It only makes sense. Do things that are fun or relaxing, and that heart-pounding presentation you're facing may not seem so daunting. Whatever brings you stress, these 13 tactics will help bring well-deserved calm to your life.
Here's how these habits can affect your health:
- Find a Green Space: Walking in nature relieves tension, decreases frustration and increases calm feelings. No time to find a park? Even five minutes outside boosts mood.
- Take a YouTube Break: Just make sure it's funny. A good belly laugh increases oxygen intake, relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure, reduces cortisol levels and releases natural painkillers. Even a few minutes of laughter is a terrific stress reliever.
- Breathe Like a Lion: Try this yoga breath to immediately relieve tension in the jaw, chest and face. Take a deep breath through your nose, filling your chest and belly with air, then stick out your tongue as far as possible toward your chin – à la Mick Jagger – and exhale with a loud "ha" sound. Extra perk: It helps prevent neck wrinkles.
- Give a Bear Hug to Someone You Live With: A nice big squeeze will reduce your heart rate and cortisol levels, and trigger the release of the warm and fuzzy love hormone oxytocin. Muscles relax, and nerves are soothed. No hug-worthy friends close by?
- Hang With Friends: Buddies buffer stress by reducing cortisol and increasing the body's natural opiates. Call, text, FaceTime or Zoom with pals as daily medication.
- Get It On: Sex releases the pleasure hormones oxytocin and endorphins. Muscle tension and worries temporarily disappear. Kissing, hugging and holding hands work, too.
- Eat a Square of Chocolate: Not only is it rich in healthy flavanols, but cocoa consumption also increases nitric oxide in the blood, opening blood vessels and reducing blood pressure. What's more, it causes the brain to release feel-good endorphins.
- Pet Your Pet: Stroking a furry friend reduces blood pressure and stress levels. No pets at home? Volunteer at an animal shelter.
- Reach Out and Volunteer: People who engage in meaningful and purposeful activities – such as helping others – have improved immunity and lower levels of inflammation.
- Get Dirty: The good bacteria in dirt increase the release of serotonin and improve mood in the same way antidepressants do, research finds. So plant something beautiful when the weather's right. Your stress levels will drop as your garden blooms.
- Get Good Zzz's: Too much cortisol contributes to nighttime wakefulness and worries that keep your brain awake. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, set regular sleep and wake times, and keep the room dark.
- Get Moving: Exercise pumps out feel-good endorphins, improves mood, aids sleep and acts as moving meditation. A good workout can blunt the stress response for a full day.
- Go For It: Bust out moves to your favorite songs or take a cold shower. Even putting a little extra spice on your burger can help reset stress levels, says therapist Christy Matta, author of The Stress Response. —Elizabeth Agnvall