1. Get outside. In our overscheduled, electronics-laden, auto-oriented times, we see less of the grass, the sun, the clouds, the wind, the wildlife than ever before. Take advantage of the therapeutic effect of nature by simply getting outside for a short spell at least once each day. Whether parked on a park bench or biking a hiking trail, you’ll feel much better for it, and far more relaxed.
2. Breathe. Throughout your day, and especially when outside, take a half-dozen or more slow and deep breaths in sequence. It’s medically proven to lower your heart rate, and to ease headache, neck and back tension. Building your lung capacity can also lessen the ill effects of smoking, asthma and other respiratory ailments.
3. Smile and laugh. Smiling and laughing not only employ a lot of muscles, burning quite a few calories, but also release endorphins, your brain’s feel-good chemicals. They can also be pleasant low-key antidotes to the loud, chattering, bitter and cynical bombardment from much of today’s over-hyped social intercourse.
4. Exercise. Another proven releaser of endorphins, as well as the body’s self-healing and repair chemicals, is exercise. Whether you are starting out slowly with a measured walking pace over a mile of neighborhood sidewalk, or ramping it up with a serious racquetball or tennis match, exercise drains your body, but also your mind. You’ll be letting go of many of your stress-inducers as you work out.
5. Eat healthier. Who doesn’t feel bloated, logey and lethargic once they’re too full of a too-rich dinner? That’s fine, if you want to hibernate and stew in your own troubles. But if you want to shake those troubles off and start anew, refreshed, you must try to eat leaner, healthier and more sparingly. You’ll have more energy, and you’ll feel and look better in the long run.
6. Drink water. If you’re having trouble eating healthier and are often hungry, cut that hunger with a glass of water before meals. It can satiate you more quickly and you’ll likely eat less. With today’s pervasive soft drinks, coffees and smoothies crowding out water, you may in fact occasionally be dehydrated, which makes tension headaches and the jitters worse.
7. Take time for yourself. Just as you schedule work hours or class hours, day care and piano lessons, you should schedule you-time. Whether it’s an hour a day or just five minutes when you can, set aside time to just be by yourself, with yourself. And, for that time, let go of stress and problems, duties and tasks, dependents and responsibilities. Think and plan and consider only yourself, your life and your future, as you feel the stress melt away.
8. Find something you enjoy. To fill up that you-time, why not latch onto something you enjoy. It can be a childhood hobby, sudoku, romance novels, YouTube, knitting, laps in the pool, casino gambling, a new skill or craft, a special friend, or anything or anyone else that you truly enjoy, with no stress-strings attached.
9. Care for others. There is perhaps no quicker way to leave your own problems behind than to deal with those of another. Reach out to someone else in need of care — a sick relative, an abandoned pet, a parent or child, a senior shut-in, a homeless person. Volunteer if you have the time, the skill or the desire. In the process, you’ll gain a larger, closer view of the world and its myriad troubles, and they will certainly make yours appear smaller and less daunting.
10. Stay connected. A key to remaining stress-free is to clearly see your place in the world, and to feel as though you fit. You can only achieve that if you stay connected to the world. Don’t be a shut-in or a recluse; don’t turn away. Reach out to others, stay informed and active in the world, and you’ll feel much more able to control your own destiny.
11. Meditate. There’s a good reason the cartoon guru is always depicted as a cross-legged monk-like figure atop a mountain. Those who meditate, or pray, or practice yoga, or maintain some other similar program of consciousness-alteration, do often end up wiser, happier, and less stressed than the rest of us. Learn their lesson.
12. Consider a pet. Pets are great stress-relievers for many of the reasons I’ve cited above: they give you a glimpse of the natural world, take you outside yourself, help you forget your troubles, force some you-time upon you, cause you to exercise, require your care and attention, and reward your affection. They are like meditation on four legs.
13. Talk to others. Conversation is a great stress-reliever, because it pulls you out of yourself for a time. Others’ stories may show you that you are luckier than you think. They may show you how someone else has dealt with the same sort of problems you face. Most importantly, they can show you that others care, and that you are not in this alone. Talk is also a great time-waster; it keeps you from dwelling on stressful issues.
And, if all else fails, and you are still dealing with overpowering stress, talk to someone in a position to help — a spouse, parent, child, sibling, pastor, counselor, or medical professional. Don’t let stress win; it’s time you started to enjoy a stress-free life.