out toxins that could be putting your body under stress. And, like other tactics, using a sauna or steam room helps release endorphins and increase blood flow to the body and brain.
Certain scents can promote feelings of relaxation, stress relief, and mental sharpness. Some of the best scents for this include lavender, peppermint, rose, orange, sandalwood, and bergamot.
14. Read a book
Research shows that reading increases blood flow to the brain, increases serotonin and dopamine levels, and decreases heart rate. It also helps to put yourself in a different world and take your mind off stressors.
If you need some reading ideas, Woman’s Day recently put out a list of their top fiction books of 2019 (thus far).
15. Drink tea
The caffeine from a cup of tea can give you a boost if stress has you in a mental fog. Green and black teas also contain an amino acid called l-theanine which has a calming and stress-relieving effect on the body.
16. Take Dr. Mac's Stress & Anxiety
Our Stress & Anxiety supplement works to keep your cortisol level in check, helping your mind and body feel balanced and at ease. It includes Magnolia Bark Extract, which has been clinically tested against Xanax, one of the most popular prescription anti-stress/anti-anxiety medications, and was found to be more effective at reducing stress, but without the addictive properties and drowsiness associated with prescription anxiety medications.