How To Keep Stress Under Control: 11 Simple Tips
Being a human isn’t always easy. Day in and day out, we’re each faced with various challenges and surprises that pose threats to maintaining our inner peace and balance. Even the most minor things have the potential to overwhelm and distract us from our already hectic lives. (And for many of us, this is when the stress sets in.)
What triggers one person into feeling stressed won’t necessarily have the same effect on another. Stressors differ from individual to individual, and some people are better at fighting them off (or hiding them) than others.
But though some of us struggle more than others, the suffering and harm stress can inflict on our minds and bodies is always the same. Stress can cause sleeping issues, depression, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, heart palpitations, and body aches in the short term. If left untreated, chronic stress can take a serious toll on your health in the long term—leading to an increased risk of developing heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes.
Fortunately, stress isn’t like Superman: There’s more than one way we can overcome it.
From stimulating the vagus nerve to spending time around animals, there are countless practices to aid you in managing stress from day to day. Many are low-cost, quick, and surprisingly fun. All you have to do is find one that works for you—and then stick to it! Here are some easy tips for how to keep stress under control:
1. Drink (more) water.
Water is a well-known panacea for a number of maladies and problems. Not only can it create (and sustain) life, water also helps alleviate a variety of bad things—from acne and poor rest to persistent stress.
Water and stress are more intertwined than you may realize. The more water you drink, the less likely you are to be dehydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) increase, thus making it even harder for you to deal with everyday issues and shake the “fight or flight” mentality. Your adrenal glands become exhausted, resulting in lower electrolyte levels in the body.
By staying well-hydrated, you can prevent all this from happening. So if you want to feel more energized (and more emotionally balanced), simply sipping more H2O can have a significant impact.
2. Find your vagus nerve.
The longest nerve in your body, the vagus, connects the brain to your most vital organs, such as the gut (intestines and stomach), heart, and lungs. Learning how to find it can have a profound impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, your heart rate and breathing patterns are directly influenced. This, in turn, sends a message throughout your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress.
There are multiple ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, with touch being one of the most effective and simplistic methods.¹ Key access points for the nerve can be found on the bottoms of the feet and the insides of the ears. Singing, humming, chanting, or even gargling are also quick routes for activating the vagus nerve, as it is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of the throat!
3. See the world upside down.
Inversion poses consist of any poses in which your heart is higher than your head. You can achieve this in a number of ways—by hanging upside down, using an inversion table, or simply stretching your legs vertically up against a wall with your back on the floor.
Scientifically, the regular practice of inversion poses can help you improve and balance your cardiovascular, lymphatic, endocrine, and nervous systems.
By positioning your heart above your head, you deliver a surge of oxygen-rich blood to your brain. This can reduce strain on your circulatory system, helping induce a natural state of calm and promoting greater awareness and clarity.
4. Take CBD.
Cannabidiol (which you may know as CBD) has received a lot of attention from the scientific community, politicians, and mainstream media in the last decade—and for a good reason.
Like its cousin THC, it’s a supplement derived from the cannabis plant. But unlike THC, it lacks intoxicating properties (meaning it doesn’t alter cognition). What it does do is aid in stress management—functioning as an analgesic for aches, injuries, and arthritis by reducing inflammation.
In addition to helping manage physical pain, CBD supports the maintenance of healthy blood pressure—which high levels of stress can affect. Taking the supplement increases the production of white blood cells in the body. CBD has demonstrated its ability to help lower one’s levels of cortisol, as well as boost the immune system.² When we maintain healthy blood pressure, we not only reduce pangs of anxiety—or feelings of “pounding” in our head and chest—but we set the course for a longer, healthier life.
Studies have also discovered that CBD (which comes in various forms—such as CBD oil tincture and CBD oil capsules) can reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and help manage social anxieties and fears like public speaking. Other studies have revealed that 300 to 600 mg of CBD oil for sleep can act as a sedative, which is perfect for people having trouble sleeping. Though stress can wreak havoc on our sleep cycles, it’s essential to learn how to cope with the circumstances. Using CBD for sleep health is another tool that may help ease your racing mind and calm your nerves before dozing off.
5. Listen to music.
Thanks to the internet and our many smart devices, listening to music is easier than ever. The other good part? It doesn’t require much effort from you to experience its benefits. You simply have to open your ears and listen.
Humans have long been aware of the influence that music can have on our bodies and minds, so it makes sense that rhythmic prayer, chanting, singing, drumming, and other devices are celebrated as vital parts of so many cultures throughout history.
Music directly impacts your brain as it functions and (depending on the tempo of the music you’re listening to) can lead one to experience various emotions and moods.
Studies have shown that slower music encourages slower brain waves—which can help quiet the mind and promote a sense of relaxation in your muscles.³ Whereas music with faster tempos can speed up your brain waves, causing you to feel more alert, optimistic, and focused.
There are so many different styles and genres of music out there that you can’t go wrong, but if you’re looking for what science has uncovered to be the most effective with stress reduction, consider tunes that include flutes, drums, and/or stringed instruments.
Sounds found in the natural world—such as rainfall, thunderstorms, and birds—have also been proven to help soothe the mind and aid in relaxation.
6. Move your body...and dance!
If you’re already listening to music, getting up off the couch and moving your body can lessen your anxiety even more.
The mood-boosting benefits of dance stem from feel-good chemicals (otherwise known as endorphins) that our bodies naturally release when we’re partaking in cardiovascular activities. Endorphins not only help by distracting you from your immediate concerns, but they also help by reducing your physical pain levels, thus leading to more restful sleep.
And no, you don’t have to be a “good” dancer to experience all of these benefits. Simply getting those limbs moving and your blood flowing—no matter how unique your rhythm is—can work wonders on your psyche.
Being a wallflower might be easier, but you’ll feel a whole lot better after cutting a rug on the dancefloor than you will off standing on the fringe.
The point is staying active is one way of managing stress. But that can be challenging for people working in a professional office setting five days a week. While people turn to coffee to keep their energy levels up throughout the day, consuming caffeine can trigger the body’s stress hormone and may even lead some to feel jittery. By adding the recommended serving of CBD oil into your morning or afternoon coffee, you can create a better balance between being caffeinated and calm.
7. Gaze at fractal patterns.
“Fractals” might be a new concept to you, but you’ve seen them before.
Recognized as repeating patterns that are either similar or identical, fractals can be found in nature and art everywhere. Blood vessels, seashells, leaves, snowflakes, and ocean waves usually contain fractal patterns. You can also find them in our man-made artistic creations—like mandalas or paintings featuring multiple swirls, such as the works of Jackson Pollock.
The soothing effect of gazing at fractals lies in the physiological resonance it has on our brain. Looking at patterns like these has been shown to engage the parahippocampus, the region of your brain that regulates emotions.⁴ When this occurs, you become more attuned to feelings of optimism, awe, and self-reflection.
Spending as little as 20 minutes a day looking at fractal patterns—perhaps by going out for a nature walk or studying particular works of art—can have profoundly soothing effects on your mental health.
8. Spend time with an animal.
From petting a dog to sitting by as a turtle slowly strolls by, spending time with a living creature (that isn’t a human) can profoundly affect stress levels.
When we physically interact with animals, our body naturally produces more hormones, particularly beta-endorphins (which block pain sensations) and oxytocin (associated with empathy, trust, and love).
And, simply being around an animal—even if you don’t touch it—can have a therapeutic effect. Children struggling with social anxiety have shown fewer symptoms after reading books aloud to dogs. In other research, Alzheimer’s patients who had dined in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish responded by eating more, seeking out healthier foods, and pacing less when standing.
Though most people gravitate towards keeping furry or hairy animals as pets, keep in mind that this isn’t 100% necessary if you’re doing so just to help reduce your stress level. Caring for any living creature over an extended period has been shown to help improve mental health—even if it’s something as small as a cricket.⁵
9. Clean up!
Though it might not sound like fun, doing housework can help beat stress. Whether you spend time weeding the garden, ironing your clothes, or vacuuming the floor, making the same physical motions over and over can be surprisingly relaxing and soothing.
As with any physical activity, regular housework can be good for your heart. Not only does it burn calories, but it increases blood flow throughout your body, which then encourages the release of those feel-good hormones known as endorphins.
The repetitive motions involved in cleaning can also induce a trance-like effect on the psyche, helping clear the mind and distracting you from overthinking about whatever may be stressing you out.
The mental health benefits of cleaning persist even after you finish your housework. Numerous studies demonstrated that having clutter and messes in your personal space can exacerbate anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms. So staying on top of your chores and keeping your living spaces neat may protect you from falling victim to those mindsets.
10. Grin and bear it.
When you smile—either naturally or by faking it—you’re automatically helping yourself combat stress.
Even if you have to force a grin, practicing positive facial expressions works by helping convince your brain that you’re happy.⁶ Smiling encourages the brain to release different types of stress- and pain-relieving hormones that have been shown to lower both blood pressure and heart rate.⁷ You are also less likely to become distracted or discouraged if you smile while performing chores.
Meditation is the act of changing consciousness to heighten awareness and focus and has several psychological benefits. Some of them include alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Whenever you are on the verge of cracking, consider meditating for a couple of minutes. Aside from alleviating symptoms, meditation is also known to help manage stress better.⁸ That’s because it enables you to retain focus and eliminate distractions. Meditation is one of many coping strategies that can be useful when dealing with workplace stress or if you're experiencing ongoing stress from overall life.