A survey from 2022 shows that 55% of Americans get stressed out daily.1
While some stress is normal, feeling constantly stressed greatly impacts a person’s quality of life and overall health. Understanding the potential causes and what to do to reduce stress can be life-changing for feeling more optimistic about daily life and the future.
This article will explore 5 ways to effectively reduce stress and feel your best, no matter what life throws your way.
What is causing so much stress?
Top sources of stress, cited by a poll, include the following:
- Inflation and rising costs of groceries, utilities, gas, etc.
- Supply chain issues, resulting in food and other commodity shortages
- War and nuclear threats
- Dealing with friends and family that disagree on politics and health-prevention measures, such as vaccines1
Other common daily stressors include relationship strains, family dynamics, and work. Plus, the stress of social media, the constant barrage of negative news, and the resulting pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming.
How stress affects your health
At a molecular level, constant stress leads to significant changes in the function of major body systems, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), immune system, and endocrine system (hormones).2
When these systems get out of sync with each other, they can manifest in a lot of different ways. Because of this, stress has been correlated with the following health issues:
- Delayed wound healing
- Getting sick often due to a depressed immune system
- Mental health concerns related to depression, anxiety, etc.
- Increased inflammatory markers that can contribute to chronic disease
- Poor responses to vaccination
- Increased risk of heart disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes
- Difficulty sleeping or feeling well-rested
- Lack of energy or brain fog3
5 ways to reduce stress
Many of the most effective ways to reduce stress include changing our daily habits.4 Rather than trying to make a lot of big changes at once, choosing one technique you’d prefer to try is recommended. Then, as you gain momentum, you can start making more small changes over time. Ultimately, the accumulation of little changes will start to add up significantly.
Here are some of the best evidence-based ways to reduce stress.
1. Change your mindset
One of the best ways to reduce stress is to change our mindset. Rather than resisting or avoiding it, try to accept and embrace it as an inevitable part of life. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for greatness but acknowledge that failure or disappointment can happen, and you will still be okay.
Effective ways to change your mindset to be more optimistic and positive include:
- Focus on a perspective shift – Choose a new mantra you say or write daily. Examples include, “Everything is a learning experience” or “I am capable.”
- Practice gratitude – Focus on what is going well and talk about it or write it down. With time, look for the good in every situation, even if finding it takes time and effort. It’ll get easier as you practice.
- Spend more time with people who are upbeat and positive – This also means spending less time with people who are constantly negative and complaining.
- Cultivate healthy coping strategies when facing stress – The habits listed below are great ways to help manage and cope with stress.
2. Practice relaxation techniques
These are the classic go-to’s for relaxing the body (and mind) when it is in a state of stress. They are all evidence-based, too:
- Meditation – This involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breath or a mantra for an extended period of time.
- Biofeedback – This is a combination of relaxation techniques and neuroscience. It uses technology to measure your body’s physiological response to stress and then provides feedback on reducing stress and restoring balance. This technique helps build awareness around stress triggers, making it easier to face head-on.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – This is an exercise where you systematically tense and relax each of your major muscle groups in succession. This technique helps to reset your nervous system and reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
- Deep breathing – Breathing with the diaphragm is one of the most powerful tools to calm the body. It helps reset your autonomic nervous system (which regulates heart rate and breathing), creating a more relaxed state. It can be done anytime or incorporated into other practices like meditation or yoga.5
3. Spend time nurturing your body and soul
At first glance, you might think this option sounds like voodoo. However, evidence shows the importance of connecting to the world around us:
- Connect with nature – Spending time in nature, whether at a park, in the woods, or swimming in a natural water source, has been linked to decreased stress hormone levels, improved sleep cycles, and lower blood pressure.6
- Nurture social connections – Connecting with friends and loved ones can reduce stress and boost mood, particularly in older adults who are typically more socially distant.
- Find support groups – Finding a group of people that understand what you’re dealing with can be incredibly empowering and beneficial, even if it’s online.
- Learning to say no – It’s okay to say no to activities and people that aren’t aligned with you. Learning to say no is a powerful act of self-care that can help reduce stress and manage your time better.
4. Lifestyle modifications
Small changes in your daily life can enhance how your body and mind handle stress. Remember these lifestyle factors and make any small changes you think might help:
- Get more sleep – Lack of sleep can increase stress hormones and make it more difficult to cope with stress. Ensure that you get around 7-8 hours of quality rest each night. (This often requires changing other habits.)
- Get high-quality sleep – It’s not just about the amount of sleep; quality is important too. Habits like avoiding screens before bed, keeping a cool and dark room, and avoiding caffeine in the evening can all help.
- Exercise daily – Exercise can help reduce stress hormones and improve mood. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily, but any amount is beneficial.
- Eat well – Eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods (produce, meat, dairy, nuts, etc.) instead of overly processed packaged foods can help improve your mood, energy levels, and overall outlook on life.
- Hydrate – Staying hydrated is important for every bodily process, including coping with stress. How much you need daily depends on the season, humidity, diet, activity level, and age. Strive to drink water regularly so that your urine stays light yellow.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol – Both substances increase stress and anxiety. Plus, they disrupt your body’s balance and make it hard to feel well-rested. If you do choose to use either, please do so in moderation.
5. Get professional help
If you’re having difficulties managing your stress, it’s important to seek help from a professional. If stress affects your daily life and health, now is the best time to get help.
Mental health professionals include:
- Therapist – Going to a counselor or therapist can help you identify the root cause of your stress and provide advice on coping.
- Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental health. If needed, they can prescribe medications to help manage your stress and other mental health issues.
- Primary care – Your general practitioner or family physician is a great place to start if you struggle with managing stress. They can provide advice on lifestyle modifications and refer you to specialists.
- EFT specialists – Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a type of therapy that combines talk therapy and tapping on energy meridians in the body. It can help reduce stress, anxiety, and other emotions.5
- Other options – Depending on your symptoms and preferences, there are many other types of professionals you can turn to for help. These could include faith-based counselors, wellness coaches, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, and more.
There’s no need to feel like you need to manage your stress and health issues alone. You can likely get on track quicker with the assistance of a professional that can help identify what you need for recovery.
Feel in control of your stress
No matter how you cope with stress, many tools and strategies are available to regain control of your feelings. With the right plan and determination, you can create a life full of balance and peace—even in the midst of chaos.
About JayDee Vykoukal
JayDee Vykoukal is a writer, blogger, Doctor of Physical Therapy, travel enthusiast, and mom of two girls. She is passionate about helping others live their best life via a healthy lifestyle.
1. “Stress Research.” American Institute of Stress. Stress.org.
2. Sailer, A, C.P. Fagundes, & L.M. Christian. “The Impact of Everyday Stressors on the Immune System and Health.” Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space (2019): 71-92.
3. Dhama, K., S.K. Latheef, et al. “Biomarkers in Stress-Related Diseases/Disorders: Diagnostic, Prognostic, and Therapeutic Values.” Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences 6 (2019): 91.
4. Dyer, K.A. “Daily healthy habits to reduce stress and increase longevity.” Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice 30 (2023): 100593.
5. Varvogli, L., & C. Darviri. “Stress Management Techniques: evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health.” Health Science Journal 5, no. 2 (2011): 74-89.
6. Choe, E.Y., A. Jorgensen, & D. Sheffield. “Does a natural environment enhance the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)? Examining the mental health and wellbeing, and nature connectedness benefits.” Landscape and Urban Planning 202 (2020): 103886.